Monthly Archives: January 2004

Call and Response

I started typing this up as a response to the kind writers who responded to my call for collaboration, but it’s become sufficiently involved that it merits a post of its own. Here goes.

First off, Derek really pushes my thinking further in his first paragraph, to the point where I’m like: yes, this can work; let’s see how far we can take this. The only real experience with anything similar to what I’m suggesting has been much like John’s, in a creative writing seminar where part of the class, exhilaratingly, co-created a story via e-mail; a story where even the failed attempts, questions, and asides were incorporated and rewritten into the action. But in this sense, what I’m proposing goes far beyond the universal syllabus John suggests, and while first year composition tends (like pornography) to be fairly recognizable when one sees it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t vary widely from institution to institution: in fact, both the syllabus and the texts produced at the institution where I got my MFA differed radically from the syllabus and the texts produced at my current institution.
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Feenberg on Culture

Yeah, I know I’ve been slack about responding to comments, and I’m feeling guilty about it. I’ll try to set aside the time tomorrow; today, I spent most of the day stranded in a New England city an hour from home (more like 90 minutes in this morning’s snow) while I waited for the dealership to try to find the electrical problem in my car that my local garage still couldn’t find after three visits. The good news, I suppose, is that I got most of the way through Andrew Feenberg.

Feenberg, in 2002’s Transforming Technology (Oxford University Press; an updating of his 1990 Critical Theory of Technology), points out that “Although technologies are first and foremost tools for solving practical problems, they are not fully understandable in functional terms. This is especially true in cases where their function is itself in dispute” (107) — and of course this is the very thing I’ve been trying to get at in describing the differences between the liberal and vocational education models and how they connect to computers in the classroom. Naturally, I was pretty psyched to see this, and even more so with what came next.
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The Grad School Experience?

No, the above title isn’t the name of some dorky-ass emo band. A colleague of mine reports that she’ll soon (within the next couple weeks) be talking to a group of humanities and social sciences undergraduates at a rural teaching college about what it’s like to go to graduate school. These students have likely never encountered or worked with any graduate students at their institution (which, my colleague reports, gives very little emphasis to faculty research). She’s hoping for responses to any or all of the following questions:

  1. What questions do you wish you’d asked before applying to or attending your graduate program? What questions are you glad you asked?
  2. What surprised you the most (positively and/or negatively) about your graduate school experience?
  3. What advice would you give to an undergraduate considering graduate study in your field?
  4. What do you like and dislike most about graduate school?
  5. If you had known as an undergraduate what you know now, what would you have done differently?
  6. What other thoughts or advice might you offer?

I’ve already pointed her towards the “Run away! Run away very fast!” links over at Invisible Adjunct, and noted as well that my perspective is a little more hopeful than IA’s. I’m sure she’d be grateful for any additional feedback you might be willing to offer.

Moonlight

It’s late and I can’t sleep. I put on the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and sit in the living room with the lights off, listening, watching the snow fall past my apartment’s windows. There’s the faint rasp of Rudolf Serkin’s breath as he plays. The snow’s steady ongoing fall makes me feel as if it’s in here that’s moving rather than out there, as if I’m in the cabin of a ship, sailing the night.

Horatio Passes Through

Passing_Through raises some interesting issues. First, one might wish that Passing_Through had followed one of Friday’s links, or maybe visited Wikipedia, or even at least attempted to read the rest of the post more closely: the definition Passing_Through offers is simultaneously too slim to be useful, inappropriate to the context, and rather idiosyncratic. Unfortunately, Passing_Through also seems to have a rather impoverished view of writing, in which collaboration does indeed occur as a way for writers to use their experience and skills to assist one another, and which indeed often seeks to solve common problems. (Passing_Through might find Andrea Lunsford’s contention that “Everything’s an Argument” instructive on this topic.) One does indeed doubt that anyone will add another three chapters to Gone With the Wind, just as much as one doubts that anyone will add another thousand lines of code to VisiCalc anytime soon.
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The Open Source Syllabus

Some rather loosely strung together elaborations on yesterday’s post.

I still don’t know a lot about open source methods, so tonight I’ll do my best to describe what little I do know, and then describe what I see as the points of possible overlap with the writing classroom.

As I understand it from Tom Adelstein (link courtesy of, again, Chris Worth), the open source software development process (and I’m appreciative here of the fact that the focus seems to be on process; thank you, Donald Murray) begins by defining a project and then looking to an existing base of standards and finding a software “vocabulary” and set of tools with which to work.
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Call for Collaboration

I’m still learning what the Open Source movement means for software development. As you’ve seen recently, though, what really intrigues me is the implications that the movement holds for writing instruction, and for writing in general. Consider: Collin versus Blog has lately raised the questions of authenticity and originality in relation to making collaboration visible, and Derek at Earth Wide Moth has recently queried similar issues in regard to the question of plagiarism versus the internet’s realtime anxiety of influence. I might suggest that the questions both authors raise will generate a whole lot of controversy, and I’m not sure where I stand — but I do have a sense of where that controversy’s coming from.

That controversy comes from a nearly universal conception of what an author does, and the connection of that understanding to the singular (romantic?) individual. As Clancy has lately pointed out, Charlie Lowe is leading the way among folks in the field of technology and writing in considering the theoretical ramifications of open-source ideologies. So, too, many of us have followed on Kairosnews and elsewhere the applications of weblogs in the classroom.

But my question (which I hope might interest Chris Worth, and Clancy Ratliff, and Charlie Lowe, and Torill Mortensen, and Gerry Gleason, and others) would be: how do open-source standards change the way we teach writing? What does the open-source model do to our understandings of plagiarism? How might we productively re-imagine the ownership and circulation of writing in the academy? Ultimately, who owns the writing that students produce — and why?

And here’s my proposition: we know that the open-source model works with software development. But I don’t know of any writing teacher who’s used it as a model to give a syllabus a serious go, in a large-scale way. This may be because we haven’t quite gotten to the point of trying it out ourselves. So: what if there were a closed-end publication project, say with an end date of six months from now, in which an open group of writers collaborated on a reflexive essay to justify open-source pedagogical methods, in an essay to be submitted to a major peer-reviewed publication?

Can this be done? Can a group of peers write an essay like they can write Perl?

And are you interested?

Let’s Not Get Rich

Houghton leads off his essay (PDF; also linked yesterday) with the familiar instrumental assertion that the production and distribution of knowledge are vital to national (and, cheerleaders for globalization would add, international) economic prosperity. To which my quick rejoinder would be: can we be a little more specific here? As far as economic prosperity goes, the studies I’ve seen are unequivocal in their conclusions: economic inequalities — the gap between the rich and the poor — have grown hugely in the past thirty years. So, Mr. Houghton: economic prosperity for whom?
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Academics & Circulation

The good Chris Worth, and others, have recently forwarded some excellent links; here are three around a common theme — communication and the circualtion of ideas as one aspect of the university’s academic commons — that I thought far too good to keep to myself. I’ll try to have more to say about them soon; tonight’s kind of an off night, with still a lot left to do (including responses owed to a number of people, bills to pay, et cetera: talk about a lame Friday night).

Crisis and Transition: the Economics of Scholarly Communication (PDF link); a very conventional neoclassical perspective, in which Dorothea and Charlie and others might have a few holes to poke.

Open Source Content in Education: Developing, Sharing, Expanding Resources; an article that borrows some points from the one above, but offers a different perspective — although I’m uncomfortable with the separating-out of “content”.

Commons and Communities in the University: Some Notes and Some Examples (PDF link); another critique of the neoclassical market perspective as applied to the university.

More tomorrow.