digital rhetoric

the brass tacks of public online pedagogy

I’m in the midst of writing an article on this subject. It’s been one of the main focuses of my work this sabbatical. I presented at NEMLA on it and will do a related, more academic presentation at Computers and Writing next month. But I’m at the point where I am so hip deep in it–about 3500 words in with at least that much written and discarded–that I’m losing what I was trying to say.

So I’m here trying to figure that out real quick.

1. Despite our widespread belief in the socio-cultural function of discourse, we still treat composition as a fundamentally internal, private activity.
2. Similarly, we tend to view and value teaching as an intimate activity: smaller classes, faculty-student relations, etc. In part we view this as a kind of relative privacy, akin to the way college in general is sequestered from the rest of culture.
3. Both writing and teaching have always been networked activities but we tend to devalue and/or occlude those aspects. That occlusion has long been facilitated by the fact that the network in which we worked had been so stable that it was easily naturalized and/or forgotten.
4. The continuing emergence of social media networks has not only altered and made visible the networked relations of pedagogy and composition, but it has also created a more public network.
5. The expansion of social media networks into mobile networks now makes every first world, college classroom (and many beyond that) into a public, online, networked space.
6. These same technologies likewise make every composition for such courses into a public, networked composition. Like it or not, we are inextricably linked to this network, just as we were once linked to networks of library books, microfiche, typewriter ribbon, etc. In a sense, it is the same network, just simply an evolving one.

7. That said, a particular courses situation in that network can shift depending on a variety of factors, not the least of which being the faculty’s approach. For example, faculty might attempt to control or silence social media networks by having students turn off mobile phones or forbidding "internet sources." Others might use the web in a regulatory way as with a cms or Turnitin.
8. So when I look at "public online pedagogy" I’m really looking at one way that faculty might respond to the context of teaching and writing in a social-mediated network.
9. I don’t want to be an apologist for such practices. Nor do I want to present a heroic teaching narrative about it.
10. That said, I do want to analyze what public social media networks might facilitate. For example, they ease group-formation among students in a course. They also encourage group-formation with other students on campus, as well as off-campus. These activities can happen on-the-fly and more organically, without so much coordination by instructors or institutions.
11. Fundamentally though the point is to be able to share compositions with a public that has a real investment beyond the auspices of a course in what you are doing. It may be pie-in-the-sky to imagine some significant thing to happen through this public communication, but that’s not necessarily what it is about. After all, I’ve written many things without moving the planet and I don’t cry myself to sleep at night about it. The point is to have an opportunity as student writers to experience and analyze the rhetorical operation of such networks rather than occluding them.

OK, back to "real work."


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