Art/Science Museums and Rhetoric & Writing Assignments

Rationale & Learning Objectives

Writing requires careful observation, critical thinking, analysis of ideas and events, as well as creative thinking. Great writers are great observers. They consider the world around them, notice overlooked details, and make connections.

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Art and science narratives give students the opportunity to build visual and verbal literacy. Here at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, resources are plenty for writing instructors and students to explicate the ideas and theories of rhetoric and composition at the college level. Avenues like the Fredrick Weisman Art Museum and Bell Museum of Natural History seem to be excellent places where students could engage with works of science and art to practice sustaining in-depth observations, arguments, and interpretations.

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As I am preparing for summer teaching, I am exploring ways in which science and art museums could complement the purposes of a first-year composition course. This blog entry serves as my launchpad to consolidating the ideas that make up the writing activities designed with these resources in mind. (Ideas and critiques are welcomed!)

Pre-visit Preparation

For rhet/comp pedagogical objectives, the writing assignments in the museums should be designed with the intentions of inviting students to engage with communicative artifacts that serve various rhetorical purposes. Before sending students out to the sites, I plan to introduce students to the rhetoric of scientific and technical (including artistic) communication, where we would discuss the concepts of authorship, audience, the rhetorical situation, discourse community, and the composing process.

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Then, I will provide a prompt that allows students to consider the communicative purposes of descriptors (e.g., labels, artist background, artwork info, and narratives in flyers and promotional materials) in the museum. I hope to encourage students to think about the rhetorical situation and the appeals in these descriptors, and how writing is employed as a mode of communication for the respective goals.

Students should also visit the website of the respective museums, write down questions they may have and bring them along so they can ask a guide, and review the museum rules or guidelines before visiting the site.

During Visit

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Students will either be visiting the museums of their choice in groups or by themselves. They will be required to schedule a guided tour with the chosen museum such that they receive expert information during their visit.

Students should pay attention to all communicative materials used in the museum, be it art descriptors, handouts, promotional items, or even the guide’s narration. Videos such as this could provide historical background to students for better understanding of certain artwork or product.

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Students will be asked to bring a journal or notepad with them so they could take down information and notes as they visit the sites. They will be encouraged to pursue multimedia composing methods, including taking pictures (selfies, because why not?!), videos, stop-motion graphics, and other multimedia storytelling approaches to constructing their observations in this exercise.

Post-visit Activities

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The end product of this assignment would be a written report on students’ experience and their findings. Students will be required to explain and elaborate on how communication is performed in the museum settings, i.e., how audience are identified, what the communicative goals of the written artifacts in the museums are, what kinds of appeals are used to accomplish the communication goals, what are some suggestions to improve these communications, etc.

Students will be ask to direct their reports to the managers of the museums such that their recommendations would be considered and hopefully take effect.

A Note on Writing & Discussions

In this exercise, students should learn to tease apart observations (the facts, the evidence, what they see) from interpretations (reasoned conclusions supported by evidence; what they see that makes them say that). Working through the perception process can be done individually, but it can be particularly effective as a guide to facilitate group discussion.

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Sharing perceptions, responses, and questions about a single work can be dynamic and rewarding whether the dialogue is between partners or in the facilitated discussion of a larger group. Puzzling out meanings from a rich image, students should build on each other’s ideas and reconcile with their own experiences.

Ideas? Comments? Recommendations? Please leave a few words below! 

My First Semester as a Ph.D. Student

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Tis’ the season… (via phdcomics.com)

Having received all my grades for the classes I took in the past few months, I have finally completed my first semester as a PhD student at the University of Minnesota. It is with much joy and a sense of accomplishment that I celebrate this little milestone in my life — something I have never imagined putting myself through, not even a little, until my undergraduate senior year, when I talked to some professors in my major classes and a mentor who had shared with me the perks of being an academic.

As a senior, my vision was tunneled toward the corporate world. I wanted to complete a degree and go out there to work and earn some bucks. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I loved being a student. I enjoy learning new things, especially complex concepts and ideas that might seem impractical to the “real” world. I like working with folks who are passionate about creating and sharing knowledge. On the other hand, I am also fascinated by the idea of being an educator. I take pride and joy in teaching — something that has been cultivated in me since my years in the Boys’ Brigade, where I was assigned to lead small programs and life-skill classes — as well as working with students who care about the learning process and would make the most of their time inside and outside the classroom.

So, while attending graduate school in St. Cloud, I knew I wanted to become an academic and thus applied to PhD programs while celebrating the closing of 2013. In just a few months I found myself graduating from my masters programs, enjoying a summer break back at home in Malaysia, and moving to the Twin Cities where my new graduate program is located. It was indeed the second craziest transition I have had in my life (the first was coming to the U.S. itself).

Overall, I love my new program. The people here are extremely nice. Though rumors had it that a St. Cloud graduate might not fit in well at the U (because rivalry), but I find the people super helpful and friendly. They are supportive of my work and ambitions, which encourages me to try my best to be of help to others around me as well. The professors care about us graduate students like their own children while keeping a professional balance in molding us to be scholars in our respective interests. I cannot imagine finishing my first semester in such high spirit without their encouragement and guidance.

If I were to redo this semester all over and give myself some advice (in first person, of course), it would be these:

  1. Jump in early. Read all assigned materials and texts early and well. Get started on everything early (projects, papers, readings, gradings). Get used to the department and its culture right off the bat, and introduce myself to my advisor and other professors early — and let them know what I am up to. I find that the professors here are very generous in terms of sharing their resources.
  2. Figure out a schedule. It may not have to be a hard and fast timetable to live by, but a regular routine for reading, writing, grading, and prepping for classes (both teaching and learning) is helpful in a long run. I have also learned that it is important to schedule social time with the cohort and friends outside the department as well. They keep my life in perspective. Of course, include workout time.
  3. Enjoy the ride. Finally, I think being a Ph.D. student is a privileged experience and certainly most rewarding if I learn to cherish it. Though the ride might be tough at times, I know it will take me to a desirable destination in one way or another. I know some stress is motivational, but too much can be detrimental to health and well-being. So just sit tight and make the most of the ride!

Although this is only the start of a long journey, I am feeling optimistic about the upcoming semesters and more challenges that lie ahead of me. And this break is a great time to prep for my new classes as well as teaching (with Google Glass!) next semester. I look forward to exploring the possibilities untapped.

In the spirit of Christmas, I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and happy holidays, and good time with yourselves and your loved ones. Cheers!

Of Internet Memetics, Techno and Cultural Singularity

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I am rewatching and reposting this video tonight because I am still mesmerized by it since I last watched it in 2012. In fact, I almost did my master’s thesis on cultural singularity. But I couldn’t wrap my mind around what cultural singularity is. What is Internet singularity? Rugnetta, in this video, describes cultural singularity as a product of internet memetics, modeled after technological singularity that we have been familiarized by sci-fi stories.

Essentially, Internet features allow rapid production, reproduction, and remix of cultural references at an ever-increasing rate. Scholars and geeks like Rugnetta believe that, in not time, memes will just auto-magically manifest in the world of webs, ready for cultural consumption. What sort of crazy ideas are these? Or are they crazy at all?

I do not know. But I still think it is mind boggling.

Riding on Connectivism: The ConnectED Initiative

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As part of the US Government’s plan to reform its school systems, President Obama announced the ConnectED Initiative in June 2013, an initiative designed to enrich K-12 education in America. ConnectED aims to empower teachers and students by giving them the most relevant instructional technology and trainings to make the most of them, empowering the teaching and learning process through individualized instruction and rich digital content.

Such initiative seems to promote connected learning by thriving on the theory of connectivism and networked pedagogical approaches. The following outlines how ConnectED works (drawn from WhiteHouse.gov):

Upgrading Connectivity

The ConnectED initiative will, within five years, connect 99 percent of America’s students to next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless in their schools and libraries. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon are already providing their support, collectively pledging to connect more than 20 million more students over the next two years.

ConnectED will also provide better broadband access for students in rural areas, by expanding successful efforts to connect parts of the country that typically have trouble attracting investment in broadband infrastructure.

Training Teachers

Our teachers need better tools to help them succeed – and technology can play a central role. For example, new digital education tools can allow for real-time assessments of student learning, provide faster feedback to drive professional development, and enable the creation of interactive online lessons, helping teachers understand each student’s strengths and weaknesses and design lessons and activities to better meet their needs.

ConnectED invests in improving the skills of teachers, ensuring that every educator in America receives support and training in using education technology tools that can improve student learning. ConnectED will also lead to new resources for teachers from any school to open their classrooms to interactive demonstrations and lessons from world-renowned experts, and to collaborate with other educators worldwide.

Encouraging Private-Sector Innovation

Educational devices supported by high-speed networks are the portal to the world of online learning and interactive content, to personalized software that adapts to students’ needs, and to breakthroughs in assessing understanding and mastery. These devices give students access to more rigorous and engaging classes, new learning resources, rich visualizations of complex concepts, and instruction in any foreign language. They also allow students to work more at their own speed and receive additional one-on-one help.

Leading technology companies can produce feature-rich educational devices that are price-competitive with basic textbooks. And a robust market in educational software can unlock the full educational potential of broadband investment, while creating American jobs and export opportunities in a global education marketplace of more than $1 trillion.

In February 2014, the president announced that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will invest $2 billion over the next two years to dramatically expand high-speed Internet connectivity for America’s schools and libraries — connecting 20 million more students to next-generation broadband and wireless.

Private-sector companies have also committed more than $2 billion to deliver cutting-edge technologies to classrooms.

All politics aside, I think this is a step forward in the education industry and students are likely to gain more out of their schooling experience with such initiative.