Friday, June 03, 2016

This Year's Projects

This year was my first in the English Department at Sacramento State, and it was a good one.

The students here are fantastic. They keep me on my toes by demanding I demonstrate the value of the learning objectives we're pursuing. I really like that attitude. And the University and Department have made me feel very welcome.

One of the ways the University has worked to bring me aboard was a Faculty Learning Community on e-portfolios, reflection, and metacognition. It's like a class for faculty, and this one focused on topics I enjoy tremendously.

As a group, we created action research projects. We introduced reflective activities into our courses and evaluated the results... as best we could in the limited time.

For my project, I made some changes to the reflection tasks I ask my composition students to perform. Previously, the reflections were all kept separate from the portfolio in a journal. Last term, I asked students to place their reflections into their electronic portfolios alongside drafts and other writing process stuff. Each assignment had its own tab, and now, as readers scroll through the tab, they move from the early stages of writing to the final draft - able to see reflections, outlines, ideas, drafts, peer feedback, and other material in a kind of timeline. The effort was to create a visual narrative of each student's writing process - one narrative for each assignment.

The results were encouraging. I had several students using the new portfolio format in cool ways. They referred to items on the page to describe their process and progress. The portfolio letters of many students were more specific. I intend to start formally collecting data and writing this project up next year. For now, there's a poster.

The poster summarizing my project

The project was informed by the book Writing across Contexts and the teaching for transfer pedagogy it presents. I've continued to tinker with my composition courses using the book as a guide. I keep up with the book's impact on the Teaching for Transfer blog. It's had a huge impact on my teaching and my research. The book guided the creation of the theoretical framework I used to design my dissertation study.

I'm looking forward to presenting some of the results of that dissertation and outlining the follow-up project at the IWAC Conference in Ann Arbor later this month. I'll be presenting on Thursday at 1pm along with several other scholars who have investigated writing in the sciences. I'll post the Prezi up here when its complete.

I'm aiming to turn that presentation into a paper I can submit before summer ends.

The other big project this summer involves getting ready for a new coordinator position here at Sacramento State. Next fall I will be coordinating the University's Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement... Yes, you read that right, I will be coordinating the GWAR.

Aside from the awesomeness of being professionally associated with Slave Pit Inc, the job is an exciting challenge. I look forward to seeing what happens to my vision of large-scale writing assessment as it is subjected to the bureaucratic and political machinery of a state university.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Intertextuality Video

So, I'm gearing up for some summer teaching, and I just found this video on intertextuality -  a concept I teach in my Composition across the Curriculum course.
Look forward to using it in class!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Follow up from post on Scholarship and Popular Media

So, last week I posted about John Oliver's segment and how it is related to the rhetorical analysis assignment I give my students.  

Then a friend posted this old PHD Comic


And then I saw this video about how maple syrup kills cancer. It's related to this study, which does not make anywhere near as bold a claim as that.



So, yeah, the essay assignment remains relevant.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Popular Science and Scholarly Science - An Assignment

For a few years now, I've been using a version of an assignment developed by Dana Ferris in which the students perform a rhetorical analysis of two texts:

  • A study from a scholarly journal 
  • The popular media's reporting on that issue. 

It's worth noting here (as Dana pointed out in an FB comment,) this assignment was inspired by an assignment from the first edition of Writing about Writing by Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs.

I enjoy the assignment because it's big and messy and it gets at the larger learning objectives a first-year writing course should aim for.

And now I have a reason to show John Oliver in class!

I wrote as much on Facebook after sharing that video this morning (it's work-related).

One of my colleagues asked me to share the assignment, and so, here it is.

On the day I introduce the assignment, the students have two readings to complete before class.

  • One is an online textbook chapter on A) how much of a pain in the ass it is to read scholarly journal articles and B) some tips on how to read those articles.
  • The second reading is a scholarly journal article by Ken Hyland about comparing popular media readings to scholarly readings. 
In class we consider the readings (and in future classes, we'll watch that Last Week Tonight video), and then we walk through the assignment. 








We then visit the library to A) meet with a librarian who shows us how to search for scholarly articles and B) search for a popular report on a subject that interests each student personally (maybe the topic is related to the student's major).

While they read, annotate, and analyze their two articles, they also read a textbook chapter on genre and another on rhetorical analysis.

The goal is to give the students language they can use in their essays, and that's a lot of what lecture is about before introducing an in-class activity that asks students to complete a table by comparing rhetorical features of the two articles.

Then they draft, get peer feedback, revise, get instructor feedback, and finally have the option to revise for their portfolios.

Again, it's a great assignment, and now with more comedy!



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Emoji and Language

This week's Idea Channel video is about emoji, writing, language, discourse analysis, linguistics, composition, mediated speech, technology, and the larger question of what makes something language.

So, yeah, I was pretty into it.
The video goes out of its way to point us toward Gretchen McCulloch's blog, All Things Linguistic. It also shows the way to her SXSW talk on the subject (with slides!).

All of it is worth a listen.

Monday, April 18, 2016


I Won't Ignore a Lack of Smoking Guns

I admire Naomi Klein. She is an important voice in the climate change debate. She models an intelligent way to argue against globalization. Her book No Logo is immensely important for people trying to understand how the modern corporation has impacted cultures.

But my admiration does not mean I will unquestioningly accept everything she has to say. I expect a smart argument from Klein.

That is why I was disappointed when I finally got around to reading Klein's piece in The Nation from earlier this month. I expected a critique of Clinton, which I got. But more importantly, from Klein I expected a careful critique, which I did not get.

I'm proud of the debate the Democratic presidential primary has fostered. It's been invigorating to read and listen to arguments about criminal justice reform, environmental regulations, and economic inequality. Bernie Sanders deserves a lot of credit for bringing these issues to the fore.

But to put a new spin on one of Clinton's go-to lines from the New York debate: It is one thing to demand we debate an issue; it is another thing to debate that issue in a substantive way.

Klein spends the first third of her piece arguing this: We do not need to find any clear evidence that Clinton has been corrupted in order to argue that she is in fact corrupt.

I'm not exaggerating.

After admitting there "is no proof–no 'smoking gun'," Klein's argument effectively becomes "Clinton’s web of corporate entanglements is deeply alarming with or without a 'smoking gun.'” This statement is followed by two things:
1. A description of just how serious the climate change issue is (a description no one from the Clinton camp would deny).
2. An invitation to "forget the smoking guns for the moment."

At that invitation, I'm already checking out. Even though the rest of the piece includes some smart analysis of Clinton-style policy making, it is out of line for Klein argue we should accept Clinton as corrupt without clear evidence.

When we discuss Clinton, we are talking about a woman who has been the target of countless smear campaigns. By itself, that's not a problem; Clinton is a prominent public figure, which makes her a target for those kinds of attacks. She can handle it.

But for people who are critically engaged in public political discourse, the existence of clear evidence is the only way we can sort the smears from the substantive attacks.

When an intelligent public thinker such as Klein asks us to ignore the lack of evidence - even if only for the moment - she is asking us to suspend our critical engagement.

And where does that lead us?

Later in Klein's piece, we read this:
Books have been filled with the failures of Clinton-style philanthrocapitalism. When it comes to climate change, we have all the evidence we need to know that this model is a disaster on a planetary scale. 
Let's examine what Klein has asserted here.

Klein, who writes primarily about climate change, would have us believe the model used by The Clinton Foundation is a disaster on a planetary scale. She doesn't say the model has contributed to the planetary disaster of climate change. No. The "model is a disaster on a planetary scale."

Klein's language is placing the blame for climate change on The Clinton Foundation

Of course I know Klein doesn't think the climate change crisis began in 2001 when the Bill Clinton started the non-profit foundation.

That's silly.

But when we expect readers to accept arguments (or accusations) without evidence, we are allowed to say some silly things.