Rhetorical Web Design

CCCC 2015 Tham Jason

Tham, Jason. “The Problem of Ease: Risks and Rewards of Template-Driven Web  Development.” Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). Marriott Waterside, Tampa, FL. March 20, 2015.


Recently, programming and web-writing courses have observed an exploded enrollment of young professionals and students who are eager to learn how to program and develop code literacy. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as EdX and Codecademy are set up to accommodate this high demand from the public. Additionally, many open-source communities and individual developers are creating open-access frameworks, code libraries, and a wealth of customizable plugins that aid young developers to get their work done. While the rewards of creating and using such frameworks are of ease and efficiency, novice developers risk relying too heavily on the prefabricated works of others, allowing themselves to focus more on ease than skill. Such a practice may also misguide developers to becoming unaware of the larger cultural and functional contexts within which the technology was developed. Similarly, novice web designers may risk losing the opportunity to experience context-based web building when they rely on available design templates in developing their websites. The overall ease of usability strips away the developer and designer’s ability to exercise rhetorical agency over the development of an interface.

To explicate the concerns central to the use and misuse of “easy,” readymade templates, I will examine website templates from WordPress.com to evaluate their design flexibility. Situating interface design and technical communication in the rhetorical tradition, I draw from the concepts of agency and techne, and look at templates as rhetorically designed spaces that can potentially limit a designer’s agency in constructing arguments, verbally or visually, based on the contexts within which they traverse. By not producing the design themselves, designers have little control over a large part of their representation on the web, and they are forced to compromise their autonomy in full self-expressions and identity on the web.

The purpose of this presentation is to challenge the validation of ease in using prefabricated applications and ready-made web templates – teaching users to analyze specific audiences and rhetorical situations in the design of websites, and to apply the principles of information architecture in the creation of a seamless user experience.

Please contact me directly for more information about this presentation.

Link to this presentation on YouTube: http://youtu.be/vszkXGuWI3U

Is There a Robot in This Class? On Writing & AES


This presentation was delivered at the 2014 Conference on College Composition and Communication in Indianapolis, IN, March 24, 2014.

Automated essay scoring (AES) is the use of specialized computer programs to assign grades to essays written in an educational setting. It is a method of educational assessment and an application of natural language processing. Its objective is to classify a large set of textual entities into a small number of discrete categories, corresponding to the possible grades—for example, the numbers 1 to 6. Therefore, it can be considered a problem of statistical classification (Wikipedia, “Automated essay scoring”).

As we know, the conversation on machine grading isn’t new. It began in 1962 with Walter Reitman’s thoughts on the possibility of machine grading at a conference on needed research of teaching English. Most historical summaries of AES trace the origins of the field to the work of Ellis Batten Page. In 1966, Page argued for the possibility of scoring essays by computer, and in 1968 he published his successful work with a program called Project Essay Grade (PEG).

Multiple-choice exams have, of course, been graded by machine for a long time, but essays are another matter. When it comes to English composition, the question of whether computer programs can reliably assess student work remains sticky. Can a computer program accurately capture the depth, beauty, structure, relevance, creativity, etc., of an essay?

Douglas Hesse writes that when it comes to the resulting problems of cost and frustration associated with traditional writing assessment, he worries more about how computer grading will negatively impact “the transferability of skills and about the cost to how students perceive writing (and the resultant cost to human culture).”

Amid the pressure many composition teachers and their institutions face in regards to the possible adoption of computer-grading programs for assessing student writing, many teachers have strong opinions – most of them disagree with the employment of grading machine in their classroom. In this pressing time, I think it is important for teachers, as well as graduate students, to understand the impact on pedagogy, process, and product that grading machines may have if they replace human readers. Hence, by providing an overview on the appeals of computer grading programs and the ongoing debates around the adoption of automated essay scoring software for assessing writing, this presentation aims to illustrate how mechanized evaluation of writing may mechanize pedagogy as well as the process to create a written, machine-directed product. I will also offer suggestions for writing instructors in handling the adoption of essay-grading programs in their classrooms.

Read the full conference paper here.

View the conference presentation here.