inferentialkid

Techne

In Sessions on February 19, 2014 at 5:54 pm

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Agenda:

  • Readings & Responses Review
  • Information Visualization
  • Online Teaching Portfolio Examples
  • Skype Chat with Alexander Galloway

Information Visualization Example:

Teaching with Technology Portfolio Examples:

Readings for Next Week:

Assignments (as assigned):

  • Write a 300-500 word response to the above readings and bring  a hard copy with you to class, or
  • Prepare an informal presentation on a classroom unit/assignment involving Many Eyes information visualization applications, or
  • Prepare a question to ask Alex Reid
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  1. My second semester of teaching I was faced with the challenge of engaging students who had made it very clear that they were not interested in taking my class seriously. Spring (Winter) semester at the University of Toledo brought composition students who were rarely ‘traditional.’ According to university policy, any student who did not receive a C+ or higher in their Comp I course would be required to retake the class as many times as necessary until they passed. This meant that along with returning adult students and upperclassmen trying to finish their requirements, I had several students either on their second or third time taking composition. My students were bright and a good group; however, they harbored a resentment for writing classes along with an inability to see its practicality. I believe that what Pender is attempting to do with her book is similar to what I attempted to do in that classroom. My goal for the semester had originally been to use literature to function as a foundation for the genre-based assignments. As the semester wore on, the students became less and less interested in the novels, and I had to find new ways to draw connections. I had recently bought a book for creative writing called Write Like Hemingway and thought it would be fun to bring some of the creative writing exercises into the composition classroom.
    As I read Techne, I couldn’t help but keep thinking to myself how interesting it was that the ‘problem’ with composition and rhetoric was that it was not creative, it did not inspire natural writing for the sake of individual development or ‘art’…it served a function by providing students with the tools and building blocks necessary to satisfy the ‘LEARNING OBJECTIVES’ of the curriculum. Initially, I thought well why is everyone so upset? After all, it’s called COMPOSITION, where students are composing, building, making and if they want all the freedom and wishy-washy stuff, that is what creative writing courses are for. But then I remembered my SP 2012 course. I remembered working with them to “write like Cezanne painted” in order to work on descriptive language or the various exercises in finding “the right word” to convey meaning. I remembered the day we did a close reading of passages from Emerson to discuss word choice, sentence structure, meaning, and purpose. My hope for that class was to build a bridge between creative writing and academic writing, to show students that both require what I now can refer to as techne: an artfulness, a skillfulness, a crafting.
    By the end of the semester I had lost over half of my students (not entirely uncommon) and the few that remained did not necessarily pass (although one headstrong young lady signed up for my Comp II course without turning in a single assignment all semester) but they did learn to enjoy writing more and see it less as an obligation. What I gained from Pender’s assessment of techne was that what I now take for granted in rhet/comp pedagogy has been an ongoing debate quite literally for millennia. Pender also provided me with the language and resources necessary to continue to explore these concepts.
    My question for everyone is this: what do you believe to be the function of the writing classroom (a topic I know we have been exploring all semester) and should we view the work of the composition class as techne, or not?

  2. On the first day of our writing practicum this semester Professor Marback walked in and wrote a question on the board: What do we teach when we teach writing? It seemed like a simple question, but it became clear quite quickly that it is not an easy question to answer. There was a lengthy discussion about product vs. process, academic vs. personal, rhetorical awareness vs. grammatical correctness, etc. This week Professor Marback asked us to consider where we fall on the process pedagogy continuum between expressivism, cognitivism, and the social epistemic in our own teaching practices. Again, this question was harder to answer than I anticipated. Kelly Pender’s text demonstrated exactly why these questions are so hard to answer through her explication of the history of techne in relation to rhetoric and composition and to postmodernism. There are institutional, theoretical, and historical pressures present in any question about how to teach writing. The truth is that as a student and a teacher I have encountered many of the approaches described in this book. As a student I never gave much thought as to why we were being asked to do certain things, but as a teacher it is sometimes an all-consuming question. It looms large when I’m writing my syllabus, and the day-to-day interactions with my students continually reiterate it throughout the semester. Clearly, as Pender demonstrates, there is no one right answer, but I feel like this book is leading me in a good direction.
    I was interested in Pender’s use of Michael P. Carter to talk about what we teach when we teach writing. The “metacourse” that Carter proposes seems to avoid the trap of teaching a writing class in which writing is marginalized. The valuing of writing as writing sounds great. The problem is that I don’t know what that course looks like. What do the students do? What do I do? How is success measured (beyond the issue of grading)? (Perhaps I need to read Carter’s book to answer those questions.) Pender argues that “teaching writing as a techne encourages us to create the kind of ‘metawriting’ course Carter describes,” but I’m still not sure what that class actually is (141). There is a moment in the text, however, that makes me think that the answer may lie in in new media, networks, and interfaces. Pender summarizes Carter’s “’archeological beginnings’” as “a notion of creativity” that is “multilateral, flowing in all directions, erasing the border between creator-subject and derivative object” (112). She points out that according to Carter and his view of creativity “all things [are] creative” and “’utterly collaborative’” (112). This description seems very much like a description of networks and interfaces created through new media wherein information is “flowing in all directions.” People “post” and “pin” and “tweet” their own thoughts/words/images along with the thoughts/words/images of anyone else they have found on the web. The writing in those spaces does not seem to be concerned with an end or product. The generation of it is spontaneous and creative. I am still not sure exactly what all of this means in the classroom (the content, the structure, the assignments), and I am still searching for some practical examples of what it looks like in the classroom, but for the first time I am starting to see how/what theories of new media might help up to imagine, if not enact quite yet. For today I’m left with the question of how new media could be used to create a ‘metawriting’ course.

  3. Kelly Pender’s Techne raised a lot of questions for me as I read through. Some were answered by the end of the book. However, Pender seems to follow the trend in monographs we have read this semester and ends without a clear sense of resolution. I found Pender’s chronicle of rhetoric as a discipline interesting and helpful to her point, and I thought she did a good job distinguishing between various definitions of techne, focusing particularly on the main dichotomy, the utility of composition versus the art of writing. Pender pulls together both sides of the debate and attempts to banish this binary, investing worth in each side of this rhetoric divide. She writes near the end of the book, “To my mind, this is precisely what techne does: by foregrounding the productive nature of writing, that is, its status as a form of poiesis or of bringing-forth, it creates opportunities for students to experience writing as writing even when they use it to achieve an external goal” (142). I like the fact that Pender sees how we can do both in composition. However, I’m still grasping for what “writing as writing” really means.
    Pender cites Michael Carter’s ideas as ones which reinforce her own argument. In terms of what “writing” is, she explains that “from his perspective then, all writing courses should be taught as creative writing courses, that is, as courses aimed at ‘promoting an awareness of being as creative being.’ In practical terms, achieving this goal means we have to put more emphasis on invention” (141). And what does an emphasis of invention bring about? Carter, and Pender, argue that “metawriting” is the term we are looking for. In fact, Pender claims that “teaching writing as a techne encourages us to create the kind of ‘metawriting’ course that Carter describes” (141). Metawriting is how we negotiate both instrumentality and creativity in the composition classroom. But what is metawriting? Pender is not entirely clear here. Instead of elaborating on what a metawriting course might look like, she jumps back into the idea of binaries collapsing and concepts like “bringing forth.”
    To extend her points, she quotes Carter again: “In order to teach writing rather than scribing, Carter argues, we have to encourage our students to ‘extend their stay,’ on this threshold, focusing on ‘invention itself’ and realizing that it’s not ‘good writing’ or ‘acceptable student texts’ we’re after, but rather ‘the good of writing’ – that is, the ‘destabilizing experience of participating in beginnings’” (149). A lot of the language Carter, and thus Pender, uses seems ambiguous: what does it mean to teach writing as “opening up,” “bringing forth,” “participating in beginnings,” etc, all the while having them focus on an external goal, too? Is this just having students be open to new possibilities or “truths” that might come to them in the research/writing process? Is this trying to get them to forget their biases? Does it have something to do with the “metacognition” learning outcome we stress at WSU, which states “Use reflection to make choices and changes in both the composing process and products in this course and to explain how you will use skills you have learned to approach unfamiliar writing tasks”? Our notion of reflection/metacognition still seems very “skills” based (for example, the idea of approaching unfamiliar writing tasks), but it does seem to fit in with some of the other phrases Pender and Carter use when they talk about metawriting, such as “the process of making” and “hyperawareness of writing.”
    So maybe some of the methods for using technology in writing would aid this concept of “hyperawareness of writing,” especially as it deals with rhetorical choice. For example, the wiki, or other programs where coding is necessary, are ways to get students to make deliberate choices about their writing during the process of writing, and not just thinking about metacognition as an afterthought after the “external goal” has been reached. And the advent of social media has brought all sorts of commentary that uses words and phrases which feel like some of the more ambiguous phrasing I noted above (and will not below). But I feel like this definition of metawriting (as, basically, metacognition) is still not taking into account the ideas of writing as “threshold” and “beginning” and being aware of our ourselves as “creative beings.” These are concepts I would really like to see fleshed out in Pender’s composition methodology (how do we explain this to students? What sorts of assignments reinforce these concepts?), so we can see what our composition learning outcomes are missing.

  4. Kelly Pender’s Techne seeks to open up the titular term, deploying it in five of its most prominent forms in the history of rhetoric and composition. Her concept of the epistemological and axiological continuums for this deployment situates the ways in which techne has been and is understood in our discipline like stars in a constellation, rather than notches on a timeline. This complicates the notion of what can be a simplistically understood concept. For that reason alone, I like this book. I’m a big believer in antinomy, the seemingly impossible coexistence of apparently equally valid principles. Pender’s assertion that techne connects to all three related terms in its Greek definition—art, craft, and skill—opens up intriguing disciplinary and pedagogical possibilities.
    It is the pedagogical angle that resonated most strongly for me, of course. Pender’s argument that “techne is inextricably tied to the issue of teachability” (139) helps me situate the history of techne in the discipline of rhetoric and composition in terms of my own teacher-ethos. The value of techne as a pedagogy seemed not only sensible, but closely entwined with much of what I already attempt to practice in the composition classroom. Pender’s reference to Michael P. Carter’s “metawriting” approach to “teach writing as writing,” as well as the rhetorical situated positions of Drew and Mailloux who bring together “the productive and interpretive elements of writing,” and demonstrate that they can, “be parts of the same integrated framework for understanding and participating in the cultural conversations of diverse public spheres” (143), get me excited about techne as an immediately applicable framework for my own writing classrooms.
    However, the pedagogical applications were not the only aspects of this weeks readings to turn my head. In fact, I never thought I would say this, but I am slowly being persuaded to think more seriously about philosophical foundations to my pedagogical rationales. Reading the chapters by Pruchnic and Badiou initially had my scratching my head as to their relevance in relation to Pender. In fact, I didn’t really think I saw any connection until I sat down to write this response. Now, I can’t even say I have a fully articulated idea, but it feels like Pender’s book provides an important bridge between philosophical rhetorical tradition and composition studies. As she demonstrates in her book, there are important pragmatic implications for how one interprets the meanings and cultural force of ideas like techne (and sophistry and contemporary “network” society)…and these interpretations provide the philosophical basis for any pedagogical theory one might work from. It’s like finding the foundation under the foundation. Or, I think have finally found a way to give a damn about philosophy. Maybe.

  5. This is how I (think I) understand Pender’s definition of techne as a useful, holistic approach to writing education:

    Techne attempts to bridge several gaps in educational styles – neoclassicalism and postmodernism, or prescription and invention – while seeking to combine their most effective elements and abandoning an “either-or” approach to writing education. Kelly Pender describes techne as a pragmatic “protector” against both an over-reliance on formality and the dangers of sophistry, and incorporated into writing education, can retain invention alongside interpretation. While the goal of writing, as Pender does not shy from, is execution, techne allows for an execution based not only on prescribed techniques or codes, but on a situational mutability, a level of intellectual cunning, and a conscious approach to the edge of the limits of rhetoric (via poesis) for the purposes of interpretive production.
    Techne foregrounds “the productive nature of writing, that is, its status as a form of poesis or of bringing-forth, it creates opportunities for students to experience writing as writing even when they are using it to achieve an external goal” (142). While the practicality, or instrumentality of writing is not discounted, techne encourages a more “productive” exercise rather than one of mere “interpretation” – we teach students to become active participants through writing “aimed more at doing something than knowing something” (143). It is a response to a neoclassicist education and claims that writers should be wary of becoming “too aware of how words sound and of how they look on the page” (120) at the sacrifice of intention, meaning, or inventiveness, for bringing together knowledge and influences simply for the sake of “correctness.”
    Techne embraces writing as a collision of forces similar to any that occur in both technical manufacturing or artistic production. It takes into account the many purposes, objectives and avenues producers take when crafting a machine or carving a statue. Within a writing project, Techne accompanies awareness of: process, outcome, beginning and end, goal, potentiality, situation, its history, its surroundings (within and outside of the text), its inspirations, its possibilities, its “open-endedness” (101). Techne is rhetoric used as “productive knowledge” but stems from an individualized definition of productivity as the culmination of these awarenesses, and can result in a variety of “productivities” that train writers to be suitably productive in more individualized or situational settings than a classic or prescriptivist stance would always provide. But it doesn’t abandon its neoclassical conventions as they are often necessary tools used in the manufacturing of agreement (which is the goal of any piece of writing, technical or poetic), but without an inventive challenging of the boundaries of expression, the potentialities of new knowledge can be held back. Techne allows for a productive execution of writing with a humanistic approach of responding to “shifting circumstances” (91), and when utilized for active engagement, it is an instrument for the execution of knowledge that is both the result and continuation of experimental imagination.

  6. What is writing? How should writing be taught? Considering those kinds of questions, Kelly Pender tries to suggest another way of teaching writing: we should teach writing as writing. Historically, we have not taught writing as writing but as a means of some other things, especially focusing on reading and interpreting. Thinking that the priority in the writing class should be writing itself, I absolutely agree with Pender’s point. But how can we do this?
    As Pender explains, many writing classes focus on reading, analyzing and interpreting texts, and writing. In this process, writing became by-products, i.e., students write with contents already designated so they do not have opportunity to write in a creative way. To overcome this, Pender suggests that we do not necessarily throw away the existing way because “we don’t get closer to writing as writing by moving away from composition or scribing” (150). Then what should we do? I think Pender is suggesting a synthetic way: Students need to try to write creatively by being aware that they are participating in a writing activity. At the same time, they do not have to ignore another role of writing as a means of other purposes (e.g., problem solving) which have been applied in the classes for years.
    Unfortunately, Pender does not show a practical application in the actual writing class activity in relation to her suggestion. I assume that there seems to have been quite a lot of experiments about teaching writing as writing since Pender brings many critics’ ideas with which deal that writing class should be changed. If their attempts had not been performed or set as a basic model in writing class so far, this means teaching writing as writing is not an easy task as critics, including Pender, suggest. Also, it is quite complicating for me to understand Pender’s idea as one or two simple terms because she actually is saying that this “is an attempt to complicate our understanding of how one actually comes to experience writing as writing” (152). Specifically I wonder how we can manage the writing class focusing on both reading and writing because I still cannot think the class without reading, analyzing and interpreting texts before performing the actual writing activity.

  7. Kelly Pender, in Techne: From Neoclassicism to Postmodernism attempts to resolve the conflict between writing pedagogy and postmodern theory. As postmodernism has shown, writing occurs in historical moments in highly contingent situations making a theory of a repeatable process seem inadequate. As an answer to this problem, Pender puts forth a renewed concept of techne as being neither poesis nor craft but something in-between. Applying this concept to the composition classroom, she says, shows that we do not have to do away with the teaching of writing but should focus on teaching “writing as writing.” While Pender portrays this “metawriting” as the answer to composition’s postmodern crisis, it seems to fall short in practice.

    Pender doesn’t give much detail about what, exactly, “writing as writing” is, but it sounds a lot like what is commonly known as metacognition, a common element in many composition classrooms such as the one I teach at Wayne State. While I certainly find metacognition a valuable component of the writing classroom, I don’t put as much faith in it as does Pender. Yes, metacognitive assignments helps students transfer knowledge they learn from Eng 1020 to other writing situations, but this hardly seems as revolutionary as Pender makes out. In fact, in practice, reflective assignments have a tendency to simply become an added step in the linear writing process that postmodernism critiques.

    Pender doesn’t give any specific examples of how she sees this “writing as writing” playing out in actual classrooms. She does suggest, however, that emphasizing techne means “emphasizing the act of writing; it means making writing itself the subject of the course, and structuring that course in such a way that students are encouraged to develop, at least for a while, a hyperawareness of writing” (141). What this would mean to me is that having students write should be the content of the course, that students should be given lots of opportunities for practice. This, however, does not seem to be what Pender means. She seems to suggest the issues related to writing become the content of the classroom. In other words, she suggests we shift the focus away from the practice of student writing toward writing as content. I can’t help but doubt that doing so would be doing our students much of a favor.

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