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Don’t read, skim!

Hi everyone! I hope you’re all doing okay.

I was today years old when I realized that I’ve never formally thought about “skimming” or “scanning” as a teachable reading technique. 

It’s something I’ve done in shame, in “I’m cheating” or “I’m not paying attention to the author” or “I’m skimming this and what if I miss something important and draw the wrong conclusion”

So still to this day, many years into my academic career, I typically pick up a book or an article and read it from start to finish (aka I don’t get as much reading done as I’d like). My grandmother taught me to be a reader and she was very strict about reading cover to cover and never starting a new book before you finish the one you’re reading. 

I wish I had known that wasn’t an *actual* rule in the world and instead just her preference. My reading trajectory would’ve probably been much less stressful.

So now, for those of you who have never been given this gift, I’m going to tell you that skimming and scanning are acceptable and even promoted reading strategies for getting through lots of different texts.

I tried to find a procedure for scanning/skimming that I liked, but they’re all sort of bland and say the same thing. This link was the clearest, simplest, version I could find after an evening of searching. It comes from the University of North Carolina’s Learning Center and it outlines strategies for academic reading.

Full disclosure: I started thinking about scanning/skimming because the article I want you to read on electronic miniaturization is 22 pages (with sources). The article stays on our topic of thinking about disability and technologies that can/should be inclusive. It’s also interesting because it gives a history of how this type of electronic miniaturization was created by disabled people to support their desire for hearing aids.

Please skim/scan the article attached and tell me something new that you find both from the technique of skimming/scanning and about electronic miniaturization.

“The Accessibility Gap for Tech Users and Developers”

So the delay in getting this module out to you all, is that there’s a lot in it that needs to be unpacked. In this module we’re focusing on ChemE PhD student Emily Ackerman’s experience being on the inaccessible side of electrical engineering (delivery robots).

Please watch Emily’s presentation which breaks down the initial incident and then goes deeper to explain the structural inequalities that exist for disabled individuals. Emily’s story really spans the field of engineering from civil (how do we create our accessible sidewalk ramps?) to electrical, and probably bits of all the rest woven in there. 

I want you to think about Emily’s experience and come up with some considerations for how you might take diverse human experiences into account with whichever field you’ve chosen to study in.If you can’t watch the entire video, please watch the introduction and then pick another one of the chapters to comment on. 

The additional chapters are:

  • How is technology actively inaccessible?
  • How are accessible solutions so actively inaccessible? 
  • How can people with disabilities still be so far behind?
  • Access to tech and education has always been historically limited
  • The ADA + The Result: Air Transportation
  • The present is scary therefore the future is scarier
  • Poor representation is caused by inaccessibility
  • The solution is positive feedback
  • The industry must diversify
  • The industry must slow down
  • Education must become more accessible
  • This is a temporary problem

I will offer some of my own comments in Slack because I also haven’t been able to watch this entire presentation and I want to make sure that I give it the attention it deserves.

Please comment by the end of the week. Thanks everyone!

“Under Sampled Majority”

Hey all!

We’re almost halfway through the semester (I think) and we’ve been deliberately taking our time. Please DM me if you need any support or feel lost or just want to say hello. I’m here for you and want this asynchronous space to still feel human.

I want to jump back into thinking critically about the fields inside engineering. This goes for everyone, but especially for Computer Science majors — have you considered the ways in which your field has bias? the ways your field has a profound impact on how society is shaped?

I’m not sure if these questions are being raised in your Grove courses (I hope they are! Tell me if they are!) and since we’re considering both rhetoric and composition, these questions must be taken into account. 

For this week, I would like you to watch this 13 minute talk by Dr. Joy Buolamwini about facial recognition and the effects when the sample set skews white and male.

For the module comment, I would like you to consider the following:

Take note of 2-3 rhetorical issues Dr. Buolamwini raises that speak to you. For me, it was her reframing of the “under-sampled majority” as a way to think about who is represented in most technological spaces and who is erased. So often we say “minority” when speaking about the people of the global majority who are not white and that set standard creates an intentional bias which has real implications (think policing, thinking community funding, think incarceration rates)

Have you ever considered algorithmic bias when using your devices?

What are some ways we can shift the dominant data set?

If you have an experience of algorithmic bias that you want to share, I welcome it in this space but it is not required. Or if you want to add your experience to Dr. Buolamwini, I think that would be fantastic.

Thanks everyone for staying engaged and enjoy the rest of your week!

What do engineers write?

Hi everyone! Thank you for all of your thoughtful responses on the previous module.

The plan for today: 

Transparency: what is writing for engineering?

Consideration: What’s *actually* writing for engineering in your field?

Explore: Let’s find examples of what you might “write” or communicate within your respective field.

So I alluded to this a bit in the last module but I want to slow down and kind of consider the implications of this course and how it’s based on assumptions. Our departments decide what’s best for you to know, instead of asking what you want to learn. This matters because it means you’re paying for courses and an education that becomes largely preformative when it could be really dynamic. My goal with this course is that maybe you take away one applicable lesson that will serve you going forward. 

Now that I’ve totally dampened the mood lol, let’s get back to writing. There is a whole field of technical writing, writing within a specific genre that *can* be used by engineers. But what I am now seeing, is that the field of technical writing and those who need to write in that academic rhetorical form, is pretty small. 

I am totally unfamiliar with is the *actual* writing that goes on in your specific fields day to day. Do you know what you’ll need to be communicating professionally?

I definitely don’t, and when I started looking for examples of professional writing in your field, I realized it’s better for you all to find what’s applicable to you.

This week’s work is going to require some digging. I want you to 

  • find a sample of professional writing or communication from your respective field (electrical, chemical, biomedical, civil, computer science, computer, mechanical)
  • assess who the author of this type of writing might be (professional documents can be without attribution and they’re usually co-written).
  • who is the audience the author is writing for (general public, other engineers, co-workers)?
  • what is the author trying to communicate (<— this one is a bit like a summary). In what ways do they successfully communicate their message and in what ways do they not? (You get to critique!)

Andréa, where do I find such a sample? I’m not entirely sure! Some starting points could be: how did you know you wanted to go into the specific type of engineering you chose? Is there an engineer you know or a company that is doing cool things that interests you? Or maybe you follow someone’s YouTube channel. Just find me any artifact of “writing” or communication in your field and critique using the questions listed above.

Next module I will discuss our mid-semester Work In Progress and we will dive back into examining systemic issues within the fields of engineering.

Enjoy the week!

Writing as mimicry

As always, thank you for your patience. I’m getting these modules up as quickly as I can. I’ve never taught the course or content this way so hopefully my slowness will actually be to everyone’s benefit. Plus what even is time?!

Folks! We have so many tools at our disposal to support our writing and I want to share that even I, a professor and academic forget to use them sometimes. This is all to say that you’re all doing great! We’ve got nowhere to get to, we’ll just keep practicing to increase our comfort with writing and thinking.

The tool I forgot and remembered (time loops! fuck linearity!), comes from Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ Undrowned. 

Gumbs uses a rhetorical strategy of identifying a specific writing genre (in this case it’s marine biology guidebooks) and then mirroring (or modeling) after that genre to write in her own type of guidebook. This is a deliberate strategy to expose process and give an example of how a typically dry clinical form can be flipped on its head.

So in the spirit of Alexis Pauline Gumbs, here’s a look into my process: I will start breaking down the learning objectives for each module at the beginning. Today’s topics include:

Transparency about the institutional expectation

Comp/rhet concept of genre

How we can use it WFE

Practice!

I want to give you some background about this course because I *think* it’ll help us think through how we connect with “Writing for Engineering.” WFE is staffed by the English Dept (aka not engineers) and the curriculum is not crafted in collaboration with GSOE. What does this mean for all of you? It means we (I) have to guess what “writing for engineering” is and what is applicable for you all.

So the assumption we’re all making (English Department, Grove, the field of writing for engineering) is that writing like an engineer assumes the rhetoric and style of an academic genre. What do I mean by that? The type of writing you are expected to be proficient at is a very small niche (research articles, lab reports) within the field, and so while it’s good to know about the IMRD (Introduction, Methods, Research, Discussion) sections in an academic text, you probably won’t see any of this beyond your college experience unless you decide to stay in academia. 

But you’re still being asked to write this way in other courses, so we should practice it. Let’s practice though, with the understanding that WFE is a performative genre (like most things in academia).

Which brings us back to the writing concept of genre: the form that we model our writing after; the style we choose to communicate in in order to deliver a particular message. 

Did you know that it is common practice to mimic writing styles in academia? We mimic what people have done before us and change the content. Academics rarely write from scratch. We follow a formula not dissimilar to a math equation. For “technical writing” (and WFE falls under that umbrella), we follow a specific set of moves and steps to communicate our information. 

This is a helpful tool! We can use a formula to make the writing easier. I’m not an engineer, but let’s say that technical writing is similar to fundamentals that you start with in any of your fields: there’s certain code that’s a baseline and you build from there.

Luckily for us, Dr. Budsaba Kanoksilapatham created a worksheet that shows the different moves and steps in a typical academic research paper. Each “move” is the information you’re trying to claim/establish and each “step” is how to support the move. The PDF is attached.

For this week’s assignment, I would like you to go into https://arxiv.org/, an open-access engineering research database, and find an article that is interesting to you. Then I want you to pick one of the four sections outlined by Dr. Kanoksilapatham and note where you see the steps and the moves happening. This is probably better suited to printing out and highlighting, but I don’t expect you to do that, so just figure out a way to show me the moves and steps (screenshot with notes, photo with highlighting). The best place for these to go will probably be into our Google Drive folder. The link to that is on the right side of our course site.

Finally in the comments of this module just write a few sentences about what you found by using this method of search and find.

Next week we’ll take a look at some writing that’s actually happening in the world in your field. Thanks everyone!

Bibliography

Gumbs, Alexis Pauline, and Adrienne Maree Brown. Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals (Emergent Strategy). AK Press, 2020.

Kanoksilapatham, Budsaba. “Rhetorical Structure of Biochemistry Research Articles.” English for Specific Purposes, vol. 24, no. 3, 2005, pp. 269–92. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.esp.2004.08.003.

Okay but what’s writing?

Now we’ve established that there’s bias in science and research because nothing exists in a vacuum; our positionality will always impact the outcomes of our work.

Hi everyone! Thank you for your patience with me getting this week’s module up on our site. I’m going to start a conversation about writing that we will continue with into next week. 

So how does our positionality impact our writing? Our composition style? Our rhetoric? Our faith in our own writing abilities?

I’ve heard from many of you that a goal for this semester is to become a better writer, and my first thought is, who told you you’re not a good writer? Here’s a little secret: engineers are shitty writers! Most academics are shitty writers! Hell, I’m a shitty writer and it’s okay because I write as a way to think through and process what I’m learning. 95% of my writing is never seen, and that’s fine!

I will apologize on behalf of all the people who have told you you can’t write, or made you uncomfortable about your writing. And I’m here to tell you that you’re doing a great job even if your sentence structure is different from the normative expectations (normative is boring af anyway).

And to give full transparency into the academic writing process: all published writing has been through so many editors and drafts that oftentimes the final product bears little resemblance to what was first submitted. And an author who submits a piece *knows* they are submitting a “draft” — final product is not the same as final draft.

As I’ve read through responses to the first module I see people who are thinking through complex concepts and distilling them into something that can be digested in a comment section. This act is composition and rhetoric.

Writing is so much more than the blank document and blinking cursor of doom. What if instead of fixating on final drafts (I know that’s difficult when it’s what’s demanded of you from other classes), we think about writing as a whole kit of tools that support your ability to understand something about the world. Looking something up on wikipedia, reading, researching, jotting down a note. This is all part of the umbrella term writing

Let’s toss out the goal of perfection and play with the messiness that is thinking through something. I’ve written about 15 drafts of this lecture, it’s still late to be published, and it’s still not “perfect”. I’ve been writing it on the train, writing bits down in the kitchen at work, just trying to put a message together that is clear and specific for you all to understand.

For this week, let’s write through/think through some of our writing discomfort and see where we end up. I want you to comment on:

1) where your writing beliefs about your capabilities came from

2) all the ways you write during a day that are not “proper essays” (think text messages, coding, instagram, tiktok)

3) the work/time you put into a submittable assignment (this has taken me probably 10 hours)

Please post this by Monday night 11:59pm. See you again on Tuesday! Thanks everyone!

Science is… neutral?

Keyword themes: positionality, composition form, language structure

This course is about how we construct/compose language (composition) and the means we choose to present these ideas to the world (rhetoric). We will, of course, look at engineering and STS (preferred to STEM) texts, but after teaching this course for five years, I have found some other important avenues that I also want to go down.

So let’s start by establishing a common understanding. I believe that we can never extract our selves from our work, we can never extract our humanness from what we create — as writers/students/engineers/scientists.

Academia at large (and plenty other professional fields) wants to remove the I, remove the self, privileging passive past tense. Scholar Alexis Pauline Gumbs says, “the passive voice is the language of the state. The status quo. The enforced state of being. The problem with the passive past tense is that it obscures the relationship between subjects and action, between what we do and how it impacts other people.The passive past tense is what you read in scientific journal articles, because it allows researchers to “take themselves out of the intimacy of their research towards the illusion of objectivity. Nothing is objective” (Gumbs 9).

So I invite you to consider your positionality. Positionality is concept that comes from Black feminist scholar Patricia Hill Collins, and to summarize: it’s an acknowledgment of how our individual identifiers (race, gender, social class, physical ability, sexual orientation, etc) uniquely shape our persepctives and broadly shape who has access and power in society. 

Why am I bringing up positionality? I’m bringing it up as a sort of antidote to neutrality and objectivity. Last semester, I raised the topic of positionality with my engineering students and received some push back. According to some students in that class, engineers are not concerned with individual positionality because engineers are the ones who follow the instructions, they’re not the inventors, they’re ones behind the scenes, they collaborate to complete a project and the individual is sort of irrelevant.

That conversation definitely challenged my idea of how to proceed with this course. For five years I’ve heard whisper jokes about how there’s only a handful of femme presenting (women) people in the field and in your classes. I have to believe that having a similar or dominant perspective in an entire field impacts the way the field functions.

You might not agree with what the students said in my previous class, or it might be your beliefs exactly. My goal here isn’t to prove those students wrong, but rather to disrupt our understanding of neutrality and objectivity.

Our first reading assignment is Science Under The Scope, a graphic text by Sophie Wang. What Sophie manages to do in this fun and interrogative source, is put into question some of our beliefs around neutrality and how our fields impact the global community. I also chose this text as an example of a scholarly, deeply thoughtful work, that is composed (composition) in a non-traditional manner. You have this freedom too! Similarly to language, prescribed forms for texts (research articles) are another way to “enforce a state of being.” Let’s break the fuck out and envision a new/better way to share ideas. Reminder: for the Public Comment portion of this module, please write a short reflection about your positionality as an STS student and your reaction is to Sophie’s text. Thanks all!

Bibliography

Collins, Patricia Hill, and Hill Patricia Collins. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (Perspectives on Gender). 2nd ed., Routledge, 1999.

Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. “The Problem With The Passive Past Tense.” Black Perspectives, 10 July 2018, www.aaihs.org/the-problem-with-the-passive-past-tense.

  • Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals (Emergent Strategy). AK Press, 2020.

Wang, Sophie. “Science Under the Scope: Full Series.” Free Rads, 25 Feb. 2021, freerads.org/science-scope-full.

Asynchronous Welcome!

Hi! My name is Andréa Stella, I go by Andréa. I use she/her pronouns. 

And this semester I am trying a fully asynchronous course. I think that in both our current pandemic conditions and also late stage capitalism, in person requirements are wholly inaccessible for most students (and me).

This class is about access. This class is about abolition and the pursuit of collective freedom within/from an inherently harmful institution known as academia, or in the words of Bettina Love “the educational survival complex” that is functioning exactly as it is meant to: as an exclusionary and gatekeeping force that is interested primarily in replicating itself. In replicating colonial oppressive structures of whiteness.

Why am I starting off the semester with this conversation, especially in a Writing for Engineering course with you, STS (science, technology, and society) students? Because these questions and conversations of whose voice is privileged, whose voice goes unheard, and how to function within our respective fields (mine being English Composition and Rhetoric, yours being the catch-all of engineering or “undecided”) is irreducibly linked to how we write (composition!) and who we write for (rhetoric!)

I want to quickly draw attention to some points on the syllabus:

  • If you are enrolled in this course, you receive an A. I added a link to the article that gives more details about this pedagogical approach. TL/DR: grades are gatekeeping bullshit with no proof of supporting anyone’s learning. If you have other professor’s who need to get this memo, feel free to share my email with them.
  • We’ll be doing “Works In Progress” (WIPs) over the course of the semester so that you can practice writing and contemplate some abolitionist theory. Since we’ve already established that you’re getting an A for this course, the WIPs are really for your benefit to get more comfortable writing so that you can play the part when a less accommodating professor asks for you to complete a writing assignment.
  • I am disabled, have a full time job at a coffee company, am a PhD student at the Graduate Center, and mother to two young kiddos aka I am as busy as most of you. I will do my best to have the asynch class posted in a timely manner each week and will be using Slack for most of our communication. OH and fuck grind culture, it’s rooted in *you guessed it* white supremacy. We should all be learning from Tricia Hersey’s Nap Ministry and rest as revolutionary praxis.
  • Best way to get in touch with me is a Slack DM, I’m really responsive on it. Emails tend to get lost because CCNY sends so much spam, and I’m a Gemini so I’m historically shitty responder in the best of circumstances.
  • I’m here for you! Let me know how I can support you within or outside of this class! I offer reference letters, resume editing, whatever you need to get on with your life, please ask me.
  • My citations are a demonstrative Black feminist practice, let this be a jump off point to think about what we cite and why.
  • Curiosity Journal: Send me a Slack DM and this first week just give me a quick introduction, if you want to do a 30 second video or something telling me who you are, what year you’re in, what your major is and maybe if/how you’re coping with the pandemic.

Bibliography

Hersey, Tricia. “The Nap Ministry.” The Nap Ministry, thenapministry.wordpress.com. Accessed 23 Aug. 2021.

Kaba, Mariame. “Abolition Is a Collective Vision: An Interview With Mariame Kaba.” The Nation, 2 Apr. 2021, www.thenation.com/article/culture/mariame-kaba-interview-til-we-free-us.

Love, Bettina. We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Beacon Press, 2020.

Reed, Conor Tomás. “A for All (Yes, All!): Transforming Grading during COVID-19.” Medium, 3 May 2020, medium.com/@conortomasreed/a-for-all-yes-all-transforming-grading-during-covid-19-a3a24de4e249.

“STS Program » About » What Is STS?” Harvard.edu, sts.hks.harvard.edu/about/whatissts.html. Accessed 23 Aug. 2021.
Truss, Joe. “Exclusive Interview with Dr. Bettina Love – Music, Politics, & Abolitionist Leadership.” Culturally Responsive Leadership, 26 Jan. 2020, culturallyresponsiveleadership.com/bettina3.

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