Sunday, April 29, 2012

Books about Digital Literacy and New Media Studies -- my first vlog

Hi everyone. This is my first attempt at a vlog. It was an awkward experience talking to myself for 12 minutes, I admit. Also, I did no editing, so you will see all of my slip-ups (including saying that the "message is the medium" and then having to correct myself to say that the "medium is the message").

This video is just a quick run-down of some of the books I read for my comprehensive exam list on Digital Literacy and New Media Studies:

On a completely irrelevant side note, I almost never wear glasses in public, and I rarely wear hoodies, so this is probably a poor representation of "everyday Nicole." haha

Monday, April 23, 2012

What is Writing? Am I a Writer?

Today, in class, I assigned my students the following prompt:

  • What is writing?
  • Why do we write?
  • What makes someone a writer?
  • Do you consider yourself a writer?

The following is the response I wrote for my class as part of my class-linked blog, but the ideas were ones I thought were worth sharing and getting responses from a larger audience:

I think it’s safe to say that my answers to these questions– what is writing? why do we write? what makes someone a writer? do you consider yourself a writer?– are vital to my role as a Composition professor. They shape the way I teach, the way I think about my students’ writing, and the way that I educate myself.

To me, writing is a social transaction; it is used to carry messages from one person to the next, from one generation to the next, or even to a single person from one moment to the next. I used to think it was something that happened when someone sat alone in a room and scribbled until they became a famous author, but I don’t think of it that way anymore. Writing happens every day between billions of people. It is a technology for thought. By writing something, I can keep a record of my thought, one which I can build upon and shape over time.

We write for all sorts of reasons– to communicate, to find solace, to record. I, myself, write for many purposes on any given day. This I see as one of the beautiful aspects of writing. It evolves to suit the purposes I need it for. I can keep notes from class or call the world to action. I can share a goofy story with my five-year-old cousin or memorialize my deceased grandfather. It is only a matter of what I am willing to put forward.

Along with the multiple purposes of being a writer, I do not believe there is only one “type” of writer; in fact, I think anyone can be a writer. Perhaps, only literary geniuses can be famous authors, but I believe that anyone can learn to use writing to express themselves, to fulfill daily purposes, to record stories and histories, etc. My definition of a writer is simply this: a writer is someone who has learned to use written language to achieve their communicative purposes (sharing, transcribing, recording, whatever).

With that said, I think it’s pretty obvious that I do consider myself a writer. I may not always be a great writer, and I am certainly far from a fiction writing national best-selling genius, but I am a writer none the less. I set out to use my written language to achieve a purpose, and for the most part, I feel those purposes are fulfilled. I can use my writing to help my students understand assignments. I can use it to create fictional worlds. I can use it to write a cover letter for a job position. I can write the heck out of an academic essay at this point. Furthermore, I love written language, both the act of writing and of reading it.

What I’ve learned, though, is that it takes patience and practice to be a good writer. It takes a willingness to sacrifice time to putting words on a page, time to revising and not just fluffing up broken words, and time to polish ideas. Time is money, and time is life. Helene Cixous once said something to the effect of “writing is dying,” and that’s true. Every minute I give up to the page is a minute that I have not lived my life. To write involves great sacrifice, which is why I commend all of my students for being writers and I take great pride in what I have produced. Being a writer is being a martyr, dying for the words that you write.

And yet when you write, you live for something, for an idea, for a purpose, for a cause. Indeed, writing is a beautiful thing. This is why I love sharing the art of writing, for whatever purpose, as a living, both through teaching and doing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Ethics of Tolerance: Thoughts from NEWCA 2012

This past weekend, I, along with two colleagues from St. John's University and one from Montclair State University, presented a panel at the Northeast Writing Center Association Conference (NEWCA). For those who have never been, I do recommend it. The atmosphere there is warm, inviting, and unlike other conferences that I have been to, very interactive.

This year's theme was the Post 9/11 Writing Center. As soon as we saw the theme published in the fall, our small group started thinking about the policies in our centers that evolved out of 9/11, or at least 9/11 rhetoric. In particular, we were concerned with the terms "diversity" and "tolerance." Some of the questions we were wondering were:

  • What did it mean to be tolerant or to promote diversity? 
  • How did our mission to promote tolerance and show acceptance for diversity play itself out in our sessions? 
  • Was demanding tolerance another form of censorship? 
  • Who gets a voice when "tolerance" is demanded? 
  • Are we wiping out the "contact zone" in favor of the "safe house"? 
  • How do we handle writing that personally offends us?

In the end, we put together a panel presentation (more of a roundtable and workshop) titled The Ethics of Tolerance: Knowledge Activism in the Post 9/11 Writing Center.

What I found, both through our groups's research and presentations and the audience feedback, was that tolerance is complicated and its policy implementation is equally complicated. The members of our group and the members of our audience seemed divided on the issue of how to successfully promote tolerance in the writing center or whether that should even be part of our mission. We had a hard time definitively saying what would be classified as "offensive," "intolerant," or "terrorist" writing, and furthermore, even if we knew it when we saw it, not everyone agreed upon what to do about it. Some members of the audience believed it was our job to help clients improve their writing regardless of content; others felt that it was our job to combat offensive/intolerant writing. One challenged, "Is it our job to create better people? No," while another audience member said, "You don't check your humanity at the door."

We also wondered about the "see something, say something" policy. Do we need to police writers and our colleagues? For this, we looked at Chris Anson's "What's Writing Got to Do with Campus Terrorism?" It seemed that writing could be both an indicator of someone who has bad intention (e.g., the Unabomber) or simply a form of expression (e.g., Alice Walker's brutality in The Lovely Bones). How were we to know whether to say something or not? Would we jump to conclusions if we were always looking for suspicious activity?

Regardless of the answer, and I still don't have one, it was evident that tolerance and diversity were discussed as goals in many of writing centers, though we had few policies for dealing with either. We didn't leave completely confused, though. Between the presenters and the participants, some of best practices were proposed:

  • considering context
  • showing students how their language may come across to a larger audience
  • performing rhetorical analysis and showing clients how to do the same
  • considering sources biases and credibility
  • pushing for in-depth analysis
  • demonstrating loopholes and counterarguments
  • reframing assignments

In the end, the conversation was fruitful, though none of the questions were answered absolutely. It is obvious that we need to have these conversations in our centers so that students are prepared to deal with offensive writing in a way that is consistent with the mission of these centers.