As NaNoWriMo comes to a close, I’d like to mention a project to keep writers up on their daily wordsmithing practice. For if NaNoWriMo is the marathon of writing achievements, “a little thing called 750 words” (http://750words.com) is the daily training for any distance one might want to conquer. It’s purpose is to encourage consistent writing behavior. It meets that goal by making one accountable using a number of interactive features. For instance, one can receive daily email reminders. Yet it’s strongest accountability builds on the e-contract feeling that we need to report in. Many of us check our email, Google Reader, or Facebook account several times a day. This service builds on that tenacity.
The website gives credit to The Artist’s Way and Julia Cameron’s concept of morning pages. This heritage of uninhibited freewriting goes back further than contemporary Zen spiritualism to roots in surrealist automatic writing. But where the surrealist automation was about freeing us from modern mechanization and machine uniformity by knocking us out of our comfort zones, 750 strives for us to be comfortable, and it succeeds in this goal of feeding our writing machines.
The running word count at the page bottom is timed as if one were keeping score in a videogame. In fact, words translate into a point system if one is interested in measuring writing production in that way. Most successfully in 750 Words, writers acquire badges for maintaining their daily writing streak, and these badges reward the same way as when we loved getting stickers as kids. Furthermore, the fact that the writing may be done anytime during that 24 hours (not a minute before or after), even start and stopped during the day to meet one’s schedule, gives the participant a considerable amount of personal control over what can normally be a burdensome task. Accomplishing the daily words earns badges that begin with an egg , progress to flighted birds , and extend to mythical incarnations such as the Phoenix, extinct Pterodactyl, and undiscovered Space Bird. Badges claim to be mysterious, and the page on badge taxonomy suggests others might appear at any moment to comment on our writing behaviors and budding abilities for eloquence and fluidity. The promise is that even if one were to achieve the 500 day badge, there’s still more to be gained. The brilliance of this cannot be understated, for this parallels the spontaneity and emergence that freewriting ideally produces.
Another worthwhile feature is the stats provided for the day, month, and eternity. An algorithm attempts with some success to understand the words we type and to identify our writerly moods and content. And as one might expect, the website’s designer provides links to a blog, personal settings page, and a patron level, where one has the opportunity to sponsor this free service. More advanced features include the ability to reviewing one’s past writings according to the day, storing words under secret password protection (the equivalent of a diary lock), searching old entries using a word or phrase that is complete with an export tool, and a monthly challenge that includes a “Wall of Shame.”
Like many Web 2.0 applications, the site provides users the experience of what’s come to be called social presence. That means even solitary writers who like to spend time with their own thoughts and expression are gratified by knowing others elsewhere are doing the same thing. The most individual and isolated among us feel the benefit of finishing with a satisfying visual confirmation, and feel intimately part of something larger when our name appears next to others who just completed their 750 words minutes before or seconds after us. Different time zones add to this global presence when the minutes match those around us but the hours indicate that someone somewhere on the other side of the world put one word and line after another into their own narratives–building talent through the exercise of daily writing muscles.
Any pressure to write bestselling literature is removed. Sometimes, participation is about nothing more than misspelling words that no one would be able to read even if they were made public.
Personally, I’m going to keep writing using 750 words for as long as I can, or at least until I can earn the 100 day badge. It’s right for me because it supports my writing identity, and the first and last rule to define writers is that they write. It’s a simple dictum, even if it is far from easy to become good at it. But becoming good isn’t the main point of being a writer, and it certainly isn’t the point of participating in 750 Words. The point here is that this 2.0 Web App understands writing is a process of becoming. Or as we say in rhet-comp, “writing is a practice.” And whether writing 1 or 751 words daily, that is the journey that defines our path.
NOTE: this entry was written and revised over three days using 750 Words.
Jesse Schell mentioned the following article on Facebook, and I think it’s something worth passing on. I grew up told to put two spaces after a period. Then, I came to think of the space as a rhythm indicator for prose; two spaces equal two resting beats. I’ve long known one space had become the norm, but do we (including me) do it? No, I don’t, and my students in English 101 today admitted being taught to use two spaces. Only one student had been trained to use a single space. Thus, even when it comes to the “simple” period, the standards depend on circumstances. In taking a look at the article, we come to understand that typographical font with monospaced type would still require it. E-documents would not.
(Note how many spaces I used in my post.)
Faculty may now designate courses “WI” (writing intensive) on transcripts by applying to the WAC Committee. The following slide show is from the Faculty Forum. It provides some resources in defining the writing assigned as Writing-to-Learn (informal writing to help students master course content) and Discipline (WID) Writing that is more concerned with form, function, and formatting.
The template for applying will be available soon.
Cayuga provided Angel training today for our online, hybrid, and web-enhanced courses. Two bits of information that struck me as useful. The first was not a surprise.
- Angel will be replaced within the next couple of years with another LMS. Since Blackboard purchased Angel and is likely to replace it with one of its products, more discussion needs to happen. And I’d encourage everyone with experience in online learning to take part.
- The second was an excellent reminder for those “writing” with new media or looking to add select widgets to your webtext. To find the perfect app, the Map of the World 2.0 can be browsed using the Mosaic or searched more strategically using the application reviews.
Kairosnews posted the following music video yesterday. It’s a student project by Chandler Birch, Josh Stephens, and David Perkins out of Taylor University published to YouTube on November 26, 2010.
After playing the video a few times, I find it persuasive through two means: 1) it taps into the irritation people feel for Blackboard Inc because of their LMS’s complexity and confusion, and 2) the music isn’t half bad. As one comment said, “My kids don’t even know what [Moodle] is but they won’t stop singing your song.” The creators can’t hide that this is a student project, but using the most of their resources, they still clinch some of the moving features for this music genre.
Do you find it persuasive? Do you find it persuasive if you’ve never used online course tech?
I’ve written elsewhere that if one looks, there are lots of open source options for online learning.
Filed under: FYC, Professional Writing, review, rhetoric, WAC
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.
We know attention is as important to writing as it is to most any practice, and a lot competes for our attention these days. But are we more distracted than in the past? The discussion has gone something like If you are distracted constantly, you become dependent on the stimuli in your environment–digital life and multitasking have “shallowed” our ability to attend to the world and our very bodies.
Or There’s no such thing as distraction–being distracted means we pay attention elsewhere. We’ve always multitasked, and we’re smarter for the engagement it provides.
Debate can help frame our concerns, and we can pick sides in this. But without getting out of our skin or applying multiple tools, we can’t know the accuracy of our perceptions. A Feburary 2, 2010 Front Line found MIT students thought they were more productive when juggling tasks, but their reaction times slowed. Thus, we’re beginning to test how multitasking is or isn’t impacting us.
This Sunday’s New York Times Article, Your Brain on Computers: Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price, focuses on a forty-something multi-tasker, not simply the youth as is usually done. Care to check yourself for distraction? There’s a test provided.
Admittedly, I found the test exceptionally easy. But instead of congratulating myself on my abilities or doubting the test’s validity, I couldn’t help think the test was easy because it was a stripped down skill set I’ve acquired by playing video games.
Care to weigh in on this? It’s an ongoing question: what does digital life mean for writing? I’d be most interested in hearing what you think are the best tools to test our arguments.
With end-of-term papers coming due, I’d like to reflect on, and perhaps reconsider, general undergraduate attitudes toward research documentation. Simply put, we need to remember citations allow for continuation of our knowledge and culture. Without accurate citation we wouldn’t be able to verify findings and perspectives very well, and judging content is difficult enough without recognizing the source of perspectives and knowledge. First-year students want to be heard, hence the popularity of networks like twitter and facebook that announce one’s presence. But in order to be heard in academic writing, knowing from where we are coming, with whom we speak, and how we respect what others have said, provide one’s credentials. Being unambiguous about one’s dialogue with others necessitates in-text citation and systematic documentation. What others say demands signal phrases be carefully constructed, which is why I’m a big fan of Graff and Berkenstein’s They Say/I Say. Thinking about writing as a Burkean conversation can help students work to represent speakers relevant to their topics—challenging work that many students view as toiling ineffectual when the opposite is the case. For citation establishes and builds ethos—a writer’s ethical standing before one’s audience.
No doubt, documenting is demanding for students. It does require rigorous diligence, yet when academic writers begin to control their signal phrases and documentation, this is when they can better evaluate sources because they’ve been able to differentiate between statements. After students stop obsessing over conventions, writers can draw closer to matters of their written voice, control of one’s research, and supporting a thesis-argument. Writing a draft makes this possible just as planning to cite through one’s notes and annotations makes this process of control easier. Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, this differentiation involves the researcher’s reading process. As the citation project concludes in their review of student papers thus far, the ability to summarize is not being emphasized. Instead, “the students paraphrased, copied from, or patchwrote from individual sentences in their sources” (Howard, Rodrigue, and Serviss). In my experience, student obsession over documentation and their seeking of concrete evidence in the form of quotation infringes on a student’s development in abstracting–literally drawing away–content from a source. And unfortunately, teachers can reinforce this obsession by pointing out documentation as a means of quickly “improving” student academic writing.
Through the separating out of texts by others, writers can extend what we know and believe. Students can move beyond the vortex of messiness that holds back their voices. Student writers are frustrated by not having authority and feel research steals their voices when citations and source differentiation should actually support/develop their authority.
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.
Filed under: Creative Writing, FYC, invention, Professional Writing, rhetoric
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:
- The Writing Major might include a foundations/ introductory course such as those found in psychology, sociology, etc.
- 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.