“Where We’re From”: A poem by many authors

We wrote a poem. And we created an image to go with it (below). We are from this year of writing; we are what you see. In essence then, we created text to say where we are from and images to show who we are. Is that a fair assessment of our work together?

I love it no matter what we call it.

The below image a compilation of photographs, art, and graphics we each chose to share for this project–to accompany the poem. We’ve named this our “Influence Map” because we’ve really been all about the journey this year–the textual, the virtual, the digital, the visual, the actual journey. And we’ve learned that maps come in many different forms and lead to many different journeys. Rhetoricians create maps when creating texts… to lead readers on textual journeys. Artists create journeys for viewers to take. Performers take the audience on a journey with them. And we made maps of many different kinds this year. Thank you to all the Cartographers, in Honors Comp classes at OCU and AUM, for this beautiful work.

Our “Influence Map”!

Please see our poem and map together at Writing Together in Honors. With many thanks to Adorable Angst who put the finishing touches on this collaborative work.

What we think matters in a blog

Today, we had a most interesting discussion about what mattered most in a blog and why and tried to work around with the following questions through a discussion and by looking at a bunch of our blogs and the OCU blogs.

  • What matters the most in a blog?
  • What matters the least?
  • What kinds of visual rhetoric choices do you make and how can that be evaluated?
  • Grammar counts–“correctness”?
  • Should there be a check list of features you need to have in order for it to be a good blog, an “A” blog?
  • What is blog greatness?

The first thing we talked about (and that I wrote on the board–old school style with dry erase markers!) was the “visual decisions” that writers make, or in other words, visual rhetoric.

A moment at the board...

It was amazing how we worked through the above questions and noted down all the things that we could think of that seemed to matter in a very immediate sense (actually things we could see). Many of the things we noted were part of our reading in the Web Writing Style Guide by Writing Spaces.

So. We started with visual decisions and started listing under that:

  • The theme of the blog
  • Background/text
  • Set-up of sidebar (recent posts first or archive first or Tweets or what?)
  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • Pictures/images
  • Titles
  • Tag lines

We also talked about overall organization–did it please the eye or make sense to the mind? Was the spacing right–too much “white” space or too little? How can we tell? One person may prefer something over another one. We all agreed there should be a “balance” between text and image or space, so that it’s easy for the reader. Cohesion in design mattered as well–too many wacky colors or different fonts might make most of us a bit nuts. And we all said that overall organization mattered (I’m inferring here that we meant blog posts vs. pages and how easy it is to use the blog space as a reader–how easy it is to navigate–how it “feels”).

All the while we noted that the blog is a conversation between reader and writer that can be interactive but there are some things missing, even if it’s terribly exciting with lots of images and links…

But wait… we realized that no one had really mentioned the actual writing. Whoa. And woe.

I added that at the top along with something we all said mattered: voice.

We have all been reading each others’ blogs with our voices–because we have heard each other talk so much and are in class together. But how are we perceiving the voices in the blogs of our partner students at OCU–whom we’ve never met? And gulp–how are they perceiving our voices? Are we too formal, too flip?

And then it hit us that we really have an audience, and we needed to step up our game–readers are counting on us. Our blogs are the only way our readers will know us–what does that really mean?

We don’t have a finished idea of how to grade blogs yet, but I think we’re making some great progress as we continue to formulate and form and grow what it is that we are doing as writers online in this space at this time for ourselves and our partners at OCU.

As usual–great class, great chat, great thinking. Man, I love my job.

Why we have a network in our class

Each class I teach, I hope to create a network of friends, classmates, peers, colleagues. I’m inspired by Steven Johnson’s use of the term liquid network in Where Good Ideas Come From. It resonates with me for a few reasons: hanging out having coffee, tea, talking, learning. In his TED talk, he mentions the first coffee shop in England. In his book, I’m digging deeper into the things he highlights in the talk.

But I don’t want to talk about that right this moment. I want to talk about how observation is part of writing/thinking/learning and developing our brains into fabulous tools that enable us to enrich our lives every day. Just what we’ve been doing this semester in this class so far… Steven Johnson’s work is along for the ride, though, especially his book, The Ghost Map. And I’ll circle around to it again.

Here’s my story about observing the world around me and how it got me to National GIS Day on 16 November 2011 and the particular button (below) and why Steven Johnson’s work is connected in a couple of ways.

River Region National GIS Day (AUM)

In the fall of 2010, I was deep into organizing AUM Writes! (a celebration of the National Day on Writing), teaching a Victorian poetry and prose class, a professional writing for nurses class, and going wild with a button maker I’d just purchased. I’d made a hundred different buttons that fall for the writing celebration, for each of my students, for many faculty members, for all the English and Philosophy professors in my department–a bunch of different designs–unique to various folks. I was having a blast.

I taught Steven Johnson’s TED talk on his book, The Ghost Map, in both my Victorian class and my nursing writing class (who is this guy’s publicist because he’s everywhere?). The map Johnson is referring to in this book is the one created by Dr. John Snow to understand the cholera outbreak on Broad Street, London (the Soho area) in 1854. He is considered a father of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). I didn’t know that until one day…

I was walking back from Victorian class to my office and passed a poster for National GIS Day. I thought. Oh, interesting. My colleague, just down the hall in Sociology, Terry Winemiller, teaches GIS. Then I stopped when I saw this map on the poster:

John Snow's Map of the Cholera Outbreak in London

I had JUST been talking about this map as a jumping off point for two things in my classes:

  1. In Victorian poetry and prose: This map is a good illustration of how congested and filthy and horrific city living conditions could be for the poor in mid-19th century England. The map works as a visual prompt to talk about sanitation, food, demographic changes, architecture, and more. Such knowledge can inform and change the way we look at literature and history and knowledge. Reading about London in the mid-century is a whole lot different than looking at a map that shows deaths from cholera.
  2. In professional writing for nursing: Nurses today need to embrace the history of healthcare to understand how to manage in crisis situations–anywhere they happen to be. By learning about how medical professionals of the past explored the spread of diseases, modern nurses can be ready for anything. (Of course, we read about Florence Nightingale, too, and Henri Dunant post-Battle of Solferino whose memories of that battle inspired the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Geneva Convention of 1864.) I do love the Victorians.

So. I stopped into Dr. Winemiller’s office to say hi and compliment him on the GIS poster. I told him what I’d been doing with the Snow map. We talked for awhile. The end result was I took a GIS class in spring 2011. I started out great, but then I got busy toward finals week with three conferences, finals, and administration for summer and fall schedules. Nuts. I was able to conceive of a project (mapping the growth of Writing Spaces), write my proposal, gather all the information I needed, even predict an outcome, but I couldn’t finish it entirely; I then tried for summer. No. But this fall, it’s coming together because the grad assistant in GIS I met when I took that class is now my collaborator. He’s like totally lightening fast with the software–I needed that since I was rusty to start and then took off a few months to do my day job.

Now, we’re getting ready to present our work at a conference on GIS. I see so many literary and writing applications for GIS. Did I mentioned I’ve subscribed to National Geographic since I was born? I love maps and globes and visual knowledge. I’ve always loved traveling because it involved maps. When I first got a phone with GPS map gizmos, I plotted a hundred places I would go to–from Key West, Florida to Homer, Alaska; from Montgomery, Alabama to Santiago, Chile. When I first discovered the extent of the travels of Frederick Tennyson (Alfred’s older brother), I wanted to map them out. Of course I did.

That I should somehow end up with a connection to geography is not surprising news to me. A student in a Dickens class I taught in 2009 mapped Little Nell’s and Oliver Twist’s journeys. I thought it was a brilliant project. She was taking a class with Dr. Winemiller at the same time she was in my Dickens class. It all comes together in a collision (or a series of collisions):

Writing instruction, writing, Victorian literature and history, geography, nursing, maps, traveling, poetry, Dickens, blogs, GIS, Steven Johnson’s two books.

You see, I’m part of a liquid network. I have slow hunches that collide with other slow hunches and unusual things happen. I’m keenly aware of the connections I have with many in several disciplines and how they are deeply important to my intellectual path. What some might even call dabbling, I call fulfillment, vast and delightful life-long learning, destiny.

And that’s why we have a network in our class–you need to go on journeys like this in the next few years. Keep your eyes and ears open to see and hear all you can. Keep your mind open to all that your educational experiences may bring to you. And keep your liquid network flowing.

Collaboration is the thing

For Oct. 5, please read the following from Writing Spaces:

A Student’s Guide to Collaborative Writing Technologies” by Matt Barton and Karl Klint (Vol. 2)

Writing ‘Eyeball to Eyeball’: Building a Successful Collaboration” by Rebecca Ingalls (Vol. 2)

Collaborating Online: Digital Strategies for Group Work” by Anthony Atkins (Vol. 1)

Post one blog entry about what you see in common, what surprises you, what you can use, what inspires you, what you WANT to incorporate in your collaborative lives. AND especially note what might work effectively should you want to create a text with someone who lives in another state, like, say: Oklahoma.

1,000 words please… be sure to talk about your own experiences in collaborative work, good or bad, and the above revelations from the readings. Thank you, thank you very much.

We’ll talk on Monday, Oct. 10, about all of this and that’s when we’ll start serious work on the final two projects for the term.

Enjoy these articles–they are all excellent. Good choice for this reading, y’all (the chapter by Anthony Atkins) which we could then link with the other two. I think you’ll see some amazing connections between these chapters and also be intrigued about working in groups in ways you may not have previously.