Day 2 of "The Writing Show" road trip: Dennis makes the news?

Dennis being interviewed

Annette and I said farewell to friend Mary and headed to Richmond, first for lunch at Joe’s Inn (the original, mind you) with Laura, Sarah, and “Writing Show” organizer and host Dennis Danvers. A fine time was had eating at Joe’s (Annette and I split a spaghetti ala Greek– ah, memories) and then wandering about in Cary Town (not to be confused with Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown).

As we were about to part ways, we were approached by a channel 12 news crew asking for an interview. Since Dennis was the only local, he was the interviewee. They were asking about the prospect of a new movie theater in dowtown Richmond, something Dennis certainly favors.

Okay, this doesn’t have much to do with “The Writing Show” or even using blogs for creative(ly) publishing writing with the Internet, but I thought folks might get a kick out of it nonetheless.

day one of the writing show roadtrip (brought to you by a witty and reassuring lower-case san-serif font)

cute lettering

Annette and I stayed last night at a Hampton Inn in Harrisonburg, VA, where we stopped off to visit an old friend. A good time has been had by one and all and the hotel is very comfortable and pleasant.

But I have to say that I am really struck by the “branding” of this hotel, more than I have been by just about any place I’ve stayed recently. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING– the cups, the little writing pads (as you can hopefully see in this not great picture), the shampoo, the signage in the elevator, the listing of the available channels, the little sign that tells me there is “hi-speed internet access. complimentary.“– is is this font. And they are trying to be kinda funny/cute about it, too. The water cup says “some like it cold;” the cup for coffee says (you guessed it!) “some like it hot.” The soap says “clean your body.” Thanks for the tip.

This sort of branding is around us all the time of course. I guess I don’t give the hyper-consistency of font and color a second thought when I am in a store or surfing a well-designed web site, but it kinda freaks me out a little bit in a hotel room.

Talking about blogging at "The Writing Show" (and maybe proposing a book project on blogs?)

I probably won’t have much chance to blog this week because I need to get ready for an appearance/presentation on something called “The Writing Show.” It’s sponsored by James River Writers in Richmond, VA, and is the creation of Dennis Danvers, who is a novelist and an old friend of mine from my days in the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Basically, Dennis wanted to do a show about writing and the internet, he asked me if I’d want to be a part of it, and I said absolutely.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what this format is going to be like. Dennis has told me that his idea is that this is basically a talk show: Dennis is the moderator and he asks questions of a panel of experts and then the audience joins in. The web site describes it as “Entertaining, interactive, The Writing Show is …. Inside the Actor’s Studio meets the New York Times bestseller list… The Tonight Show meets the art of writing.” I don’t know all about that, but I’m always interested in participating in forums that try to break out of the conference presentation mode, and Dennis has said that the past writing shows have been a whole lot of fun.

So I’m not preparing a “talk” per se, but I think a lot of what I’m going to end up talking about is going to be a lot like my spiel at the 2005 CCCCs, “Blogs and the Writerly Life.” The main audience for “The Writing Show” are practicing and aspiring writers, folks looking for book deals of their own, and my CCCCs talk was part of the MFA SIG program. There have been plenty of stories about blogs leading to a book deal, but I hope to also talk about the idea of how blogging in and of itself can be a benefit in the writerly life all by itself.

This perhaps goes without saying, but I’m also looking forward to a roadtrip to Richmond, too. My wife and I are going to take a trip (albeit a short one) down memory lane.

Anyway, this writing show stuff has got me think about a different but related topic, a book project of my own. I am going to be applying for a sabbatical this year for the 2006-2007 school year, and while I was originally thinking about a few other things, I’m beginning to think more about proposing a book (or book-like) project on academic blogging. I haven’t formed anything yet, but I guess I am thinking about a book that more or less builds on some of the things I’ve published/spoken about at conferences before and some of the things I’ve written about blogs here (and, of course, read about blogs elsewhere): identity and blogging, teaching, blogging as a scholarly practice, blogging, related technologies and academic publishing, etc.

Like I said, it’s just an idea at this point– not even a decent paragraph, if you ask me– but if you’ve got any ideas on ways I can take this someplace, let me know.

Slight update:
I came across a description of a forthcoming book on blogs called Uses of Blogs that might be interesting. It’s going to be a collection of essays written mostly by “soft science” types of academics. And of course, there was the interesting collection/experiment Into the Blogosphere, too. I do think what I have in mind is a bit different from both of these projects, but that’s hard to say….

Podcasting and teaching writing: an interesting example?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m planning on using some podcast technology in my online class this coming fall. Though to be completely honest, I haven’t completely figured out what I’ll be doing with it. My original (current?) plan is to use podcasts to supplement the online class materials– not a “lecture” exactly, but sort of a weekly (or so) “show” about the class. But I was at a function last night, talking with a bunch of fellow English (although literature) professors about this, and they wondered why I didn’t just write it all up and post it for students to digest in that form. I suppose they have a point, but I think you could make the same argument about radio in general: why listen to the news on the radio (or watch it on TV, for that matter) when you could just read it? Hmmmm….

Anyway, I’ve been playing around with iTunes and podcasts lately, and I came across some podcasts that are kind of an interesting example how this stuff might be used in a writing class context. Check out the CSU Writing Project Summer Institute 2005 blog and podcast site to see what I mean. I’ll be honest: I don’t find it exactly compelling “must listen to” stuff. But I also don’t think I’m the audience for these blogs, either.

Miscellaneous links I came across today

In lieu of doing something a bit more productive, I cleaned out my email inbox today, and in the process, I came across a bunch of links to stuff I thought would be worthwhile to post here:

  • The Future of the Book web site. Some good info, but what I thought was especially cool was the java-script powered graphic at the top.
  • Journals in Rhetoric and Composition. Lists and links to different publications in the field. Hey, it’s from BGSU, so it must be good.
  • Today’s Front Pages. This is a pretty nifty little flash-driven site that show you the front pages of a bunch of different newspapers all over the world. It’s an interesting melding of traditional print and electronic media that might be a good topic of discussion in a class like 328.
  • 826 Michigan has opened up (and has a web site, too). I’ve been trying to find some time work with these folks, and I really want to find a way to make some sort of connection between the work that they’re trying to do (tutoring writing to young folks on a drop-in basis) and the work my colleagues and I are trying to do (teach future high school and junior high teachers). I do wish they had opened up the center in Ypsi, but that’s another issue.
  • TiddlyWiki. A friend of mine sent me a link to this. To be honest, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to mess around with this, but it looks to me like it has some kind of cool potential as an interesting way to write hypertext.

Rating (studying, really)

Via Clancy’s blog, I came across this colorfully titled article, “‘He Will Crush You Like an Academic Ninja!’: Exploring Teacher Rating on,” which is in the current version of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. As the title implies, this is a study of how students use the infamous professor evaluation site,

It’s a problematic study for a variety of different reasons that the authors themselves acknowledge (for example, the focus group participants were all at one school), but it’s still kind of interesting reading, I thought. Here’s one long quote summarizing the answers to a focus group question about what motivates students to post ratings in the first place that kind of sums up my own doubts about

One theme that emerged when discussing posting practices was the notion of posting a comment about a professor only if the students really liked or really disliked the professor. “I only post when I have a really strong opinion of a teacher, either really good or really bad,” one student reported. In other words, neutral feelings about a professor did not motivate students to post. Students felt reporting about these specific instances would be most useful for other students. Particularly in the case of “bad” professors, other students could be warned about that teacher and the class itself. This finding confirms what Ahmadi et al. (2001) found; that is, students write specific comments for only exceptionally good or bad professors.

Besides posting to pass along important information to other students, several of the students mentioned revenge or venting. If they had a bad experience in a certain class with a certain professor, posting to the site was their way passing along information, but also of “getting back” at that instructor. For example, one student shared her reason for posting. “I do it so people won’t take that professor, but I think it’s more my revenge in a way. It’s my way of getting back at them.”

One of the results of this “love ’em/hate ’em” rating motivation is, ultimately, very few ratings. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of students since I’ve been at EMU, and on, there’s a grand total of eight reviews. And there’s no way of telling if these students rating my class really were former students, either. And so forth.

Can you tell I don’t care much for

I do think it’s kind of an interestingly difficult thing to study though….

I've been beaten to the punch at Ivan

I’m still in “vacation mode” because the in-laws are here and my wife and I just returned from a getaway to Niagara Falls— oops! too much information for Ivan “the worst ‘not his real name’ name ever” Tribble, at least according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Bloggers Need Not Apply.”

Jeff, Jenny, Collin, KF at Planned Obsolescence, and many others have already said what needs to be said, so I’ll just add a few more thoughts:

  • Tribble does have a point in that there are a lot of bloggers out there, academic and otherwise, who are not as aware of the potential downfalls of their vast and unintended audience as they perhaps ought to be. Lots of people have lost their jobs as a result of their blogs, and it is probably true that others have been passed over for jobs because of their blogging. Of course, most of the academic blogs I know of that share a bit too much– ah… problematic “personal” information– are anonymous anyway (and I’ve certainly complained about the problems I have with anonymous academic blogging in the past). So, assuming that the anonymous academic blogger applying for a job isn’t going to be promoting his or her anonymous blog in a cover letter or on a campus visit, Tribble et al could have easily hired the exact kind of blogger he and his colleagues were trying to avoid and not even know it.
  • I don’t know what field Tribble is in (though I must say that he sure sounds like a pretty old-timey/traditional Literature– with a capital “L”– kind of guy to me), but in my field, I’m pretty sure that we’d look quite favorably on a candidate who kept a blog. Many of the folks I list as comp/rhet bloggers are doctoral students or newly minted Ph.Ds, and I’m betting that they’ll land decent jobs.
  • Finally, Tribble reminds me of one final piece of unsolicited advice I’d like to offer in my role as The Happy Academic: while the academic job market is extremely tight, always remember that job candidates have to evaluate the people who are doing the hiring, too. Afterall, there is a decent enough chance that you will have to spend the rest of your working life with these people, so you had better have a sense of what they’re like. I have had MLA interviews with a variety of different schools where, about half-way through that half hour sitting in a hotel room someplace, I thought to myself “there is no way I would be willing to work with you people.” I freely admit that it’s perhaps a bit too easy for me to say this now that I’m happy and tenured, but I guess what I’m getting at is I’m pretty sure that Tribble and his colleagues at “a small liberal arts college in the Midwest” wouldn’t want to hire me, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to work with them.

Here’s a link to the newsgroup style discussion about all this on the Chronicle site. I stumbled across it while looking at Clancy’s site, though I don’t think I have the same sort of patience as Clancy does to actually read what people wrote there….

Poor Writing turns out to be "costly"/More teachers blogging

There were two things I found interesting in the July 6 NCTE Inbox.

First, it turns out that writing instruction might be important because bad writing costs businesses too much money. Shocking news, huh? Here’s a somewhat troubling passage from the Business Week article that the NCTE folks link to:

In a conference call interview last week, Kerrey, Huckabee, and Gaston Caperton — a former West Virginia governor who now leads the College Board — said many of the costs when state employees cannot express themselves clearly are hard to pin down. E-mail, which is so easy that workers can fire something off without thinking it through, may compound the problem.

“Increasingly as more things are done electronically, or via e-mail or blackberry, I think we tend to almost get even more sloppy,” Huckabee said. “The truth is we need to get clear and concise. That adds to productivity.”

Ah yes, it’s that darn technology that is screwing up writing. Never mind the fact that electronic formats like email represent a significant percentage of the writing that people in the business world actually do.

All of this is based on a report, which is available online here (pdf). There’s been quite a bit of talk about all this on the WPA-L mailing list, and I think most of that conversation has been productive, though no one has really talked about what counts (or doesn’t) as “good writing.” Not that we could ever be completely clear about what is or isn’t “good writing,” but I suspect that some of the problem is what counts as good writing for some folks is bad writing to other folks.

But I also have to wonder is what’s the point of comparison? Has there ever been a commission or organization that has determined that writing skills (or math skills or science skills or whatever) among members of a particular group (state workers, students, teachers, or whoever) are good or even adequate? I doubt it. And if that’s the case, if writing has always been important and if workers have always been bad at it, well, what does being bad at writing mean then?

The second piece I was interested in was an article about teachers keeping blogs. The article NCTE Inbox is linking to was published in the Palm Beach Post (I presume Florida). In the NCTE blurb about the article, they highlight Will Richardson’s work at Weblogg-ed, as well they should. But I was a lot more interested in this part:

Word of mouth can be powerful as pioneering teachers talk about the benefits to co-workers.

That’s why more than 300 of the 7,000 teachers in Macomb County, Mich., are already registered bloggers on a site called Blog names range from the eloquent (“A Literary Escape”) to the pointed (“Ms. Klosowski’s Helpful Suggestions for GED Improvement”).

Chris Burnett, a self-described technophobic language-arts teacher in Macomb County, used a blog for the first time this past year to engage her students.

Rather than hang their writing around the room, she’s publishing the musings of one of her eighth-grade classes on her blog. Readers can share their thoughts in postings on the blog.

Macomb county is the northern suburbs of Detroit, and I swear that the name Chris Burnett rings a bell…. Anyway, this might be an interesting piece to bring up when I teach 516 again.

What the Grokster decision might (or might not) mean to me

Jim Porter and Martine Courant Rife have a paper on the WIDE resource at Michigan State about the recent Supreme Court decision against Grokster and what it might mean for universities. It’s interesting reading. Three thoughts:

  • Sure, I downloaded some music (illegally) from sources like limewire and napster back in the day, but I gave up on it pretty quickly. I thought that the time it took to download illegal tunes and the poor quality of the dowloads just wasn’t worth it. I have been happy with what I can get from iTunes though. It’s not free, but it is reasonably priced, it’s clearly legal, and the sound quality is good. I dunno, maybe it’s because I’m middle-aged and (reasonably) well paid, but I am just not willing to put up with the hassle of free downloads.
  • During my recent travels (I think while I was in southern Minnesota), I heard this story on “On the Media,” an NPR news show about (duh) “the media.” In this report about the decision, the legal expert basically suggests that a) the Supreme Court’s decision was actually a “non-decision” in that what this decision really does is put off the question of “legitimate” file sharing for another day, and b) it boils down to the idea that Grokster (et al) were ruled against because they were kind of jerks. Here’s a quote from legal expert Michael Madison about that:

    “I have a lot of confidence that firms that are already in mature markets, say for example Google, which is a company that takes advantage of intellectual property rights in a number of complex ways, Google is likely going to be able to innovate without a lot of concern, in my opinion, from this Grokster ruling. What the court is really trying to do in a not particularly elegant way is distinguish good guys from bad guys.”

  • Personally, I’d like to see the Supreme Court rule on copyright and such for universities once and for all. Porter and Rife write in the summary of their paper:

    Clearly universities are not promoting copyright infringement by their students, as were Grokster and StreamCast – and universities could just as easily use the Court’s opinion in Grokster to defend its practices. However, the recording and film industries are likely to use the ruling as a basis for litigation holding universities responsible for copyright infringements by students – and such action could well have an unfortunate chilling effect on universities.

    I am no copyright attorney, that’s for sure, and I haven’t studied this stuff to the extent that other people (like these two) have. But I guess I’d still like to see a test case where some copyright holder goes after a university for promoting “fair use.” I have to think that the courts, even the conservative ones, would value the promotion of ideas at a university more than the film industry. And I guess I’d also like to see this ruling because, as far as I can tell, no one really understands what is or isn’t “fair use” of copyrighted materials. Maybe if there was a test case, some of this confusion could be cleared up.

Three minor thoughts about this whole Fulkerson thing….

Thought #1:

While I admire greatly the earnestness associated with the posts on this this Fulkerson essay in the CCCs, I just can’t bring myself to read that essay right now. I’m sort of in summer break mode, and it seems too much like work to me. Get back to me in a week or so.

Thought #2:

If I were in charge of this carnival (and obviously this is not the case), I might be inclined to get people to think about/write about the article “The Ecoomics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writers, and First-Year Composition” by Kelly Ritter. Of course, I haven’t read this article yet either (see thought #1), but it sounds more interesting to me. At least the title.

Thought #3:

I sure hope Collin does something like this with the new and forthcoming version of the CCCs Online. I think it would be super-duper cool to have a forum where readers could comment on articles in the print journal in a format like this.