Networks as Critical Texts

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Cover. Visualization of Algarotti’s World from the Mapping the Republic of Letters project at Stanford University. (Source)

My initial thoughts about networks are that they are complex and inaccessible, but they have the potential to revolutionize reading, writing, thinking and learning practices as we used to know. But from my various visits with individuals who are theorizing and trying to deploy networks in their own research, teaching, and learning, I am come to recognize networks not just as a tool but a rhetorical strategy that could empower its user in unprecedented ways. Combined with data analytics, networks offer some powerful methodologies for gaining insights (predictions) and intelligence (current knowledge). For humanists, questions remain: How should and might we harness such power? What are the potentials and perils of authorizing networks to connect, extract, transfer, and exchange information? How might we master these capabilities to offer our world something of value? Instinctively, these questions lead me to thinking about the rhetorics of networks, and the relationships between language and logics since the expression of networks is engendered by the two. Before I explore further, I would like to include here a brief preface to network studies, a broader field in which lives the majority of the theoretical frameworks and traditions I am going to employ in my study.

Network Studies

Over the past decade, network studies has emerged to be an increasingly prominent academic discipline thanks to prevailing and advancing technologies. Both theory and method, network studies thrives on available means for visualization to model relationships between entities. Social network analysis, a process that involves investigating social structures through the use of network and graph theories, has particularly enjoyed greater uptake across disciplinary landscapes. Within rhetoric and writing studies, wherein activity theory and actor-network theory (Latour, 2005; Spinuzzi, 2010) are drawn quite heavily upon (more so in technical and professional communication), social network analysis provides writing researchers relevant frameworks that add dimensions to their scholarship. An example of project born of social network analysis within writing studies would be the “Writing Studies Tree” project (see http://writingstudiestree.org). With this project, along with other budding initiatives in the our field, networks are beginning to gain recognition as valuable and productive methods for accomplishing the goals of composition and its instruction. With an eye toward the critical functions of networks, I provide in this essay a snapshot of networks pertaining to the interests of composition studies––networks as texts. To do so, I review arguments from several critical scholars and take a shot at offering some implications for composition pedagogy as networks become more and more preeminent in our field. Before entering that conversation, I provide in the next section a brief overview of connectivism as a network and learning theory.

From Social to Network to Critical Perspectives

As most compositionists and writing instructors are aware, social theory has long influenced how teaching and learning are done in the classroom. For instance, Albert Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory informs educationalists about how students learn through modeling and reciprocal processes. Social constructivist theorists, later update Bandura’s theory with social construction of meaning in collaborative learning and interactive knowledge construction (Vygotsky, 1962, 1978; Duffy & Jonassen, 1992). As social theory frameworks typically focus on the individual’s experience in group settings, a networked perspective encompasses more and different relations, looking at the diversity of social relationships people maintain and the diversity of relationships that make up communities and other forms of social networked structures. Such perspective calls forth the consideration of the idea of social capital, which according to Pierre Bourdieu (1986), is “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition” (p. 248). In the technological age, the notion of social capital has been adapted into the digital-social realm, denoting the use of technologies to expand, enhance, and accelerate an individual’s social network. Situated within this paradigm is the birth of connectivism.

Connectivism is the theoretical framework developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes as a means to reconceptualize knowledge in light of new technologies and environments for learning. According to Siemens (2006) and Downes (2011), “Connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.” Connectivism harnesses the affordances of network structures to set up connections between people, information resources, organizations, and other entities that add values to one’s learning interests. Siemens (2008) points out that “the capacity to know is more critical than what is actually known.” And it is this “critical capacity” of networks that has intrigued many scholars to look into the effects of digital connection systems on pedagogy. In “Occupying the Digital: Critical Pedagogy and New Media,” Pete Rorabaugh (2012) calls teachers to pay attention to digital learning spaces and treats them as “a site of moral agency” since there could be models of interaction that impede learning. In an interview with a Middlebury fellow, Downes (2012) defends the consistency of digitally-infused curriculum to a critical pedagogy approach. He writes, “[Our objective] is about actually empowering people to develop and create their own learning, their own education … We (those of us working in MOOCs) have also been clear about the influences of people like Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire” (Downes, 2012).

Now (there and back again), considering networks under the light of critical theory, I envision a space for discussions of how learning is changing in the 21st century––If students live in a culture that digitizes and educates them through a screen, they require an education that empowers them in that sphere, teaches them that language, and offers new opportunities of human connectivity. It is this motivation that inspires the following sections in this essay. I look to some early literature that critiques the coming of a technological turn in composition studies and writing instruction as a way to demonstrate its parallelism with the emergence of networks. That means I need to take us back in time for about 30 years where our journey began.

Critical Understanding of Technology

In the summer of 1987, the English Coalition Conference took place at Wye Plantation in Maryland. The purpose of the three-week-long conference was to attempt a consensus about English education and its goals for the coming decades and to find solutions to lingering problems, including the changing student population and institutional environments. As reported in Richard Lloyd-Jones and Andrea Lunsford’s edition of the conference report, one of the main discussions was the modern model of literacy and its crucial role in affording the notion of ever higher (or deeper) levels of understanding––understandings that are often preceded by the adjective critical. The English Coalition has revealed a persistence of an attachment to the belief that overriding goal of literacy is to afford students the power coming from a critical understanding of their world:

The information explosion makes learning how to read and write absolutely vital for living, because without these abilities students will not be able to assimilate, evaluate, and control the immense amount of knowledge and the great number of messages which are produced every day. The development of new media similarly requires of citizens an enhanced ability to use different ways of reading and writing. (English Coalition, 1989, p. 86)

Underscoring the belief that the English Coalition Conference has asserted is a heightened sensitivity to emergent information technology as means of discovery and the critical exploration of that experience. As proven through the number of work published in the recent years under computers and writing that critically examine machine learning, and the dedication of our field to the rhetorics of technology, the English Coalition’s ideal of critical understanding has been imperative to technology and literacy scholarship way beyond the conference.

Amid the proliferation of computers in writing instruction, critical literacy scholar Myron Tuman (1992) edited one of the landmark collections in computer-assisted pedagogy to discuss the promises and perils of reading and writing with computers. In the preface to his book, Tuman contends that “technology is one of the prime aspects of culture that literacy must overcome” (1992, p. 4). In critiquing the debates of the 1980s where computers were often ignored or treated as obstacles, Tuman observes,

No one was inclined to see a word processor as a transitional step either to a radical new way of conceiving text or with the ready integration of graphics, to a radical new way of organizing knowledge itself. It was instead more likely portrayed as a turbocharged typewriter, which enables individuals to writer more (or at least faster) and perhaps to undertake more revisions. (Tuman, 1992, p. 5)

Tuman seeks to postulate a relationship between literacy and technology that posits computers within the possibility for extending literacy by enhancing accessibility, comprehensibility, and critical thinking. His notion is shared by Jay Bolter, who in his early writing, “Literature in the Electronic Writing Space,” demonstrates not just how interactivity of digital composition extends certain essential aspects of print literacy, but also rationality, authorship, and the embodiment of meaning in digital texts. Following this line of thought, I introduce in the next section the need to pay attention to networks as an emerging form of “texts” due to its complexity and increasingly preeminent status in writing studies amid the digital information age. More importantly, I seek to draw attention to the inventional possibilities that networks afford writing practices.

Networks as Critical Texts

I would like to begin by using maps as a parallel illustration for the rhetoricality of networks. Maps can be rhetorical devices through the portrayal given to various land masses (Boynton, 2013). All good maps have a central point. Where this central point falls gives the viewer an idea as to what is the most important part or parts of the world. In Cynthia Selfe and Richard Selfe’s (1994) “Politics of the Interface,” maps were used as a critical metaphor for identifying central points versus peripheries, dominant cultures versus borderland representations, interests versus reality, etc. Selfe and Selfe have also used maps to demonstrate how values are made implicit and explicit through complex landscapes (computer interfaces) that are often political and ideological.

Like maps, networks are a rhetorical way of portraying information. Such portrayal reshapes the scope of literacy as we know it considering how the immense retrieval powers of computers and connections are subtly and decisively changing the status of the standard text––static and unified. Even the previous most groundbreaking technological shifts in writing practices––word processing and desktop publishing––have yet to achieve such level of exploiting of the power of technology to transform what we know as texts. In Bolter’s critique, word processing and desktop publishing applications have only used the computer to prepare texts that will eventually be translated back into the older medium of ink on paper. Networks, on the contrary, uses the computer and connections as media in their own right––both for the creation and for the reading of meanings. Networks are free of the primary constraint of the page, the linearity of reading, and the units of text such as size and arrangement.

Network’s capacity to create fluid textual structures and present them interactively to the reader constitutes a new space of literacy unlike those of the previous print spaces. Consider the following example in Figure 1, a project based at Stanford University called Mapping the Republic of Letters (Respublica literaria). According to its creators, the project aims to enrich the understanding of the intellectual networks of major and minor figures in the republic of letters, the international world of learning that spanned the centuries roughly from 1400 to 1800. By creating visual images based on large digitized data sets, the network reveals the hidden structures and conditions that nourished the growth of the republic of letters in the early modern era and the causes of its transformation in the nineteenth century.

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Figure 1. Learning about the Republic of Letters via (a) print versus (b) on-screen texts versus (c) a mapped social network (http://republicofletters.stanford.edu).

In comparison, conventional reading or viewing of the Republic of Letters, either in print or on screen, would not appropriate the kind of engagement that is make possible by a networked text interface. A network text is organized as a web of interrelated textual elements: the author creates the elements and defines their relations and hands the structure to the reader. This changes directly––in very practical ways––the role of the author and the materiality of the text. Effective reading of the network can only be done in the form it is presented in and not any physical medium, because only the programmed form of “texts” can handle the links between the elements and help the reader navigate within the networked story.

What networks afford is continuity between texts, hypertexts, and contexts. The embedded interactive mechanism for information presentation and storytelling calls for emergent language use and presentational practices, for current methods rely heavily on our long experience with print. Above all, networks challenge the sense that writing is complete, isolated, and independent. Network texts on a given subject form a connection of facts or information, insights, and arguments. They encourage the reader to think of all texts as occupying the same compositional space but permitting multiple ways of reading and that each perspective offers a different entry point to the subject.

Yet, even maps that are perfectly accurate have distortion (Boynton, 2013). So do networks. Thus, technical and ethical issues involved in designing networked texts need more than just trivial attention. Too often we overlook the power of designed texts to reshape the representation of our physical world. In an older piece, “The Electronic Panopticon: Censorship, Control, and Indoctrination in a Post-Typographic Culture,” Eugene Provenzo (1992) argues that while computer-based reading and writing has the power of liberating us from the constraints and tyranny of the author and the text, it is fraught with danger. Take for instance again the visualization of the Republic of Letters. While digitization and network visualization give us new ways of apprehending information, visualization in fact is not the goal; the goal is to use new tools and develop new ways of reading and composing. Caroline Winterer, in her report of the digitization of the Republic of Letters, admits that network visualization “cannot and should not replace the traditional work of the humanist” (2012, p. 599). In her words, “We cannot just digitize and visualize data; we still need to read texts” (p. 599; emphasis mine). Such reading of texts calls for for active human agentive involvement as well as intervention, and I concur with Winterer’s defense.

References

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bolter, J. (1992) Literature in the electronic writing space. In Myron Tuman (Ed.), Literacy online: The promise (and peril) of reading and writing with computers. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education. New York, NY: Greenwood.

Boynton, M. (2013). The rhetoric of maps. Retrieved from https://sites.psu.edu/aeblincoln/2013/09/25/the-rhetoric-of-maps/  

Downes, S. (2011). Week 1: What Is Connectivism? Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2011. Retrieved from http://cck11.mooc.ca/week1.htm

Downes, S. (2012). The Rise of MOOCs. Retrieved from http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2012/04/rise-of-moocs.html

Duffy & Jonassen, (1992). Constructivism and the technology of instruction: A conversation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

English Coalition (1989). Conference report: Democracy through language. Eds. Richard Lloyd-Jones and Andrea Lunsford. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Landow, G. (1992). Hypertext, metatext, and the electronic canon. In Myron Tuman (Ed.), Literacy online: The promise (and peril) of reading and writing with computers. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Provenzo, E. (1992). The electronic panopticon: Censorship, control, and indoctrination in a post-typograpic culture. In Myron Tuman (Ed.), Literacy online: The promise (and peril) of reading and writing with computers. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Rorabaugh, P. (2012). Occupying the digital: Critical pedagogy and new media. Hybrid Pedagogy. Retrieved from http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/occupy-the-digital-critical-pedagogy-and-new-media/

Selfe, C., & Selfe, R. (1994). Politics of the interface: Power and its exercise in electronic contact zones. College Composition and Communication, 45(4), 480-504.

Siemens, G. (2006). Knowing knowledge. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/KnowingKnowledge_LowRes.pdf.

Siemens. G. (2008). About: Description of connectivism. Connectivism: A learning theory for today’s learner, website. Retrieved from http://www.connectivism.ca/about.html

Spinuzzi, C. (2010). Secret sauce and snake oil: Writing monthly reports in a highly contingent environment. Written Communication, 27(4), 363–409.

Tuman, M. (1992). Literacy online: The promise (and peril) of reading and writing with computers. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Ulmer, G. (1992). Grammatology (in the stacks) of hypermedia, a simulation. In Myron Tuman (Ed.), Literacy online: The promise (and peril) of reading and writing with computers. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Winterer, C. (2012). Where is America in the Republic of Letters? Modern Intellectural History, 9(3), 597-623.

Writing Your Grad School Personal Statement: 3 Quick Tips

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Tis’ the season of love and jingly things… and also when grad school applications are due!

If you are applying to a research program and are still finalizing your application, I have three tips here that might be of use:

1. Align your research interests with the faculty members’ in the program

It is often made obvious in graduate program applications that the applicant should mention which faculty member they would like to work with as part of their graduate education. Before writing your personal statement, do a thorough search on the program’s people page, such as this page that’s housed in our Writing Studies department. Include the faculty member’s specialty areas as keywords in your letter as a rhetorical move to show that you have done your homework. As part of the UMN RSTC program, applicants are asked to select a professor to be his/her desired academic advisor. It would be smart for the applicant to get in touch with one or two current grad students in the program to get a sense of the “advisee-load” that the desired advisor has already had to avoid choosing someone who are already occupied and so are not able to undertake anymore new students.

2. Showcase your research trajectory, past and future

Include a trajectory of your scholarly works as well as future directions (where you came from and where you want to go), including past or present seminar research topics and classroom/teaching workshops. This will help the admission committee to see your scholarly agenda and give them confidence that you are self-motivated because you have clear goals in mind. Remember, the grad school application is also similar to a job application; while admitting new students, the program or department is looking for individuals who are competent in conducting research (in and out of lab, classroom, etc.) as well as teaching (some are even looking for applicants with certain specialization to teach specific classes).  

3. Define your scholarly identity

This last advice should be taken with a grain of salt. While it is good to exhibit excitement and flexibility as a graduate applicant, I think it is equally important to define one’s scholarly identity. Especially for PhD applicants, the individual should have already had a sense of what it means to be a part of an academic discipline or community, and what it means to contribute to the development of that community. By defining one’s scholarly identity, one is performing a(nother) rhetorical move that situates him /herself in an ongoing conversation–thus increasing the credibility of the application. For a program with multiple tracks (such as RSTC and programs like Arizona’s RCTE and Iowa State’s RPC), I think it would be helpful to define yourself as a rhetorician, compositionist (basic writing, first-year writing, advanced composition, etc), or technical  or professional communication scholar (scientific writing, tech or business comm, technology and culture, etc), or somewhere in between these (but you have articulate how you fit in such a niche). 

There are certainly many other factors that concern the admission committee and these are just my two cents. If you are reading this and are interested in applying to the RSTC program at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities), feel free to leave me a message and I’d be glad to help!

Engaging Stories: The HUMN Project / MnWE Talk

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Tham, Jason. “Engaging Stories: Creating an Ethnographic Literacy Narrative Project in a First-Year Writing Course.” Minnesota Writing and English (MnWE) Conference. Inver Hills Community College, MN. March 27, 2015.



The HUMN Project is a semester-long ethnographic narrative project designed to provide an opportunity for students to think about their literacy practices and those of others, and to consider issues surrounding literacy acquisition. Students interview people on the University of Minnesota campus (hence H“UMN”) to collect accounts of how individuals remember learning to read and write; the conditions under which they continue reading and composing; and the influences and values that shape their literate practices. This presentation aims to enlighten teachers to explore ways for advancing practices that complicate literacy values and narrative construction.

More: Handout on The HUMN Project descriptions and course calendar.

View this presentation deck on SlideShare.

A Dummy Guide to Creating and Giving a PechaKucha Presentation

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You may have heard of the term “PechaKucha” and you are interested to learn more about the concept and how others have done it. Or, you might simply be required to do it in one of your classes or work meetings and you just want to get some tips. You’re in for a treat. In this blog entry, I intend to share with you my experience with PechaKucha presentations and some tips for planning and making one. I am also going to share with you an example of my own presentation.

I was first introduced to the idea of the PechaKucha (pronounced pe-charge-ka) presentation style in a classical rhetoric seminar at St. Cloud State University. The concept of PechaKucha is simple: 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide on auto-advancing mode. The idea was said to based off the Japanese “chit-chat” presentation format by shortening long presentations to 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

The presentation format was devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture. The first PechaKucha Night was held in Tokyo in their gallery/lounge/bar/club/creative kitchen, SuperDeluxe, in February, 2003. Klein Dytham architecture still organize and support the global PechaKucha Night network and organize PechaKucha Night Tokyo. (Excerpt from “Who Invented the Format?”)

Even though the idea was intriguing to me, I never really had the gut to do it, until last week. Along the final project in my visual rhetoric PhD seminar this semester, I was required to present my work to my classmates and instructor in the PechaKucha style. I have to say that the overall experience was rewarding, even though I was nervous from the time the assignment was given up to the second I stepped up to present. (Yes, teachers get butterfly stomach, too.)

Nonetheless, I documented my thinking and design process as I planned out my presentation, thinking that this would be a valuable resource for future students or people who are willing to experiment with this presentation style. So, here goes it:

  1. Think in perspective. It’s all going to end in 6 mins and 40 seconds, for better or for worse. If you miss a slide or an important note, you miss a slide or an important note! There’s not room to “make up” or try to “save” your presentation. A strong PechaKucha presentation is one that is well planned, organized, and edited. Think of it as writing down to a word count rather than writing up — you will need to pay close attention to cutting the fluff and getting straight to the point(s).
  2. Start by planning. Failing to plan is planning to fail, especially in a PechaKucha presentation. I have learnt that it takes great mental effort to outline one’s presentation — deciding what needs to be delivered (and what needs not), considering the “flow” of the presentation, choosing and putting together the content (text and images) of the presentation, and editing it. The following image shows my thinking steps: 1. Drawing the canvas. 2. Planning what content gets in the canvas. 3. Deciding which content comes first and where on the canvas.

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  1. Focus on the visual. But do so with an eye toward the overall consistency of the look and feel of presentation and how images can be used to support your claims, not to decorate your canvas. I came to realize, rather quickly, that it is tough for an audience to pay attention to a presenter going tutu-train speed (trying to finish his/her sentence before the next slide kicks in) while looking at the mind-boggling images on the slides. As you choose your visual, think like an audience, i.e.: Is this particular image related to my claim-at-point? How does this image work in relation to other images in my presentation? Does it take longer than a few seconds to understand or “decode” the image? Is the image going to distract my audience from my verbal presentation?
  2. It’s OK to add texts. I personally think that textual elements help an audience to “get it” faster than pure images. This is especially true when you have to share a jargon or technical language that your audience may not have access to. There’s more to say about signs and signifiers (how words and images work together to enhance cognition and memory), but I will let this web text here do the job. Yet again, remember that you and your audience only have 20 seconds to look at a slide – think for yourselves how many words can you read in that time frame.
  3. Practice. Practice and practice. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of rehearsal in delivering a tight, eloquent PechaKucha presentation. You will need to almost plan and write out the exact content — down to the actual sentences — that you will present. Twenty seconds aren’t a lot of time (technically, one can speak about 40 words on a tutu-train speed), but it only takes a few quiet seconds to make an awkward silence. Practice. That way you can train yourself into pacing your speech and mentally register the rough duration of a 20-second period. (It’s amazing how “muscle memory” works: I can now count to 20 and get it almost right on the dot.)

Now, in terms of the actual putting together of your slides, you will need some technical knowledge on how to program your slideware. Since I am a faithful user of PowerPoint, here’s a tutorial on how you can create a PechaKucha presentation format on PowerPoint.

There you have it. It is no rocket science, yet it takes time and energy to put together an excellent PechaKucha presentation. As promised, here is my example of a PechaKucha presentation. (Notice I stumbled a little in the beginning… my mind went blank for a second.)

The following is the feedback I received from my instructor:

  • You offered a great clear introduction, followed by a clear statement of methods.
  • I appreciated the care you put into developing a harmonious look and feel to your visuals.
  • I would appreciate screenshots reinforcing your argument about the “flag” color schemes if there be such.
  • Your pechakucha had a terrific structure overall. You offered a very clear argument.

I felt good after delivering the presentation, as well as watching others present. Overall, students seem to put more effort into this format given the need for practice and really knowing the content by heart.

As a compositionist, I have learnt so much from doing this. As such, I am assigning this presentation format to my University (first-year) Writing students next semester. Any comments and suggestions are most welcomed! Drop your two cents below, or tweet to me at @jasoncktham.

(Re)Introducing MOOCs: The Worst Idea at the Best Time

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I co-presented this paper with my colleague, Jack Hannes, at the 11th International Symposium for Communication in the Millennium held May 22-24 at St. Cloud State University. The following is my portion of the roundtable presentation. (I apologize for the fragmented notes… Jack and I went back and forth during the presentation.)

Definitions & Background

MOOCs, or massive online open courses, are large cohort online classes started around 2010/11 when a few Stanford professors designed a tuition-free course system which is open to virtually anyone on the web.

Prior to what is perceived as the new MOOCs today, some old open-source platforms were available since 2008, where a handful of universities made their course materials available on the web. According to George Roberts (2012), these old, MOOC-like models:

  • Have explicit pedagogical perspectives (social constructivist)
  • Are distributed; have open-source platforms components (Websites, wikis)
  • Cultivate intentional social media conversations (Blogs, Twitter, etc.)
  • Open challenge to institutions (Access, environments, assessments)

Examples: Opencourseware like Open Yale Courses, or courses/podcast on iTunes U.

We see a lot of these traits remain in the new MOOCs, where courses are offered via MOOC providers — startup companies set up to give “everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available to a select few.” Among these providers are Coursera, edX, Canvas, Udemy, etc.

Major funders: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Harvard-MIT collaboration, etc.

MOOCs for composition & communication (from writing to speech to mass comm to film studies):

Debates & Positions

MOOCs and the Connectivist Theory: The evolving MOOC knits together education, entertainment, and social networking. Originated about 2008 within the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement, MOOCs are developed based on connectivist theory, emphasizing that learning and knowledge acquisition happen from the interactions within a network of connections. Connectivism was a new educational framework developed at the dawn of the 21st Century, explaining how people learn in a networked and digital world (George Siemens, 2005). According to Stephen Downes, connectivism is essentially the idea that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. Students participating in MOOCs are often required to play an active role in contributing to discussions through the course forums or third-party social networks, such as Facebook groups, Twitter, or Google Plus/Hangout. Capitalizing on the opportunity of the existing wealth of interconnectivity and social networking among its students, MOOCs encourage peer-to-peer learning, reviews, and even grading, which is another hot debate in the MOOC mania.

“Peer” Evaluation in MOOCs:

  • Blind leading the blind: are these students ready to evaluate others’ work?
  • Assigned vs. Free choices: Issues with diversity and experience
  • Picky students: A series of unfortunate evaluations
  • Ground rules/guide to evaluation

MOOCs aren’t serious pedagogy (?):

While the medium of learning still relies largely on lectures, MOOC certainly presents challenges in terms of the quality of the learning experience. Can learning be scaled up this much (think about a course taken by 400,000 students, taught by a team of five professors)? Other questions include:

  • Are MOOCs appropriate for the humanities?
  • Do students really know how to take MOOCs?
  • Power and ideologies within the platforms (Selfe & Selfe)
  • What are the targeted success rates in students taking MOOCs (passing)?
  • Medium is the message (McLuhan)
  • Banking model detected? (Freire)

For online writing instruction, check out: NCTE OWI Guidelines.

Image courtesy of David Kernohan @dkernohan, illustrating the massive destruction of MOOCs on higher education.