Two weeks ago I took part in the Global Climate Strike on my campus. The event was pretty well attended, I guess. We started out in our town square and marched through the town and the campus to the library where we struck.
Overall, I enjoyed taking part in this important moment. Enjoy? Who could enjoy a climate strike? The whole reason we have climate strikes should make the entire situation not enjoyable, sure. But for me, someone who struggles with his own dose of climate anxiety, it was therapeutic to be a part of the moment surrounded by people with similar passions as mine.
Yet, something struck me as odd as I marched around campus, through and all-over the quad, and up to the library with my fellow protestors. This oddness brought on a couple of questions about our academic institutions’ role(s) in this moment as our world faces a potential extinction event brought on by the climate crisis.
My institution makes a place for those who are concerned with the climate crisis, and, if they wouldn’t make a place for us, we would make our own place. But, making this space, providing recycling options across campus, and working within the regional infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions, etc. is not enough.
So, what else can the academy do? What else can our institutions do to aid the resistance, to combat the climate crisis?
I have a thought: What if academic institutions restructured their tenure and promotion protocols to privilege open-access digital publications?
Am I the first person with this idea? No. I imagine the good folks at places within my discipline, places like the WAC Clearinghouse and the CCDP, have thought about this idea. I can’t be sure, though.
Tenure is already one of the most problematic aspects of high education. For most it’s a gatekeeping device, much like comp. exams in graduate school (cc: me in the middle of a comp. exam); for others, it’s a dream to work towards; and, yet still for others, a reality never reached.
The growing global acknowledgement of the climate crisis is a grassroots movement, one which requires economic restructuring which begins in your own bank account. At the Global Climate Strike, speakers mentioned removing our funds from corporate banks and to opt for local banks and credit unions.
So, how do we marry the problems with tenure in the western academy with the global climate crisis in our current moment?
What I am proposing is for academic institutions to put their money where their mouth is concerning the climate crisis. Stop glorifying tenured professors who continue to sneeze a publication into existence in leading journals who still maintain a print audience. Privilege journals who have ceased print publication, opting instead for digital publications. And eliminate the difference between an open-access publication and one behind a pay wall.
Is this a perfect answer? No.
Do I know all the ins and outs of tenure and the climate crisis? Not yet.
Is this a start? Yes.
Is it a contribution to the conversation? Yes.
What is yours?
I can remember when I didn’t know what the word “listserv” meant, and, sometimes, I yearn for those days. As a graduate student in rhetoric, composition, and technical communication, I am a part of the WPA listserv and the NEXTGEN listserv: the first is so that I can get a bunch of CFP’s and stuff going on in the field and in the discipline in one space; the second is so that I can be a part of an inclusive, supportive digital space where people help one another and enact their version of an Ethic of Care.
Not mentioned in the paragraph above is the CRTNET listserv because I am not a member of that listserv. However, I have friends, colleagues, and know folks in the field and discipline who are there, so I noticed an uptick in the CRTNET posts recently on Facebook and Twitter. I guess that brings us to today and the publication of this article: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/09/26/national-communication-association-suspends-discussion-listserv by Colleen Flaherty for Inside Higher Education.
How would you describe this phenomenon? “Wow!”; “Not Surprised.”; “What?!”. Regardless of your reaction to the recent events on the CRTNET listserv, I will say that I am not surprised. It looks as if the CRTNET listserv, which was once helpful, may now be a space that evaporates into the digital ether—and maybe it should.
It is worth noting, the WPA listserv, which, admittedly, can be helpful, can also turn into a dumpster fire very quickly. As Flaherty notes” “Earlier this year, many scholars of writing abandoned the Writing Program Administration Listserv after someone anonymously posted a reference to the Ku Klux Klan. Many who stayed subscribed to the list wanted it formally moderated, citing additional examples of less obvious but nevertheless racist posts. Others still argued against formal moderation, or for the list’s ability to moderate itself.”
What we are seeing on the WPA listserv (I was online and in my inbox when the post from the “Grand Wizard” came through; I was stunned) and now the CRTNET listserv is a rejection of racist and nativist language. What we are seeing on the WPA listserv and now the CRTNET listserv is digital antagonism. What we are seeing on the WPA listserv and now the CRTNET listserv is bullying—bullying by people who are, perhaps, bullies because they can be. That is
(insert your own explicative) sad. Kudos to those on the CRTNET listserv who called out these two professors (did I see distinguished in front of one name?). You are doing great, important work.
So what are you going to do?
I suggest joining the Nextgen listserv. Flaherty mentions the NEXTGEN listserv in her article, saying, “The NEXTGEN Listserv, an alternative to the writing program Listserv favored by many graduate students and early-career scholars, recommends minimizing harm by adhering to certain practices and principles. Those include examining one’s own position and privilege and ‘working actively to ensure that spaces like Listservs are valued as safer professional public spaces where all the members showcase a respect for one another, learn from one another and uplift one another’s positions and identities.’”
Finally, don’t let this get you down. We, as a community of rhetoric and composition scholars will always work together to find and extinguish racism, nativism, and bullying. These things are not the future, we are.
When I develop an activity for a class, I think considering temporality is essential, especially if you are trying to contextualize the activity against the current socio-cultural moment. So, for this week in my business writing classes I planned a buffer week between the first unit and the second unit and designed in-class activities at the triangulation of genre studies, socio-cultural pedagogy, and current events.
The first activity was a response to Hurricane Dorian which devastated the Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean just last week. Student-groups were tasked with crafting a social media policy for a fictional company called Humane Canine Health, a non-profit start-up which specializes in domesticated animal relief and rescue during catastrophic weather events.
As an animal advocate myself, I really love this activity—but I think I love it even more because the activity prompts students to think about the implications of a social media policy for a non-profit company, a start-up company, one without the ethos of a large, multi-national corporation. Plus, students get to work with a genre they may not be familiar with, a social media policy, a genre which they might not get to work with otherwise. An activity like this is reusable since hurricanes, and other weather events, unfortunately occur quite often. So, that was Tuesday.
On Thursday we performed a similar activity, but the genre student-groups were working with on this day was the press release. Instead of a non-profit start-up, students were prompted to think of themselves as technical communicators working for Nike and responding to the Colin Kaepernick advertisement which debuted last fall to correspond with the kickoff of the NFL season. Certainly, the advertisement is a year old now, so there is a certain distance temporally, but I think the advertisement works really well on my campus for a variety of reasons.
The first reason I think this activity works well on my campus is that my institution has a football team, and a full athletics department, so sports are on the students minds during the beginning of the fall semester. Well, football, or at least tailgating, etc. We will leave it at that.
The other reason I think that this activity works well on my campus is because I am not at a very culturally diverse campus. That is not to say that my campus is not diverse, and does not allocate resources to making our campus more diverse. The business writing students I teach though, are, for the most part, white and middle class. With the demographics of my campus, in mind, then, that this activity focused on a unique, culturally-relevant advertising campaign might challenge personal beliefs is healthy and helpful as they prepare to hit the job market, start their careers, or just go out into the world and do things.
If you are interested in either of these assignments, please reach out to me! I am willing to share any and all resources! If you like what you are reading, feel free to leave a comment to get the conversation started!
Since I am teaching for ENG 249: Introduction to Technical Communication for the first time this semester, I want a few of my blog posts this semester to be about my experience teaching the class. Day One was a bit of a disaster, what with faulty technology and the like, but after talking to my adviser, I realized I was catastrophizing the first day. Things are actually going really great so far.
I have taught intermediate-level classes before in the form of writing electives and literature sequences, but had not yet been afforded the opportunity to teach Technical Communication, so this is a big deal to me! I was a bit nervous, and still am. The student demographics are not so nerve-racking, but teaching a course with content new-to-you is always makes me a bit nervous.
One thing I have noticed, though, is that student interactions with me are more substantial in content and purpose, but not necessarily frequency. Now, instead of students coming up to me and asking me about due dates and preparing me for upcoming absences they are asking me to share course content-related articles and resources; they want to talk about privacy and ethics and identity and they want to do so not because they have to take an FYC course or because some obscure writing elective is required for their major, but because they want to learn more about those things and technical communication.
They share my interests. Some, I dare say, even share my passion. So, I want to relay two quick stories which might double as anecdotes that happened to me in my first two weeks teaching tech comm.
So, I hope you enjoyed those two tidbits from my experience teaching tech comm so far. I’ll check in in a few weeks with another tech comm focused blog post. If you would like a PDF of the Tech Time Assignment sheet, reach out to me via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am a cord cutter. My wife is a cord cutter. We are a cordless household.
We aren’t the only ones, and haven’t been for quite some time. Frankly, another decade of the cord-cutting phenomenon approaches. But, what have been the implications of cord-cutting on our pedagogy, on the way we construct our courses, and in the texts we choose to teach.
I think it is important to pause here and note that this blog post concerns student access to pay-sites for streaming media, and does not broach what these companies do with user data once they have it. This is a tangential ethical issue that deserves further exploration, for sure.
The list of films and television shows I have used in the courses I have taught range widely, and the classes in which I have used texts from these mediums is many. It doesn’t matter if I am teaching a freshman composition sequence, or a 200-level literature sequence, or a course focused on business writing, I enjoy adding a clip here or a film there.
But, what about when you want to assign an entire film that is only available on one of the major streaming platforms like Hulu, Amazon, or Netflix?
This is an ethical quandary with many different perspectives, sure. Sites like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu require payment for users to access their archives of new media, so is it ethical to require students to view, talk about, and write about texts they have to pay to access?
There is a ton of work done on this topic, but, in a short answer: no.
It is not ethical, and it is not fair. Often times I make the assumption that everyone has a Netflix account. The truth is, though, not everyone has a Netflix account. What is even more absurd—personally—is that I don’t even have a Netflix account! I borrow from a friend.
I still think it is important to work new media into the curriculum. So, how do we do that ethically?
Last year I taught English 145: Writing in the Academic Disciplines. This is a writing program elective with a variety of majors; I’ve taught it a few times and I like the class because the students have the opportunity to explore writing and research in their own fields and disciplines, which means they get to personalize the course.
In my spring section, I used my SurveyMonkey account to set up a pole to let students choose as a class the documentary film they wanted to watch. I only chose films available through the streaming service Kanopy because all students at my institution have access to that platform through the university library. By assigning films available through Kanopy, I worked around the ethical issues concerning access that come with assigning films from mainstream streaming services.
Moreover, allowing the students to choose the film we watched as a class was a good exercise in community building, and helped give the class a distinct personality. Ultimately, they chose “Normal Is Over,” a 2016 film focusing on the existential implications climate change.
“Normal is Over” is a good film—an important film—but it was long. So, since our class met twice a week, I cancelled Tuesday to let the students have time to watch the film and then we discussed the film on Thursday.
Before you choose to assign a new media text only available on Netflix, consider the alternatives to assigning films and television shows only available on streaming sites that require payment for access. Avoid Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix. There are work-around to this issue, sure. I have found using Kanopy to be quite successful, and the best part is that I have access to Kanopy, too, so I have this entire media archive to explore!
Ok, I will include a list of movies and television shows I have taught as I begin my 8thyear teaching in higher education.
Profiled: The Mothers of Murdered Black and Latino Youth
Do the Right Thing
A Streetcar Named Desire
Good Will Hunting
12 Years a Slave
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Normal Is Over
2001: A Space Odyssey
"The semester starts on a Monday. The semester starts on a Monday."
That’s what we tell ourselves, sure, but the reality is that for a lot of instructors working in higher education--graduate students teaching in writing programs, contingent faculty, tenured professors at universities with smaller English departments--the semester starts on the date of the pre-semester mini-conference.
These departmental, occasionally intradepartmental, events might range from half-day workshops focused on the mission of the writing program to day-long conferences with breakout sessions led by colleagues in the department and peers from institutional entities like student services and writing centers.
Pre-semester mini-conferences have been a part of my time at my last three stops: Illinois State University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the University of Montevallo. In the Spring of 2018, I lead my first session at one of these events, entitled: “What Do You Know About Antecedent Knowledge?” at ISU Writing Program Grassroots Summit. Yesterday, I lead my second session.
Yesterday, I, along with a peer, led a Q&A session with new graduate student instructors working in the writing program. This was the first year since I joined ISU that I was not involved with new instructor orientation, so I was excited to meet the new cohort. Yet, as I began planning, I tried to remain conscious of how my own positionality—and my own ability to impart wisdom, of which I think I have very little—would transfer to these probably exhausted, newly minted Ph.D. students after a week-and-a-half of orientation. (Yes, a week-and-a-half. Yes, probably too long.)
So, I threw down the pen and paper and decided to let the questions they have guide the conversation. This turned out to be a clever idea, and my peer and I were able answer pointed questions instead of blabbering on for so long about our own experiences. However, I did write 3 things down in the notes in my phone which I wanted to make sure I worked into the conversation. I figured they might be worth sharing here now:
I don’t necessarily think the things I mentioned to the new cohort are groundbreaking or landmark or life-changing or whatever. A lot of it came from Gregory Colón Semenza’s highly recommended book Graduate Study for the 21stCentury. But, they were said, and they were, hopefully, absorbed. One day, down the road, maybe in the next four year, perhaps something mentioned yesterday will resonate with one of them.
Let me start off by saying that I am blessed. Usually, I hate when people say that they are blessed, or, even worse, #blessed, but in this case I think it is important to acknowledge that my positionality has afforded me maximum privileges in life. Moreover, I am extremely, here it comes, #blessed because I have a partner who works as tirelessly as I do to make sure we survive while I am in graduate school.
Recently I was having a discussion with a friend in the discipline, a WPA, and she mentioned that she thought it was important for graduate students to do radical things—like make a living wage. Of course, as a third-year Ph.D. student, I am feeling all too well the economic constraints of an endeavor like graduate school.
Then, tonight, as I was winding down on Twitter—that sounds ridiculous, I know—just before I was going to start the second season of Frasier (https://bit.ly/2GUHxRN) on Netflix, I saw this Tweet:
I blacked out the handle and photo to keep this Twitter user’s identity anonymous. By the way, if you have made it this far into the blog, kudos to you. Let’s keep going.
Each year, graduate students and contingent faculty are burdened with a daunting, almost insurmountable, financial burden when it comes to attending conferences, as well as other professional development opportunities. Coupling the unethical amount of money institutions pay graduate students with the rigorous amounts of emotional, physical, and mental labor required to succeed in higher education creates striking implications for the future mental wellness of the academy.
Sure, you have heard this before: universities don’t pay graduate students and contingent faculty enough. Okay, well, you need to hear it again because things need to change, and the only way things are going to change is if we band togeth--
I will admit, things got out of hand a bit there. Frasier was playing in the background and he was going on one of his long soliloquies and his passion yadda yadda osmosis… you get the point.
Here’s the deal, though, we know that universities don’t compensate workers ethically. But, what about when conference organizers plan and execute the registration of their conference unethically? For the most part, graduate students and contingent faculty know how much they are getting compensated, unfair or not, because they sign a contract. Conference organizers, on the other hand, have the agency to choose and change the registration fees for conferences annually, and virtually all up the price for non-members.
Of course, the primary difference in the institutional contract we sign and the registration fees we pay is stability, however fragile, meaning we know how much we are going to get paid; we don’t always know how much conference fees will be.
Remember earlier in this blog post when I was getting all fired up and then stopped myself? It’s because I am fired up. I went to the Conference on Community Writing website, which is run by the Coalition for Community Writing, and checked out the About page. What I found leads me to propose this question: how are we supposed to “help to catalyze community-based writing through research, teaching, publications, workshops and conferences, and public writing projects about, with, for, and by local, global, and online communities” if we can’t even afford to join your efforts?
We are on the threshold of a decade, or so, since the rise of social media games like FarmVille and Zombie Farming. These games are designed to connect users to other users through temporally-structured mundane activities, quests, and goals which lead to achievements. To gain an achievement took time, and interaction, which would frustrate users who became consumed by the mindlessness, numbness of these games. So, of course, the game designers built in a pay-option to expedite the game for users who could afford it.
These farming games made, and continue to make, a lot of money. But, in recent years, amateur technologists and DIY entrepreneurs have struck back, cultivating a way to make money through technology instead of feed their money to technology through farming as evidenced through the rise of phone farms.
Phone farmers are technology users who employ multiple devices to click ads, watch videos, and consume media for fractions of cents. Financial returns for phone farmers vary depending on the size of their farm but can make anywhere from $20-$1,000 per month. People making money on and from the internet is not revelatory—in fact, there may be no more impactful relationship in our histories than one forever gestating between capitalism and the digital age. But, how does phone farming reflect our current socio-economic moment when contextualized against our present political landscape?
It my own experiences, it seems to be the norm for many young professionals—not just academics—have a side hustle. Between us, my wife, who is registered nurse, and I work five jobs. She works three and I work two, and we are both enrolled in university programs. I mention this not to boost my self-esteem, or ego, but to say this is the norm for many people. Since so many people do maintain extra ways of making money, and with our current administration blatantly ignoring the plights of low-income and marginalized communities, I suspect we will continue to see a rise in phone farming.
So, how will a rise in phone farming impact digital identity co-construction? The apps, which provide the platforms for phone farmers to constantly click and watch videos across multiple devices—from two to hundreds—to make money often times think that the same user is multiple people, which will, ultimately, be misleading in the datasets constructed from the data gained through the constant interactions of phone farmers. It is hard to know, then, exactly what the implications are for large-scale phone farming, but it is a phenomenon is worth continued examination.
The first photos I saw of phone farms reminded me of scenes from dystopian science-fiction or technology-driven action shows and movies which always feature some hacker or goofy, yet technologically savvy, best friend or sidekick. This western trope was only adapted for these genres in the form of characters in dark, dingy basements lit by multiple computer screens hard at work.
It is time I embrace my sidekick-ness and start phone farming to make a little extra dough. So, I plan to turn my garage work area into a small-scale phone farm in the next few months. Perhaps this is a better way to solve the student debt problem? I don’t know; I still want to know more about a freedom dividend, but I know phone farming sure is going to help us in the immediate future.
My reading list is busting at the seams, especially this summer as I work on independent projects, multiple collaborative projects, plan my internship class, and prepare for comprehensive exams. When the summer started, I was trying to read one piece of scholarship per day. To be honest, this plan worked for a while. I got through Rhetorica in Motion and a ton of surveillance rhetorics scholarship before my dedicated reading time became less and less and my furniture restoring time and baseball watching time became more and more.
But, I did (finally) find the time to dig into, “Turning Archives into Data: Archival Rhetorics and Digital Literacy in the Composition Classroom,” by Courtney Rivard in the June issue of College Composition & Communication. I was excited to read Rivard’s piece because I was interested in the ways archival rhetorics might connect—however tangentially—to my own projects, which focus on ethical digital identity co-construction. Plus, I worked for some time as the graduate assistant archivist for the Milner Archives and Special Collections at the University of Montevallo, so I have experience—and an interest—in archival work.
I appreciate the purpose of Rivard’s article, which demonstrates how converting stories generated from archival material into data helps student develop digital literacies essential to navigating and intervening in the algorithmic and data infrastructures that now shape our understanding of the world, and agree with her assertion that metadata creation and data visualization may at first seem out of place in the composition classroom (Rivard, 2019). There are a multitude of reasons why Rivard is right concerning the lack of metadata creation and data visualization in writing classrooms, including the lack of the literacies needed on the part of the instructor to teach and teach with these concepts and digital tools, as well as the potential for a lack of student interest which impedes the classroom as a space where knowledge is made.
How do we overcome these hurdles? By doing what Rivard does with the students enrolled in her course: choose projects that are localized and serve the community in some way. While metadata creation and data visualization have not found their way into my writing classroom through work with archival data, I am going to challenge myself to think of ways to include this methodology in my pedagogy. I would extend the critique of the lack of metadata creation and data visualization in the composition classroom to include a call for more workshops, institutes, conference panels and roundtables which focus on these concepts and the digital literacies needed to incorporate them in the writing classroom.
Of particular note is Rivard’s inclusion of the aspect of racial tagging in archival practices, and her overall feminist historiographical perspective aptly handles the nuances of this important topic. Since these tags shape the knowledge of the material itself, it is important to consider how a story is being told, and by whom (Rivard 2019). This was, of course, particularly important for Rivard and her students working with the Life Histories Collection.
This is an overwhelmingly interesting, relevant, and well-written peice by Rivard, and a piece that got me thinking about how archival rhetorics play into my own work with digital genealogical databases. There is a whole other blog post there. Maybe I will get around to that in early August.
Here we go again. And again. And, well, again. As social media users move on from planning a Naruto run attack on Area 51 (perhaps training for a Naruto run is too difficult), users are now consumed by the FaceApp. Users download the app, which is currently #1 in the iOS AppStore, and take a selfie; the app then ages the face.
This is not a new technology; facial recognition technology has been able to apply aging features to an image for quite some time. What is concerning, for everyone, not just users of the app, is the confusing terms of service agreement and the fact that the user of the app can age pictures which are not their own. That’s right—you can be aged without your consent.
This may sound funny, sure, but what does that mean for your digital DNA when someone creates that data without your consent. At Computers and Writing Conference this year, I sat on a panel with Lindsey Kim, a graduate students at the University of South Carolina, whose presentation focused on the structure of the language in user agreements as creating black boxes. It was a truly fascinating presentation.
In the FaceApp user agreement, users retain the rights to their user content. What that means, though, for users, is not that they own the digital photo that they have taken—selfies used to predict future appearance—no, what users own are their actual faces.
The way that I read this is very clear: the company has just told the user that the user will continue to own their face after using the app.
How can a user, in this case a person, a human, not own their face?
This is what Kim, and so many other scholars are talking about when they confront the confusing jargon comprising user agreements.
I for one chose not to use the app, but my friend recently aged pictures of our friends, including me, without my consent. At first I was a bit upset because I knew what this data could be (would be) used for by who knows who.
I didn’t know exactly what to do. It seemed like too minor of an offense to confront him, but what about future infractions of people manufacturing my digital DNA without my consent?
People talk so often about digital footprints, a stoic and useful metaphor, for sure, for how we present our digital lives. This apt metaphor works because it is about individualism and uniqueness, but it does not account for imposters who do not concern themselves with the consent of fellow users or their fellow humans.
Now is the time to reconsider the way we conceptualize consent in our user agreements. We would be smart to turn to Kim and other scholars as we reconsider what user agreements might look like in the future.