Teacher, Researcher, Scholar, Essayist: A Web Text with Some Assembly Required
This site grew out of conference papers presented by Paul Shovlin and John Borczon at the Computers and Writing Conference in 2006 in Lubbock, Texas . Our conference papers focused on new media experiments we introduced to our junior compositions students at Ohio University. We had our students write coauthored texts in a wiki, held class discussions in a MOO, and generated personal writing topics from course readings themed around technology. When we were invited to contribute a Web text to the Computers and Writing Online, our first goal was to expose some of the interesting tensions that were hidden while we prepared our conference papers. For instance, the IRB process and how it encourages a rather scientific positivistic view of our students was a circumstance that both of us reacted to in different ways. How a writing classroom’s full immersion into computer technology alters the emotional dynamic between the teacher and his students is another topic that reverberated throughout the entire project. In many ways the Web text that follows is an attempt to combine the spirit of traditional expectations surrounding academic research with another spirit that reaches toward a non-linear reading experience possible within a Web text. If you'd like a more scholarly introduction to this piece, feel free to check out the original abstract, although some things about the Web text have changed since it was written.
Containment and Contentment
Towards the end of the 1990s, Joseph Janangelo asked some big questions about the way we describe the writing process to our students in writing handbooks. His intuition was that we told narratives that taught students an ideology of containment and contentment. Our narratives encourage students to believe that when writing, proper containment of knowledge on the page leads to the emotional contentment that we are therefore strong writers (and, in our reading, teachers, researchers, and scholars). Janangelo’s attack upon this narrative has always seemed to us to be about much more than how we describe the writing process in writing handbooks:
For handbook authors and writing programs to compose and circulate stories that feature complicated and sometimes unsuccessful models of writers at work would involve risk. It would entail communicating serious problems to readers who may become disconsolate or disgusted at hearing them. Recomposing the handbook narrative would also constitute an ethical project. It would involve abdicating historically rewarding ideologies of containment and contentment in order to tell a less secure, less clean story about revision. This story would confess that writing well is not attributable to following an infallible recipe and that revision does not invariable guarantee textual improvement. (110-111)
Our Web text is an attempt to dramatize one version of the different story Janangelo imagines as it relates to our various roles in the title of our project.
The Letters in the Margin
The building blocks of this essay are many short snippets of prose related to each other in different ways. The skeleton consists 17 snippets of prose, lettered A through Q, culled from our original conference papers. Some of them are shorter than others. They offer a structure of themes to move through and respond to in different ways. If you would like to read the original papers, they are included in the resources, which also contains a list of the works cited for this Web text. These blobs of prose alternate back and forth between the two essays, and attempt to trace the arc of our original ideas. After each main lettered section, the reader will be offered a choice of three groups of commentaries that stand in the position of transitions from one section to the next. To be honest, they are more like snapshots of different perspectives, rather than transitions. Try a few to get a taste of each. The groups are labeled:
Behind the Scenes – these commentaries are written in a fairly formal academic tone. Their purpose is to provide more information in an attempt to hold the main section snippets together, to provide centripetal force. This group narrates the traditional story of confinement and contentment, while negotiating some of the anxieties and conflicts that arose between the multiple personalities of Jean-Paul Shovczon as the project progressed.
Head to Head – these commentaries attempt to surface some of the bickering and disagreements that occurred over the two year life of this project. This group is written in different fonts indicating each author’s voice in preference to you, dear reader. Be warned, though, as easy as it is to contain different voices via different fonts, in reality it is difficult to attribute a particular section to either author. The illusion of containment is provided for those who desire it.
Postmodern Riff – these commentaries are written in more of a personal essayist voice. Their purpose is to acknowledge and surface the tendency of each snippet of the skeleton to reach out towards other ideas rather than relate back to each other, to undergo centrifugal force .
There may be a little blurring between the lines, which is fitting given our move to problematize containment.
The Persona Behind the Curtain...
Shovczon imagines a reader will start with snippet A then choose to read a commentary or two and consider her or his own response before moving on to snippet B (wash, rinse, repeat) although there is no force requiring this sort of reading. In fact all of the information is available to any reader who wants to view this text through the eyes of the great and powerful Shovczon (for those of the audience inclined to do so, the resources link will be helpful). Our only power to discourage this sort of behavior is structural. The text actually reads much quicker if you play some version of our game. Our goal is to reach for something new that is in fact already 60 percent old. An early reviewer of the text noted that it is predictable although not necessarily linear. We hope to provide a reading experience that is different but still pleasurable, perhaps not necessarily more pleasurable or less pleasurable than other forms, but pleasurable in a different way – perhaps in a nonlinear, but predictable way. Shovczon encourages you to email John and Paul with any comments you may wish to share regarding this text.
And now the curtain raises upon snippet A !