Agile Writing: Continuous Writing Process Improvement for Teams @ GPACW 2016

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Joe Moses and I presented at the annual Great Plains Alliance for Computers and Writing conference this year at UW-Stout, and here is our presentation abstract:

Drawing on pedagogical case studies, we explore how a common project-management framework used in industry supports learning in writing classrooms. The framework, called Agile Writing, forms a usable bridge between learning in academic settings and working in organizations. Our Agile Writing model is based on Scrum, an agile framework developed by software developers. In Agile Writing, students work in cross-functional teams in which they create both individual writing and team-written documents. Specific Agile Writing components give teams a chance to reflect on goals and achievements and to monitor progress on specific requirements and tasks. Those components enable instructors to measure individual contributions to team projects and to monitor team progress as teams pursue their goals.

We posit Agile Writing as a usable framework for instructors who have formerly rejected team learning because of challenges to measuring individual effort. In this presentation, we introduce and share our experience using Agile Writing in multiple writing studies courses––including first-year writing and senior-level technical communication courses––by referring to the empirical findings gained from surveys, participatory observations, and qualitative interviews with students in these courses. Based on our findings and classroom experience while piloting and developing Agile Writing over three semesters, we offer a set of specific guidelines for implementing Agile Writing in classrooms, including best practices involving project management technology in the writing process.

Feel free to contact us to visit further on this model.

This Technological Life: My Technology Literacy Narrative

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Google’s Blogger, aka Blogspot, one of the blogging platform I have used in my teenage years.

In his most recent work, Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice, Douglas Eyman (2015) began his survey and critique of digital rhetoric as a field and methodological approach with his own technology literacy narrative. A variation to the traditional personal literacy narrative, the technology literacy narrative focuses on the writer’s experience with various technologies that support their acquiring of digital literacies.

As I spend more time this summer thinking about the theoretical landscape of digital rhetoric, I have decided to write my personal technology literacy narrative as I believe it might help with my understanding and locating of “digital rhetoric”––that my views and evaluation of digital rhetoric are rooted in the practices and disciplines through which I have traversed. So here goes.

My early encounters with computers happened both in school and at home. Along with other 10-year-olds, I was led into our school’s brand new computer lab back in 2000. At the turn of the millennium, Malaysia (my ancestral home) was picking up its pace in scientific and  technological development––especially within schools and governmental infrastructures––and there was a pervasive national narrative that promoted science education and computer literacy. Thanks to generous donors and state endowments, my friends and I were among the first few lucky groups of students who got to learn programs like Microsoft Paint, Kid Pix, and the Windows 97 Office suite while attending grade school. As part of the curriculum, we had about two hours each week dedicated to lessons on computer hardware and software, as well as typing and navigating the computer interface. While I don’t exactly remember much of what I did in the then-new computer lab, I cherish the memories when I “painted” abstract graphics on the computer, saved them on a 3.5” floppy diskette, and exchanged it with other classmates so we could view one another’s “artwork.”

Back at home, my parents bought our family computer soon after I turned 15, and I vividly remember how my brothers and I had spent the whole weekend figuring how to get the speakers hooked up to the CPU. We even drew up a who-gets-to-use-the-computer-when timetable so we would not fight over one another for some early versions of Solitaire. It was also then when my parents decided to get us Internet connection through a dial-up modem. Because the family phone would be disrupted when the computer is connected to the Internet, our use of the Web was quite limited. Nonetheless, it was then that I was introduced to the idea of blogging (around 2006) and I used the Web mainly for that purpose. I would write about my day in school, my feelings about the latest anime story on TV, and everything and anything that I thought someone out there might be interested in reading through my blog. In retrospect, it was since I began blogging that I developed a sentiment for writing. I was writing more than ever before and my vocabulary grew as a result. More than that, blogging also kept me reading (other blogs) and participating in a virtual community of bloggers who share common passions. I was so indulged in the act that at one point I thought I could make blogging my career. Sadly, that idea was given a pass after my teachers told me that it was not feasible. (Of course, they didn’t see Google and social media coming.)

The latter part of my technology literacy narrative wends its way into personal computing mainly for writing and communicative purposes, and then a deep dive into using the mainframe systems in college after I transferred to an American university. Before entering the second decade of the new millennium, computers were almost ubiquitous on campus. Email and online dashboards like Desire2Learn learning management system and e-Services portal were (still are, I think) regarded as “official channels of communication” between administrators, faculty members, and students. To my surprise, I became well versed in all these modes of writing and communicating rather quickly, and I was very watchful for communicative conventions and ethics across these platforms.

Continuing my studies at a comprehensive American university also gave me the opportunities to meet with people from different cultural backgrounds, education, and interests. Especially during my days in the student residential hall, where students would exchange and explore ideas in the middle of the night, play games, and share their respective interests with each other, I got to learn about computer programs and sites that I have never heard before (as most of them are popular within certain regions of the world). Although I did not get involved with computer games as much as most of my colleagues in digital and techno-rhetorics do, but I have always had a keen interest in visual display and computer programming. It might have been for this reason that I enrolled in a media studies undergraduate major with a focus in advertising and minor in psychology. Though not directly computer-related, most of my term papers share a common topic of technology and social behaviors. Upon completing my senior year, I went on to work in the madman industry for one short year, and returned to complete two master’s degrees––one in advertising and public relations, the other in rhetoric and composition, where I was first (or finally) introduced the concepts of writing and rhetorical theories.

It was through my rhetoric and composition MA program that I began to apprehend the facility of rhetoric and shifted my disciplinary identity from media studies to rhetoric. Two of the classes I took as a graduate student that made explicit the relations between the digital and the rhetorical were Matt Barton’s “Digital Rhetoric, Culture, and Discourse” and Judith Kilborn’s “Digital Rhetoric and Pedagogy” (which I completed fully online). It was then that my interests for digital rhetoric began solidifying and becoming a core of my research today.

Of Truth, truths, and Ways of Knowing

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Religions, beliefs, and worldview aside, we subscribe to different camps of epistemology. That is, we have varying methods and levels of acceptance to methods of acquiring knowledge. With the recent tragedies involving people committing lawless wrongdoings in the name of righteousness, it is simply frustrating to hear what these people deem as the only truth–and using it as justification for their transgression.

It begs the question, then, what is truth?

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I know it is oversimplistic, but there is a continuum. We need to see that there are ways to acquiring knowledge–truth–than just plain doctrine or opinion (capital-T truth). Those are not the only kind of truth. In a pluralistic society, we are constantly creating and negotiating multiple truths (lowercase-T truth). Through language and other modes of communication, we use different means to ascertain meanings. What is true to one may not always be the case for another.

A pluralist approach to understanding of truth maintains that truth requires different treatments for different kinds of subject matter. 

My aim here is not to argue for the subscription to a pluralistic view of truth, although that would make me very pleased, but the goal is to reveal that there’s underlying assumptions to how we come to know as true or not.

A quick Google Search would yield helpful definitions like these:

Objectivism: Reality exists independently of consciousness.

Positivism: All knowledge regarding matters of fact is based on the “positive” data of experience and that beyond the realm of fact is that of pure logic and pure mathematics.

Empiricism: All knowledge is derived from sense-experience.

Rationalism: Reason rather than experience is the foundation of certainty in knowledge.

Relativism: Knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.

Constructivism: People actively construct or create their own subjective representations of objective reality. New information is linked to to prior knowledge, thus mental representations are subjective.

It is important for us to examine where our conviction resides. The way to choose to acquire truth impacts how we treat truth. For what it’s worth, I just hope that those of us who seek to confess truth would examine where/what our epistemology is subscribed to, and what we can do to be more receptive of others. I am just too tired of things people to justify their iniquity, especially, “I am right because I know the truth.”

P.S. Please pardon the poor spirit in this writing. I am really saddened by the Orlando tragedy and what that has become of in the news media.

Coursework: Checked. Next Steps!

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The trees are green and the grades are in!

As of this morning I have completed the coursework requirements for my doctoral studies. This is a little milestone to celebrate as I won’t be taking any classes for formal degree purposes in the foreseeable future. Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that.

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So, what happens next? Friends and families alike are curious about my plans following the completion of coursework. Here’s a snapshot:

Exams

This summer I am reading and preparing for three exams that will take place this Fall in October. The three papers will be on rhetoric, technical communication, and a specialty area on pedagogy, respectively. I plan on posting my reading lists on my blog here soon-ish so you might look at them and recommend resources for tackling them!

Prospectus, or dissertation proposal

In the Fall, I will also start drafting my dissertation proposal, also known as the prospectus. I have been wrestling with different ideas for my dissertation project and various collaborative works in the past few months have helped me think about the direction for the dissertation. In terms of timeline, the prospectus will be submitted to my dissertation committee  (chaired by the wonderful Dr. Ann Hill Duin) and there will be an initial “defense” session for the prospectus. Once approved, I will proceed to outlining the dissertation and work closely with my committee members in the drafting, researching, and writing of the actual dissertation.

Researching & writing

I plan to begin the research process in Spring 2017. The research and writing should take about one year to complete.

Defending

By Spring 2018, I should be ready to defend my dissertation and complete any final formatting requirement for the work. Since my department will continue funding me through my fifth year, my goal is to go on the job market by Summer 2018 and spend the year looking for a job.

There you have it, a quick glance over my next three years. Meanwhile, I will continue to teach and work on smaller projects–individual and collaborative–and publishing them to keep up with the competitive PhD grad market.