Course Evaluations

Today is the last day of class at USF, so I passed around a course evaluation of my own design. This semester my class has focused on "digital citizenship": students maintained a blog all semester long dedicated to a topic/hobby of their choice. They then wrote a 8-10 page research paper responding to one argument from Andrew Keen's polemic Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture. All in all, I'd say it was a good course--I'll let you know what they think once I get all the info.

Here's the questions I asked them to respond to:

Exit Questions for Expository Writing: Digital Citizenship

  1. Did you find They Say, I Say a useful text? Did you think I did enough to present the text in class? I plan on using this text again, so please let me know what more I could do with it.
  2. I am definitely replacing the Lanham Style book. It didn't accomplish what I thought it could, and I apologize for making you purchase it. That said—should I replace it with a book on writing (specifically, a book that gives organizational strategies) or another book on “digital culture” that argues against Keen/series of articles responding to Keen (such as the Shirky, Weinberger, etc.). I am leading toward the first book.
  3. Did I manage to present three ideas this semester that helped you with your writing? What were those ideas?
  4. Was there a particular lecture/presentation on writing that you found useful? Remind me about it.
  5. What would you have liked me to address that I didn’t? What did you expect from the course on the first day that we didn’t do? What else would you have liked me to do? What do writing classes need to do?
  6. This semester I asked you to read almost all of Andrew Keen’s book in order to find an argument to engage. Would you have preferred to read a series of articles?
  7. Now that you are not a part of my course, and thus I cannot implement any draconian procedures, what is one “evil” thing I could force upon next semester’s students to improve writing instruction?
  8. How many hour a week did you spend on this class? Generally, did this class take more time than your other classes? Less?
  9. If a friend asked “is Santos’ course hard?” how would you respond? If they queried “should I take it?”
  10. Instead of using Google, should I have used Facebook? Would that have been too weird?

A quick note on question 9: my drop rate at USF is extraordinarily high. It is not an attendance problem--it is a retention problem. This semester I taught 2 25 person sections--both classes now have enrollments below 12. Students explained to me that my course isn't hard (in the sense of grading) but is hard (in the sense that it requires a lot of thought). It doesn't require a lot of thought because of the difficulty of material I assign; rather, it calls upon them to invent, every week, their own assignments. They are required to post 1000 words a week on their topic, but outside of a few occasions, I did not give them any guidelines for what their posts needed to do each week. At least, that's what a few students candidly told me a few weeks ago--so I'm hoping question 9 will help me to understand what I need to do to increase retention. But I will not spoon feed.


Free Your TV?

My wife and I always complain about our insane cable bill, but we're both TV junkies--so what's our alternatives? Well, it looks like "internet-TV" is about to take a huge step forward. Via /. via NYT, Adobe is about to announce a new "Flash TV," which would be a huge step in piping internet content straight to your TV. Got an internet connection? Got Netflix? Dump your cable. These days, even most professional sporting events can be watched online for a price.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't mention quality--and its direct correspondent, file size. Last year, I was closely following concerns over bandwidth--I have to believe that if streaming video goes anywhere near this mainstream, then this conversation will resurface will a vengeance. Especially since this other conversation won't go away. The web is not, despite popular belief, an unlimited resource. It depends on material cable--and, if high density file formats such as streaming video or even flash video go mainstream, then ISPs are going to have a much stronger case against net neutrality. I only hope that, if net neutrality is doomed, that the increases in cost are at least shared between provider and consumer; and that those increases are closely regulated by the federal government to prevent gouging.


Clinton on Johnson is Really about Rhetoric

Stephen Johnson has a neat post today on Bill Clinton's reaction to The Invention of Air. I haven't had a chance to read this one yet, but I am looking forward to it this summer. Anyways, in his praise for Johnson's book, he makes an argument for the contemporary importance of books:

I spend all my time in the "how" business now. I predict to you that there will be a big demand in the future for books that deal not with how to become a millionaire in 36 days or two and a half hours. Not those. Serious "how" books. Books that answer the "how" question. How do you turn your good intentions into positive changes in other people's lives so that our common life is better for our children and grandchildren? The "how" question…

Unfortunately, the rest of Clinton's response falls into some fairly shallow and commonplace critiques of the web as a narcissistic cult of immediacy. The problem here is of treating internet users one monolithic entity--there's a diverse collection of social-intellectual practices developing around media technology, and not all of them are as opposed to extended thinking as Clinton implies (linear is another story, but I don't feel like getting into that right now).

I do think Clinton's "how" offers a nice contemporary description for the task of rhetoric: "how do you turn your good intentions into positive changes in other people's lives so that our common life is better for our children and grandchildren?" Notice the sentence doesn't rely on truth--I don't know concretely if my intentions are "true." Notice, too, that I do not necessarily have to "persuade" others of the validity of my intentions, nor do I have to persuade everyone. This, like Obama, is a localized rhetoric of small changes and social complexity.


Help Support Net Neutrality

I posted this to Facebook yesterday, and a few people have passed it on. Time Warner, a large ISP, is making a serious political and legal effort to counter net neutrality. I am presuming they are attempting this early in Obama's presidency, while he has many other issues to attend. I initially supported Obama specifically for his stance on technology and net neutrality, so I hope he will step up and shut this down.

Still, if you have a few minutes, please sign this e-petition to support keeping networks open and accessible. Here's what I wrote in the comments section of my petition yesterday:

I am a professor of rhetoric and new media at the University of South Florida. I want to reiterate the importance of allowing many-to-many communicative media to develop without these harsh economic hindrances.

Particularly, we need to support and develop networked computing ventures: cooperatives that unite the processing power of hundreds, if not thousands, of computers nationwide. I speak of projects such as Stanford University's Folding Home project (http://folding.stanford.edu/English/FAQ-PS3), which has already made great strides in researching particle physics and hopes to tackle major medical issues. These projects require a neutral internet.

America has always valued the free flow of ideas. It supported printing as an industry and journalism as a discipline. It deregulated telephones. The FCC monitors the airwaves. All of these legislative moves are to ensure that Americans have the highest possible access to information, so as to increase invention and facilitate democracy. Companies such as Time Warner put such ideals at risk. The future of American industry lies in areas such as biomedical research, green technologies, and physics. We should not put the development of these fields at risk so that cable companies and internet providers can increase profits. The internet is a resource.

Perhaps a bit over the top in a few places, but, hey, pathos works.


Hi There, Let's Talk Google

I've been writing in other places and neglecting the blog, but I thought I might try to spend some quality time here. To get started, there's an interesting story over at the NYTimes on the Google library project. I have long been a staunch supporter of the program: the general idea is to scan all books in existence into one massive, searchable digital library. This will include works under copyright (users will be able to see a portion for free but will need to pay for complete access).

Along the way, Google has discovered many orphan books--books still in-print, still under copyright, but without any clear owner. I believe these books should enter into the public domain. But, as the article reports, Google seeks to claim these works, adopting their copyright. This would make these books (a lot of which is scholarship) the intellectual property of Google, so to speak.

Now I find myself extremely suspicious of Google's motivations here. Google has yet to offer a formal statement over at their blog, but I'd expect one soon. No doubt they will argue that these books need to be adopted in order to protect them. But critics cite that this would give Google a powerful monopoly over books produced in the 20th century.

The Google Library project is something to be excited about--so long as it at least tries to remain altruistic in spirit. Jonathan Band's analysis of the recent (last November) settlement case between Google, authors, and publishers reveals that Google is in this for the money. Whether corporate greed completely stains the higher aspirations of the project remains to be seen.

But, for the first time, I'm a bit scared of the little scanner that could. One of the tell-tale indicators will likely be what Google decides to do with public domain works (whether they will be available for free, or whether access to them will be on a pay basis as it will be with copyright material).