Tag Archives: digital identity

Round 2

I’ve been recuperating after the two-week marathon of reading and writing that brought the Fall 2012 semester to a close. Thinking back on it now, I can reasonably guestimate that between the student papers I had to read (finals, revisions of earlier assignments) and my own projects I had to complete, I read or wrote somewhere near 120,000 words from November 30th – December 12th. I had originally intended to write this reflective piece after finishing the first semester, but think now that it was better to wait (read: be lazy). I’ve gotten some distance, and my brain has reassembled somewhat. I’m ready to move forward.

In moving forward, I feel I must look back on what I managed to accomplish in my first semester teaching College Composition I, and what I can be applied to College Comp II, which I start teaching this week. I’m trying to keep an eye toward the student experience. As I’ve acknowledged here already, I know that I defaulted to a mode of instruction too basic and safe: four papers, too much lecture, reliance on teaching the classic research paper model as the exemplar of college writing. For the uninitiated, this of course sounds like what students should be learning, so why would I be dissatisfied? I absolutely do not regret covering what I did. A first-year writing course should be concerned with coherence, detail, support, revision, research, audience, among many other aspects of “good” writing. So my first semester teaching comp was a success in that I covered what I needed to, but was that enough? I don’t think so.

I’d like for students to be engaged by more than an expectation that they will be engaged – I want that to be a more natural, organic relationship than my last class necessarily supported. I think a lot of the difference between a merely successful learning experience and a valuable learning experience comes from this gap. I also want to tread carefully here; I’m fully aware of the cliché college instructor in jeans and corduroy blazer, pleading for his students to “write whatcha feeeeeel, man!” Assignments and activities have to mean something to the student, but I am here to accomplish the above musts of a composition course.

I’ll have the opportunity to apply these lessons to College Comp I (1101) the next time I take up sections, presumably next fall semester, but I’ve also let this dissatisfaction inform how I approach College Comp II. I’ve decided to abandon the series of increasingly difficult papers model and instead focus directly on the writing process in manner that will be more innately appealing. I hope to do that in two ways. First I’ve organized the material of the course around something contemporary that many students are already steeped in without knowing it. Using the (E)Dentity reader (edited by Stephanie Vie), a collection of somewhat recent essays on issues of digital identity and negotiating online experiences, I believe students will find the topic relevant to whatever modes/arenas they conduct themselves in digitally. This is hopefully scalable across multiple levels of digital identification, from the deeply-immersed to those who may have little or no online presence. Ideally, everyone can find a place on the spectrum where they can say “here is where I am comfortable” or another where they can say “here is where I want to be.” The challenge from this topic will be keeping the conversation from reducing down too simply about services and ignoring deeper thought about digital identity.

The second way I anticipate this model can help students is by trying to replicate a level of scholarship that should hopefully exceed the complexity of writing they’d face in the near future. Essentially, I hope to have them construct a significant piece of scholarship that they can be confident would measure up to the scrutiny of the same community we constantly ask them to draw from for their research – academic research journals and edited collections. This may seem like too much to ask of someone so new to college-level writing, but I believe it can be reduced down to a series of parts that, taken alone, wouldn’t be cause for much stress. This is where the emphasis of process comes in, by showing how simple it is to assemble a process that accomplishes a great deal of work – something will be asked of them countless times over the next 3+ years of education. It may seem hard – and it would be insanely harsh of me to ask for what I will if I did so as a final paper assigned only weeks before it was due – but my ambition is to show them the benefit of a plan.

I’m fortunate in that I’ve recently experienced a unique approach to doing just this. Toward the end of my MA studies at University of Michigan-Flint, James Schirmer conducted a summer session graduate class modeled loosely after the idea of a “Book Sprint.” In short, the ~15 grad students in that class collaboratively conceived, planned, researched, and wrote an edited collection on a single topic, with the idea of book-level publishability as an end goal. I loved the class concept and enjoyed the process. It made a large project accessible and frankly not at all intimidating. I hope to replicate that same effect for my Comp II students. From my syllabus, introducing the modified version of the course James and I have come to call Text Dash:

This section of ENGL 1102 is modeled loosely on a method of compressed, focused, collaborative writing academics sometimes use to rapidly produce a collection of scholarship on a narrowly-defined topic. In a traditional “Text Dash,” the text is crafted from idea to finished product over the course of a long weekend. In ENGL 1102 we have the opportunity to space that out a little more. Over the course of the semester, you will gradually build the familiarity, resources, and skills necessary to collaboratively produce a well-informed and informative text of scholarship.

At the end of this course, you should be more than prepared to meet the demands of the academic writing assignments you will encounter as you continue at Georgia State University. (emphasis added here)

The Text Dash model will take students from familiarizing themselves with the in-progress discussion, through deciding what they can add to that discussion, to writing a fully realized, coherent, collaborative discussion of their own. From there, the course will replicate the process of taking on so large a project, and as a result, more organically cover all the things we think “good” writing must exhibit. The course will be divided into phases of preparation, research, drafting, and revision before submitting a “final” copy. Only one single paper will be written throughout the entire semester, but the process will space students evenly through the major requirements of pretty much any sizeable writing project, and all with the goal of something in-depth and publishable.

The last sentence from the syllabus above is exactly what I want from this course and why, as daunting as this class may sound to my students now, I’m betting they will stick around. While I won’t necessarily ask the same length of writing that such edited collections normally would, and my primary aim is not to actually publish their work (putting completely aside concerns of whether I even can ask them to put their work out, or what form it can legitimately take), I do hope they arrive on the other side of the class thinking that it wasn’t all that bad taking on so large a project. Ideally, the projects they face in the coming semesters can then be greeted not with panic or stress, but instead with “I’ve done something bigger than this. Let’s get started.”

8900: Identity discovery for the “other” in online spaces

My last two 8900 posts were embarrassingly long, so I’ll attempt to narrow in on my point much sooner this week. I’ll focus just on Alexander et al.’s Queerness, sexuality, technology, and writing.

The first question that comes to mind in choosing to comment on this piece is one of my own identity: what right do I have to speak here? I’m the definition of “default,” as the participants in this conversation would conclude. In virtually any broadly trafficked digital community(that is, a place founded not on those identifying a specific way), users are assumed male, Caucasian, and heterosexual. I do believe the past decade has seen the internet user as a conglomerate entity mature and attain a more nuanced awareness of the non-normative. Still, we humans like social sorting, and any deviation from our concept of “norm” translates to some degree of otherness. These identity-based online communities, as the authors discuss in relation to queerness, are powerful tools in exploring, defining, and contextualizing aspects of the self that users might otherwise never get to know as fully. As the “default” user assumed in so many online spaces, I can only imagine the power of these digital safe harbors for those who don’t see themselves when they look at the internet at large.

Samantha Blackmon contributed to this insight when she retold how the internet was part of her coming out process:

“It gave me a space to contemplate my feelings. Online I was able to experiment with my queer identity. I learned that it was actually okay to be a ‘tomboy’ and that I looked like I was in drag when I wore a dress because I actually was… It was all a question of performativity and ‘performing the femme’” (14).

Blackmon later adds,

“I think it is easier to come out online where nobody knows that you are older, darker, fatter, etc., things that can make you less desirable… a place where the various layers of ‘otherness’ can be hidden if one chooses, where one can ‘pass’ by a simple act of omission” (16).

I’ll tie this back to composition instruction in a way I didn’t anticipate when I started this reading. What happens when the students Selfe was most concerned about – those already at risk of underdeveloped tech literacy – happen to fall into one of the “other” categories? Quite aside from the already significant heap of problems associated with this denial of digital naturalization, some of these students may never experience the same growth opportunities the authors relate. If the digital writing space remains unfamiliar ground to these users, they may never trust it enough to be the negotiator between their real world “in” self and their digital “out” self. Such self-discovery may take years or decades longer as a result, and will be littered with the same pitfalls some of the authors disclose from their pre-digital days.

Again it falls to those of us who are comfortable and initiated in the digital writing world to hold the door wide for those who are not yet.

Transition

This marks the first post of this relocated blog. I get to feel all special for finally doing the 1999 thing and registering my own domain.

As far as already-present content goes, what comes before this post is an import of content from my Blogger blog. I kept most of what populated that blog, but did cut some of the more unrelated content from when I started writing there in 2009. Most of the earlier stuff had to do with class-required topics from one of my first University of Michigan-Flint classes, a course on digital rhetoric and new media in the classroom. The blog went silent for about a year until I resurrected it and refocused it as I began work on my MA thesis, an ill-fated and presumptuous answer to questions of the author’s fate as the ebook/ereader market exploded. I’ve maintained it sporadically since.

I intend to keep to mostly the same topics here, and because any blog relaunch or relocation wouldn’t be complete without empty promises to write more, I’ll vow to post more entries on more topics. That brings me to my thoughts on how I’ll choose what I include here.

When this blog launched for that UM-Flint class three years ago, my instructor and now friend James Schirmer introduced us to a term for a condition I had not realized was definable: multiphrenia. This term describes the sense of personality fracturing we experience as we engage with an ever-increasing number of social environments, particularly digitally. As Schirmer explained then, the multiphrenic self is constantly choosing which self to be in which venue. We experience great pressure to craft unique personas for each place, be it Facebook, as instructors online, in emails to students, in emails to faculty, on Twitter, in online games, when writing for blogs, or any other digital space we inhabit. One of the greatest assets of a digital life – the ability to seriously consider what we say before we hit “submit” – can turn against us as we experience anxiety over how we will be perceived once our text appears on someone else’s screen, so we fracture ourselves into our different aspects.  To see how we dissociate these facets, look no further than the methods Facebook and G+ offer to sort our connections into groups or circles. By enabling the sorting which information is sent to which group, we’re encouraged to be different things to different people online.

It is this identity stratification I’ve decided to resist. This blog will be refocused with this in mind. One of the causes for the large gaps between my posts in the past (not the cause – I can tend to be lazy, too) was my apprehension over what I was including. As you may see from the post before this one, I recently experienced the gut/mind/soul-wringing process of gaining admission to a PhD program (I was accepted to Georgia State’s Rhetoric and Composition, by the way). In the months between summer of 2011 and April this year, I’d had many notions to post on any of several topics, but I always froze when I asked myself one question: what if someone from the admissions committees at one of my schools decided to take a look at me beyond my application materials? Was I comfortable putting myself out there more and more, especially if it was more off topic? In retrospect, I realized I obsessed to the point of talking myself out of submitting several posts I enjoyed writing because they were unable to be reconciled with the image of Roger the hopeful academic. For better or worse, the personality compartmentalization worked out and I made it to where I wanted to be. I think that should end now. I’ve recently made the decision to integrate my Facebook and Twitter selves. Including this blog in the same person is the next step in the reunification of my online self.

If for some reason you end up being a reader of this blog, you may want a little about what to expect. This is how I’ll organize posts from this point forward:

  • 8900: These are posts responding to weekly topics for a Fall 2012 course on the subject of computers and composition. I’ll keep them around all semester. At the end, I may delete some or all of them, but I anticipate keeping at least a few if I think the topics have a broader applicability to what I prefer to write about here.
  • For Good Measure: Generally off-topic, more personal writing about anything and everything.
  • Probably Cats: I’m a cat guy. So much so that I even outed myself as a hopeless cat guy to one of my ENGL 1101 sections. These posts have a high probability of being cat-related.

Anything not falling into one of these headings can probably be assumed to be vaguely related to my professional life: composition, writing center stuff, pointless academic philosophizing, digital selves or rhetoric, and writing. Read on, dear friends. The great experiment begins!