TCR Grad Blog

Graduate director's blog for the Technical Communication and Rhetoric Program at Texas Tech University

Archive for November, 2010

Irvin Defense 12/3 @ 3:30

Posted by Joyce on November 29, 2010

Lennie Irvin defends his dissertation this Friday (December 3, 2010) in Lubbock, room 358, 3:30. His title is “A Grounded Theory of Rhetorical Reflection in Freshman Composition” and his committee is Rice (chair), Kemp, & Rickly. You’re all invited.

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Latest, Greatest

Posted by Joyce on November 20, 2010

In the 2010 survey, one of you wrote the following:

Most if not all of the for-profit institutions require technology for their offerings. For god’s sake, we’re tech communicators! We should be using the latest (not beta or bleeding edge, but latest) technology to communicate. We’re also Rhetoricians. We cannot communicate solely by MOO.

So much to say. First, I feel the frustration of the respondent and I also agree that we are clearly rhetoricians and are potentially masters of communication. But I take issue with the normative statement “we should be using the latest technology to communicate.” I think I’d prefer to say something like “We should be using the appropriate means of communicating with each other.” The second question is whether our course offerings are composed strictly of communications (and there’s a good argument that they are) or something else. Perhaps the greatest question of all is how much the student body is willing to spend for the latest, greatest technologies, and whether that expenditure brings sufficient benefits to all of us is warranted.

What do you think?

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Information Plan

Posted by Joyce on November 20, 2010

I have been asked by you, the grad students, to spend your money improving/consolidating/redesigning programmatic communication, and I’m curious where to begin.

In the fall surveys, several of you complained of seeing multiple (i.e. too many) channels of information this past year.

I’ve noticed that we use many tools to communicate, such as Twitter, Facebook, ListServ, Websites, WordPress…however, there is not one place where all information can be found. So, my suggestion is to set up one of the tools as the main contact tool and use it to push out the information to participants (btw, this would help with the registration and onboarding process too, wish suffers from the same malaise).

I hear what you’re saying, but I’m wondering if consolidating information into a single stream is realistic these days. The whole effort to publish deadlines, news, invitations, requirements, and observations via multiple channels was something I undertook as a way of keeping centralized “blasts” to a minimum. If the Twitter feed isn’t for you, don’t subscribe. Likewise, don’t read this grad advisor’s blog if you feel it pulls you away from a focused message. Isn’t the world of social networking and new media about the individual getting what she needs on her own terms?

Basic information about program changes, May seminar, etc. is sometimes difficult to find. The information is typically available, but in many different locations. Students often rely on each other to get information. One official, consistent, and up-to-date location for information would be preferable to multiple channels of info.

It is certainly possible that the totality of information I send out (regardless of its medium) is insufficient for your needs, and I am attempting this year to be more proactive and thorough in providing you with information.

Too much information in too many different places — consolidate it.

improve communication through consolidation we have the brains, the experience, and the “gravitas” to design the ULTIMATE course website…we should do so!

I understand the need for an ultimate course website, I guess. Before committing money and time to the killer program app, though, I would probably want to find out the purposes and uses and audience I’d be redesigning for.

The web communication (from the program’s web site to broadcast emails/tweets to the IRB process) needs to improve dramatically. How many usability/document design classes have to focus on the poor, poor TCR web presence before something is done about it? That seems to me to be the biggest disappointment and head-scratcher in this program, by far. The web presence of this program is frankly embarrassing. If I would have been evaluating TTU’s TCR program on its web presence alone, and not by personal recommendations, I never would have even considered joining the program. … And now that I am in the program, I still think the web environment appears to be back in the early 1990s. It is beyond just frustrating and inefficient. It is almost unusable. I feel like I’m ranting about an obvious concern (again, almost every usability class pitches this as the foremost idea on the students’ minds). A professional and expansive web site, reflecting the needs of the students, maybe bounced from the required TTU splash page, should be a priority in the program and would greatly improve the feelings at least this student has about the communication being practiced in a communication program.

Empirically speaking, we’re not having any difficulty recruiting applicants. If anything, our biggest challenge is managing growth. Which is not to say there’s room for information redesign at the program level, but simply to point out that the argument about losing recruits isn’t terribly compelling. If I could sit down with this respondent, I would willingly learn and attempt to implement these ideas, assuming I understood their priority among all the other programmatic priorities. First point is improving “drastically” our web communication, and I would ask just what needs to be improved. There’s really not much that changes from semester to semester except course offerings, and I try to get those published to you over a year in advance. As for everything else, it’s made up of policies and procedures. By using “inefficient” and “unusable,” you’re suggesting that these pages are “used” for some sort of transactions, but I don’t see transactional use as the main purpose for these communications. If our students are using the web pages for something, I’d like to know about it, and we’ll redesign accordingly.

I can certainly see applicants using the web pages to transact something, and that is an acceptance or rejection into the grad program, and this population certainly has highly variable needs, coming from a number of backgrounds, and being limited in their context as to what the program is about. As such, I email and speak to most of them. Whether I can write that advisor interaction into a web presence or not is a matter of debate.

Again, I’m happy to aim for a “professional and expansive” web presence, but I would appreciate the help in identifying what we’re aiming for? A certain look (which calls for graphic redesign)? A certain functionality (to achieve what, exactly)? A certain improvement in writing and conveying information (which really falls on me and my typing fingers, mostly, and not really on any web philosophy, CSS, or any other means of production).

I’m serious — what is the list of desired features you want to spend your money on? If a web redesign is the highest priority of this program, then we’ll make it happen. I’m skeptical, but open to being persuaded.

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Worst Speaker Ever

Posted by Joyce on November 20, 2010

Maybe it was just one person, but in our post-May-Workshop survey, one of our speakers was trashed for not being interesting, not being short enough, or simply being “the worst speaker I’ve heard in some time.”

I’d first like to say that I hear you and appreciate your criticism. However, I’d like to offer a rebuttal to your claims if you’ll indulge me. At the level of interest, arguments like the following may be answered by saying Yes, I suppose she could have been snappier or could have tried to apply her study to your particular utilitarian expectations, but what she did was scholarly and relevant to the field. As academics, we attend bureaucratic meetings, listen to student presentations, and consider a wide range of work in progress. Considering X flew across the country, invited by us to speak to us about her current work in progress, I think the principle of charity requires that we expand our expectations and empathetically listen and learn from someone who has clearly invested enormous time and intellectual effort.

X wasn’t very engaging/interesting to me (and I’m interested in rhetoric).

Contrary to these claims of irrelevance or interest, I myself found X’s talk to hit squarely in at least three of our stated emphasis areas, visual rhetoric, the rhetoric of science, and technology. I found it fascinating how what we know (epistemology) depends so greatly on tools and techniques of observation and how what’s believable depends on seeing something with enough detail to be visually compelling.

To put it bluntly, X’s talk was horrible; the speech was too long, and the topic was confusing and boring. I stayed for the talk because I thought it would be rude to leave

At least an honest assessment:

I did not find X’s talk particularly engaging. This is less a comment on the value of the outside speakers, which I enjoy, and more a comment on her presentation style.

and this:

X’s talk was surprisingly not useful. I found her talk to be a squashed version of a much longer talk, which she admitted, and her technical terms (gel electrophoresis) were for the scientific community rather than the rhetorical community. Odd. It was interesting, but not really informative, sort of like seeing an animal you cannot identify as mammal, reptile, bird, etc.

On almost any metric that’s relevant to our program, our mission, our stated emphasis areas, I think X was relevant and interesting, and she’s a scholar you are lucky to have seen and met. I certainly do not aim to please any single individual student in the PhD program through these invitations, but rather hope to offer you access to scholars and researchers you have read in your classes. Over your four- or five-year stint with us, you will have met, dined with, and heard influential scholars and theorists who define our field. You cannot simply sit back and say, “well, because my own interests lie solely in Classical Rhetoric, I have no use of hearing professor X talk about Design,” because if you do so, then you’re foregoing an incredibly valuable experience, one that we brought to you while you’re eating lunch. Nothing more than intellectual curiosity is required of you, along with a willingness to engage minds different from your own.

I do not know if this is possible, but I would like to see a more careful screening of speakers. While Y was wonderful, X was absolutely the worst speaker I have heard in some time.

As for this observation, all I can say is that you either haven’t gotten out very much or you’ve been blessed with a statistically unusual exposure to speakers, perhaps TED talks on YouTube or elsewhere. Perhaps you’re seeing only highly polished presentations. Or maybe you’re hearing conventional presentations of survey data. Or maybe you work in a school or industry that has a required stylesheet and presentation style, and thus everything you see has a certain professional sheen attached to it. Maybe you hear only consultants who are paid to deliver pithy and happy maxims to you. I don’t know why X is “absolutely the worst speaker [you] have heard in some time.”

All I can offer by way of rebuttal is the following. I have heard hundreds of academic talks during my time in the Academy, talks covering scores of topics, attempting a number of tight-rope intellectual feats, and aiming at a number of outcomes (research, theory, ideas, history, data, and so on). And I would put the visit by our esteemed visitor X in the top quartile. It was heartfelt, intelligently researched, and highly relevant for the field in general and our program specifically.

Given that the majority of us work, or seek to work, in institutions of scholarship (some of it esoteric and marginal to our own personal interests), I would argue that you need to see more of this type of presentation, not less of it. I myself (and I realize I’m committing the fallacy of the individual taste that I just belittled) would rather see presentations in the ratio of 2 of professor X to 1 of the pithy and entertaining consultant Y. Which is not to say that we won’t continue to invite a wide range of speakers, but rather to say that the world is large (and so is our discipline), and I find it astounding that some of you would be so quick to dismiss one corner of this discipline just because it was too lengthy or didn’t appeal to your particular needs, especially when we brought this expert to you, requiring nothing of you but a willingness to learn about this corner of our discipline.

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Graduate TCR Courses for 2011-12

Posted by Joyce on November 5, 2010

Online summer 2011 fall 2011 spring 2012
5375 Kimball (workshop) 5363 Cargile Cook 5364 Kemp (classical rhet)
5388 Carter (workshop) 5369 Carter (philoso-tech) 5385 Dragga
5365 Rice (workshop) 5371 Booher 5377 Kimball (Visual Rhet)
5377 Barker (Risk) 5377 Rickly (Alt Rhet)
5377 Zdenek (Rhet-Sound)
5376 Baehr 5372 Baake 5365 Zdenek (style)
53?? Lang 5373 Baehr 5366 Kimball
53?? Kemp 5383 Eaton 5390 Koerber
53?? Booher 5387 Baehr
On-Campus summer 2011 fall 2011 spring 2012
5377 Rice (Media/Theatre) 5060 Kemp 5382 Koerber
5387 Still 5384 Baake
5371 Cargile Cook 5390 Zdenek
5364 Kemp (classical rhet) 5373 Baehr
5369 Booher (philoso-tech) 5388 Still
5363 Rickly 5383 Eaton

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