Patchwriting Coming to a Paper Near You

August 22, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: rhetoric, WAC 

Many students enter Cayuga with a simplified view of plagiarism: such as, It’s something only cheaters do.  Or  When in doubt, cite everything.

As Howard mentions in the following video, using sources is a challenge all writers face.  If the writer hasn’t written frequently for the disciplinary genre at hand, he or she can’t ignore patchwriting that results in intentional or unintentional plagiarism.  ELL and underprepared students, in particular, need to be aware that hoping not be caught or not having been caught in the past won’t master patchwriting.

Plagiarism is treated as an academic crime, and like any crime, being unaware of the criminal code or ignoring it is no excuse for breaking the rules.  Instead, acknowledging that we’re all at risk and taking more time to read, practicing paraphrasing, and studying what a paper demands through models or expert feedback are the better approaches to take.


The Subject is Writing

April 17, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: FYC, rhetoric, WAC 

Are you familiar with WAW pedagogy in writing scholarship? Click on the Wardle and Downs book for a useful bibliography on it.

     WPA Bib on WAW

For a number of semesters I’ve been using the Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing anthologies in two of my courses, and its plausible to believe the argument that Writing About Writing can address the long-time concern of writing skill transfer beyond a composition class.

By the way, Writing Spaces is freely distributed under a Creative Commons license, so adopting it provides an immediate solution to the over pricing of college textbooks.

The Community College Writer: Exceeding Expectations

September 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: FYC, Professional Writing, review, rhetoric, WAC 

Exceeding Expectations Howard Tinberg and Jean-Paul Nadeau’s recent study confirms many details faculty working with community college writers know, but their research also presents some surprises.  CC students do exceed expectations considering the “tidal wave of life” they face.  They desire a challenging study of writing–not watered down assignments or standards, but they require very clear procedures of what to do.  Tinberg and Nadeau find that their CC curricula is anchored in current-traditional rhetoric (definition, classification or division, narrative, description, and process) with a heavy reliance on skills-based instruction.  However, “a more complex picture of writing instruction emerges from the remaining genres represented in student portfolios: the memoir, film review, experimental lab report, journal (especially informal reactions to reading), writer’s autobiography, resume and cover letter” (62).  Revision beyond surface conventions is infrequent.  Many comments made on students’ papers don’t help them because they’re misunderstood, yet “85% of faculty reported seeing improvements in student writing as a result of faculty feedback” (40).  Most writing is completed for English classes, but inside and outside composition class, the writing assignments train students toward academic and professional writing goals.  One of the more interesting survey results in the study, I found, was that while nearly all faculty saw student writing as important for future employment, less than half of the students thought writing would be relevant to them beyond school.  Students want a writing experience different than in high schools, and so it seems where continued academic writing may fail to engage community college writers, vocational awareness and assignments based on those kinds of procedural rhetoric (genre based, critical-cultural studies purposes) might be embraced for its potential in practicing rhetoric-composition, instead of avoiding or categorizing it as merely skill-centered or remedial.

Awards from the Center for Plain Language

April 29, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: invention, Professional Writing, rhetoric, WAC 

We shouldn’t defend bad language and writing, and it isn’t productive to blame or complain.  We should do something about it.  The Center for Plain Language, a fairly new nonprofit, is looking to improve how people and companies write for audiences through granting awards to the some of the “best and worst” writing; let me emphasized that the key marker here for granting the award is audience.  CPL explains that “The definition of “plain” depends on the audience. What is plain language for one audience may not be plain language for another audience.”  Writing should attend to people’s needs, however.   No doubt, this rubs people the right way because citizens are justifiably frustrated with bureaucratic language.

As I said, we shouldn’t defend unclear writing, but we should understand why it happens before taking action.  It’s not a lack of will.  Often, cloudy writing is an issue of authority.  If a writer or speaker is worried how others will respond (get angry, not accept, and/or penalize the statements made), he or she will become veiled or convoluted in his or her language.  Syntax and diction becomes obscure.  Writing for a boss or teacher who has authority over us then promotes long-noun phrases, nominalization, and/or searching through the thesaurus for a “unique,” if not always “the best,” word.  Politicians and legislators may be especially susceptible because they are sensitive to public or party opinion.  Lawyers use legalese, in part, to distance themselves from their audiences because the distance distinguishes them (and protect themselves) from others, implying status.  Thus, I’d like people to remember the next time they disparage “un”plain language that negotiating authority in writing is at least as important as language control and understanding audience.

As another example, consider academics, who are often accused of producing more jargon than knowledge.  Sure, sometimes, people–academic professionals or otherwise–don’t really have much to say and inflate their words to compensate.  Yet theoretical language and words do have their place. If the same words and grammar are used, judgments and conclusions tend to promote the same ideas and constrain innovation.  Since writing assists how one thinks and understands a subject or advances one’s analysis, theorizing and using new vocabulary is a messy, unclear process in expression.  But again, this happens because writing for one’s own purpose(s) can be important.  In addition, specialized language promotes bonding within a discipline.  If academics can recognize peers researching similar problems, for a time, speaking in specialized “tongues” assists comprehension of the solutions proposed.  We accept specialized tools for getting labor done more easily, and since we know language is a tool, why don’t we see jargon as a disciplinary tool?  Mostly, we are annoyed by it.  And we should be irritated when institutions disable us, not that the language isn’t universally transparent.  Language isn’t telepathy but always requires interpretation.

If you are interested in some “clear” examples of institutions faltering in their “official” words, check out the NPR story on CPL’s awards.

CCCC Report on Writing Majors at a Glance

The NCTE committee charged with compiling information on undergraduate writing majors has completed its report.  In sum, the CCCC article explaining the results observes there are two types of undergraduate writing majors depending on the college: Liberal Arts or Professional/Rhetorical; the former is founded in creative writing and literature, the latter in writing theory and praxis (418).  Nationally, the writing major is growing with 68 degrees at 65 unique schools documented.  Most are housed in English departments and are either quite flexible and/or interdisciplinary degrees.  Candidates are encouraged to double major.  None of this should is a surprise.  What is interesting, however, is where these points coincide in principle with Cayuga’s own writing concentration.  At Cayuga, many liberal students are interested in creative writing, and professional writing courses are linked to other majors such as business, mechanical tech, computer information, or telecommunications.  This difference is recognized by Cayuga students through their desire for personal-literary expression and writing that gets-things-done.

Overall, two curricular recommendations were made:

  1. The Writing Major might include a foundations/ introductory course such as those found in psychology, sociology, etc.
  2. The bachelors degree should have a capstone experience–i.e. a portfolio, internship, or other experience through which students might draw together and/or apply what they’ve learned about writing.

Finally, it was suggested more rhetorical history and research methods instruction be included in undergraduate writing studies.  Cayuga is addressing these concerns in several ways.  An honors English 101 has been offered successfully that focuses on an Introduction to Writing Studies (rhetoric and composition); plans are in process to offer such designated 101’s in the future.  Professional Writing, a new writing concentration course with an experiential component, will be offered Fall 2010.  Several new one-credit English 238 courses are scheduled for Fall 2010, one on Written (Rhetorical) Invention, another a revision workshop that would help a student’s writing portfolio for transfer or prospective interviews.  In total, Cayuga is making several steps toward meeting the recommendations in the CCCC Report on Writing Majors and looks forwards to continuing to offer a very reasonably affordable education for those interested in writing for careers and transfer.

Student Writing & Fast Capitalism

January 31, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: History, postprocess, rhetoric 

We live in the age of fast capitalism.  At first glance, this is an exciting time to live.  Through global transit and technology, the world is better connected.  People have access to different cultures and language.  Our opportunity to learn and know increases.  Potentially, people can improve themselves.  The world market can assemble products and provide services quickly and with economic and resource efficiency.  Westerners have a particular advantage at the moment and as consumers can get more of what they want, when and how they want it.  For all the serious environmental and human consequences, there are lots of benefits to more and cheaper.

So you may ask, how does fast capitalism effect student writing?  If more communication is necessary through globalization and interconnected technology, in fact, there are many opportunities for students to write as future workers.  Again, that’s exciting.  Student writers can write for multiple purposes: email, texting, web design, multi-media advertising, research and reports, etc.  As future workers, students must be adaptable to market needs, but is that really a big deal?  Flexibility is a virtue of fast capitalism, and who begins college with the goal of becoming lazy?  People are motivated to go to college for various reasons, but laziness isn’t usually at the top of their list.  Students are motivated to train for a job or want the experience of learning under demanding and stimulating classes.  Even if the reason to attend higher education originates from parents or social pressure,  college can be an ideal setting in preparing for a world of fast capital.

And frankly, old fashioned capitalism and industry can make work boring .  When Henry Ford famously implemented the assembly line where tasks were broken down into simple manageable units, workers felt under challenged with the same day-to-day drudgery.  But industrialization didn’t stop with managing products.  People were susceptible too.  Post-Fordian thinking breaks people down into manageable units.  Yet if fast capitalism works, people are kept too busy to become bored.   Productivity is admirable and its own reward, isn’t it?

Today’s writers are challenged with new tasks and more genres than before.  Unfortunately, as writing across the curriculum has shown us, little in writing is easily transferred.  Writing is never a generic or basic skill.  Under the industrial age, writing tasks were standardized.  For example, the business letter, scientific research, or technical instructions were learned and executed by the same professionals.  But today, we are expected to write using complicated technological tools for sophisticated goals.  This takes more time to learn than most workers or students have available to them.  Complex talents like writing take time and practice to learn.  So what happens when more people are required to write in an information age?  The resulting pressure isn’t necessarily bad; it can motivate and stimulate problem solving and creativity.  One problem, however, is that since the platforms and genres change with the speed of cultural markets, fewer students will be quick or advantaged enough to adapt.  Especially in a time when more communication is needed, this is frustrating for students, teachers, and employers.

Students appear to write no worse than in years past, yet in such demanding times, it may feel like there are fewer competent writers because in meeting specific communication tasks, people are excluded from the time it takes to master those tasks.  In addition, one written skill set conflicts with others: students often say frustratingly, “But that’s the way I learned it before.”  By the time someone masters a Blackberry, the iPhone becomes the mobile communication platform of choice.  By the time a writer learns MLA citation, it’s been updated and s/he has become a chemistry major required to document according to the American Chemical Society guidelines.  Likewise, as a budding chemist, exposition is less important than the ability to produce complicated molecule diagrams, so writing first-year composition essays only partially prepares them for the new genre demand.

Specialization coupled with fast capitalism can cause resistance on the part of students saying they can’t write because they sense the time, energy, and proficiency will move on before they’ve mastered the necessary skill sets.  Frustration leads to desperation.  Groups blame one another for the bad writing they see.  Students ignore or avoid their impulses to express and develop their writing ability.  The effect can be contagious enough to effect an entire school, region, or nation.  And since one rule of fast capitalism is that those who are fastest to deliver draw economic investment, talented people are then drawn to the social, regional, and economic success.  Some worker pools gain advantage; others stagnate or even degrade.  Those that stagnate must sell off what they have, whether its skill or local materials, usually at reduced market rates.

But one piece of  good news is that technological tools like writing can allow people greater means to produce.  Learning to write doesn’t need to be a continual chasing after new kinds of writing and conventions.  Learning to write that fosters inquiry positions students with talents for inventing new ideas and revising old ways of explaining, directing, and making products or services.

Questions: Since fast capitalism emphasizes writing as a handmaiden to employment, does it leave space for people’s humanity, family, and nation?  Is so, where?

New Media Vids

October 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: New Media, rhetoric 

Here are a couple of new media videos to consider.  The first explains what Google  sees as the next step from email, but they’re really talking file-sharing and e-committees.

What is Google Wave?

The second is similar to what we’ve seen before, making the case for social networking as legitimate communication.
Social Media Revolution

Considering Academia 2.0, Writing, & the Community College

October 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: History, invention, New Media, postprocess, rhetoric 

“It’s not about timing. It’s not about keeping it short. It’s about relevance.”  –Mike Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Kansas State University

Wesch is right. Information is not scarce. But even in an information age, knowledge making can be. Writing is more than a container for knowledge; it can help processing, development and production of new knowledge. For this reason, writing to learn and examining expression might present an attractive study for college students. Students crave forums for expression; they want to be heard.  Learning information alongside learning to persuade is powerful and rewarding.  Personal purpose and goals make information relevant, but understanding that we have to talk to one another within different social structures is some of what rhetoric and writing provides in its educational long-term.

If we accept the Academic 2.0 argument about the importance of teaching the “how” and not merely the “what” of information, we embrace the importance of writing and rhetorical studies. We can then work to implement communication activities beyond the lecture and can accept communication’s interdisciplinary habits in addition to its residing within the domain of the English department.

That said, community college students often face a wider digital divide than assumed under Web 2.0 arguments. It’s incorrect to assume all students have been naturalized to blogs, wikis, mashups, or mobile networks. This is not to say community colleges give up. The opportunities to write and research with these technologies are likely to accelerate, and ignoring the latest developments because not everyone knows them will only widen the technological divide. However, it is important to acknowledge what many (considering that the majority of students in the country are community college students perhaps I should say “the majority of”) freshmen are not digital natives. And if their professors must immigrate to the digital too, there is a tendency to go with what is most comfortable: chalk and talk, lecture and note take, and read/discuss.

While I see nothing wrong with these classroom approaches in general, academia needs to consider seriously Wesch’s earlier observation that The Machine is Us/ing Us, for our media platforms rewrite how we compose and make language (and therefore knowledge).

Or as one of the comments under the Academia 2.0 video says,

Academia is dead! learning can be done faster and better outside of universities, renting an office space and committing yourself to learning a subject has far less distractions...

Community colleges’ missions center on learning and job training, so I say, Why not put the media machine into the curriculum? It’s influencing how people gather information and make personal, civic, and business decisions. Academica can become more relevant if entry points to the network are practiced in and outside the classroom.

So blog on…

Using Topoi to Write an Essay

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: invention, rhetoric 

Got an essay to write? Has freewriting given you nothing?
Don’t know how to fill in your outline? Can’t development a thesis argument?

Try using Aristotle’s Topoi as modernized by Mark Marino, Jack Blum, Kevin Egan at the USC Writing Program.

The Widget works, but the videos above don’t play.
If interested in understanding more about Topoi, watch the youtube copies below.