Rhetoric & Writing Portfolio Michael Wojcik 2009

2009 was a busy and productive year for me. I completed three courses (AL882, WRA415, and WRA417) and an internship toward my DRPW degree, putting me close to finishing coursework. I presented at two conferences (ATTW and CCCC), eliciting a couple of requests to submit related pieces for publication—something I hope to do this year. Best of all, between classwork, the internship, and my work for the Feminisms & Rhetorics conference, I produced a wide range of work in several modes and genres. Some of these continued in my established interests in areas such as critical theory; others helped me continue to explore the field which I believe will be most prominent for me in the next few years, which I'm calling computational rhetoric.

Secondary but still noteworthy work in 2009:

Coursework

In Spring 2009, I took AL882, Contemporary Rhetorical Theory, with Dean Rehberger. Critical theory was one of my fields in my previous grad-student life, but it's the sort of field one can never exhaust (or really do more than sample), so AL882 was only occasionally a refresher and more often a welcome chance to broaden my knowledge in the area and engage with the other scholars in the course. For this course I did not produce any one large piece of work, since it focussed on discussion and the exchange of ideas, but I did create a number of short pieces (such as my wiki entries on Postclassicism and The Unconscious) that were useful to me and hopefully might be useful to other readers, a rhetorical reading that was at least a good exercise, and one rather provisional but, I think, potentially interesting project, my Artickle web application.

The Fall semester featured the one-two punch of WRA415, Digital Rhetoric, with John Monberg; and WRA417, Multimedia Authoring, taught by Bump Halbritter. This was no doubt my busiest semester in the program to date, with two regular classes, work, and the tail end of FemRhet and my WIDE work. But it was well worth the effort: I'm significantly further forward in my program, and I'm very excited about the work I did this semester. There was too much in those two classes to go into details here; instead, see my individual pages for WRA415 and WRA417. A couple of projects of particular interest are listed below.

On the whole, then, a full and sometimes rather frantic year. However, it was the first time I was able to take classes from two of my committee members (and for my internship I worked with the third), and it gave me opportunities to explore both old interests (such as critical theory) and new areas (user research and multimedia).

Internship

In the spring I also took my required internship, with WIDE. (My work with WIDE actually started in November of the previous year and extended into October 2009, because of the demands of the FemRhet conference.) I had, of course, worked informally on WIDE projects previously, and the independent study I took in Fall 2007 that led to the Estimating Ethos project was based on a research question from WIDE. This internship, though, gave me a chance to focus on working with WIDE for a few months.

I worked on three main areas:

I go into all of these in more detail in my reflection on my internship, Working at Working at WIDE.

Major Projects

After such a busy year, I have quite a number of projects that I'd like to discuss (and continue developing), but I've tried to choose just a few representative ones for this section.

FemRhet

The FemRhet website was the major finished project of my WIDE internship. I discuss it in more detail in the internship reflection. Basically, it's a combination of static content and web application, the latter a fairly straightforward set of PHP scripts driving a MySQL database. It does have some nice features for proposal reviewing (an online review system and an automated mechanism for assigning reviewers to proposals), conference administration (various views of data and so forth), and a link to the college's online payment system.

Artickle

My final AL882 project was an experimental web text / application about postclassicism Postclassicism artickle built using a framework I'm calling Artickle. Artickle (a portmanteau of "article" and "tickle") is an experiment in "ergodic nonfiction" or "user-hostile design": technical documents that require the user to work in order to extract information. Artickle is a dynamic "ideotope", or idea-space, which allows (forces) the reader to reconfigure each view in order to move among related ideas or drill down for more detail.

The current version of Artickle deliberately lacks any help system; the reader is expected to find its affordances by experimentation, as in many video games. It also uses a deliberately confrontational visual style. (Future plans include other, less glaring styles.)

The Postclassicism artickle doesn't currently have a great deal of content. Eventually I'd like to update it to include all the information that's in my Wiki article.

OMA Personas

I worked on a number of projects for WRA415, but the one I've decided to include in the portfolio was the group project for the first half of the semester. My group (which included fellow program students Franny Howe and Laura Logan, and undergraduates Andrea Alburtus, Ian Boyle, and Christine Haynes) was assigned the task of creating personas for further design work on the Our Michigan Ave website.

The group did extensive research, including community interviews, and developed four personas to represent typical site users. Our final report (14MB Word document, 56 pages including illustrations) is a substantial design document that discusses methodology, data, and analysis, as well as presenting the personas themselves. (We also provided the persona sheets printed on 11x17 poster paper and mounted on foamboard, which proved quite useful during the remainder of the semester.) I think it compares well to anything similar I've seen in academia or business.

I edited the final report document, and did the majority of writing on a number of sections, but this was a genuine collaborative effort.

Speech Made Visible

WRA417, a course that emphasizes experimentation with new media and genres, saw the production of numerous — if generally rather rough and amateurish — projects. I still find them all interesting (not to mention entertaining), despite their faults.

The one I'm including here, though, is the final project, another group effort, called Speech Made Visible. Matt Penniman, Chris Huang, and I, following Matt's original proposal, built a web application to explore rendering print text in ways that captures some of the prosodic features of speech — pitch, speed, and intensity. The analysis and rendering are (partly) automated, to make the system accessible to users who aren't expert designers or speech analysts.

We've open-sourced SMV on SourceForge, and we'll be presenting on it at Edges in February.

Minor Projects

There are a number of other projects which might be worth mentioning in passing, though no one should feel compelled to read them.

For AL882 I created entries in the theory collection of the Information Habitat Wiki for Postclassicism and Unconscious.

I have separate descriptions of my various WRA 415 projects and WRA 417 projects, but a few are worth mentioning separately. In Personas' Progress and Redesigning Home (Before the Holidays) the reflections for the two WRA415 group projects, I consider the group dynamics and processes in those two efforts.

Similarly, in my reflection for the SMV project in WRA417, Trial Flight, I look at how that group project developed; but I focus primarily on how programming projects in particular evolve.

In my first project for WRA417, The Code Show, I returned to the problem I raised in my ATTW presentation: how do we address the human audience for software source code? The Code Show is a collection of attempts to explain a piece of source — the code for TextMill / Ethos Estimator, software that I developed during my first WIDE-related independent study and presented at Computers & Writing 2008.

One interesting aspect of The Code Show is that a significant portion of the "text" was automatically generated using an ad hoc toolchain I assembled (as explained here). I used a similar approach in producing the "improprietography" for my mashup project in that class; I collected citation information in a simple plain-text format, then built a toolchain that turned it into an HTML document. Of course technical writing scholars have already had much to say about this sort of technique, for example in single-sourcing different genres from the same content. But I believe digital rhetoricians also should be attending to semi-automated document production approaches like these, and they arguably should be part of the curriculum for digital-media writers as well.

One final item that might be of interest is the short presentation I gave to John Monberg's TC491 class on agile programming, a topic which also figured prominently in my WIDE internship. The linked version is a narrated, self-timed PowerPoint presentation (29MB).

Conference Presentations

Writing Code (ATTW)

At the ATTW 2009 conference I gave a presentation titled Writing Code (. I began with one of the dominant issues of software development: most of the resources consumed by software development are consumed not in creating new programs, but in maintaining existing ones. And of that cost, much (perhaps the largest part) of it goes to programmers reading and interpreting the existing code. In other words, a significant portion of the cost of developing software is reading code. And that means that a large part of being a programmer is actually being a technical writer.

I looked at historical attempts to make code more readable, from the first programming languages through code annotation and up to Knuth's Literate Programming. Then I had some suggestions for how technical-writing teachers could help.

Candidates, Color, and Type (CCCC)

Candidates, Color, and Type (Powerpoint, about 9.5 MB) is a presentation on visual rhetoric on the web, written with Kristen Flory and originally presented with her at Watson 2008 (see last year's portfolio for more information). I presented it again at CCCC 2009; originally Kristen planned to come for that as well, but as it happened she was not able to attend. CCT argues for the importance of typograpy and color in visual rhetoric, and looked specifically at official presidential-candidate websites for examples.

As at Watson, this presentation went over quite well; I had a number of questions and comments from the audience, and an editor for the Writing Spaces series of open-source textbooks suggested we might want to adapt it into a chapter for them.

Upcoming Conference Presentations

I had four proposals accepted for conferences in 2010.

For the college's Edges conference, I submitted a joint proposal with Matt Penniman and Chris Huang to show Speech Made Visible. We proposed a poster session where we'll have two laptops, one running Chris' short documentary film about the project, and the other running the SMV application itself so attendees can see it in practice.

For ATTW, I was part of a panel proposal Matt Penniman submitted to talk about the Our Michigan Ave project. I'll be focusing on the use of agile programming techniques in the writing classroom, based on my agile programming presentation for John's TC491.

I proposed two papers for Computers & Writing, and (somewhat to my surprise) they were both accepted:

Reflecting on the Year's Progress

2009 was probably my most productive year as a DRPW student. I significantly improved the depth of my knowledge of some areas, such as critical theory (in AL882, for example in my wiki pieces on Postclassicism and the unconscious) and web applications (through my work on the FemRhet and Our Michigan Ave sites). At the same time, my breadth as a digital rhetor expanded tremendously with my forays into rhetorical software (Artickle, Speech Made Visible, and the one-off scripts I wrote to generate documents such as Used Without Permission), software studies (Writing Code, Boring Information, and The Code Show), user research (WRA415), and multimedia (WRA417).

It was also a good year for collaborative work. In my WIDE internship, I worked with Bill and Mike on the WIDE development environment and procedures, with John and Matt Katzenberger on the initial OMA site, and with the FemRhet committee on the FemRhet site. In WRA415, I worked with one group to develop personas for site usability research, and with another on proposing improvements to the site's visual identity. For my WRA417 final project I worked with Matt Penniman and Chris Huang on the SMV project.

My greatest obstacle in 2009 was distraction; with so much going on, I've accumulated many interesting projects that are just in their infancy. In 2010, with no coursework, I'm hoping to perform some triage and select a few of those to really develop. I'll also be planning the endgame for my degree, and if I go with the thesis option (as now looks likely), I'll be working on that as well, fixing the topic and drafting my argument. Of course, first I need to take care of the four conference presentations I've lined up for the first third of the year. And I also have ongoing commitments to the OMA website and to WIDE development, outstanding requests to submit articles, and other interesting opportunities. Boredom, at least, doesn't look likely to be a problem.