Sunday, April 30, 2017

Week 13: Final Project

My project is going to be a video in which I demonstrate how to plagiarize writing. The reason for this is because many students, especially those from other cultures and countries, are unfamiliar with what is considered plagiarism in the United States. Sometimes, they are also unfamiliar with the expectations for a research paper. I have had students in the past who thought it was appropriate to take relevant passages from articles they had read and copy and paste them into a word processing document. There was little to none of their own writing between these passages explaining, in their own words, the connection to their research interest. In other words, as a reader, I didn't know why they had selected the passages they did or how it related to their paper topic.

The barrier I'm encountering with this project is the utter futility I feel about completing it, and this course, in the first place. I realize this is some kind of blanket requirement from the grad school, and I appreciate and value an eye toward ethical behavior in higher education. At the same time, to make this a requirement of students who teach writing and encounter ethical discussions and questions of ethical practice just about every day is borderline ridiculous. As a PhD student, I have serious demands on my time. Every week, I have three courses to read for; usually, our professors assign an entire book or 7-8 academic research articles. This is usually around 150 pages of reading, x 3 = 450 pages of reading per week. In addition to my reading, of course, are any papers assigned for midterms and finals. Besides my coursework, I am a teaching assistant with my own lecture preparation, administrative work such as updating and posting information on Canvas, and grading to complete. The sheer quantity of work is ghastly. This is my last semester of coursework, so I'm kind of amazed that I even got this far, especially as a nontraditional student (which many PhD students are). Adding this course to my workload, well, frankly, just pisses me off. But I suppose I'd better stop wasting my time complaining and work on my final project.

p.s. Oh, and let me add to this post that the fact that I find it EXTREMELY unethical to ask students to spend time writing blog posts (or any kind of writing, for that matter) which no one is actually reading, save for the occasional other student who may comment on this blog post out of necessity because it's required for this course. When we assign writing to students in the English department, at least the course professor is reading it closely and offering detailed feedback on it.

Week 12: Ethics and Personal Ethos

Ethics loom fairly large for a student studying rhetoric and writing. We discuss ethics...pretty much all the time. For instance, one of the topics in my Classical Rhetoric course last semester was whether or not teachers should attach ethics, especially those of a democratic society, to the teaching of writing and/or rhetoric. Concerns about writing and language go back to the Sophists, a group of oratory teachers who charged students for their services to prepare them to defend themselves in court. Gorgias is famously known for taking his payments up front, a practice he caught some flack for from his students because, they argued, they shouldn't have to pay if they were unsuccessful in defending themselves. Gorgias responded that if students were able to defend themselves successfully, then their paying up front was a defensible and acceptable practice. 

Interestingly, this practice continues today: students pay for their classes up front. If students don't pay, they can't continue taking the course. The automatic assumption made in higher education is that students will benefit or learn from their coursework. If they fail, that's on them: they still have to pay for the course (unless they withdraw by the appropriate time, and in many institutions, that still doesn't constitute a full refund). What if we were to change that practice? If students pass the course, they pay tuition. Or perhaps if they fail, they would be entitled to either a refund or the opportunity to take the class again at no additional charge. How would that change the status of higher education today, as we discussed in last week's topic, Declining by Degrees? 

Week 11: Declining by Degrees

I'm actually writing one of my final papers on the convergence of open access, social justice, and basic writing. Many of the issues raised in this film are ones I will address in my paper, such as a) finances, b) attrition rates and retention, c) students' backgrounds (educational performance, socioeconomic status, race, and more), d) remedial education in community colleges, and e) open access. Making colleges "open" to anyone who wants to apply gives the public the impression that education is equal and therefore, socially just. Not so. Having attended, tutored in a learning support center, and taught reading and writing at a large community college, I saw firsthand a diversity of students with a plethora of goals, attitudes, and abilities. I saw students achieve success who I thought were unlikely to, such as the young pregnant woman in my reading class who delivered her baby during the semester and returned to take her final exam and passed. I saw other students try hard and fail, such as the young man working a 40+ hour job and taking five (!) classes who got so far behind on his work, it was impossible for him to pass my class. I saw a nontraditional student develop strong English skills over the course of a year, and she worked diligently on application and scholarship essays that earned her admission to a competitive nursing program as well as a scholarship. As a student, I saw classmates who didn't give a flying frisbee about their classes and only distracted those of us who were trying to learn.

All of this is to say that while I acknowledge the many issues that plague the current state of higher education, I disagree wholeheartedly with the idea that it is declining, especially as more nontraditional and "unprepared" students are attending. College education is no longer for the wealthy and elite; open admissions were instituted in the 1960s and 70s as a remedy to that practice. However, giving students the ability to attend college doesn't also provide the ability to succeed. In order to do that, students, especially nontraditional and under-prepared ones, need learning support such as tutoring services, careful and frequent academic and financial advising, and teachers who are invested in pedagogy as much as research.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Week 10: CCCC Guidelines for the Ethical Conduct of Research in Composition Studies

This semester, I'm taking a course called Rhetoric in Digital Environments. This past week, we discussed the ethics of conducting research online. I decided to look at one of our field's organizations, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, to see what they had to say about digital research. The guidelines state that the public/private split should be taken into consideration and that "We do not assume, for example, that all digital/online communications are available for research studies simply because they can be accessed" ("CCCC Guidelines"). For instance, I have done research on writing center mission statements which are published on writing center websites. Because these statements are published on public, widely accessed websites, I have no ethical qualms with writing about them or directly quoting from them in my papers. To help understand how research in digital environments is not so straightforward, I think this figure from Heidi McKee and James Porter's article, "The Ethics of Digital Writing Research: A Rhetorical Approach," is useful:

For instance, McKee and Porter place a person talking about experiences with sexual abuse on different sides of the public/private divide based upon where that talk happens: on a blog is more public whereas in a private interview is more private. Nonetheless, this does not mean that directly quoting a blog in which the author discusses their sexual abuse could not be considered an ethical violation.

Week 9: Copyright

I haven't really experienced teachers using course packs, but most of my professors assign books or multiple journal articles every week for class readings. We had a librarian visit our department once who recommended that teachers use the permalink for journal articles instead of downloading the article and uploading it to an LMS because clicking the permalink gives the library data they need to see how many people are using a particular database. Obviously, if librarians see a database getting a lot of use, they will be more likely to renew the subscription. I think this practice is a good way to abide by fair use policies because it avoids the need for course packs and may even show how much attention a specific journal or even a specific article is receiving. I would think that would be helpful information for the library to have.  

Personally, I don't see a problem with professors scanning book chapters to share with their students because, to take this back to last week's topic of authorship, I would appreciate as an author if my work was shared. Academic publishing isn't really lucrative; the point is to create scholarship that helps one gain tenure. To give this project more impact, it would be great if all academic publications were turned over to a Creative Commons site after a certain amount of time because then the number of times the article/book is accessed could be tracked. I think it would also allow more people, especially those who don't have access to a fantastic university library like ours, to access that scholarship and benefit from its ideas spreading. 

Week 7: Authorship

I love the TED Talk by Austin Kleon. In my theory class this semester, we read Michael Carter's Where Writing Begins, and I think there is much to take from Carter's book and Kleon's talk about authorship and where writing, art, and ideas come from. Since the Enlightenment era, we have this notion (particularly in the West) that the author is a lone genius, toiling away in an attic somewhere. This concept leaves no room for what Kleon calls the "genealogy of ideas," a beautiful turn of phrase. Instead, Enlightenment thinkers would have us believe that ideas have to spring forth from one's mind like Zeus's children from his forehead (I might be taking that idea from Carter's book, but I can't remember at the moment). The whole point is that if we ascribe to Enlightenment thinking, we get this rascally notion that we own ideas, and this is part of what can cause writer's block. We don't know what to say or type or jot down because we think it has to be something original that no one has ever thought of before. Sorry, but we're just not that smart. Whatever we've thought, someone else has thought before. I'm sure those who have made scientific discoveries would argue that point, but I'm talking more generally about ideas and writing. 

Paul Prior describes a similar idea to Carter's and Kleon's: he uses the term "laminated trajectories." For Prior, everything you write touches upon your life experiences and helps create that piece of writing. Your conversation at a coffee shop earlier in the day, the drawings you created as a child (he used his daughter's drawings as an example because she become a biologist), and so forth, are part of the work you produce. He used the specific example of his daughter's dissertation, but the idea applies to just about any piece of writing. There is no original; I agree with Kleon. But damned if as academics we don't all still have to slap our names on an article or a book in order to prove that what we're researching is producing knowledge. At least it gives us all something interesting to read.

Week 6: Purdue OWL

The Purdue OWL is an invaluable resource to scholars and students around the world. I would argue that when the Writing Lab went online in 1995, it put writing centers on the international map. While many people still aren't familiar with writing centers, if anyone has Googled information about MLA or APA (or even Chicago style) citations, the Purdue OWL probably came up in the search results. According to its webpage, Giving to the Purdue Writing Lab, it "received in excess of 128,000,000 visits from people last year." That is an incredible number and should be evidence enough to convince higher ed administrators nationwide to fund writing centers on their own campuses.

The work of those creating and updating pages for the Purdue OWL cannot be appreciated enough. Harry Denny, the current director, just posted to a listserv recently that the OWL now has a Research section of its site. The goal of this section is to share research conducted about the Purdue OWL, such as the number of tutoring appointments they receive, as well as a usability report produced by former PhD students. This work is imperative for the ethos of the OWL and its administration, as Doug Hesse would call it. The OWL is setting an example that should be heeded by writing center administrators nationwide: sharing research to increase visibility of the writing center and producing empirical research that demonstrates its benefits to a wider audience.