Thursday, March 16, 2006

Presenting at 4Cs

A large percentage of the few readers of this humble little blog are fellow writing teachers, who might be at 4Cs in Chicago next week. I'll be presenting on this panel:

Bringing Techne Front and Center: Examining the Materials of the Art of Writing
J.13, Friday, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Salon 2, Third Floor

Chair: Janice Lauer, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
  • Pender Kelly, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, “Writing inLate Postmodernity: Contradictions of the Art”
  • Shaun Slattery, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, “The Tool Side of Techne: ‘Habits of Mind’ vs. ‘Habits of Mediation’”
  • Karl Stolley, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, “A Techne for Artful Choices in Digital Writing”
Here's a sneak preview...
In a further investigation of the role of materials in an art of writing, I argue that most modern treatments of techne (usually translated as art or craft) focus solely on the writer’s “habits of mind.” Recent research into mediation, however, suggests a new approach to theorizing techne. Complex activity, such as writing, can also be influenced by immediate environmental conditions, such as the texts writers surround themselves with as they write. This researcher’s recent study of writers’ use of texts and technologies while composing suggest techne is as much a way of doing as a way of thinking. This view is consistent with classical articulations of techne, which included examples of such material production as shipbuilding. This view is also consistent with Activity Theory which undergirds recent studies of mediation and argues that internal ways of thinking and external tool-use are mutually constitutive. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this view suggests that teachers of writing should be attentive to mediated composing processes including the use of information technologies.
In particular, I'll focus on how techne offers some attempt at control over contingency in complex information environments.

Stickie Situations

In discussing the announcement of cold fusion achieved at RPI, my friend Kevin Neal made an interesting movie reference/observation:

I thought of this conversation yesterday in that I watched some of The Saint again, and here is Elisabeth Shue’s character stuffing the 6 post-it note-sized slips of paper holding the “secret formula” for cold fusion into her bra for safekeeping... that seemed just a bit skimpy for cold fusion.

What an interesting point. Given that the RPI press release seems to describe a technological procedure, rather than “a formula,” I’m betting Kevin’s right. It could be a bit hard to describe that on a few yellow stickies. Seems my friends are much more critical movie watchers than I am.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Wiki Woes

In a recent post to the ATTW listserv, Stephen Bernhardt nicely summarized some of the problems of using wikis for collaborative writing:
I coauthored an article on the rhetoric of clinical trial reports with two coauthors this past fall. We used a wiki that one of us ran off a home server to provide writing and commenting space and to control versions. It worked reasonably well, except for having to get used to missing Word tools--track changes, comments--and Word features, such as the stylesheet. It all had to be exported from the wiki and formatted according to editorial guidelines. I think the lack of format controls and markup language in the wiki was the primary limitation.
His comments show a nice awareness of the tradeoffs of various technologies. It sounds like his writing group encountered no major problems, but I've heard of writers new to wikis can be uncomfortable with having others edit their words. While this is often true of new collaborative writers in general, I believe wikis -- because the authority to edit is built into the software -- automate the subtle permission-getting that happens in face-to-face or pass-the-draft-around collaboration. To be comfortable with wikis, I suspect writers need to be comfortable with collaborative writing more generally and be aware of wiki protocol.