Friday, December 30, 2011

Pounding the Rock

A number of sports teams, including the San Antonio Spurs, use a motivational device to promote persistence and determination in the face of unsatisfactory results.  It is the term, "Pounding the rock." Keep pounding the rock and eventually it will break. You pound and you pound and nothing--and then finally, something. This saying seems to capture how I am feeling post-phd. I have been pounding the rock and not gotten anywhere so far.

Most notably, I was thinking of this saying this morning as I returned to working on an article. This is my basic "rethinking" article on rhetorical reflection. I think I tugged over two sentences for two hours. Pounding and pounding. I think I finally pulled through that section, and so I am finally moving into sections that I hope will be easier to write. Somehow I need to find a way to weave in and leverage my diss work more easily, but constructing the essay is like weaving a complex tapestry with so many strands and a larger picture and pattern that I don't have completely in focus yet. I need to remind myself to keep pounding and pounding. At a certain point in the diss, I felt like I had direction and a clear path. But here I feel as if I have a dim direction and the path is choked with a jungle of brush. Perhaps it is the different context of writing for publication that has me stymied. So far I have not done so well on the publication front since my article for Pedagogy was rejected, though at least they reviewed it. The objections are well warranted, and I think I might be able to present my "how to" article to them. When I can get around to writing it. That is article #2.

One issue that I have not been able to resolve is what to call "curricular reflection." This term has no legs and was specifically disliked in my reviews. The two alternatives I am thinking of right now are comprehensive reflection (from Ramage and Bean) and constructive reflection (from Yancey). Comprehensive fits best, but then I am not sure I want to use someone else's term. Constructive is not quite right when we think strictly in Yancey terms because she has the second category of Reflection in Presentation, and I want this term to cover both. Constructivist Reflection? Ack.  I don't much like that one either. So I am presently stuck thinking of a better term. Constructionist Reflection? What's the difference between construct -ivist and -ionist? I must think more. And keep pounding the rock. I'd like to have a draft of this essay done before we return to the semester.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dreaming of My Digital Writing Workshop

I am near the end of Troy's book The Digital Writing Workshop. It is filled with excellent ideas, and my mind is twirling and swirling with ideas. I know from many previous experiences integrating technology and attempting various other kinds of digital writing that conceiving digital writing assignments is easier than implementing them. The road to ruin is created with the best intentions and the most well laid out plans. My sense is to craft a course that has an elegance or simplicity to it where digital writing is simply there and constantly done. My current writing classes happen within digital learning environments, but they seldom get beyond text and image on the page--I have not made the leap to video and voice on the screen.

So let me for a few moments here imagine a new direction for my teaching. I wonder if a useful approach to start is to explore how a single subject or "theme" (in good traditional composition terms) might be re-presented and repurposed in various mediums. Write a piece first as text fitting and fulfilling the various textual conventions such as form, organization, development and standard edited English. (Reaching competency with this written communication often is difficult enough in a writing class.) But then take that theme and re-present it as a podcast. Make a Powerpoint presentation of the piece. Make a digital video expressing the ideas.  I wonder then about going the opposite direction. Create a digital video about a topic and then go backwards. Turn it into a Powerpoint. Create a podcast of the piece. Write it up as an "essay." This cross-medium approach might be really interesting, but it goes against some of our concepts regarding genre and how the shape or medium of the piece will fit the medium. Some genres work best for certain kinds of messages. Still this approach would engage students in experiencing and learning about the differences in these media for communicating. The problem is the material production for each media is fraught with peril in terms of functional literacy using the technology. I wonder also how shifting into different media complicates students' task representation, making it more likely that they will misunderstand and mistake the composing task.

Another element I would love to incorporate is an actual Writing Workshop where students picked what they wrote about and progressed independently in their writing. Many composition classrooms, including my own, seem to be an all-class forced march through the writing process, draft to draft, due date to due date. It is refreshing and scary to think of "letting go" the curriculum in terms of dictating writing assignments and process. Perhaps I am only thinking of letting go some and creating a more "open structure" to my curriculum and thinking. I wonder about how digital tools might help this effort. I might still have general goals and requirements to a writing task, but students then seek to fill those requirements and reach those goals on their own.

One thing I'd like to try is student blogs as the foundation of the Writing Workshop. Students regularly must post blogs that are not like this (ideas splashed on the page), but carefully thought out pieces of digital writing on topics of their choice. I think the idea blogs are important too, but these might be more formal "texts." Ideally, these also would go into a larger publication space like Youth Voices where college writers from across the country might also be posting their writing. College Voices. This online space would be a rhetorical forum where students would enter a writing community larger than just our class. Certainly, these writers could post other kinds of digital writing as well such as podcasts or digital videos. It would be nice if the interface could also accommodate the publication of compilations or e-zine like pieces. Since my two composition classes next semester are online, I wonder if I could try any of these new approaches.

I've dreamed enough for the moment. Thanks Troy for your book.