Rhetoric & Writing Portfolio Michael Wojcik 2008

In 2008 I completed my second semester of coursework in the DRPW program. Though I was only able to take one semester of classes this year, I feel I made significant progress in my understanding of rhetoric broadly and digital rhetoric in particular. My two conference presentations let me begin to circulate my work in digital rhetoric and establish an academic identity as a developer of software for computational rhetoric.

Secondary but still noteworthy work in 2008:

Coursework

In Spring 2008, I took WRA410, Advanced Web Authoring, with Mike McCloud. My professional work in IT focusses on back-end technologies, so this was a rare opportunity for me to study user interface design and implementation. It also served as an introduction to visual rhetoric. My work in that course led to my Multiuser Bibliography web application and provided the background for my work on the Feminisms and Rhetorics 2009 online proposal and registration system.

My other course for Spring 2008 was an independent study in visual rhetoric, taken jointly with Kristen Flory and supervised by Danielle Devoss. We combined a survey of the field with readings in specific area of interest. Mine was color, and the result was my annotated color bibliography. The independent study also led to a joint presentation on color and typography in presidential candidate websites at the Watson conference in October, which I'll be reprising at CCCC this March.

With those two courses I expanded my understanding of rhetorical theory to include some aspects of digital and visual rhetoric. And as I've already noted, they provided the foundation for a number of public projects — conference presentations and the FemRhet conference system.

Major Projects

Multiuser Bibliography

In last year's portfolio I included design materials for my WRA410 project, Multibib (Multiuser Bibliography). The finished application is now available. You can browse, search, and read entries without signing in; anyone who wants to try the add, edit, and comment functions can sign in as user reader@tempuri.org, with password test.

Search for “Dolores Labs” to see an entry with some comments. If you use the advanced-search form (rather than the quicksearch box) and uncheck the “Show current entries only” option, you'll also see how Multibib keeps all versions of an entry as it's edited.

Color Bibliography

One of two major projects for the Visual Rhetoric independent study was an annotated bibliography of materials related to the rhetoric of color, and color theory in general. (A number of the works from this bibliography became the test data for the MultiBib project, exported from Zotero in BiBTeX format, converted with a custom awk script to SQL, and inserted into the database.)

Candidates, Color, and Type

The other major Visual Rhetoric project was a collaborative conference proposal (with Kristen Flory), initially to the Watson conference and then to CCCC. The proposal was accepted for both conferences. I discuss the actual presentation below.

FemRhet 2009 Web Applications

Late in the year, I stepped in to develop two online applications for the FemRhet 2009 conference web site: the system for submitting proposals for conference papers and panels, and the system for conference registration and payment. The proposal system went live in December, though it's still being enhanced. The registration system will come online once final decisions have been made about fee schedules, sometime in early 2009.

Conference Presentations

Computers & Writing

At Computers & Writing 2008 I presented Estimating Ethos (PDF), a demonstration of the work (in progress) I began in last year's independent study. As part of that presentation I demonstrated the software; there's also a screencast of that.

Watson Conference

Candidates, Color, and Type (Powerpoint, about 9.5 MB), written and presented with Kristen Flory, argued for the importance of typograpy and color in visual rhetoric, and looked specifically at official presidential-candidate websites for examples.

Since this was a presentation on visual rhetoric, and on the rather aggressive visual rhetoric of political candidates at that, we deliberately made this presentation quite flashy, with animated and rather over-decorated slides. I'm considering converting it to a Flash video with voice-over so viewers can get the whole effect. The audience seemed to enjoy it — we got quite a lot of positive feedback.

Rather than simply read the web pages passively, as static texts, we used some Greasemonkey scripts that I wrote to manipulate the fonts and colors on the pages during the presentation. I have a couple of screencasts that demonstrate the sort of things we did.

For this project, I used HTTrack to periodically grab snapshots of the sites we were studying, so that we weren't vulnerable to changing or disappearing sites as candidates updated their web image or dropped from the race, and so we could do historical comparisons.

Also, this was Kristen's first presentation at an academic conference, and in fact her first time attending an academic conference. (In fact, before we presented she had never seen an academic conference presentation, because we went first on our panel, and she hadn't had an opportunity to visit any other panels prior to it.) So for me this was an opportunity to mentor another graduate student, which was gratifying.

Other Professional and Scholarly Activity

Some other items of note:

Reflecting on the Year's Progress

For a year in which I only took two classes — and one of those an independent study — 2008 saw considerable progress. I made my first two conference presentations in rhetoric, and my first joint presentation. I had four successful conference proposals and one unsuccessful (but still useful) chapter proposal. I significantly expanded my knowledge of contemporary rhetorical theory, particularly in visual and digital rhetorics.

Perhaps even more importantly, I feel that in 2008 I really began to participate in the rhetorical scholarly community. Conference presentations are a great opportunity to formalize and circulate ideas, but I get much more feedback from informal conference events — meals, receptions, parties, even idle hallway chatter. Through conference socializing I'm building a network of academic contacts outside the program. And I'm spending more time in forums like the Techrhet list.