Friday, February 26, 2010

How Do You Know You're Doing Significant Work?

“Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtle; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend.” – Francis Bacon

Last week, we were pleased to host Dr. Hugh Burns at CSU-Pueblo. He visited English 304 (Advanced Rhetoric) and the graduate level Theories of Writing class. In both classes, I provided students a copy of Dr. Burns's 20-year-anniversary of Computers and Composition article, "Four Dimensions of Significance: Tradition, Method, Theory, and Originality." And, in the 304 class, he discussed the article directly with students (Vol 21:1, 5-13). It was a great way to cap-off midterm week, and it was a great reminder for me that I belong to a rich, rhetorical tradition... it's a tradition that I'm pleased to be opening up for my students now too.

Though there's much that I'd like to say here as I send Burns back home to Texas and TWU, instead, I'll leave it to my students to share their insights.. on Burns, on his article, on the scholarly tradition of which they've become a part. --DR. SOUDER

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Attention, Thunderpups! Welcome, Dr. Hugh Burns...

As I sit here beside a roaring fire, enjoying this Thursday evening, watching the snow quickly cover my yard, I'm contemplating the week (nearly) behind me. What's more, even as I'm contemplating the successes and failures I enjoyed week six, and I'm thinking of the ways week seven (bahwahahahaah... "MIDTERM WEEK!") will exceed my highest expectations. Most of all, I'm thinking about Hugh Burns -- my mentor, my confidant, my good friend -- and the knowledge and experience he shared with me when I was his student and the knowledge he'll share with my students in the week ahead.

Yes, Professor Papu (aka Hugh Burns) will be on the CSU-Pueblo campus next week for several bits of administrative/training business. But, on Tuesday, he'll spend the day having lunch with my Advanced Rhetoric undergraduates (they'll pick his brain about the future of rhetorical studies and the rich and complex history of the field), and that evening, he'll enjoy midterm presentations (high stakes!) from my graduate Theories of Writing students -- followed by, perhaps, some beverages and feasting afterwards for a few hearty souls!

In the meantime, ENG 304 -- gear up for your midterm! On Friday, I'll be posting copies of all your weekly "check-ups" here: _____. And, here's a great, useful copy of the "History of the Western World, According to Souder, in 60 Minutes."

Now, ENG 501 students... you'll be posting (in lieu of your normal 3 weekly responses to your peers) a single response here this week. Your response is simple: ask Dr. Burns a question -- or give him a detailed topic you'd like to hear more about. This requires, as we discussed in class on Tuesday, some research on your part. But, never fear! You're in luck... I've done the research for you. Simply scroll down to last week's post on Hugh Burns. It's all there for you... Posts are due by Sunday at 11pm MDT. --DR. SOUDER

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Of Debates, Family Trees, and Parodies of the Classroom...

"If you're going to write about.... talk about things that are as old as mankind, you have to find a new, fresh way to make people interested..." Pete Hamill, Novelist, Journalist

Today, the first of my graduate students headed out to Albuquerque, New Mexico to present at the SW/TX Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference. This is the first year that I won’t be attending with them, and so I’m thinking about all their hard work and their potential for such great things – even as I pack for my own trip. Tomorrow morning, I’ll head out to Denton, Texas with five of my closest friends, favorite colleagues, and best First Year Composition instructors I know. We’re off to attend the Federation Rhetoric Symposium (FRS), hosted by Texas Woman’s University, a conference that I had the honor to chair twice (in 2006 and again 2008 with the co-chairing skills of my dearest friend, Dr. Rochelle Gregory). The FRS has featured plenary speakers such as Wayne Booth, Richard Enos, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Kenneth Burke, Stephen Toulmin, and James Kinneavy. This year, the speaker is Dr. Patricia Bizzell, past president of the Rhetoric Society of America.

Though our little group’s “number six” (Dorothy! We miss you already!) will be staying here to hold down the fort, so to speak (oh, and finishing an amazing stage managing gig for Sweeney Todd), the rest of us – Isaac Sundermann, Constance Little, Gillian Collie, Jason Saphara, and Kevin Van Winkle, and I – will be presenting a roundtable discussion titled “Toward a New 21st-Century Pedagogy: Consistency, Collaboration, and Civic Discourse in First Year Composition Programming.”  If you hadn’t guessed, I’m excited to head back “home” and talk about the astounding things we’re accomplishing in our program at CSU-Pueblo.

Obviously, I have a lot I'd like to continue to think about and discuss in today's blog, but what's more important is that I have a lot I must cover. In this case the "musts" win, and so I'll keep my comments, from here on out, short and to the point on this beautiful Colorado morning. "Doubtful," you say??? No. Watch and be amazed as the wonderful and wise Dr. Donna Souder uses her skills of rhetoric for good! Bahhhwahahaha...

Yesterday, my amazing undergraduates had a debate. The resolution they addressed was as follows: Socrates was not a real person; he was a fictional character in Aristophanes, Xenophon, and Plato’s collective, literary imagination.

Some of you who follow me on Facebook know that this lesson emerged (earlier than planned) as the result of one student’s sincere inquiry: “Dr. Souder, if we only ‘know’ Socrates through Plato’s dialogues, how do we know he’s not a figment of Plato’s imagination?” It was great question from a wonderful student and one that was certainly worthy of more class discussion. From this ingle question, I began a mini-version of a longer “Socratic Problem” lecture, and my students were asked to take it from there. I divided them, randomly, into 2 large groups. Next, following the classical model of argumentation (exordium, narratio, partitio, and so on), they had one day to prepare and present their assigned sides in the argument (we flipped a coin, if you wondered). Each section was worth a certain number of points (the exordium was only 5, for example, while the narratio was worth 10), and we had two guest judges (Gillian Collie and Dorothy Heedt) who took notes, asked questions at the end, and, I think, thoroughly enjoyed themselves. After about 30 minutes of discussion among the 3 judges, we each tallied our points – which left me to tally the other points won and lost this morning.

The other points were awarded and tallied by me, and each side earned (or lost) points for calling out the other side’s use of logical, ethical, or emotional fallacies (red herrings, bandwagon appeals, slippery-slope, etc). I didn’t deduct points if a group was, justly, called out. Instead, I awarded points (1) for each fallacy pointed out, and I deducted points (2) if the fallacy called out was incorrectly – or, in some cases, when the calling out led to its own fallacy. Also, please note that, this time, we didn’t “judge” any speaker or either group on strength of speaking style or general presentation skills (that’ll be debate #2!). Here are some thoughts from our judges:

“I was very impressed by the way that your arguments were presented. I found myself shifting my perspective back and forth based on the tones that you took, which shifted appropriately from serious to slightly sardonic, at times with a sense of urgency. Never once did it seem that one side was mocking the other, which can happen easily in shorter, timed debates. In addition, the research you conducted in a short period of time was very effective, the con group's use of the 30 tyrants was particularly interesting, and the argument that Socrates was a constructed scapegoat was very convincing. At the same time, the con group's use of Socrates' methodology as justification for the lack of written records was a good choice. If you were to continue this debate, these are ideas I think you could develop.” –Dorothy Heedt

“I was impressed by the students' professionalism.  On the con side, I especially liked the mention that Socrates appears in three separate texts by three separate authors.  On the pro side, I really liked the idea that the "character" was used as a scapegoat for Plato...  Well done!”
–Gillian Collie

Nice, huh? So, without further ado, here’s how the points broke down, after the debate, but before I tallied the fallacies this morning (I’ll forgo a more specific play-by-play until class next week)…

“Pro” group = 18 points; “Con” group = 22 points.

BUUUUTTT…after the fallacies were tallied?

“Pro” group = 21 points; “Con” group = 20 points.

So, the winner? The group that affirmed the resolution! It was an interesting outcome, for sure. The negative side definitely had the upper hand at the end of the classical-styled argument (it was close, and they risked a LOT by calling out as many as a dozen fallacies), but, in the end, the affirmative side kept it simple and won.

Now, on to the biggie, the PRIZE… Homework.

Winning side, take a rest! You did well, and you’re being rewarded for your efforts.

Con side? You guys did an AMAZING job, and so, no textbook homework this week for you either. Instead, I’ll ask your side to simply write a substantive response (250-300 words) to this blog before Sunday at 11pm. What did you think of the debate experience? Would you like to do this again? If I made you switch sides, how would you approach the “affirmative” argument differently that yesterday’s group did?

Yes, it’s a little vacation for everyone… bravo! I’ll see everyone in class next Thursday; and, in the meantime, get to work with your team members on ideas/brainstorming for the pedagogy project. I’ll be in my office all day on Tuesday – if you have any questions. You know, about anything.

Graduate Students, English 501…
we had an equally interesting class last night. I promised I’d share a funny parody with them here, one we discussed in class, created by students in a Mass Communications class at the University of Denver. It’s mimics television’s “The Office” style for the  camera work, and it pokes fun at teachers who talk about technology in classes but who fail to really encourage or use technology themselves in those same classes.

So, we talked about technology in the classroom (pedagogies!) and we discussed Richard Enos’s thoughts on reclaiming rhetorical research. Indeed, what does primary research look like – what could it look like – in a class such as ours? To this end, we talked, at length, about the upcoming work they’d all be doing on the rhetorical genealogy of the CSU-Pueblo English faculty. They’re working in small groups in order to explore (and create!) a sort of writing theories “family tree.” These students are being influenced by the graduate faculty in our department, but our graduate faculty were influenced by a number of influential academics, and, I argue, we’re all interconnected in a myriad of ways. It’s a way to make rhetoric – real, live, working rhetoric and writing – come alive, and, I hope, allows my students to see how they have become an integral part of a rich and vibrant history of academia.

This project will require a number of interviews, several emails, and perhaps a phone call or two, and, in the end, we’ll create (on the jumbo board outside my office) a visual representation of the projects findings. This means, not only will they have to do a lot of work within their small groups, but the entire class will be talking, thinking, and making connections -- together. I imagine, when we all come together to share our findings, that we’ll have a scene not too different from the floor of the NY Stock Exchange. “TWU! TWU!” “Kinneavy! Booth!” “Chicago, 1923!”

Later today, I’ll be posting the updated, and complete, Theories of Writing reading list, so make sure to check back! The link/document will be right here: ENG 501 READINGS CALENDAR (Revised 2-11-10)

In the meantime, have a great day, safe travels, and remember to use your skills of rhetoric for good and never evil. –DR. DONNA

Friday, February 5, 2010

Credibility, Reason, and Passion in an Age of Global Uncertainty: Hugh Burns, Ph.D.

"We who study rhetoric define, explain, and predict the purposes, audiences, and techniques of written, spoken, and visual discourse. We investigate how texts and signs are used and abused in constructing meanings, identities, and knowledge. We study the very ideas of credibility, reason, and passion in an age of global uncertainty." --Hugh Burns

I am delighted to announce that the English Department and First Year Composition Program (FYC) at CSU-Pueblo will be hosting my former professor, mentor, and dear friend, Dr. Hugh Burns, the week of February 22nd. He'll spend the early part of the week reading, interviewing, and offering feedback as our external reviewer for the comprehensive "MA in English Program Review" that, as graduate faculty, we've been busily working to complete for almost a year. It is a comprehensive, 100-page, self-study -- one that is full of recommendations, current student and alumni feedback, program statistics, program problems, program successes, student research, and much, much more. In addition to all the feedback he'll provide on our MA Program Review, we're also privileged to have him conduct a training workshop for all our FYC instructors. He'll do a sort of "Rhetoric Boot-Camp," and connect it to current methodologies for "authentic assessment." We're excited to see what he shares with us, and if any of you are around, and are interested, email me, and I'll wrangle you an invitation too!

Of course, while he's here, we'll also enjoy having him speak to the English 501 (Theories of Writing) students, and (if we're really lucky!) to the Advanced Rhetoric undergrads. Put on your best rhetoric people! Start the pleading now! In the meantime, I want to tell you a few interesting tid-bits about Dr. Burns. Sure. I could tell you what an interesting, wonderful man Hugh Burns is (ahem -- he is), but, instead, why don't you check out his Texas Women's University web site, HBurns at TWU, for yourself? Yep, he studied under James Kinneavy at the University of Texas, broke bread with Wayne Booth, and counts Cynthia Selfe among his BFFs. In fact, Dr. Selfe and Dr. Burns collaborated as recently as 2009, when Burns was able to spend a well-earned sabbatical as a member of Ohio State University's Visiting Scholars in Digital Media and Composition at the OSU Department of English.

While he was at OSU, the students shot a short video in which they asked Burns to talk about his entrée into the fields of Rhetoric and Technology in the 1970s, the ways in which those scholarly pursuits are still morphing into new and innovative multimodal opportunities, and how his experiences at OSU proved to him that HE was an "episodic, collaborative narrative." Awesome! Watch the video here: Burns at OSU. And, if you're really interested in the ways in which these most recent academic experiences are continuing to shape his ever-evolving pedagogy, you can peruse his personal "Apple Cloud" here: Hugh Tube Productions. The first video, "Reflections on Global Learning," opens with my friend, Marc Azard, a Ph.D. student at TWU, discussing technology, memory, and his role as a "21st century student...". Those of you who know me best probably aren't suprised to hear that I fully intend to appropriate Dr. Burns' techniques and create our own digital reflection for the upcoming study abroad trip to Germany, The Czech Republic, and Poland. Are you ready for your close-ups, Jazmine, Amanda and Jean-Luc?

So, gear up -- a TWU Pioneer is headed to greet the CSU-Pueblo Thunderpups!

Start thinking now. What questions will YOU ask a real, live, walkin', talkin' rhetorician? --DR. SOUDER

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Argumentation & Pedagogical Development: Hunters or Farmers?

"Who are you hiring? Competing against? Teaching?"--Seth Godin

This morning, I intended to blog about one of my favorite classroom resources,, but instead, I got distracted by a short little article on a new blog I've been reading. The author, Seth Godin, is a rhetorician (

Okay, so I don't really know if Seth would describe himself in those terms (did I mention that, unlike a lot of the other bloggers I follow, I don't actually know Seth?). For all I know, Seth has never seen that super-cool American Rhetoric web site or even heard the word "rhetoric" (except from the poor 'ole White House, who, you know uses "rhetoric" too much most days) [insert sarcastic tone here]. But, as a business leader, as an author, as entrepreneur, heck -- even as blogger! -- I feel like Seth "gets" the real-world (yeah, yeah, I hate this phrase too -- more on that in a future blog) applications of many of the issues I've been discussing in both my Advanced Rhetoric class and my Theories of Writing graduate class. If I was unconvinced before, today's blog made it clear that he sees the practical purposes of knowing, using, deconstructing kairos in any rhetorical situation.

My rhetoric students are gearing up this week to debate, using all their strategies of classical argumentation, the "Socratic Problem," and my grad students are thinking pedagogically, as they blog about the "Emergence of a Field" (Writing Instruction) and the ways in which their own pedagogies serve as a reaction to or against some of the key theories in writing instruction. The amazing undergrads are turning theory into practice -- as they try their hand at a real life argument -- one that, I'm sure, will be full of ethical, emotional, and logical fallacies, and even a red herring or two (Meagan's purple shoes or sweet baby seals??). And, this week, the grad students are thinking critically about Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer's, Research in Written Composition, Chaim Perelman's, Social Contexts of Argumentation, Ken Macrorie's, Telling Writing, Sharon Crowley's, The Evolution of Current-Traditional Rhetoric, and many, many more.

So, what, you might ask, does any of this regular scholarly stuff have to do with my good buddy, Seth? Well, today, on his blog, business-man Seth set up an interesting paradigm using the idea "farmers versus hunters." Now, I'm not even sure if Seth was the first to use this concept, but I like the way he explains it. He uses this construct in order to talk about the ways in which people interact with one another -- the ways in which we learn -- the ways in which we view the world. He writes, "Farmers spend time sweating the details, worrying about the weather, making smart choices about seeds and breeding and working hard to avoid a bad crop. Hunters, on the other hand, have long periods of distracted noticing interrupted by brief moments of frenzied panic." He goes on to provide a number of good examples (e.g.: "George Clooney and James Bond are both fictional hunters. Give them a desk job and they freak out"), and he connects each of these examples to technology, knowledge, even larger epistemic concerns. Yes, and even Seth admits that these categories may be nothing but a "convenient grouping of people's personas," but, like Seth, I see myself in these examples, and [sigh] had to admit that I'm sorta a farmer -- even if some part of me would really, really like to be a hunter.

Whether you're convinced that Seth is on to something or you think he's just another walking, talking, blogging self-promoter who sees the world in terms that are far too simplistic, I think that the more knowledge we gain about people -- the more ideas we encounter that allow us to understand our own habits (good and bad) -- well, all of these merge into one bag of knowledge was can store away until we need it. In the meantime, consider Seth's paradigm and whether or not, following his examples, you're a hunter or a farmer (or something in between); think about the ways in which you adapt your teaching, speaking, presentation strategies in order to appeal to the most people in both groups... And, if you think it's all utter nonsense, well, email Seth -- not me, mmm-k? --DR. SOUDER