Recently in getting things done Category

Well, no. Not really. But it is the last day of classes of the final semester of my tenure as the Director of Graduate Studies for the CCR Program at Syracuse. Technically, my time isn't up until the end of June, and double technically, I'll still be executing some duties through the following year.

The main one is our annual Placement Committee, which guides our veteran students through the job search process. This was something that the previous DGS and I developed when I first got here. That year, we had our first couple of students on the market (the program was only about 4-5 years old at the time), and they had to cobble together support and advice from various sources, which didn't work as well as it could have. So we decided to set up a subcommittee and develop some procedures that, beginning in the spring, would guide those students through the process, help them vet and revise their materials, provide simulated phone/f2f interviews and job talks, etc.

Because of the rhythm of the search process, though, it's a responsibility that begins in April and runs for 9-10 months, ideally. And so I'll be sticking around this job for that purpose, as a member (but no longer chair) of our Graduate Studies Committee, for another year or so.

In honor of the fact that this is my final go-round, at least for a while, with the Placement Committee, I spent some time over the last week revising the materials we hand out at our initial meeting, which is tomorrow. The 5-page guide/overview to the market is linked below--feel free to give it a glance, and/or share the link with someone who'll be hitting the market in the fall. It's not as detailed as the various books now available, and it's pretty specific to rhet/comp, but it's worked well for us for the past few years...

That's all.


Ambient Reading

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Paul's got a great entry today, on "How to Read Everything?" Seriously great. Lots of good thoughts in there.

One of the things that's instructive about his entry is the list of various strategies that he's tried and abandoned, which is one of the things I recommend to folk on a regular basis. There are all sorts of ways to manage one's "mental intertextual map," and the trick is find the ones that will work for you at a given time.

One thing that I would add to Paul's account is that you have different needs at different times. My own strategies tend to resemble his quite a bit--I don't take a lot of notes myself, although that's changed a little as I've gotten older and more forgetful. Like him, I tend to have a very strong procedural memory--I remember colors, covers, the place on the page where an important quote is, etc. But I do do a little bit of underlining, not so I can go back through a text and cull the marks, but because I find that it reinforces my procedural memories. It keeps me on a given page and at a particular spot on the page a little longer, which seems to burn that spot into my memory a little more.

A couple of other points worth raising. There's a difference between reading a book and reading a discipline, even if we tend to use the same verb. So in "reading everything," I hear "everything" to mean the discipline, and that's a different strategy. You can "read" a journal in 10 minutes if you're reading it to know what's there, so that you can return to what's valuable to you later. And that kind of reading is ultimately quite valuable--Brian has written recently about "ambient research," and I just finished a collaborative piece with a friend on a similar topic--it's a matter of entering the flow of a discipline, getting a feel for what's going on, before you make the choices about where to drill down.

So maybe I'd describe this as a difference between ambient and directed reading. We are trained very heavily in directed reading, and rarely are advised about ambient reading. In part, this is because it comes as a result of enculturation, and so seems a "natural" outgrowth of that process. I think I could argue that what I've been working on in my graduate teaching in the past 4-5 years is pushing my students more towards a model of ambient reading, an approach that could productively complement the emphasis on directed reading that tends to dominate graduate coursework. And I think that part of my current interest in Web2 stuff is how those tools can help us accomplish that.

So there's that.

Any APA gurus available?

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On a more serious note, I have a question for anyone who has better knowledge of APA style than I (this is a very large category of people, I suspect).

For reasons that will remain mysterious, my book was copyedited into APA style, and rather than have it turned back into MLA, I just went with it. But I'm coming across occasional issues in my MS, given my unfamiliarity with APA. For example, there are several points in the manuscript where I mention someone's reference of other work. For example, I might say that Scholar X builds on Scholar Y's idea of Z, where Z is a perspective or term that has been elaborated over a series of publications. I'm quoting Scholar X, and thus I need to include her in my bibliography and include the pub date in the text itself. I understand that.

But when it's a secondhand reference not to a specific text in the case of Scholar Y, but to one of their ideas that is being applied, adopted, transformed, or whatever in Scholar X's text, do I also need to include the inline parenthetical date for Scholar Y, and include their work in my bib as well?

I have to admit that this feels counter-intuitive to me, and yet, my copyeditor has entered the dreaded (xxxx) after each time I reference a proper name, without (it seems to me, at least) much sensitivity to the context of that proper name. But I'm hesitant to reject it out of hand, given the fact that I don't really know APA style at all, and my forays into the Publication Manual haven't yielded an answer.

Bottom line is that I can suck it up, and just track down the handful of citations that I'd need and include them in my bib--I may just do that anyway to reduce friction. But I am curious, because it's an element of my writing style that I don't think about often--I'm used to casually citing "common knowledge" sorts of ideas without imagining that I need to detail them formally.

Thanks ahead of time if you have an answer.


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the page proofs for my book arrive

I have a couple of posts* brewing, but I'll let them simmer for a while longer. Today is a day of long awaited celebration:

My page proofs arrived today!

In the world of Collin, this is a VeryGoodSign™. The only cloud to this silver lining is that, of course, it adds a whole new section to my already over-burdened to-do list, as I will be indexing it myself (with some help from one of the grad students here) and of course, proofreading it.

But you'll allow me the requisite evening of relief and joy before reminding me of all the work that remains, I hope. And no jokes about how lucky I was that the Cubs infielders weren't responsible for catching or delivering it.

That is all.

(* Onesuch is in reply to StevenB over at ACRLog, who picked up last month's discussion about CCCC, and had some interesting things to say about the politics of that conversation...)

Aspiring to Adequate

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If there's something I learned last year, it was that, if I wait until I have something appropriately non-trivial to blog, I simply won't blog for a long time. So this is me, embracing the utter triviality of this entry. I'm back in the Cuse now, as of a couple of days ago, facing a mountain of a to-do list. Sigh.

In the past few weeks, I've been dreaming myself into some of my favorite reality/game shows. It's happened 3 or 4 times, I think, although I'm not always able to remember so well. A while back, I took over a failing restaurant (a la GR's Kitchen Nightmare), and last night, I was one of the last 5 or 6 on Project Runway. Now, while I like these shows, I like them in part because cooking and designing are things that I admire when done well, but for which I have little personal ability. So these aren't really hero dreams--I'm just me in the dreams, with my current skill set, and so part of the narrative is me trying desperately to avoid being discovered as the impostor I know myself to be.

I suppose the obvious reading is that I have some deep seated issues with overreaching my abilities, although I'm hard pressed to figure out why they should be emerging dreamwise right now. If they're about unpreparedness more broadly, then I suppose they're a little more understandable, given that I'm almost completely unprepared for the semester to have begun.

So there's that. And my lower back is really sore.

Syllabus Muse?

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So here's a question.

I'm working up my syllabus for a course I'm teaching this fall, a doctoral seminar on Computers and Writing. I've got tons of notes on it, but I'm struggling a little bit with exactly how I want to (a) organize it, and (b) reduce the readings to a manageable set. Later today, I'll probably toss up a page that offers up my progress-to-date, but in the meantime, I thought I'd ask for a little collective wisdom. Here are my constraints:

The course is going to be 1/3 workshop, 2/3 seminar. That is, each week, we're spending at least an hour in our lab, where I'll be running a series of hands-on intros to a broad range of tools and platforms. The goal will be familiarity rather than mastery, of course, but I'm a big believer in the doing alongside the thinking.

One corollary of this is that I will be asking the students to work outside of class on their technology skills, and so I'll be requiring a little less reading than I normally might for a seminar. I'm pretty much decided that I'm not ordering books--my plans are to go with 3-4 chapters/articles per week.

And of course, the problem here is that a given week's topic could pretty much be the theme for an entire course, so I need to really distill rather than overwhelm. At the same time, I've got shelves and shelves of stuff I could use, not to mention all the stuff online. I'm still debating internally about whether it's best to shoot for a rough chronology of C&W or to focus on more recent developments for the most part.

Nothing to it but to do it, I suppose. Look for updates later today. Oh, and the collective wisdom part is this: what texts, perspectives, ideas do y'all think are indispensable for a course on C&W, one that's likely to be the only sustained exposure to the sub-d that these students will experience?

It was a dark and snowy Friday

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One day a year, the world goes topsy turvy, and transforms into a place where everyone abides by my sleep cycle rather than vice versa.

Yes, it's Black Friday, and JCPenney opened at 4 am in what must have been a pretty punishing schedule for JCP employees. Me? I was up anyway, so I decided to go. I got new sheets, a nice blanket, and stocked up on some winter gear. I did indeed bust down the door to savings.

My plan was this: rather than go right at 4, I figured I'd wait a bit, until after 5, when many other stores (Macy's, Best Buy, Sears) were opening. That way, reasoned I, the JCP crowd would have thinned out somewhat. Maybe it did, but damn, it sure didn't seem like it. The parking lots were packed to capacity, the lines were slow and long, and there were a lot of worn-out looking people dashing about.

Two women wore matching red and green elf costumes. Nothing I could say or write would make that funnier than it actually was.

I got 60% off of everything I bought, so that was good. But in all, it was kind of claustrophobic, and there was already a fair amount of rude going on. Not an experience I'm likely to duplicate soon.

That's all.

Tonight's entry is prompted by the arrival today of several entries in Google Reader, the most recent entries fed there and published at the Kenneth Burke Journal:

KB Journal feed

The KB Journal is, unfortunately, one of the only journals in our field that is (a) using RSS feeds, and (b) using them correctly. Exhibit A in how not to use them comes from the Project MUSE journals. I was excited to see that their journals had feeds, until the first one arrived. Basically, they feed a link to the table of contents page for new issues. This is okay, I suppose, but differs little from sending announcements to email lists.

What the KB Journal does (and Written Communication and CCC also do) is to create entries for each article, with more information than the fact of its existence. Hell, even the author and title would be an improvement. I use a reader to skim a lot of sites, and to make decisions about whether to follow up. Using them to draw readers to their site, as MUSE does, is to make a bunch of Web 1.0 assumptions about eyeballs, traffic, stickiness, etc. With the MUSE journals:

  • I don't know what I'm getting until I've loaded their page
  • Unless I have an immediate need, I'm likely to forget their content, since there's little point in bookmarking random TOCs
  • I can't bookmark an article to return to it when I have time
  • I can't bookmark one to download to my office machine, where my access to MUSE is automatic
  • I can't look back through recent articles
  • I can't use the journal in any way other than I'd use it if I saw it on a colleague's shelf

But you know what? At least they HAVE. A. FEED. Even if MUSE is doing it wrong, at least they're trying to do it. There are so many journals in our field that haven't even bothered to create feeds that it should be embarrassing to us. And we all know who they are, including some pretty unlikely suspects, journals that should be at the forefront of providing this kind of access.

Here's what it takes to provide a feed of recent articles for a journal:

  • A free account with a blog provider like Blogger or Wordpress

  • The ability, for each article, to:
    • copy and paste relevant information into a textbox

    • Click on "save" or "publish"

That's it. You don't need crazy designs, blogrolls, any modification whatsoever. It doesn't have to be integrated into a larger site or do anything fancy. For pretty much any journal, with readable files for the articles, I could post a new issue in roughly 15 minutes. Four issues a year? Maybe an hour total. One hour. Per year.

You can't tell me that the resulting increase in circulation, were our field to cotton eventually to the notion of RSS readers, wouldn't be worth it. And the benefits to us?

Here's what I see when I go to List View for my Written Communication feed:

Written Communication feed

Not only am I notified when new articles are published, but I have access to the last three or four issues of the journal at all times, from any computer. And I can star them for future reference. Want to follow up on a title? They're expandable:

WC feed, expanded entry

This functionality currently exists for a mere handful of our journals. If the time spent gnashing our teeth about the overwhelming amount of stuff to read were spent instead putting together feeds for all of our journals, you know what? All of a sudden, we'd be able to manage that load much more easily. And I'm not kidding when I suggest that it's really that easy. It is. There's a lot more that could be done, but if our journals would take the tiny step of being responsible for RSS feeds at the point of production/publication, the resulting benefits would be colossal. And that's not me being hyperbolic. Imagine being able to open a browser window and being able to search, read, and bookmark abstracts from the last year or two's worth of journals in our field. Seriously, how much easier would that make our academic lives?

And yes, we have been doing this at the CCC Online Archive for the past 2+ years: But my point isn't to gloat--it's to ask instead why the heck our editors, including many for whom this should be obvious, haven't followed suit.

And that's all. I could get a lot snarkier about this, and I could name names, but let me instead close with an offer. On the off-chance that someone's reading this who wants help setting a feed up, please let me know. Honestly. I'd be happy to show someone just how easy this is.

Then I could tell you that those letters stand for "crushing seasonal headache." The news round these parts is that the temperature reached into the low 60s today, which has been good for The Melt, but bad for My Head. When seasons change, the corresponding shift in pressure typically renders me unable to focus for 2-3 days at a time, bringing with it dull, throbbing headaches of the sort that quite literally make my eyeballs sore. Needless to say, sleep becomes something of a chore, rivaled only by the effort that goes into being awake. Not the happiest of times.

I've been giving some thought to the presentation I'll be giving at CCCC this year. Inspired in part by last week's snarky little entry, which itself prompted me to add "snark alert" to my categories, I've been dialing back my expectations for what I'll accomplish in this presentation. It's hard, having been working on CCCOA for two-plus years now, to imagine that there aren't folks in our field who remain unfamiliar with it, and yet, my guess is that this is actually a fair description of most folks in our field. The speed of change in the 'sphere--and on the net more generally--outpaces that of the run-of-the-mill discipline, perhaps exponentially. And so, what I think I need to do in my talk is to actually introduce the site and what it contributes.

Right now, I'm thinking of an unofficial subtitle for my talk that would be something like "13 Ways of Looking at a Journal." Mostly it would be an introduction to the site, running from the most basic and obvious features to some of the trickier stuff we've built into it, and finally to a couple of disciplinary questions that a site like this can provide us the evidence to work on.

I've been thinking about this a little harder after seeing Tim Burke's post about what he describes as "search as alchemy." To wit,

But there are other times where I want search to be alchemy, to turn the lead of an inquiry into unexpected gold. I’m hoping that the rush to simplify, speed up, demystify and digitize search doesn’t leave that alchemy behind.

It seems like such an obvious point to me, that academic search functions in much different ways than "regular" search, but what's come clear to us over the past couple of years is that we need to figure out better ways of getting the word out, to make the case that CCCOA is a site for search, yes, but also a site of invention. I think that message is both clear and obvious to many of you, my fair readers, but to the field-at-large, it still needs saying.

So I think that's part of what I'll be saying next week.

Collections vs Conversations

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Derek's citation of an entry over at Paul Matsuda's blog tripped a bit of a switch for me this evening, and the result is probably going to be a sizable post. Buckle your seat belt.

What I want to take issue with, ever so slightly, is the tried and true bit of wisdom that entering academia is a matter of "joining the conversation." We're fond, in rhetcomp, of Kenneth Burke's passage from Philosophy of Literary Form, as a metaphor for disciplinarity:

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

There are critiques of the Habermasian character of the Burkean parlor, but that's not my concern. My concern is with the ease with which "putting in one's oar" is translated into the nominalism of "publication." As in, I need a publication, or to get a publication, or I don't have enough publications. I'm being somewhat specific here: I'm objecting to "publication" as a thing you have as opposed to "publishing" as an activity you engage in. And thus my concern is also with how we translate "listen for a while," because I think that's key for publishing (and perhaps less of an emphasis in publication).

For the past couple of years, I've been handing out Paul Matsuda's chapter "Coming to Voice: Publishing as a Graduate Student," from Casanave and Vandrick's Writing for Scholarly Publication (Amazon). In fact, I wrote about it, almost exactly a year ago, in the context of a discussion about the ongoingness of blogging. So it was kind of cool to see Paul repeat some of that essay in a blog entry a couple of weeks back. And it reminded me about why I hand out his chapter in the first place.

I wrote a year ago that "What's important about the essay is that it narrates a process that's not about acquiring disciplinary content so much as it is learning about the conversations, about seeing publication as an ongoing process," but I want to amend that statement slightly. I'm now beginning to wonder if even the metaphor of "conversations" pushes us too quickly towards the "publication" end of things.

As I mentioned early on, over at Rhetwork, the idea of collection has been gathering steam for me for a while. And so I want to contrast collection with conversation as a guiding metaphor for academic/intellectual activity, particularly at its early stages, i.e., in graduate school.

I'll add some citations to this eventually, but this summer, at RSA, I gave a paper where I suggested that collection, as Walter Benjamin describes it in "Unpacking My Library," operates as a hinge between narrative and database, in part based upon our affective investment in it. I may look at my big wall of books and see all the various connections among texts, in terms of their content, chronology, and my own encounters with them. In short, I may perceive it as a big wall of conversations, of disciplinary narratives. Someone else may happen upon it, and simply see a library, a database of rhetoric, critical theory, technology studies, et al.

The value of the collection, of having all these books here, is that I'll never know what's going to be useful. I can't predict, when I begin an essay, what will find its way in and what won't. I have the luxury of being able to work my way through my collection, following up on dimly perceived connections, my own added marginalia, etc. And the wall enacts on a material scale what's going on in my head as I constantly add articles, books, ideas, etc., to the collection of disciplinary knowledge that occupies a certain portion of my mind.

It probably feels like I've wandered from my point. My point is that we tend to think of our disciplines largely in terms of the narratives we construct, stories of the field's progress from point A to B to C or as conversations among certain luminaries occurring in the pages of journals and books. To treat the discipline as a database (where, a la Manovich, it's just "an infinite flat surface where individual texts are placed in no particular order” ) is to foreclose, initially at least, on the narratives that we tell ourselves about our fields.

But of course, disciplines are neither one nor the other; they're both. From the outside, the publications in a given discipline comprise a growing mountain of discourse that no one person could possibly master. From the inside, even a single article may yield all sorts of narrative information about where the writer's from, with whom she studied, to whom she's responding. We become quite adept at reconstructing conversations from a single voice, and the occluded genres of footnotes, citations, and bibliographies can only help us do so.

And when faced with the conceptual metaphor of a discipline as a gathering of conversations, as a parlor, our response is to want to join it, to enter the conversation. The uber-competitive job market only fuels this desire, as if it needed feeding. When faced with a conversation, there aren't a lot of other options.

I want instead to think about collection as an alternative metaphor for what we do, or an earlier stage of a longer process. In part, I'm prompted by Brendan's Katamari Interface and by Jeff's comments about DJs as researchers. When I think of the tools that I use most often, I can see them in terms of collecting:

  • blogs, collecting my thoughts and notes
  •, collecting my bookmarks
  • Library Thing, collecting my books
  • Bloglines, collecting my feeds

and so on. In talking about why it's important to "read it all," Paul explains:

I then scan through [the library] to explore the intertextuality--which sources get mentioned more frequently and how. I then collect more sources if I don't have them handy. Without this process, it wouldn't be possible to come up with viable research questions or to know what questions or concerns reviewers and readers might have.

This is exactly the kind of data mining that we become proficient at as academics, but it's awfully tough to accomplish unless you have that collection to begin with. As we gain experience, we learn how to read articles for their intertextuality, for the differences between primary and secondary sources, etc. But the conversations emerge from collection, not the other way around. And in fact, I want to suggest that the discipline as database also emerges from collection, but that's a different essay.

I'm most certainly not trying to sneak around the back way to saying that "grad students these days are too focused on publication blah blah blah," although there are probably hints of that here. To take a course is to engage in collection, as you read texts and add them either to your active memory or your shelves. It's something we all do, period. To read a journal is to add to your collection.

I'm doing a guest shot in our gateway course this week, and what I'll be talking about, what I'm interested in here, are the logics of thinking as a collector. There are all sorts of tools, not to mention plenty of great examples, for the process of managing your collection, but it's important, I think, to make the figural leap. That is, it's important to understand that what we do in graduate school is to collect.

When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards. And for the first couple of months, I would buy the random packs of cards, always with the assurance that there'd be at least a few cards that I didn't have. As that number began to shrink, I'd start trading my doubles for friends' doubles, of ones that I hadn't gotten yet. And it would get to the point where I'd need only a few to complete a team or even a season, and so I'd go and pay premium prices at the card shop for the one or three that I needed. As a collector, it was important to have the whole set, of course. Reading the journals in a field is a lot like buying store packs, and I don't mean that as an insult. But their output is constrained by their input. Some journals are like being able to buy a store pack with the guarantee that the cards are all from the same team. That's also what taking graduate courses are like, I think. At some point, though, you have to get really specific, and spend your time strategically, to find the key elements missing from your collection, and that means going beyond course work or journals, and tracing bibliographies, asking experts, etc. It means thinking like a collector.

On the one hand, thinking like a collector means just accumulating, rolling your brain/katamari over everything and anything it can pick up. But it also means thinking about how you're going to manage it, how you're going to be able to use, in two years, what you're reading now. I can tell you from experience, "Well of course I'll just remember it" won't work. Seriously. It was just about a year ago that I was coming off of a discussion of note-taking (I taught our gateway course last year), and wrote:

One of the things that I emphasized in class today was the need to develop systems that are sustainable, things you can do (and keep doing) after the initial motivation has passed and the glow has faded.

And that's what I'll end with this year. And probably this week in that course. Use folders, notebooks, blogs, whatever, but build sustainable collection practices that you can engage in tomorrow as well as two years from now. Collect, collect, collect.

Told you it'd be long. That's all.

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