Empathy and Vulnerability for Writing

December 23, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

A video posted by RSA explaining the differences between sympathy and empathy is making the rounds.

Often, I think of the importance of empathy for comprehending writing and writers, not just good classrooms. But the video reminds me what Ken Macrorie wrote in his epilogue to A Vulnerable Teacher:

The freedom to commit oneself, to create, is habitual in a person who has made himself vulnerable, open to his experience and that of others, in whatever form he may encounter it. The word vulnerable derives from vuln, Latin for wound. To become powerfully vulnerable is to expose oneself to possible wounds. One cannot create valuable things without risk. If he brings to the moment the best of his past experience, he comes on strong; and if he suffers then a wound, it will not disable him, because he is at his best, moving out of his full experience, healthy and strong. He is emotional as well as intellectual.  He is growing out of himself and others.

People do their best to avoid contagions that can afflict someone emphatically open to others. Some days writers are not sure they have the strength to get their own work done. We generally don’t seek to become wounded. Yet if empathy fuels connection and we grow meaningfully from interactions between ourselves and others, we must be vulnerable to possible wounds. Writing is not merely for oneself but in connection (and often disconnection) with others. The vulnerable moment is not our full experience; a moment only possesses the possibility to become part of our fuller experience.

Use the moment to build health and strength, for vulnerability can be bravery.

Logic Tools for Writers

July 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

Writing involves logic (as well as emotional appeals and establishing credibility).  To help students’ logic, I assign “Finding the Good Argument OR Why Bother with Logic” from Writing Spaces in English 101.  Brain Pickings posted the following concise explanations of logical principles.  They’re designed for young teens but really useful for anyone else too.

Moodle is in.

January 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: New Media, review 

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.

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.