Archive for the ‘Writing Pedagogy’ Category

Envisioning a new digital writing/rhetoric community web space

October 1, 2011

WIDE-EMU'11 custom logo

Sweetland is going to the WIDE-EMU’11 (un)conference on Saturday, October 15, 2011 in Ypsilanti, Michigan.  As organizers Steve Krause (EMU), Derek Mueller (EMU), and Bill Hart-Davidson (MSU) wrote in their invitation to the event: “The idea was born during C&W this year, when we were once again reminded how lucky we are to have so many fantastic colleagues working in digital writing within a 3 hour drive of the Ypsi-Arbor area.”  The (un)keynote speakers are the authors of Because Digital Writing Matters, Danielle DeVoss, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, and Troy Hicks.  We’re thrilled that Computers and Writing 2011 played a role in generating this event.  We had so much fun organizing and hosting it, and we’re excited to help keep the energy going at EMU!

The session we’ve proposed is titled Envisioning a new digital writing/rhetoric community web space.  It’s a “do” session, which means we won’t just be sitting there talking at an audience; we’ll be asking those who attend the session to engage in some thinking and planning with us.  Here’s what we have in mind:

As part of its move to a digital publishing model, the University of Michigan Press will inaugurate a new digital writing/rhetoric imprint.  It has approached the Sweetland Center for Writing to spearhead this project, part of which would involve the creation of a digital writing/rhetoric web space for sharing scholarly and educational materials in our field.

The purpose of this session is to ask you to help us at Sweetland imagine and shape this space to best fit the needs of our community.  How can this web space complement existing spaces and fora in our field, such as TechRhet or Kairosnews, and existing publications venues, such as Parlor Press and Computers and Composition Digital Press?  What features or content would lead you to visit such a site and to participate in it?

Come prepared to brainstorm, question, and critique.  Bring along the urls of model websites you visit when you want to learn and share.  We look forward to thinking with you!

We’ll report the outcomes of the conversation in this space.  In the meantime, if you’re local, think about joining us in Ypsi in a couple weeks!

Spring in Sweetland and the whiff of dissertators dissertating is in the air

May 21, 2010

The Dissertation Writing Institute began its eighth year on May 4th when Dr. Anne Gere and the Sweetland Center for Writing welcomed 24 new fellows for the eight-week Spring term.  Sweetland faculty graciously surrender their offices to house fellows, and since the program expanded in 2008, the English Department has supplied the additional 12 offices on the 4th and 5th floor of Angell Hall.   To date, the DWI has hosted 126 graduate students at various stages of writing their dissertations so that they can focus their time and attention –  9am to 3pm, five days a week — on this critical work.

Dissertation Writing Institute participants plan their workshop schedule

This season’s fellows divided into two groups of twelve — one led by my colleague Paul Barron, one by myself — and set immediately to work.  Fellows unpack and spread out materials in their temporary homes with focused time to dedicate to the work of writing: drafting, mapping, outlining and re-outlining, revising and rewriting — sometimes just staring, churning, thinking — valuable time for the exhaustive work of a dissertation.  The Institute privileges these six hours each day for these dissertation writers to concentrate their attentions on their projects.  The program stresses the routine of writing; the consistent, persistent work of drafting and revising is necessary to actualize these complex, intricate projects.  At heart, the dissertation is a kind of mystery for the writer, as most writing can be, with several “aha” moments along the way, and the writer always in pursuit — finding, shaping, and refining sustained thought.

Considering Audience
The work required of writing at the dissertation level is especially fraught with uncertainty as writers struggle to parse their precise meaning as they enter into wider scholarly discourses.  These audience issues are pivotal, but often unnamed for dissertation writers.  In my initial meetings with fellows we spend a little time discussing and defining their audience-level concerns.  The two most pressing audiences for dissertators might appear obvious but are worth identifying: 1) the immediate committee members who will read and someday approve the dissertation; and 2) the wider disciplinary audience which these writers hope to engage.  Sometimes it is a committee member’s working style that can stress and complicate audience issues (for instance, some committee members want to see a “complete draft” or “finished chapter,” while others won’t read it till its “done” — terms that might get better defined).  Dissertation writers can also be pushed and pulled by audience concerns within their fields, for instance, the social historian on the committee wants more social history, while the institutional historian on the committee wants more institutional history.  How does the writer manage both concerns?  How does the dissertation writer choose?

These audience issues get even murkier when the interdisciplinary nature of the project — often the project’s essential and distinguishing feature — allows writers to combine distinct disciplines while still requiring that they fulfill the disciplinary norms of particular fields.  How does the anthropologist make effective use of textual film analysis or the biologist tell an ecological history?  For dissertation writers, just as in other writing, identifying audience helps the writer make several critical decisions:  what does my audience already know, what do I need to explain to them, what do I most want to communicate to them, and finally what voice, language, style, and format will best reach them.  Making more conscious choices considering audience helps the writer make the many decisions needed to finish these lengthy projects.  Over the last eight years, one of my repeated refrains to dissertators is to keep making decisions, so that each decision leads to the next — a questioning and answering process that began at the very outset of a project and one that will ultimately impel its progress and completion.

Centering the practice of writing
A good part of the Dissertation Writing Institute’s success has been to provide the space and atmosphere that allows dissertators to focus on the practice of writing — from the perspective of creating, generating, developing, refining  — and on the premise that writing itself is a way to think, sort, and work through this complex, knotty territory.  In her essay, “How Writing Leads to Thinking (And not the other way around)” Lynn Hunt shares similar strategies as a scholar in history.  The Institute hopes to fasten writers to the habit of writing on a daily and consistent basis, that through a dedicated practice of writing the dissertator becomes in fullest possession of their arguments and can write with the authority needed to explicitly guide their readers.

Louis Cicciarelli discusses workshops with DWI participants

Not surprisingly, grad students welcome this opportunity to spend some quality time with their projects.  In the halls of the Sweetland Center these first weeks I’ve heard fellows talk about a renewed sense of their projects’ hopes.  After all, few graduate students embark on these lengthy ventures lightly, or on a whim.  The task requires dedication, devotion, determination, persistence, and a good measure of creative intelligence and passion. Graduate students are motivated to finish, and the Dissertation Writing Institute hopes to create a space and encourage an approach that will propel the substantial progress needed to complete successful dissertations.


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