Sunday, September 17, 2006

A long time coming

Finally, Chapter 4--the analysis--is finished. I let this one percolate quite a bit and had a lot of back and forth conversations with my adivisor and some colleagues. I had a couple of false starts and finally, I decided what I wanted to do and I just did it. Whether my advisor will be happy with the results is yet to be seen. I'm fairly happy with it, but won't be completely shocked if I get asked to make major changes. That's one thing I've learned in this process.

Writing this chapter was pretty interesting. The first half was written in a kind of hodge-podge manner. I grabbed time where I could and long periods might go by without my writing anything. Then, just before school started again, I set myself a schedule of writing every morning for an hour, from 6-7. I wouldn't look back at what I'd written unless I couldn't remember where I was. But usually I did. I think this chapter hangs together better than Chapter 1, which I've also revised. I think the schedule worked. I did skip a day or two here and there and I spent much of today (about 5 hours total) finishing up revising. But when I skipped, it wasn't to sleep in or anything. Usually, it was because some other pressing task needed to get done. So I was able to pick back up again pretty easily. Whenever I felt a twinge of resistance, I just opened the document and started writing again and the resistance went away.

I'm looking forward to the next (and final!!) chapter even though it's a theory chapter and I'm venturing into some unfamiliar territory. I think it will be a stimulating chapter to write.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Reading at a distance

I've just read through chapter 1. Here are my general observations so far.

The first half pretty disjointed, mostly because I haven't incorporated my sources very well. I'm planning to rewrite the first couple of paragraphs to give more direction to the chapter. I'm also planning to incorporate more of my own words and argument in the rest of first half. The second half is better, but could still benefit from more transitions and signposts.

It's interesting to be reading it this far away from it. Of course, setting writing aside is a strategy I always teach my students as well. It certainly works for recognizing where things aren't clear or where the argument breaks down. Of course, the difficulty is figuring out how to make things better!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Progress at last

I decided on a method of analysis and recruited two people to help me code and a third to help me crunch the numbers. The indecisiveness was killing me.

I started writing up my methodology as I was working on it and got a couple of pages written. I now need to include a discussion of why I chose what I did, referring to some outside sources. I have no idea what the results are going to be and that's kind of exciting and scary at the same time. I have a hypothesis about how things are going to turn out. If they turn out badly, I have some ways of getting at why. Should be interesting no matter what.

I'm also planning to do some revision work while I'm waiting for all the results to get calculated. I have about a week before I can get all the coding done and entered into the number crunching system. So I thought I'd tackle the audience chapter in bits and pieces over the next week. I actually like revising in a way. You have some raw material and you can start shaping it. I'm also feeling a little more confident about what I want to say in that chapter since it's been percolating for a while, so it seems a good time to take it on.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Thinking about analysis and empiricism

I am getting ready to work on the chapter that is supposed to be somewhat empirical in nature. I had initially decided (and my advisors agreed) on doing a case study or two. Then I started looking at all the data I had--hundreds of blog posts, rough drafts, final papers, interviews, self evaluations--and I thought, surely there's more I can do with this. So I sounded out the empiricist on my committee. The problem is, I'm not an empiricist. The methods that he suggested I am unfamiliar with and I'm afraid I'd misapply them. Further, I'm skeptical of an empirical approach to teaching writing. I don't think, even if I had designed an experiment appropriately, that I could prove that blogging improves students' writing skills. There just isn't any objective concept of good writing skills. Yes, there are schemas that one could use, holistic scoring, primary trait analysis and the like, but I don't buy any of them. I think that my reason for rejecting some of these approaches is that they articulate an outcome that I just wasn't looking for from my students, so it doesn't make sense to apply them. In a way, I was an outlyer among the other faculty teaching the course. They all complained about the lack of theses and topic sentences while I was excited about the ideas my students were presenting and didn't care so much about a thesis as long as the central idea was clear.

So, I'm back to a case study approach. It is suggestive and descriptive rather than empirical and that may be problematic to some, but it just feels like the right way to go. I definitely think that one could apply something more empirical to the data I have, but right now I don't have the time to figure out what that approach might be and it's not where my research is. So the potential for future research is huge, which I think is positive. I just hope it won't be held against me that I can't include that approach in this work.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Tracking down a source

I have a reprint of Linda Flower and John Hayes "The Cognition of Discovery: Defining a Rhetorical Problem." I have lost the original reference information. The pagination is 92-102 and it is followed by Lee Odell's "The Process of Writing and The Process of Learning." Anyone out there have a clue? I've dug through library databases, google scholar, and even tried out Amazon's A9 search--no luck.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Chapter one draft is done!

Well, it's a start. I'm letting a couple of people read it over before I send it on to the committee, but I think I'm at the point where I need advice from the advisor anyway. I also still need to put the works cited list in, which I'm having to do by hand--ugh.

Here's a pdf of the draft, if you're so inclined.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Tomorrow's work

Got about 5 pages written today, which brings me close to 20 pages for this chapter so far. I'm not sure how many pages are left but for tomorrow, I will be writing up the following:
  • Finish up a summary and discussion of approaches others have taken in terms of audience and blogging
  • Shift to research on blogging from computer science that deals specifically with audience--I think this is going to be interesting and important to consider
  • Transitional paragraph or two to next chapter.
Yay! Almost done!!!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Pockets of disciplinarity

As I continue my reading and research on audience, I have noticed the way that disciplines are often unaware of each other. And not only are they unaware of each other, they are decidedly unwilling to become aware of each other (in some cases). I've always thought of composition and rhetoric as a discipline that has always taken other disciplines into account--cognitive psychology, education, to name a few. It seems, though, that as comp/rhet becomes more established, it has drawn from other disciplines even less. Even worse, is the complete ignorance other disciplines have of comp/rhet. For example, I can read an article from computer science on blogging and audience that I find perfectly interesting, but which is not situated at all within an academic understanding of audience. For that reason, perhaps, comp/rhet folks will ignore that article. And yet, it offers an interesting quantitative and qualitative analysis of bloggers and their audiences which might be useful to us in thinking about approaching blogging as a pedagogical tool.

There are good reasons, of course, for these disciplinary distinctions. As a discipline grows, it's difficult enough to remain well read in one's own discipline, much less with other disciplines that may overlap with one's own. There are also the inevitable misunderstandings and misinterpretations of another discipline when one is not studied in that discipline. I've seen this happen in reading comp/rhet articles that have attempted to incorporate research from disciplines I happen to have more than a passing familiarity with because I'm married to a researcher in Artificial Intelligence whose also deeply interested in cognition and learning. For example, I read an article that attempted to incorporate emergence into their work and I dismissed it because they relied on a single researcher in that field from 20 years ago. I happen to be familiar with many other researchers from more recent years. I've also seen, in my participation in an emergence research group which consists of researchers from economics, literature, biology, social work, computer science, history, and other areas, people misinterpret and misunderstand each other's disciplines.

These misunderstandings and gaps and deliberate ignorance of other disciplines seem to be a direct call for multidisciplinary work. True multidisciplinary work. I think I'm attempting to accomplish that somewhat, except that I'm aware that comp/rhet is the lens through which I'm viewing educational technology and network theory, etc. Or is it the other way around! It's far more interesting to be thinking in these ways, though I'm finding myself having to be constantly vigilant for those missteps that might cause someone from the other side of the fence to dismiss my work.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A bit of reflection

It's been interesting the last few days as I've dived into writing the chapter on audience. I really feel the importance of audience, both for myself and for student writers. I feel much more compelled to write when I think someone might read it. I'm not entirely sure students feel the same way, but based on the class, I think this is true. What's interesting to me, in the research, is the way that teachers have attempted to replicate a real audience through publication, peer review, having students follow a detailed heuristic, or writing up their own description of audience. To me, this is no substitute for having people react to their writing in realistic ways, by saying, "Hey, this is interesting" or "Hey, I don't really understand." Even though I may say the same things to them, it comes across differently when it's a stranger from the outside.

I've been thinking about this too in my own use of the blog here and in other areas of my life. Even though much of my writing has been reflective, it's not without the expectation that someone might respond to it. I suspect that causes to me to modify somewhat my own writing. I know I write things in my reflection that are helpful to me in thinking through whatever issues I might be dealing with, but I also consider what might be helpful to others. I've gained a lot from reading other blogs by people working on their disseration. I've especially appreciated reading specific steps they've taken on any given day. Watching that process unfold is quite helpful and watching it unfold in different ways for different people is also helpful. There is no one right way to do this. Even I have modified my approach, based on my own work rhythms, most recently deciding to write first thing in the morning rather than at night.

While I think many people, when they hear the term audience, think of the mass crowd of unknowable faces, I have come to think of it also as a community of people sharing similar experiences to myself. That doesn't mean I see them as entirely like myself. I can see that in their own writing in the form of comments or their blogs. But this attempt at understanding each other, trying to communicate something to someone is key. Communicating with the air or just with the blank computer screen is no fun. This is really hard work, but when it succeeds, so fulfilling.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Audience chapter parts

Here are some thoughts about how to organize this chapter. (No, I haven't started actually writing yet; I'm thinking.)

What is a "real" audience?
  • classical rhetorical view of audience and what current practicioners think of that
  • the invoked or fictionalized audience--how real is that? how does it fit with a real audience?
Teaching with an audience
  • why some teachers think a "real" audience is important
    • cognitive research about audience construction
  • ways teachers have tried to get a "real" audience
The web and audience
  • in what ways is a web audience "real"
  • issues with a web audience
  • audience vs. community
Possibly some examples from the blog

I think it's shaping up.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Getting organized

I'm still not quite ready to write. I'm organizing my sources and with them, my thoughts. I have collected most of my sources in CiteULike here. Most of what's there is just the audience chapter. I'm planning to move other stuff there later. It was actually very easy. Most of my library databases connect right in.

I've roughly got articles that deal with the following audience issues:

"Real" audiences for students--trying to find readers for student work outside the classroom
Cognitive studies of how novice and expert writers view audience
Approaches to teaching that take audience into account (overlaps some with the first)
Audience analysis
The connection of audience to pre-writing or invention (related to cognitive studies)
Theories of audience (is audience invoked or addressed; issues of rhetoric)
Audience and the web or electronic communication

Count to ten

I have ten articles to read before I begin writing. Many of them are short, so it's not so hard. I'm going to create a better bibliography because I'm losing track so quickly. Online sources are in del.icio.us. Here is a selection of the articles I plan to read.

Monday, March 27, 2006

What is an audience?

I'm going to do a bit more reading before I begin full-blown writing, but I want to do some thinking out loud here. Obviously, audience has been a part of composition pedagogy for a long time. Figuring out exactly how to deal with the issue of audience has proven difficult. As early as 1947 (and probably earlier), there were calls for having students write for "real" audiences, those outside the classroom. This has been accomplished in various ways. One has been to introduce peer review, but that has sometimes been problematic. Another has been to "publish" student work in a class newspaper or magazine. Still another has been to encourage students to submit to real publications such as newspapers or magazines.

These methods have met with varying degrees of success. Sometimes the mere impracticality of peer review or publication gets in the way of even attempting them. The web makes some of these methods more practical and chapter 2 of my dissertation offers very practical ways of publishing to the web and attracting an audience.

Even with the practicalities out of the way, you're still dealing with a set of novice writers confronting a real audience. How do we, as teachers, help them deal with that?

I guess I'm dealing with several questions here. First, there's the issue of why have a real audience at all. That's addressed on many fronts, most interestingly from the cognitive-develomental perspective of seeing how students conceive audience in a typical writing assignment. Second, if you buy into the first proposition that a real flesh-and-blood audience is a good idea, then you have to confront all the issues that audience brings with it.

And it doesn't erase the ways in which students will construct an audience. Even when face with real people opposing their views, students sometimes still write as if they were writing to their peers or only to people who disagree with them.

So why have an audience?
  1. Students are not particularly good at constructing their own audience without having dealt with an audience besides a teacher. Having something real gives them good starting point.
  2. Closes the feedback loop. In a writing transaction, there is a reader who reads something and has a reaction to it. Most of the time, that reaction never reaches the writer. In the blog, it does and so the writer can learn from that feedback either to improve the piece commented on or to improve future work.
  3. Provides many viewpoints. A worldwide audience as we had on the blog drew from many different walks of life.
  4. Writing for an audience is motivating.
  5. Goal of writing is to have an effect on a reader. Even if the teacher does their best to respond in ways that show they've been affected by a piece of student writing, they still grade the paper and that gets in the way.
  6. Having an audience that interacts with the work via the blog shows how readers play an active role in their reading of a piece.
  7. Removes some of the artificiality of the classroom.
What issues need to be tended to?
  1. Confrontation. I'm thinking about Long's assertion that the audience-writer relationship is usually grounded in adversity. The writer is trying to persuade the reader that his point of view is "correct." In some ways, this is something that's really made manifest on the blog. It doesn't take long for students to become confrontational with each other or for someone to wander in and disagree with the students in an aggressive way. We must constantly strive to break that dichotomy.
  2. Audience analysis/construction. With the blog, we have an opportunity to have an idea of who's reading our work. We can analyze what kinds of sites people come from to get to our blog or find out what parts of the country they live in. That tells us a little bit about who's reading, but not all. We still must aim our writing for an "ideal" audience. Who do you want your audience to be? The blog feedback helps begin to determine who you do and don't want to attract to your writing.
  3. On the other hand, one also realizes that you don't always have control over who reads your work or how they read it. Certainly one can reshape ones work to help achieve the desired effect in the reader, but you will still be left with uncertainty.
  4. Negative feedback. What to do when someone comes in and slams the student.
  5. Stage fright. Students who are so afraid of writing in public, they get severe writer's block.
I think I want to structure this chapter as follows:

A Lit Review which will cover many aspects of audience, but focusing especially on how people have attempted to get students to consider more than the teacher audience that's built into every class. I will also cover some of the cognitive work that's been done to show how many novice writers (students) conceive of audience. I will think about whether a blog means we're addressing or invoking an audience and in what ways one might be constructing an audience.

In the lit review as well, I will also look at work that's been done on web writing and audience, mostly from a pedagogical standpoint.

Then, I'd like to have a few pages, 5-7, that show some examples from the blog, looking at such issues as confrontation within and without the class, ways that some students show some sophistication in who they're writing for, compared to the beginning when it's pretty obvious they were writing for themselves.

Lots to do here--could be fun.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Waiting for the IRB

Well, I'm waiting for the IRB to approve my project. Gah!

While I'm waiting, I'm reading up on audience. I've decided to go ahead and tackle that chapter rather than the case study since it's possible I may not even be able to use it. Double gah!

Anyway, I just read an interesting article by Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede that re-examines their earlier article, "Audience Addressed, Audience Invoked." Some interesting critiques in there. I also read a couple of articles on qualitative research. The other article I read was a history of Computer Aided Instruction and Computer-Mediated communication. Also very interesting.

Tomorrow, I will focus strictly on audience articles and try to begin sketching out something that might be chapter outline. Maybe just a general brainstorming session.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Coding and good writing

Today I have coded up one interview. I'm looking for other possible themes that I might consider. I will have two other people look at the interviews and code them. The rest of my work today will involve reading and thinking about how to approach the case studies I'm preparing. Tomorrow, I feel the need to do some writing, so I want to write up the background to the case study sections, discussing the class and its goals and the reasons I chose to do a case study in the first place.

Then, I'd like to start reading some material, also for that section, about what constitutes good writing. I just want to look at some of the available research and instruments that are often used to determine good writing. I have my own ideas of course, but it would be good to use some kind of evaluative measurement and/or research to back that up.

From the IRB front

One thing I did when I traveled to Arkansas (my home institution) was to check in with the IRB (Institution Review Board) who oversees the use of human subjects in research. I'm in a kind of sticky situation since I didn't decide to use my class (my students really) for my research until the class was nearly over. Literally, my husband (who taught one section of the class) and I were driving to work together talking about how successful the class had been when he told me I should use it to finish up my Ph.D. So I didn't get prior informed consent from my students to use their work in my research.

In talking with the people at the IRB at Arkansas, they thought this wouldn't be too big of a problem, considering that the nature of the use of human subjects in my research is pretty minor. I've had to get the IRB at Bryn Mawr involved because the students are Bryn Mawr students even though the research is for the U of A. Sheesh the complications. I think I've thoroughly confused the IRB chair at BMC because no one has ever done this type of research before. Mostly we deal with Science and Psychology research or research with minors. Using student writing just hasn't been done here. So here I am, someone who's never had to go through the IRB before confronting someone at the IRB who's never dealt with my kind of research before. Should be fun for all.

I would gladly take recommendations, comments, thoughts from those of you familiar with the IRB process.

I don't know what I'll do if I don't get approved. I can hope to teach the course again in the fall and get prior approval. I can write a theoretical dissertation that leaves out the data from the class itself (which seems crazy). I think it will be okay. Really I do.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Technical Chapter

Here's a pdf of Chapter 2, which is with the committee right now. I'm sure it will need some revision; I've already seen a couple of things I would change. If you want to read it, feel free. There's lots of pictures, so even though it's about 30 pages, it's not too hard to read.

Monday, March 06, 2006

More on data

Tonight's task is to figure out what the heck I'm doing. I feel a bit at sea. The plan is to do a couple of case studies. I'm armed with some books on qualitative research so by the end of the evening, I'll have some kind of direction. If nothing else, I'll know how to approach the next research project more appropriately. We'll see where we go.

And, I'm planning to teach a course with blogging again in the fall--if the request goes through. I'd love to do it all online and see how that works.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Dealing with data

So, here's the thing. My background is primarily literature based, that is, most of my previous work involved applying theory to texts. I am now faced with having data--most of it text--that I need to analyze in some kind of scientific way. I have decided to write up a case study or two or three (I actually have 6 people's data) because that seemed the easiest approach for me to take given my time frame and my subject. However, I have a couple of issues. One is the coding of this data. I have interviews with my subjects. I'll be coding them and then having a couple of outside readers code them. I'm not sure exactly how to do this, only having read results of such a process and not having done it myself. I think I will be able to work this out with some good resources that my committee has pointed me to.

The second, and perhaps more important, issue is the rest of the data. I have tons of it. I wanted to somehow analyze the blog itself. But I have no idea how to approach that. Also, I have survey results and class evaluations. What do I do with that? I was thinking I could summarize some of it, writing a short chapter on some of the issues raised by the blog and these surveys and evaluations. That chapter would be followed by the case studies. But maybe there's something else I should do with it. It's possible that I could use this data later. I am planning to teach the class again, after all.

It's a dilemma.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Technical chapter nearly done

I've pretty much completed the chapter on what I'm calling the blog infrastructure. I've outlined some of the technical components of blogs that can drive traffic to a site. I ended by making some technical recommendations. Eventually, I want to compile an appendix of available blog software and add ons. I think I need to order Julie's book.

I still have some minor revisions to make which I've marked up on a hard copy. And I need to deal with the $%&#@ figures.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Network Theory Stuff

Since Jon asked for it, here it is. Warning: it's messy because I decided to dump it before I'd really revised it. If anyone has ideas for how it might be integrated or where I might go with it, let me know.
What the web looks like

When all of these blogs and webpages are linked together, the result is a complex web of information that is constantly changing and growing. Researchers are beginning to try to make sense of this complex web, relying on theories taken from math and physics to help them understand how the web operates. Understanding how the web operates also helps researchers understand how other complex systems might operate, giving us a window into how human beings make connections. Though web sites can be loosely described as having human beings behind their creation, in most cases, web sites do not have a single human being connected to it. Instead, sites such as CNN.com and Cocacola.com are coroporate entities with very little about them that resembles an individual human personality. Still the networks created between CNN.com, Cocacola.com, and other corporate sites resemble the complexity of relationships between human beings. With blogs, there is more of a human element. Even group blogs have a kind of personality that one doesn't see with coroporate sites. Combine the human element with the complex network theory behind the Internet and the results have implications for transforming the way we use the Internet in the classroom.

In Six Degrees, Duncan Watts describes Stanley Milgrim's experiment where he attempted to show that people are no more that six degrees apart. In the experiment, Milgrim sent envelopes to people who were to try to get the envelopes to a businessman in Boston through their acquaintances. Each acquaintance would do the same, marking their name on the list, so that Milgrim could then count how many people the envelope had to go through in order to get to the final destination. What he found was that the average number of people the envelope traveled through was about six, giving us the now-famous phrase “six degrees of separation” (37-39). While everyone seemed to intuitively agree that six degrees separating everyone on the planet, researchers still didn't quite understand why this was the case and if it was always the case and what it all meant.

In his book Linked, Alberto Laszlo Barabasi describes what the web looks like. On the one hand, the web looks a lot like many other complex and emergent systems, both man made and naturally occurring. The web resembles social networks and electric power systems, both man made, and the networks found in cells and brains, which occur naturally. The web is a scale-free network, which simply means that it contains nodes that are much more highly connected than most other nodes, i.e. there are hubs in the network. Imagine the airport hub system, only much bigger. The system is also growing at a very rapid rate. Nodes (blogs or web pages) are constantly being added, hundreds of thousands at a time. When these nodes join the network, they are more likely to link to a hub rather than some other random, less-connected node. Thus, on the Internet, we have a kind of rich-get-richer phenomenon where those sites that already have many links coming into it are more likely to be the recipients of even more links from nodes just joining the network.

Barabasi's research made no distinction between static web sites and blogs, which as I've discussed above, are dynamic and have an underlying technology that essentially pushes them into the web in ways that static web sites couldn't. Later in Linked, after describing the Internet as a scale-free network with highly-connected hubs, Barabasi explains that this isn't a complete description. In fact, he explains, in looking at the sites that are indexed by major search engines, he discovered that at most 40 percent of the Internet is indexed and can be found using a search engine. There exist, he says, islands and areas of the Internet that are difficult to reach. This is why sticking up a web site at random will not draw traffic. Let's say you create an extensive resource site and publish that on your school's website. It's possible someone could find that site if a) the site is linked from another page on the school's site or b) the site can be found through a search of just the school's web site. However, Barabasi explains that there is a less than 10 percent chance of a web site with only one link being found through a search, so in essence, that resource site is isolated from much of the web, available most readily, perhaps, to those associated with the school (who would regularly view the schools web site), but not much beyond the school.

Not only is a lot of the web isolated because no one links to it, but another swath of the web is isolated in two ways. One area links to what Barabasi terms the core of the web, the area that is most highly interconnected and through which one can easily travel. These are often the news sites like CNN.com or NewYorkTimes.com or other popular sites. These sites, however, do not link back to the smaller sites that link to them. You can link in but you can't link out. Following a link from this area of the web into the core leaves you unable to go back (at least not via a direct link). Another similarly isolated area of the web are the corporate sites, advertisers usually, that the core sites link to. These sites rarely link back to the core.

Blogs change this dynamic a little. First, as I mentioned above, sites in the core (i.e. CNN, Washington Post) are including links back to the blogs that are linking to them [picture here of wapo links], there are now ways back out from the core to the area of the web that has linked to it. Blogs are also less likely to become islands since there are now so many blog-specific search engines and sites that are taking advantage of RSS feeds to include blog content on their site. It's likely, however, that blogs by themselves display similar features to the static web. There are some blogs, for example, that don't generally link back to other blogs that have linked to them. And blogs that don't include comments or trackback also do not have as many links coming out of it or give smaller sites the opportunity to share their link. Still, it's much more likely for blogs to reciprocate a link. Perhaps, then, the area of blogs that are linking in is smaller than the corresponding area on the “static” web. Blogs also carry advertising which links to corporate sites where one cannot return back to the blog. And there are blogs that are islands, many of these by choice. They may have opted not to have an RSS or be indexed and may not link to anyone because they don't want to be found. If a blogger wants to be found, however, there are more ways than ever to encourage being found. Understanding how to expose your blog from a technical standpoint provides a practical way to gain an audience for a blog. Knowing what the nature of the network you're working in and how it's changing and how it can be exploited to your benefit can provide further insight into how to prevent your blog from becoming isolated on the web and perhaps how to develop it into a small hub.

From what I have discussed above, one way of taking advantage of the nature of the web would be to try to get links from a hub site. This can be readily accomplished by linking to Washington Post articles, but that link doesn't remain there for long. Adding tags that are picked up by Technorati.com, a search engine, but also a hub, is another way to get a link from a hub. Again, though, the link to the tagged post will drift down the page as others tag their posts in the same way. A more effective way of attracting a large number of visitors is to get a more permanent link, either within a post or preferably, on a blogroll of a very popular blog. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get noticed by the blogs at the very top. Following the rules of the network, most popular blogs link to other popular blogs, creating a tight cluster of blogs, with very few links going outside of that cluster, but many, many links coming in. This is a dramatic display of the power law. Clay Shirky has documented this phenomenon on blogs and notes that when the power law becomes obvious in online communities, people within that community and outsiders who want to break in blame the ones at the top of the system. However, as Barabasi's research shows, the system follows certain mathematical laws which cannot be easily changed even by those at the top.

Clay Shirky has documented the existence of this phenomenon, the power law, on blogs as well. He notes that other Internet communities prior to the advent of blogs followed a similar pattern (Shirky, 1). Shirky notes that when the power law begins to manifest itself in an online community, people within that community begin to blame the ones who are moving to the top of that system. They demand that they be better citizens and try to alleviate this problematic distribution. However, as Barabasi's research has shown, the way this system evolves follows a mathematical formula and basically occurs naturally so there is nothing the people at the top can easily do to rectify the situation.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Tasks for the next couple of days

  • Rewrite intro to technical chapter
  • Work on screenshots
  • Read a couple of articles on blogging community
  • Write section on blogging community
  • Read and revise technical chapter

Network theory

Scale-free networks, graph theory, etc. I find it all fascinating, but for now I'm leaving it out of the technical chapter. For one, I don't understand it well enough to fully explain why I think it's connected to what I'm writing about. And very little of it truly supports my argument. So I just cut 4 pages out. I'm saving it. It's possible I'll need it later, but for now, it just is making this whole thing messier than it needs to be.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Technical notes

Trolls and deleting comments--need to include that.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Random notes

Need to think about audience more, so I'm working on that. I think this will become the key element of the writing theory part.

Also, I need to define connectivism, emergent pedagogy and "secret term 1" better. I'm thinking a couple of paragraphs for each of those (in the proposal)

Meanwhile, the technology chapter is shaping up. I'm considering it sort of half handbook and half description of the system, i.e. scale-free network stuff. Hopefully that will lead me right into a full discussion of my take on pedagogy.

Also, I have to think more about the methods I'll use for analyzing the students' work and outcomes. I'm considering conducting interviews in addition to analyzing drafts and self-evaluations and surveys. This is a really interesting part. It will be interesting to see what the results are.

The middle two items are fairly easily accomplished and I plan to tackle them this weekend, beginning tomorrow morning. I hope, actually, to have a draft of the technology chapter by Sunday. Then, I need to rewrite the definitions of my terms in the proposal. Then, I can tackle audience--rewrite that part of the proposal. Then work on audience. All this needs to happen fairly quickly--like in a week.

Yowsa.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Technology and audience

So, tomorrow, I'm planning on dealing primarily with the technical aspects of blogging. Since my own audience is firstly, a committee of English professors who don't know much about blogging and secondly, other professors whom I want to convince to try blogging, it makes sense to explain how it works. Plus it's the easiest chapter for me to write. :)

There will be an introduction before this chapter that will, of course, lay out my key points, including the importance of audience in the first place. Since I think most professors, and my committee especially, will buy into that and wait for further explanation later, I can forgo that discussion for later in the dissertation. It will be coming right after the technical chapter anyway.

There are several key topics I want to discuss:
  • history of blogging, especially its relationship to discussion forums, email lists, etc. since many comp teachers have used those forms before. I'm not sure how much I want to bring in here that is specific to comp pedagogy. We'll see how it plays out.
  • how linking works and all the tools available to create links in the network--comments, trackback, rss feeds, technorati, blogpulse, blogrolls, tagging, site stats and more
  • communities and conversations--a bit about power laws, perhaps--related to above, of course
  • I've also been looking at a few things that are a bit more technical. I haven't read these things thoroughly, so I'm not sure how they'd fit, but they look really interesting. Anything with a term like "bursty" in it has potential. I'm planning to read those today or tomorrow, so I'll see how it fits
My goal in this chapter is to give a good foundation for the technicalities of blogging so that teachers can figure out the best way to take advantage of that technology for 1) creating an audience for class blogs and 2) finding good information and ways of linking into that information in productive ways. My metaphor here might be the way academic publishing works. Most people know the connections between different journals and editors and when they see a specific article and its footnotes, they often recognize the network of scholars the author connects with. Of course, some of the first studies of social networks were done on physics journal citations, so the metaphor holds pretty well.

I don't want to scare people off, but I want to show that most of this stuff isn't rocket science and a good understanding of it really is useful. I hope I can write about this stuff in an engaging way that doesn't sound too dry and technical. So we'll see how that goes.

Let the writing begin!!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Next steps

I know I've disappeared from here, but I sent off my proposal. I'm not going to post actual text until I have it in a more finished form. Instead, I will continue to use this space to throw out ideas and think out loud.

So speaking of that. I had determined that my first chapter should be an overview of how blogging works from a somewhat technical standpoint. One of my main points overall, though, is the importance of having an audience. Should I establish why I think that first before going into the how of obtaining an audience?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Tasks for tomorrow

Need to put a little more detail about connectivism/emergent pedagogy.
Respond to Mr. Geeky's feedback.
Take a deep breath.

Shaping up

I think I'm almost to a good draft stage. I completely rewrote the beginning and I'm planning to completely rewrite the lit review section. I'm planning to have a couple of people look over it after that and then send it off.

Here's a plan for the lit review section:

General educational blogging practice
Journaling
College-level connected blogging (which will lead nicely into my section on why this dissertation matters)

Shew. Feeling much less panicked now and like I actually know what I'm doing. I still have the chapter outline to think about. We'll see.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

For tomorrow

Rewrite lit review section, taking into account the two articles.

Rethink chapter outline. Need to brainstorm a little.

After that, read over entire thing and tweak.

Then I'll have a draft.

Getting there: For this afternoon

1. Add in the two articles on blogging at the college level.
2. Chapter outline.
  1. History and Nature of Blogging
    1. History
    2. current state of blogging
  2. Pedagogical foundations
    1. Cogitive learning theories
    2. Constructivism
    3. Connectivism/Emergent Pedagogy
  3. The class
    1. Purpose and foundations
    2. Audience
    3. Revision
  4. Missteps--what I'd do differently and why
  5. Future work?
The above outline is very shaky. I just had to get it out of my head. I'm not entirely sure how I want to organize this stuff. I guess in a social science dissertation, one would put the theory/hypothesis followed by methodology followed by results and then conclusions. But this isn't really social science. It's English. So I'm not sure. It's a place to start, though.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Some notes from conversation

In reading the self evaluations, both Mr. Geeky and I have noted two things. One, the students admit to being terrified at first because they had always been given specific topics and a specific formula to write to. Two, they admit that they learned a lot from this initial fear and worked through it and basically discovered their own voice and their own passions. This reminds me quite a bit of Peter Elbow's work. I do plan to include some of his ideas.

We've noted a lot of other things as well, but these two themes keep recurring.

Thinking out loud

So, I'm planning a little reorganization, putting a brief history of blogging before the lit review/how my stuff fits section. I'm surprised by how little literature there is out there on teaching with blogs even though I know a ton of people using blogs in their classes. Maybe I'm missing something?

My hope is to have a completed draft in a day or two--maybe by Wednesday and a final version by the weekend to send off.

I think I can. I think I can.