Saturday, April 21, 2007

Reading :: Worlds Apart

Worlds Apart: Acting and Writing in Academic and Workplace Contexts
By Patrick Dias, Aviva Freedman, Peter Medway, and Anthony Pare

Worlds Apart is an unusual book, at least for mainstream writing research. Unlike most efforts in our field, it has multiple authors, and those authors coordinated related research projects to produce a multisite comparative research study aimed at answering the research question: "What are the relationships between writing as it is elicited in the university and writing as it is generated in the workplace?" (p.3).

How did they set out to answer this question? I found their approach to be interesting, perhaps more interesting than the research question itself. To answer the question, the authors "selected four matching university and professional settings" (p.10) and investigated each with the same data collection and analysis methods. Data collection methods included
  • inventorying the genres in each domain
  • document tracking
  • conducting research protocols of designated readers
  • ethnographic observation of designated readers
  • ethnographic observation of writers involved in tasks of composing
  • interviews
  • participant validation (pp.12-13)
Data analysis methods included syntactical, rhetorical, and conceptual analyses of writing; analyses of oral discourse surrounding the texts; and sociolinguistic analyses of production and reception of texts (pp.13-14).

The methodology was informed by the theoretical frames the authors used: situated cognition (drawing primarily on Lave); genre studies (based in North American genre theory and its use of the Bakhtin Circle's work); activity theory (via Wertsch); situated learning (via Lave and Wenger); distributed cognition (via Hutchins); and semiotic theory (via Peirce, Bakhtin, and Voloshinov). If that sounds like a lot of ground to cover, well, it is: Although these frames all have a similar sociocultural orientation, they also have some significant differences -- particularly situated cognition, distributed cognition, and activity theory, as Bonnie Nardi argued in Context and Consciousness. As a reader, I found myself wondering why all of these frames were pulled in. Are we supposed to focus on the similarities? In that case, why not narrow the number of frames rather than providing such an extensive discussion and set of resources? Or are we supposed to become aware of the contrasts? In that case, why not systematically highlight these, perhaps in a summary table, so we can see how a synthesis works better than the frames in isolation? My sense, based on the discussions of the studies themselves, is that the authors all had their favorite frames and decided to finesse the issue rather than to agree on a unified theoretical framework. Each frame was invoked in one or more of the component studies. Consequently, some coherence problems are introduced in the studies, leading to some theoretical difficulties in comparisons across studies.

The studies themselves were solidly conducted, but didn't present many surprises for anyone familiar with workplace writing studies. I did appreciate some of the examples from the studies, and some of the phrasing. For instance, the authors declare that "genres are both text and context, and altering the regular features of repeated documents has a ripple effect out to the practices used to create, distribute, and interpret texts, and to the settings within which these documents operate" (p.123). (I am not fond of the concept of "context," but I get what they mean.) Similarly, the authors declare that "when students leave university to enter the workplace, they not only need to learn new genres of discourse, they need to learn new ways to learn such genres" (p.199).

In the conclusion, the authors explain that writing is "a complex network of activities in which the composition represents only one strand" (p.222). Again, this is not a terribly new insight, but it's given new weight through the studies.

All in all, Worlds Apart provides an empirically grounded summary of writing as it is understood in sociocultural approaches. Although the insights are not new, those who have not assimilated the theoretical literature will find it to be a valuable overview; those who want to design empirical studies of writing will draw inspiration from its methods and methodology; those who need to make arguments about writing in the disciplines will find it to be a valuable source of evidence.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Nonviolent video games

Here's a report from an Austin news station about a nonviolent video game design competition. I want to congratulate the CWRL students whose game was featured: Noah Mass, Anthony Matteo, and Jeff Howard all talk about the game, based on the Neverwinter Nights game engine.


Viz. is the new website by the CWRL's visual rhetoric workgroup. Its tagline is "Rhetoric - Visual Culture - Pedagogy," and it has a good start on providing valuable resources for all three. If you're interested in researching and teaching visual rhetoric, please do check it out.

Reading :: Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design, 2ed

Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches
by John W. Creswell (Author)

I really liked the first edition of John Creswell's Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design, particularly the comparative approach he took. In fact, I've used it for a couple of qualitative research courses now. But the book had some flaws, so I was glad to see that Creswell has come out with a second edition.

As in most second editions, this one doesn't change in terms of the book's basic framework and thrust, but it undergoes some beneficial refinements. The first is in the subtitle: Creswell no longer calls these traditions, he calls them approaches -- an important distinction in that Creswell is highlighting the coherent, designed nature of these competing ways of conducting qualitative inquiry. Creswell reframes his discussion of biography -- one of the "traditions" from the first edition -- as a subset of the narrative approach. He gives more emphasis to the interpretive qualitative approach, frankly confessing that he has a methods orientation but still treating less methods-oriented approaches with respect. He also outlines some of the approaches he doesn't take up (participatory action research, conversation and discourse analysis).

Most of the book is not substantially impacted, but parts are selectively enhanced throughout, particularly in his reframing of biography as a subset of narrative inquiry.

Overall, it's a worthwhile revision. I'll almost certainly use it the next time I teach qualitative research at the graduate level.

Surveillance in Texas

Speaking of panopticons, Danger Room discusses some proposed measures to keep tabs on citizens in Texas.

Danger Room - Wired News

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Your blog is your resume -- sort of

In a post currently making the rounds on Techmeme, blogs are declared to be the "new resume." True enough as far as it goes -- I would have said "personality portfolio" -- but the post hints that the blog is only the tip of the iceberg:
Your blog isn’t the only mirror of your life.
Folks are getting savvy to the places that people are building online. Your facebook account, MySpace account, LinkedIn profile, Flickr set…all of these represent you, too. Make sure not that they paint you in an unfailing light, but that they represent you accurately. The best defense is truthfulness…be sure to always be truthful about yourself and everything will fall into place.
I agree with the first part -- the totality of one's online identity is getting easier and easier to aggregate -- although I disagree with the second. (You edit your resume and portfolio, and I don't see why you can't edit your online presence as well.)

So what are the other "mirrors of your life"? How is the totality of one's online identity presented? I've been posting a lot about one variant, lifestreaming, in which you collect and aggregate all of the traces you leave online. iStalkr is one recent example: a social feed aggregator that allows you to place your stream of interactions alongside those of others.

But what if others aren't playing? What if you want to monitor your friends' -- or enemies', or potential hires' -- online identities? Well, you could use Tabber:

Tabber works like this: You create contacts (or import them), then addtheir various online bases of activity - like their blog URL, and Digg usernames, photo gallery, etc. Once you'veimported all that information, Tabber keeps tabs on your friend'sactivities and lets you know when they've updated their blog, theirphoto gallery, or what site they just bookmarked in

So Tabber is basically iStalkr without an opt-in. That seems fair game, since the information is public anyway, it's just being aggregated. As Bill Hart-Davidson reminded me yesterday, Latour gestures toward this in Reassembling the Social when he says that "information technologies allow us to trace the associations in a waythat was impossible before ... they make visible what was before onlypresent virtually" (p.207). These make possible oligoptica: "from oligoptica, sturdy but extremely narrow views of the (connected) whole are made possible -- as long as connections hold" (p.181). Social aggregators are currently their fullest expression.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007


Finnish futurist and learning scholar Teemu Arina:
So those who are enemies are actually the most important resource for you to learn and reflect on your thinking, because they bring such different points of view in a conversation, so I can't point to any single enemy. I don't like to pick enemies.

Smart Mobs: Robin Good Interviews Teemu Arina

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

There's the other shoe

Google's office suite is officially going to include presentation software. Michael Arrington notes:
Schmidt also said that they’re office suite isn’t a threat to Microsoft. That, of course, is complete spin.

Google’s Office Suite Complete: Google “PowerPoint” Confirmed

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We're number eight!

Austin is city #8 in the global distribution of Twitter users, between Toronto and Singapore. Tokyo is #1.

Smart Mobs: Global Distribution of Twitter Users

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Flattery will Twit you nowhere

I just discovered this in my spam filter:
I'm following you on twitter because I find your comments interesting but
you won't see my comments unless you follow me as well.


Thanks, Paul! I'm glad you're enjoying my twitters. And a little surprised, since I'm basically using Twitter to make notes that I can use to fill in my timesheets later.

Paul, something tells me we're going to be seeing a lot of attempts to have people opt-in to advertising on Twitter by flattering them into becoming followers of spambots. Any thoughts on that?


ReviewBasics is a site where you can attach comments to someone else's documents, photos, or video. It's Flash-based and a bit slow, but looks impressive. The functions appear intuitive and the fact that you can apply the same sorts of contents to just about any sort of media is impressive. Possible applications: web design contracts; documents shared across companies; nonprofit promo materials; students' group projects.

ReviewBasics -- Home

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The most informed consumers of news

People are pointing to this survey of levels of knowledge about current affairs, broken down by news source. Yes, the audiences of the Daily Show and the Colbert report are scoring at the top. But Andrew Sullivan points out that your average Dittohead knows as much about the news as your average NPR listener.

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300 million reporters

The future of breaking news: publishing via social networks and footage via mobile phones. At least the news companies still have editing.

Smart Mobs: Virginia Tech Shooting. Eyewitness testimonies and footage dominate news

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Twitter's uses expand to churches

SmartMobs reports on still more uses of Twitter. The key junction between mobile phones and broadcast media is what makes Twitter work.

Along these lines, I've finally set my Twitter account to "follow" a few people, so I receive their twitters during the day. It's very interesting, but I can see how a more focused organization (such as a church devotional group) would make for a more productive experience.

Smart Mobs: Twittering churches

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