Humanities for the Net Generation

Many of our “traditional” aged students already have the tools to compose multimodal compositions, multimodal pieces of art, right in their cell phones. They do not eschew the humanities, they just need someone to help make the explicit connection between what they are currently doing, and humanistic traditions of the past. Shows like Battlestar Galactica and the broadway play Spring Awakening have demonstrated a manner in which we can help our students make these connections. Not only do they engage the narrative across multiple media, like Spring Awakening‘s music videos for the iPod as well as MySpace and Facebook page and BG‘s short internet webisodes that connected seasons 2 and 3, they also ask their fans to participate in continuing the narrative themselves (in true Star Wars fan fiction fashion, one of my favorites being Troops). Both narrative franchises invited fans to remix pieces of material into their own storylines. BG worked through their website at; SA used Eyespot.

I’m excited to see these types of tools and “official” activities to engage students in multimodal competitions. I think traditional humanities instructors need to learn from these examples to help make connections to their contemporary students. For example, I love showing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to my intro to film students and then show Rob Zombie’s music video for “Living Dead Girl.” Being able to discuss how and why he did this gets students to think about why knowing the history of horror films is important to Rob Zombie, both as a musician and a filmmaker.

Ultimately, this gets me thinking about how I’m about to start teaching my early American literature survey class. I was already planning on using wikis to have students publish their reports and interpretations about the material they read; however, I’m not thinking it might be useful to have them really think about the work rhetorically. What was the purpose for some of these early American writers. If they had the same purpose today, what different modes of media might they write and publish in? Why? How would it fit their purpose and audience needs? Could be fun!

Thanks to a Webware post for prompting this post!

You get what you name

This past January I had a friend build me my first “home built” desktop. I named her Starbuck, after the hotshot pilot on Battlestar Distractica. Well she has definitely taken after her namesake. She rocks…when she’s on, she’s hot. But she is also one temperamental beaoch. She has been in and out of the shop since she was built. We had another incident this week, video card. I’ve learned two things from all of this:

  1. when you name them, they live up to their names (and yes, mini-me has lived up to her name as well…we’re currently taking over the world from the local Irish pub)
  2. RedSeven rocks! If you are in the phoenix area and you need PC help…RedSeven is the place to go.

Hopefully I’ll get a few blogs out this weekend…I’ve got a few new techs I want to play with!

Sandbox: Tracking Various Web Apps

If you are like I am, having students demo all different technologies each semester, it means both you and your students have accounts all over the web. Tabber looks like a tool that can help an instructor bringing it all together. So, if you have students with multiple accounts (for example a social bookmarking and blog) this tool could be one way to tie it all together. It looks like you could tag profiles you subscribe to (with a class number and semester). Finally, you could keep track of what students are doing with the various technologies after the course ends. I’m always trying to figure out new ways to track student work as well as periodically follow up on their use of the technology…Tabber could do both. This could also be an interesting way to keep track of other folks (friends, scholars, etc.) doing cool stuff on the web.

Spock–reclaiming your name


If Spock works…it could be an interesting way for individuals to clean up their identities on the web. Think about your students with “2sexxxy4u<at>” email address, or, other stuff graduate students have done and don’t want found when they go on the job market? Although I don’t see this tool being anything that I would specifically build into a lesson, I can imagine having some interesting discussions about it, especially in my technical writing class. Our tech writing course curriculum requires that I have the students write a job application packet. I think it could be interesting to discuss the hows and whys a site/tool like Spock becomes necessary. It might also be a great discussion to have with students before asking them to open/start some new account.

Technology is more than computers…

I know this. Really, I do. However, like so many people today I still get caught up equating the term “technology” with “computer technologies.” Or, I know that they are not the same; however, I am very guilty of saying “technology” and meaning “computer technology.” This last week in NYC, I had the visceral reminder that “technology” DOES SOLELY NOT EQUATE to “computer technology.” Because the conference hotel was ridiculously expensive, I stayed at a hotel on the upper West side. This meant that I took the metro/subway to get to my hotel as well as back and forth between the conference everyday.

Now, I grew up in the suburbs of L.A. I now live in the suburbs of Phoenix. Although this is not my first trip to NYC, this is really the first time that I hunkered down and really used the metro. I loved it. It is completely a different way of interacting with the people and the place. I have to admit, I felt very empowered figuring out the metro system. And although people talk about New Yorkers being abrupt, mean, or cold; I got nothing but sincere help whenever I finally conceded I was missing something and asked for assistance.

Back to my technologically mediated epiphany! On Thursday morning I was at Columbus Circle switching from the 1 to the B train. The tracks for these trains are on different levels. As I galloped along with the rest of the crowd, I had to pause mid-flight of steps (I did get dirty looks then). At mid-flight I could see multiple trains, on both levels, going opposite directions. These metro trains are the arteries and veins of NYC (and I think I could continue the metaphor to say the buses are the capillaries…maybe taxis fit in this metaphor as well—and this fits to well for someone else not to have already used it?). NYC is a cyborg city. And it has been that way a long time…long before my computer addiction; hell, long before I was born. And although all these systems have been updated with computer technologies to make them run better, faster, more efficient; these powerful technologies…and need to be remembered as such.

Reply to Donna

I am replying to another blog post…it didn’t like my long winded reply, LOL! )

Let me first apologize to Donna for taking so long to respond; however, I think these issues are at the crux of my professional identity. I identify as a rhetorician who is interested in the interfaces between technology and humanity. Yes…this is huge, but I think the message above shows how/why!

So, the nitty gritty, some first round response (and we may want to invite the librarian’s to play…this could be a nice long discussion in the CTL’s blog).

Information Explosion
We’ve already been watching this for a while. Educational institutions, including libraries and museums, are no longer the keepers of information. Now that information, especially “facts,” is much more ubiquitous, teaching is not just a sharing of facts and knowledge. Now, as educators, we’ve always known that education is more than facts; however, we are now being smacked across the face with it. At this point, I would argue it is pointless to have students “know” the dates for the American Civil War. Why, when they can get online and find the information within minutes? What is much more important is to train them to critically, rhetorically, evaluate the information to see if it meets their needs.

Information Literacy
This topic begins to get to the point of the original posting, so why memorize “facts” when the information is “at your fingertips”? As Donna pointed out above, the information is not being produced and published by people and institutions we consider authoritative. Instead, this information explosion is occurring because anyone with a cell phone that takes pictures or videos can update the world with multi-modal content. We are not going to stop the “just Google it” paradigm (you know, parents no longer say “look it up in the dictionary/encyclopedia”…it’s now “go Google it”). Instead, we are going to need to train students to think rhetorically about the information they consume:

  • Who made it?
  • For what purpose?
  • In what context?

If students start reading rhetorically, they will then be able to assess whether or not the information is “useful” for their particular situation. If the students knows that she is just “checking a fact” and also knows that Wikipedia is about as reliable as a regular generalist encyclopedia (see and then she can rely on Wikipedia as a “valid” source for the “check the fact” rhetorical situation. However, if she is doing a detailed report on a complex subject…shouldn’t she be checking multiple sources anyhow?

The Changing Face of Knowledge—or what is an “authoritative source”?
Once we acknowledge that the need for information is rhetorically situated, then we realize that what constitutes an “authoritative source” is just as rhetorically situated. The rants and raves against Wikipedia as a valid resource for academic papers is my current favorite point of rebellion. Let’s start with the easy stuff…any academic papers that go into any deeper level of detail on a topic never could reliably cite an encyclopedic source, internet based or not. All along scholars should have been teaching their students to use encyclopedias as starting places for their research. Like any other “academic” resource they include citations that then can send a student to more detailed resources. In other words, the rhetorical situation of writing an academic paper rarely ever allowed encyclopedia entries anyhow…why all the hub-bub?

But, the more fun argument, is to show when a Wikipedia entry might actually rhetorically fit the situation. One of my colleagues and I co-authored an article about the cross-modal narrative structures of contemporary science fiction film narratives. In other words, to “consume” all of the Star Wars or Star Trek narratives, to name the biggies, you have to “read” movies, television, books, video games, lunch boxes, underroos…and that’s only the officially sanctioned portion of the narrative structures. Then, there are the fan produced and published materials that also impact the world and narrative of these huge fiction franchises. For example, you really can’t consider yourself a huge Star Wars fan if you haven’t seen Troops. All of this to get to the point that there really is no easy place to point people to when discussing the various narrative franchises. Whereas most film scholars know to go to the Internet Movie Database, that database privileges information about the film narratives, some television and video game narratives, and has barely any connection to the fandom element. And even the connections across modes are difficult to make in IMDB; it privileges the film. Whereas the Wikipedia pages about each franchise very readily list the various modes of the narrative franchise, and some also highly develop the fandom angle. In our paper, we not only cite, but blatantly told our readers that the best “starting place” to read about any franchise is Wikipedia. Isn’t that ironic though, we ultimately use and refer to Wikipedia in our scholarly article for its original rhetorical purpose, general reference as an encyclopedia.

All this to get back to the idea of rhetorically reading a resource. What made the Wikipedia resources valuable for my colleague and I was the fact that more people had access to producing the information. In some cases, fans know more than an “expert” that either the production company or the academy has sanctioned as such. The power of Wikipedia, and the “average consumer” construction of content, is in the fact that more people are having input into the construction of knowledge. Much work of feminist scholars, especially feminist historians, is the reclaiming of “knowledge production” by different women in history. Because those women didn’t have access to “publishing” or “saving” their knowledge through the officially sanctioned mechanism (remember, those “educational” institutions listed above, schools, libraries, museums, etc.) their voices did not get to contribute to a more well rounded construction of historical “T”ruth.

By having more people producing and publishing “knowledge” we have a glorious multifaceted description of truth in the making. And once we can acknowledge that truth is culturally constructed, sanctioned, saved, and reproduced, we know that becoming a rhetorical reader is necessary. If we know who said it, why, and in what context…we can better understand the information and work it into our own complex vision of the world (or the topic we are studying).

Teaching in the 21st Century
Therefore instead of being “knowledge” experts, educators need to become “skill” experts. What does it mean to “do” rhetoric? History? Biology? I can look up what family and genus a poison dart frog belongs to; however, do I have the skills to think like a biologist? To do biology? And just as there are certain discourse practices that are privileged in one discipline and not in another, there will emerge a set of slightly differing information literacy practices for each discipline. Of course it makes sense that I’m fighting for the viability of Wikipedia, I’m one of those mushy humanities rhetorician folks, right? And the information literacy practices that will emerge in my discipline will be different than what emerges in physics. But teaching the “skill” of doing something is much more difficult then just “dumping the knowledge.” You can’t just test do a multiple guess test of skills. As “education” becomes more about learning how to “do” something, all of these government sanctioned assessments will become increasingly humorous and frustrating.

The Changing Face of the “Composition” Classroom…or How we Get Back to Donna’s “Digital Content Expanding”
Whereas many would think this information explosion has added a lot of work to composition instructor’s already full agenda, I would argue it has not. Just like we can’t possibly teach students to write for every rhetorical situation, we can’t teach them the specific methods of locating and using sources for every discipline. Instead, and I’m sure you’re getting tired of reading it, all we can do is teach them more generalizable skills, rhetorical practices (our specialty), that they can they apply to help them figure out the specifics of future situations. Translation: I can teach Johnny a set of questions to ask himself about a writing situation. I can teach Johnny a set of questions to ask himself about a researching/reading situation. I can’t teach Johnny how to research/read/write for every situation.

Now, the difference that is occurring is the production of dynamically changing information. It is no longer just about teaching my students to find the author, purpose, and context of the sources they are reading. I need to get them thinking about how these sources are co-authored, and change over time. In other words, show the beauty of Wikipedia by sending them to a page and having them read the “history” and “discussion” pages that provide a narrative of the construction of the entry. The “authority” of this information becomes real!

Similarly, this “digital content explosion” also demonstrates why “composition” instructors will increasingly be teaching multi-modal composition. Do you really think that academic articles will remain so flat and static with the increasing ease in which we can include pictures, sounds, videos, dynamic content, etc.? The written word will not be replaced; however, it won’t be so lonely anymore!

Digital Natives and the Digital Divide—A footnote
Finally, I do want to address the individuals who got halfway through my posting and went “not everyone has access to these technologies.” You are correct; although Educause, among others, use scholars like Prensky to describe how we need to address the needs of our “net generation” student, especially those of us at the community college know that not all of our students are digital natives and many live on the other side of the digital divide. However, I do agree with Neal Stephenson’s prediction in The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer; in Stephenson’s future, the poor are dependent on technology and only the super-rich can participate in more “natural,” “back to your roots” activities. (And if you really want to talk about the future of education technologies, let’s talk about that Primer…but that’s another blog.) And if you don’t buy that, we still do have a responsibility to help our students, even those on the other side of the digital divide, to compete in Friedman’s Flat World. Although I don’t like the term “cater” in The Chronicle of Higher Ed’s article, I do believe that colleges should be professional consultants, like doctors and lawyers—educational consultants—and be just as rhetorically adaptive to our students needs. And just like doctors and lawyers, that sometimes means telling them things they don’t want to hear. Those things might include, be comfortable with technology as well as know how to communicate solely using the written word.

I think that is enough for now…Donna, I hope this is what you were wanting. J


Cyborg at the shoe shine

I wish I had taken a picture; however, I’m not sure I could/can. (Another to-do, what are the ramifications of taking pictures of people, posting them to flickr, and then blogging about them?). Anyhow, so I had just come through security at the airport and looked up at a white man in a suite getting his shoes shined by a Hispanic man. The business man was in one of those elevated shoe shine booth things and had…

  • A laptop in his lap,
  • (Bluetooth?) earpiece in his ear, and
  • Palm or Blackberry in his hand.

I think what struck me the most about this image was the visualization, or the embodiment, of what we already “know” to be true about the overlapping class, race, and digital divides. That moment was evidence of what I feel in my community college classes all the time.

Back to picture issue…I almost went back and took his picture; however, the embodiment of his class stopped me. I did think, what if he found it and sued me? But, I’ve been taking pictures of people at the workshops I’ve been doing without getting their explicit permission. Humm…definitely need to look into this issue.

catching up with a rant…

Yesterday on the plane I caught up with this rant…

I’m always excited to find a listing of “new” technologies; however, I’m taking this list to “task” for another reason. Where is the “pedagogical innovation with new technology” award? In other words, it’s one thing to make these tools (and obviously part of the criteria on how/why they are the most innovative is because of their social impact); however, it feels like the vast majority of pedagogical technologies almost always develop for an “other” reason first. So are we the next step? How might these “new” and “innovative” technologies better facilitate teaching and learning? And since this is a review list hosted/published by MIT…tisk, tisk!

Gearing up for CCCCs

I’ll be heading off to this year’s 4Cs (Conference on College Composition and Communication) conference in NYC next Tuesday. Instead of taking a pile of work that I should, but never do, get done during the conference, I’m going to focus on the conference (what a concept). Part of this focus comes from the desire to produce multi-modal reports out on what I’m doing/learning/thinking as I go. To help with this I will do the following:

  1. Get caught up with grading as best I can, then tell students not to expect much from me until after CCCCs.
  2. Actually prepare my presentation in advance so I don’t have to fiddle with it while there.
  3. Bring my laptop, camera (takes both photos and video), iPod w/recorder, and cell phone to all events at the conference.
  4. Do quick time reporting via twitter.
  5. Do more thorough reporting/reflecting via blog.


I told the organizers of the CCCCs Interactive Review (see the 2006 postings) that I would like to participate. I’m still waiting for instructions; however, I’m hoping my blog entries will work for these.


I’ll be honest, I’m excited about the Twitter thing. It was “all the rage” at SXSW this past week, check out:


Thomson Workshop…periodic publishing and Just-in-Time Scholarship

Whew…the final thing to catch up with on reporting out from traveling in Fall 2006. Thomson-Wadsworth, the textbook company I have signed a contract with to write a researcher for FYC, asked my co-author and I to present at a workshop they hosted in Las Vegas (some pics). The “Keeping up with the Jetsons” presentation basically introduced the folks to various Web2.0 technologies and discussed how they might be used in both their own and their students’ lives.

Isn’t it cool to see writing teachers writing…

This trip, in collaboration with my dissertating, textbook writing, my MIL project, sandbox workshop series, Ocotillo R&D work, especially the MCCCD 2007 Convocation, has really helped me to understand how research faculty are so prolific. They recycle! I’m not saying they plagiarize and directly re-print/publish their own work; however, they rework, add and subtract, slightly shift focus, etc. to make something new.

So…my dissertation is work is a study of how faculty learn about and chose to incorporate new and emerging technologies into their teaching. My 2005-6 MIL project further focused that by trying to develop strategies for testing newer technologies in teaching and learning. My 2006-7 Ocotillo R&D project is a continued project on the MIL, while working with some newer technologies. With the 2006-7 Ocotillo work I’ve really begun to focus in on some specific web2.0 technologies.

While being zoomed in on the web2.0 technologies, I’ve started doing a lot of professional development workshops introducing these technologies to faculty. As I develop initial materials for these workshops, the materials further morph into materials for other workshops reports, and publications. Humm…as I’m writing I realize this is one of the examples of my idea on Just-in-Time Scholarship. If we begin to focus on our scholarship as a process, then any time you report out is a just-in-time snapshot of the moment. Obviously there are solid conclusions to scholarship projects/foci; and I would argue that is when your final just-in-time snapshot is a book (or major article). But what if we started to look at publishing processes like Kairos is beginning to develop, where the entire project will emerge as a periodic publication. And at each periodic report, multiple scholars get to reply, peer review, on the project to date. Heck…what if you published your research plans first, and got peer review at that stage? And that is why you all will soon see me publishing the plans for my various projects. I’m hoping readers who happen upon them will give some feedback.