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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Week 8: Plagiarism Project Proposal

Coming from the rhetoric and composition discipline, plagiarism is an often discussed topic in our classrooms. Many students come to writing classrooms with varying levels of familiarity with plagiarism. Some are taught the concept in high school; some are taught and forget; others are confused about the blurry lines in using source material; and yet others come from cultures or countries where plagiarism is either treated differently or perhaps even nonexistent. For instance, the often-cited example that China does not have copyright laws might come up, and Virginia Tech has a significant amount of international students from China. For a student unfamiliar with the conventions of academic writing in the United States, the concept of plagiarism is almost incomprehensible. In my own experience, students in my classes have copied and pasted large segments of articles into an essay without any context such as signal phrases, introduction or conclusion sentences, much less the required punctuation such as quotation marks and parenthesis around the citation.
In order to try to address this situation in a potentially new way, I propose to create a short video demonstrating how to plagiarize. By this, I mean to demonstrate how a writer might actually perform the act of plagiarism, whether they intend to or not. I will use screen capture software to show how to highlight text from an article, copy and paste it into a word processing document, and leave out the aforementioned punctuation and language signposts indicating these words are someone else’s. I will also demonstrate patchwork plagiarism by taking a quoted sentence and substituting certain words using the dictionary. With this video, I aim to add an element of humor to the situation while still making the point about how plagiarism is actually done in order for students from all kinds of backgrounds to understand what they should not do.