Monthly Archives: March 2011

What it is….electracy.


<div style=”width:425px” id=”__ss_2962224″> <strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”>Electracy: A Theoretical Framework for Interactive Media</strong> <object id=”__sse2962224″ width=”425″ height=”355″>

A Computer in Every Classroom and an iPad in Every Hand….






1984—that’s the year I learned what a computer was. 

Bernhardt’s article, “The Shape of Text to Come” parallels Jeff Rice’s ideas in his book, The Rhetoric of Cool, so much so that I think he picks up where Bernhardt left off. What strikes me still is the initial advertising campaign for the first typewriters to hit the market. They were advertised as a tool to help bring forth literacy in children. Education and society were reluctant to believe in it. 



“Such reading-to-do is more like making raids on print than having extended engagements with a writer’s ideas or arguments” (Bernhardt 153).

“Pedagogy in the Computer Network Classroom” by Janet Eldred talks about what Blackboard was like in the beginning as an electronic bulletin board—similar to that of Craig’s List. It’s interesting that the tips that Eldred suggests instructors to do, like a required number of posts with a specific word count and student facilitation of a discussion, is EXACTLY what we do today. It seems that the pedagogy hasn’t changed in the last 20 years. I think it’s time for a change. We have all ran into a brick wall at some time or another dealing with the Blackboard limitations. Need I say more? 


Christine Haas’s article, “How the Writing Medium Shapes the Writing Process” could take a few typography tips from Bernhardt’s article when it comes to the crossover of writing to graphic designing. The look of it turned me off to the point where I didn’t even want to read it. Talk about the limitations of the printed word, lack of interactivity, etc. She discussed the results of a survey about how useful  the computer is during the writing process and states that even though a piece may look polished and cleaned up, that doesn’t mean the content is there (9). No surprise there. The problems she points out in the studies she analyzes are ones that students still encounter today, like not being familiar with software which inhibits the writing process (17). Quite frankly, it’s no surprise to me that she found that writers do less planning when writing electronically (35). I think it’s just because of the visual effect of the words. If it looks good, it must read well.


I believe basic writers should be forced to do some form of pre-writing manually as well as electronically. As Rice illustrates so beautifully in his book, students make the connections to images at a higher than they may be able to do so in the written format. Basically, a picture is worth a thousand words. The electronic pre-writing could be something like an electronic collage with images and quotes to help inspire the writer.


McGee and Ericsson’s article on “The Politics of the Program: MS Word as the Invisible Grammarian” discusses we as writers and students already know. They predicted what has become an epidemic as worthy as the plague when it comes to basic writers. Spell-check is contagious. Once you get it, you never learn how to think for yourself again. Well, maybe not so drastically. I think Bartholomae’s technique to get Standard American English recognized by his students would work well to cure this problem. Make students read out loud! To each other. It would work if it was started early on in learning the writing process. Then, maybe students wouldn’t think that the only thing that separates their poorly written piece from Stephen King or some other notable writer is a good editor and spell-check.


There will be a computer in every classroom and an iPad in every hand. Just like Herbert Hoover promised in his 1928 presidential campaign, “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” He claimed that everyone would be prosperous under a Hoover presidency, which obviously didn’t happen—thus “Hoovervilles” (shanty towns) and “Hoover blankets” (newspapers). That’s what Clinton proposed, at least the modern equivalent to it today. It hasn’t happened the way that anyone proposed in the 1990s, let alone today, as Cynthia Selfe’s article “Technology and Literacy: A Story About The Perils of Not Paying Attention” starts off with. She makes a lot of good points, but I feel like I’ve heard it all before. Don’t you? 


Poems About Writing



A person, for you, is a book.
Impossible to categorize,
it veers from non-sense verse
to the most tedious of novels
and back
in just a breath.
And the book ends, the book ends.
And what makes the person more real,
than a book,
is just that you cannot re-read
one chapter, one sentence, one word.
You must re-write him,
and you cannot.
This inability is the source
of everything you have to say.

Joe Wenderoth


Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you?
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

Graded Paper

Mark Halliday (b. 1949)

On the whole this is quite successful work:
your main argument about the poet’s ambivalence?
how he loves the very things he attacks?
is most persuasive and always engaging.

At the same time,
there are spots
where your thinking becomes, for me,
alarmingly opaque, and your syntax seems to jump
backwards through unnecessary hoops,
as on p. 2 where you speak of “precognitive awareness
not yet disestablished by the shell that encrusts
each thing that a person actually says”
or at the top of p. 5 where your discussion of
“subverbal undertow miming the subversion of self-belief
woven counter to desire’s outreach”
leaves me groping for firmer footholds.
(I’d have said it differently,
or rather, said something else.)
And when you say that women “could not fulfill themselves” (p.6)
“in that era” (only forty years ago, after all!)
are you so sure that the situation is so different today?
Also, how does Whitman bluff his way into
your penultimate paragraph? He is the last poet
I would have quoted in this context!
What plausible way of behaving
does the passage you quote represent? Don’t you think
literature should ultimately reveal possiblities for action?

Please notice how I’ve repaired your use of semicolons.

And yet, despite what may seem my cranky response,
I do admire the freshness of
your thinking and your style; there is
a vitality here; your sentences thrust themselves forward
with a confidence as impressive as it is cheeky. . . .
You are not
me, finally,
and though this is an awkward problem, involving
the inescapable fact that you are so young, so young
it is also a delightful provocation.



Syllabus: Wk 3-4 Critical/Cultural Studies “If I were President…”


Week 3-4 Critical/Cultural Studies

James Berlin

“Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century”

All three [critical, cultural and feministic pedagogy] focus on having students read about systemic cultural injustices inflicted by dominant societal groups and dominant discourses on those with less power, and upon the empowering possibilities of rhetoric if students are educated to “read” c arefully and “resist” the social texts that help keep some groups subordinated. Andrea Greenbaum has recently argued that cultural studies approaches, critical approaches, many feminist approaches, and even postcolonial approaches can all be seen as similar “emancipatory movements in composition.”

If I were President…

Assignment to be assigned and compiled prior to coming to class:

1.      Political/Cultural/Economical Research: If you were president, what 5 issues would you focus during your term of office?

a.       Write 2-3 sentences for each issue that you would address.

b.      Find 1 article that discusses each article.

c.       Read through each article. Highlight only the important information that would help you make a change for that issue. Be sure to write 2-3 side notes for each page of the article.

2.      Group discussion: Pick the issue that most interests you and be prepared to give a 2 minute discussion on it.

a.       Name the issue.

b.      Summarize the article.

c.       Point out what you find important and how it would apply to your proposed change.

3.      Mini-group discussion: You will be assigned to a group that has members with a similar issue to address.

a.       Compare points of view with each member

b.      Complete a compare and contrast list for POV

                                                              i.      Each group member’s name must be listed

                                                            ii.      Each member must contribute at least 4 opinions to the list

                                                          iii.      Turn in list at end of class. Copies will be distributed to each student at next class period.

4.      Reflection: Write a 1-page reflection describing your experience comparing views. What did you expect? Were your expectations met? Did you have the same opinions as your group members regarding the issue you all chose to address? Why or why not? What differences did you have? Why? What do you think caused each person to have a same and/or different opinion? Did you change your mind after hearing other opinions? How so?

a.       Type your response. It must be double spaced, 12 point font, and 1 inch margins.

b.      Bring enough copies for each member of your group and 1 to turn in to me.

                                                              i.      Regrouping: Each group member will read their response out loud. While you are reading aloud, the other group members will be writing down 2 things that they found interesting about your response and share it with the group aloud after you are done reading. Each person will share once and then you will turn in your response with the group member comments to me.           

5.      Hot Topic Presidential Paper: Write a 3 page, double-spaced, 12 point font, 1 inch margin paper discussing your proposal to change the issue you selected. If your opinion changed from your initial presentation, please underline the areas where you changed.


Read my review on The Rhetoric of Cool


  Rice, Jeff. The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2007


Jeff Rice recounts the emergence of composition in The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media. At the 1963 Conference on College Composition and Communication, studies shifted from just discussing student habits to instructors growing more theoretical about the skills they were imparting (12). Rice contends that new technology was kept out of the conference’s target and focuses on the writings of William S. Burroughs, Marshall McLuhan, Jack Kerouac and Kenneth Anger to point out various rhetorical moves made by these compositions that are useful for digital media. Rice defines the typical definition of cool associated with anything that has become popular and contends that his cool has nothing to do with that through various examples. Cool is a concept that is used by various authors that believe that “the culture is getting more demanding…so are the pedagogical practices needed to engage with new media…” (7).

Rice breaks his book up into chapters that reflect the principles that provide “a model for the rhetoric of cool” (27). Each chapter after his introduction contains pedagogy that helps incorporate “ ‘electracy’, which is to digital media what literacy is to alphabetic writing” (x). He points to various rhetorical moves made by these compositions that are useful for digital media but often ignored when composition studies focuses on student writing (8). If only the organization were as clear cut as it sounds. Rice spends an inordinate amount of time in his introduction defending the premise of the book by comparing his use of cool against what it isn’t. Additionally, “the grand narrative” subsection in Chapter 1 doesn’t come across as such, a narrative, that is. He breaks down the development that occurred at the 1963 conference into theoretical analysis about knowledge and the attainment of it (13-14). Reading through the section, a lot of name dropping ensues, as it does throughout the rest of the book, for that matter. Rice includes so much information that his writing starts to overwhelm the reader.

            In Chapter 2, “Chora,” Rice describes “chora” as being the space that information in digital technology occupies that “…teaches [him]…to bring together disparate events and texts from 1963… [and] how to make connections” (35). By presenting a Gap ad, he shows how cool can be adopted in media forms. The Gap ad has people dancing in their “…‘cool khakis’…” mimicking West Side Story but “…replacing the film’s street toughs with khaki wearing teenagers dancing against a sanitized prison backdrop to Leonard Bernstein’s song from the movie,   ‘Cool’ ” (30). He also employs the Aristotelian term “topos” to refer to the place for cool to reside but what follows is more of the statements that cool makes (31). The ideas he presents are more about what place in theory cool resides in rather than the actual space in the technology. The rest of the chapter Rice illustrates more examples and their relationship to rhetorical theory. It isn’t until he states, “Media is the choral thread…that unites…” his ideas together, that he makes sense (44). He actually provides classroom instructions for an assignment where students “locate and research [online] other meanings associated with that term [a word that relates to their field of interest] from other disciplines, events, moments, and media” (44). Online research provides students options to “…further explore the choral moves they discover through hyperlinks and image placement” (45).

            In Chapter 3, “Appropriation,” Rice explains how he finds inspiration outside of academia to inspire his writing. He goes into great detail about where cool is found, yet again, and then cites even the city of Detroit as being a place where he finds cool. Governor Jennifer Granholm’s 2003 “ ‘Bright Future/Cool Cities’ ” campaign is explained as a way to attract successful suburbanites into run-down Detroit neighborhoods by offering developmental grants to participants (49). It also has its own website. Rice connects the “technology connection Detroit makes with the Cool Cities plan” as an “appropriation” of “a generic meaning for a purpose of categorization” (50-51).  He then goes on to differentiate ways that the campaign makes Detroit cool (52). Appropriation hits home when Rice makes a strong analogy comparing the process of DJs remixing sounds to create fresh hip-hop sounds. He said, “Mimicking may occur in an assignment…” (72). The point Rice makes is to lead students to their own realizations about what influences in their lives they can borrow from to create a relationship with electronic writing. They should be able to make connections that they might not have been able to otherwise.

            In Chapter 4, “Juxtaposition,” Rice quotes Douglas Engelbart’s words regarding the “idea of ‘composing and rearranging text’ into a series of window -like boxes.” Rice calls Engelbart’s 1963 methods cool “for how it replicates the same logic behind Marshall McLuhan’s…1963 insistence that cool media involve the rhetorical act of juxtaposition” (73-74). Rice explains that since the reader is forced to mix ideas, words and images that “scholarly prose often cannot” that electracy can lead readers to making new connections (74). Then, he references the “Burroughs writing machine… [which] mirrors the types of cultural, social, and technological” pairing writing interacts “with in the digital world” (75). Basically, any interaction with the Web today adheres to this model. The 1963 decision to keep “…communication studies…” out of composition studies is to blame, Rice points out, for the reason why “print based rhetoric” lacks association with technology (77-78). Coming back to his DJ analogy, Rice says that the test for composition studies is to decode the “…theoretical principles of juxtaposition…” to instruction suitable for electronic writing, a “hip-hop pedagogy.” Just as hip-hop DJs borrow music from various inspirations, compositional studies needs to borrow “…rhetorical strategies centered around juxtaposition, which are often found in digital sampling and which can be written within new media like hypertext.” The configurations encourage readers and writers “to find unrealized connections among disparate events and material things.” Essentially, writers don’t worry about trying to master any topic but rather work a variety of them together in order to compose (91).

            In Chapter 5, “Commutation” is defined as “…the exchange of…” symbols with no concern for “…referentiality.” This means when a writer learns about various media formats that might not seem like a reliable source, the writer learns to classify those formats without being judgmental (Rice 93). Rice points out that each part of the country has different kinds of students who will not have the same compositional experience. Furthermore, he says that this flaw causes composition instructing methods to be stagnant when it comes to digital technology. “In fixed places of argumentation…composition studies argues that substance [writing experience] can be located and made permanent [not changed].” Specifically, he points the finger at Dartmouth as being the “…thesis for the rest of higher education” (94). If composition studies included the cool of rhetoric it wouldn’t have that problem of fixed meaning. Rice says, “Cool signifies technology and cocktails; it can be morphed; it’s twenty-first century and 1950s” (98). Avant-garde films from the 1960s are described as a way to show how digital writing doesn’t have to be tied in to a traditional storyline (102-104). These examples, while obscure, do prove his point. For the third time, the DJ mix is used to illustrate yet another point. This time he focuses on digital sampling stating, “… [It] has become the most recognizable writing space for the mix.” Sound bites are captured from various artist tracks and are compiled into a rhetorical practice that is highly recognizable and successful—“…Kool’s Mixx and Sprite’s Remix [ad] campaign” (106). Rice points out that since “Sprite does not appear worried that mixing and remixing its product meaning will affect sales” that composition studies shouldn’t be afraid to “…be visual [use online images and]…also…desire to write commutative practices, much as advertising strives to accomplish” (107). As a classroom application, Rice describes a “Dead Elvis” assignment where students aren’t allowed to use their own words to “write” about the important figure they have chosen to research (110). This assignment really ties all his ideas thus far in the book together—a digital collage of sorts.

            In Chapter 6, “Nonlinearity” challenges the traditional approach to writing in in a straight forward fashion (Rice 110-112). Rice presents various theories that argue the point of keeping composition studies linear. He states, “Since the invention of the World Wide Web,” non-traditional writing has been highlighted as the cause that “…‘the end of linear writing is indeed the end of the book.’ ” Many opponents of including cool media in composition studies agree with this theory that by allowing nonlinear progression to ensue, the format of book writing would cease to exist as it wouldn’t make sense (112-113).  Rice cites Shelly Jackson’s Patchwork Girl as being a literary work that makes several nonlinear references [“Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and Shelly Jackson’s own narrative”] but still makes sense. Moreover, he comments, “Narrative paths are chosen through one’s reading experiences (reading of texts and other cultural phenomenon).” The routes that readers take are like the routes that clicking on hyperlinks can take readers on. He contends that composition studies needs to be open and go beyond offering different routes (114). This means offering a variety of narratives at the same time, to be read, so that a full range of responses can be explored. Rice dismisses calling computer media “ ‘interactive’ ” as being too simplistic citing critics who proclaim that composition studies needs to “explore interactivity beyond its ‘literal interpretation’ of clicking on pages, pressing buttons, and…following ‘pre-programmed, objectively existing associations’ ” (114). Jack Kerouac is identified as an author who breaks away from linear writing and “…poses the…process as a method of composing in an information economy dominated by too much information to reasonably navigate through individual strands” (120). Applying this idea to the Web, Rice cites as a site that does just that—‘generates[s] connections among user purchases based on word choice, titles of products, or associative gestures…” (125). Additionally, Hewlett-Packard’s project called “Cooltown” is a failed attempt to try to “…mix…education and corporate investment” (125). Rice commends HP for trying the project but berates them for using the traditional linear approach to education and not interconnecting the online classroom communities for a more layered learning experience (125-130).

            Lastly, Chapter 7, “Imagery,” is written as the culmination for all the tropes Rice thoroughly describes. Rice points out verbal and visual components aren’t part of composition studies because “the role of cool” is ignored. Academia is still too focused on print words (135). He suggests combining them as working with media doesn’t need to replace any other discourse (136). Next, Rice describes the invention of a Sketchpad that allows a person to draw with an electronic pen and how McLuhan claims that “…electronic visuality opens up new types of senses and awareness that cannot be accounted for in alphabetic literacy. Because of its cool status (its ability to generate involvement at greater rates of print)… [it] has the potential to transform ‘fragmented and specialist extensions into a seamless Web of experience’ ” (137). Sketchpad is likened to Adobe Photoshop as a cool writer’s tool for being able to go beyond the print word (138). The invention of the typewriter is even described as a way that composition studies could have utilized it for educational purposes. It was advertised in 1882 as being a tool to “ ‘aid in learning to read, write, spell, and punctuate.’ ” Unfortunately, it was never adopted as a serious means of teaching (139-140). Rice states, “The connections, commutations, and juxtapositions the rhetoric of cool teaches are meant to produce a type of new media writing while also altering a perception of what composition entails” (143). Going back to the Sprite ad, Rice says, “Image is everything” meaning that composition studies needs to look at all avenues to make sure it is imagining writing in general (157).

            This book, although not very readable at the first run through, does provide an interesting and fresh perspective on why composition studies is the way it is today and offers a varied approach to incorporate modern technology into traditional pedagogy. One might never know that one single conference altered the course of composition studies as drastically as the 1963 4C did if one doesn’t read Rice’s book. The reader needs to be aware of existing pedagogical views or otherwise be prepared to have to reread sections in order to make the necessary connections that Rice presumes his audience already knows. Hopefully, enough has been said to forewarn interested readers about what to expect. This book is definitely suitable for any serious instructor looking to understand why incorporating digital media into the writing curriculum is important.


Reviewed by Kimberly Clark, University of Michigan-Flint