Monday, 15 December 2008

Really rough notes on Lessig

I'll add some stuff here later when I can access the blog ...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

First thoughts on the essay ...

I'd really like the opportunity to do some reading, thinking and writing about blogging although not blogging in a formal educational context. I'm involved in a few educational blogging projects at Kingston University and will have to write something on this later on (perhaps in a dissertation?) but would like use this module to write about blogging as a voluntary activity used for other purposes.

The question I think I'll go for is 'Literacy is not a set of skills it is a social practice’. Discuss although I'd prefer to give it my own title. I'm assuming the titles are like jazz scores that we can improvise around? How about Stories from the blogosphere: reflections on blogging's 'active sociality' ? Essentially, the essay would explore some of the ways in which blogging is an inherently social activity and would look in depth at a couple of representative examples. Informed by analogue/pre-digital practices and enabled by specific technological affordances, blogging constitutes a new literacy practice characterised by what Lankshear and Knobel call an 'active sociality'.

I have a list of readings - let me know if there are any articles/book you know of that might be useful.

In terms of plan or structure for the assignment, I'm not there yet. I had the idea of the representative examples, the 'stories from the blogosphere', being quasi-separate pieces of analysis (perhaps up to 1,000 words each) with a 'core' argument (of 3-3,500 words). The core argument and 'stories' would be connected though.

I've no section subheadings yet but there are some areas that interest me around the ideas of private-sphere, dialogue-driven literacies coming into the public sphere and of the blogosphere as oppositional counter-public sphere.

I am interested in interviewing - probably via email - the blog authors. Is there any specific guidance on this? Is there a consent form or recommended wording about use of text from interviewees for the purposes of an essay?

Finally, I'm keen on producing something digital and would appreciate the team's (sceptical) blessing. I've past form in this area - check out We have never been digital if you've time.

The pedagogic medium is the message?

One of the things I've been thinking and posting about recently - and it's created conflict with some of the MA course team - is that in terms of teaching, learning and assessment practices, the medium is the message.

For example, if I wanted to run on module on critical pedagogy, would it make sense to 'deliver' (deposit into student accounts?) that module via a series of weekly lectures, fortnightly seminars and a 3,000- word essay from a selection of titles that I, as the module leader, had developed?

I guess my own answer to that question is no; the types of learning activites and assessment opportunities we construct demonstrate to students what constitutes knowing and acting in an appropriate way in a given area of intellectual inquiry. To run such a module in such a way would surely run counter to the core ideas covered (e.g. the student-teaching power relationship)?

Maybe this is too extreme; maybe it's perfectly coherent intellectually to deliver this module in this way if the learning outcomes require some form of description of, for example, Freire's core ideas or their application to practice. However, it's a missed opportunity for 'deep' rather than 'surface' learning.

Returning to my (their) MA (whose course is it anyway?), the core concepts of Module 1 seem to be:

  1. literacies as plural
  2. literacy practices and events as socially embedded and operating in distinct domains
  3. the growing importance of multiple semiotic modalities in emerging text-making practices.

My grouse is about an assessment that privileges one kind of academic literacy (the essay) and doesn't appear to wish to license exploration to explore other (e.g. digital, possibly multimodal) forms of constructing academic discourse or other ways of being academically literate.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Really rough notes on academic literacies

From: Lillis, T. (2001). Student Writing: Access, Regulation, Desire. London: Routledge.

Student writing is at the centre of teaching and learning in HE in the UK, being seen as the way in which students consolidate their understanding of subject areas, as well as the means by which tutors can come to learn about the extent and nature of individual students' understanding. However, the principal function of student writing is increasingly that of gate keeping. Writing is a key assessment tool, with students passing or failing courses according to the ways in which they respond to, and engage in, academic writing tasks. (Lillis 2001: 20)

However, it would be wrong to think of the 'essay' as a clearly defined genre if by 'genre' we mean something like a text type. For 'essay' (and hence the scare quotes) is really institutionalised shorthand for a particular way of constructing knowledge which has come to be privileged within the academy. In order to signal this broader notion of a particular way of making meaning in texts, it is more useful to talk of a particular academic literacy practice, essaylist literacy, which I explore in more detail in Chapter 2. (Lillis 2001: 20)

Whilst the view prevails that essays/student academic texts are unproblematic forms, the construction of which should be part of students' 'common sense' knowledge, experience from this and other studies indicates that student academic texts are expected to be constructed in and through conventions which are often invisible to both tutors and students. That the student-writers should struggle with the conventions of an institution which is strange to them is not surprising. However, this strangeness is compounded by the fact that such conventions are treated as if they are 'common sense' and are communicate through wordings as if these are transparently meaningful. Tutors may know essayist conventions implicitly, having been socialised into them through years of formal schooling, and in many cases through socio-discursive practices in their homes and communities. But students, particularly those from so-called 'non-traditional' backgrounds, may not, as [75] is reflected in the recurring questions listed in this chapter.[76]

The confusion the student-writers experience is so all pervasive a dimension of their experience in HE that it is useful to name this the 'institutional practice of mystery'. This practice is ideologically inscribed in that it works against those least familiar with the conventions surrounding academic writing - that is, students from social groups historically excluded from higher education. Such a practice works against their participation in HE in the following interrelated ways. Firstly, exclusion occurs becuase what is assumed to be 'common sense' is in fact only one privileged literacy practice; student outsiders cannot know the conventions embedded in such a practice unless these are taught. [...] Secondly, the dominant monologic addressivity within HE does not facilitate access to the privileged/privileging resources of essayist literacy. The writing and reading of students' written texts is consonant with the fictionalisation of participants in essayist literacy. However, whilst student-writers need to become familiar with this aspect of the practice - the denial of actual students and tutors with specific histories and interests - it unnecessarily complicates the students' learning of essayist literacy. [76]

Student-writers' desire fopr greater opportunities for dialogue between tutors and students, as real participants in the construction and interpretation of texts, is repeatedly expressed and seems to hold out for student-writers the promise of learning essayist conventions as a key part of their participation in higher education. (Lillis 2001: 132)

Cope, B. & M. Kalantzis (eds) (1993). The Powers of Literacy: A genre approach to teaching writing. London: Falmer Press.

Creme, P. & M. Lea (1997). Writing at University, Buckingham: Open University Press.
Hyland, K. (2000). Disciplinary Discourses. Harlow: Longman.

Jones, C., Turner, J. & Street, B.V. (eds) 1999 Students Writing in the University, Benjamins, Amsterdam.

Lea, M. & B. Stierer (2000). Student Writing in Higher Education. Buckingham: Open University

Mitchell, S. (1994). The Teaching and Learning of Argument in Sixth Forms and Higher Education. Hull: The Leverhulme Trust/The University of Hull.
Sharples, M. (1999). How We Write. London: Routledge.Bibliography

Lea, M. & Street, B. V. (1998). Student Writing and Staff Feedback in Higher Education: An Academic Literacies Approach. Studies in Higher Education 23(2):157-72.

Lillis, T. (1999). Whose Common Sense? In C. Jones, J. Turner. & B. V. Street (eds), Students Writing in the University, pp 127-47. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Lillis, T. (2001). Student Writing: Access, Regulation, Desire. London: Routledge.

Ivanic, R. (1997). Writing and Identity. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Street, B.V. (1999). Academic Literacies. In C. Jones, J. Turner, & B. V. Street (eds), Students Writing in the University, pp 193-227. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Blogging essay references


Barton, D. (2007 2nd Edition). Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language. Oxford: Blackwell.

Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Bruns, A. & Jacobs, J. (eds) (2006). Uses of Blogs. New York: Peter Lang.

Cheung, C. (2004 2nd Edition). Identity Construction and Self-Presentation on Personal Homepages: Emancipatory Potentials and Reality Constraints. In D. Gauntlett and R. Horsley (eds) Web.Studies. London: Arnold. 53-68

Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (Eds.) (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. London: Routledge.

Davies, J. and Merchant, G. (2006). Looking from the Inside Out: academic blogging as new literacy. In C. Lankshear & M. Knobel (eds) A New Literacies Sampler. New York: Peter Lang 167‐198

Hodkinson, P. & Lincoln, S. (2008). Online journals as virtual bedrooms?: Young people, identity and personal space. Young, 16 (1), 27-46

Huffaker, D. A. & Calvert, S. L. (2005). Gender, identity, and language use in teenage blogs. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, . 10(2). Accessed 20 Nov. 2008 <>

Keen, A.(2008). The Cult of the Amateur: How Blogs, MySpace, YouTube and the rest of today’s user-generated media are killing our culture and economy. London and Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Lévy, P. (2001). Cyberculture. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Lindemann, K. (2005). Lives Online: Narrative Performance, Presence and Community in Text and Performance Quarterly, 25(4), 354–72.

Lovink, G. (2008) Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture. New York and London: Routledge.

Reed, A. (2005). "My Blog is Me": Texts and Persons in UK Online Journal Culture (and anthropology). Ethnos, 70(2), 220–42.

Graves, L. (2007). The Affordances of Blogging: A Case Study in Culture and Technological Effects. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 31(4), 331-346

Grusin, R.(1994). What is an Electronic Author? Theory and the Technological Fallacy. Configurations 2.3, The Johns Hopkins University Press and the Society for Literature and Science, 469-483. Accessed from: <>

Kress, G. (2003) Literacy in the New Media Age. London: Routledge.

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2007) New Literacies: Changing Knowledge and Classroom Learning. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Lankshear, C.& Knobel, M. (eds) (2007). A New Literacies Sampler. New York: Peter Lang.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: The Penguin Press.

Ware, I. (2008). Andrew Keen Vs the Emos: Youth, Publishing, and Transliteracy. M/C Journal, 11: 4. Accessed from: <>

Writing style

JD asks: When you read a learner’s writing what makes you pleased? What things do you look for?

I don't want to write a long list; instead, let me tell you about a final-year essay I once marked. It was on a French autobiographical text by Claude Duneton called Je suis comme une truie qui doute ('I am a doubting sow') and was story of a working-class kid made good, who becomes a teacher, but later doubts the role of school system in creating a more equal society. The text is sort of 'Bourdieu lite' and was perfect for my module on post-'68 culture.

My student submitted late, after countless redrafts (he felt early versions replicated my lectures) and requests for extensions but eventually produced an assessment. What a read! - initially I was shocked at his slang and pop cultural references - then read on and I understood what he was up to. He'd created a text that mimicked Duneton in its use of slang, invective, polemic and self-disclosure. He even prefaced sections with quotes from songs - e.g. lines from Pulp's Common People - Duneton does this but the cultural references are 60s-based (e.g. Lennon's w-c hero).

He'd got the book completely - understanding key ideas and the meaning of its style. He'd made a connection between the book and his own life. I gave it 85% - although I could have easily failed it. The external approved the mark in spite of me flagging it as a potential 'problem'.

That's all but the things that made me pleased were not the things that I initially looked for.

There's probably a message about assessment here - don't be too explicit in assessment criteria, license challenges to your assessment regime etc..

Recalling the essay ten years later, as I start thinking about an essay for my MA, it made me realise that writing an essay is an act of ventriloquism, fiction or pastiche; the adoption of a voice that is not one's own but belonging to others that is a requirement of the performance of academic discourse.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Variations on a meme

What's a meme? Is it the same as a viral? Yes, kind of, but no, not really strictly speaking ...

A meme is something in the air, that goes around, passed on from person to person. Sounds pretty viral-like so far.

However, it's not the same as a viral which is generally content (e.g. video) that self-propagates as it's forwarded from person to person (via email, Facebook etc.). I suppose you could argue that virals are a little passive - I find a funny video, I have a laugh, I pass it on to some friends who have a laugh at it too and pass it on in turn ad infintum (or usually until it comes back to me).

A meme involves more participation in the creation of new - in the sense of remixed, remade, adapted - content.

Here's an example: someone comes up with the idea of expressing song lyrics in the form of a PowerPoint-style pie chart graphic. The chart goes up - on Facebook, Flickr etc. - and in a short space of time there are hundreds - if not thousands - of riffs on the theme. If I meme (I think it's used as a verb) I'm creating my own take on an established convention - in this case re-articulating the lyrics of a song as a user-friendly graphic. There's stylistic play and parody aplenty here as memers (I think it can be used as an agent noun) simultaneously spoof pop lyrics and business-pitch presentation styles.

Where's it come from? Dunno ... but it looks like the thing you'd do if you were a student or bored office worker. Using MS Office and other software to have a laugh and take the piss out of both cheesy pop culture and naff business sales speils. The song chart meme in particular feels like the work of early 20 somethings to mid 30 somethings in its slacker, post The Office (UK and US), smirking, parodic aesthetic. I quite like it too ...
Let's finish on a pretentious note: memes remind me of OULIPO, a group of mainly French writers drawn to the idea of la contrainte, constraint, as a means of generating new text. Meme-ing though is multimodal.

One problem with the term meme is that the Dawkins-derived metaphor doesn't assert the primacy of creativity; it is suggests a natural process of self-propagation without human agency.