Author Archives: lbauknight

global news sites

Here are the links that I mentioned in my presentation. There are many others out there, of course, but some of these might prove productive if you were trying to give students a different perspective on world events.

I found this first group of sites the most interesting:

The rest of these are more predictably oriented:


experiential learning, indeed!

From the New York Times:

teaching case studies

I like the Zoetewey & Staggers model, in “teaching the Air Midwest Case,” for a professional writing course built around a case study. I’ll admit that I’m drawn to the case study approach—or some other theme or organizing principle—as much for selfish reasons as any others. Why? For several reasons we’ve discussed over the semester, primarily the need I feel to root this kind of class in as much of a “real world” setting as I can muster in a classroom on a campus amid a culture that many students, I think, see as comfortably removed from what-comes-after-college. Perhaps I’ll feel differently after I’ve taught the course a few times. But for now, I feel like I’ll be a better teacher if I can get students working on and toward something “real,” something concrete. I do have concerns, of course, among them selecting the “right” case or topic (something rich enough to warrant a semester’s worth of attention and work); sustaining student interest; dealing with the ups and downs of intensive collaborative work; and balancing the need for up-front planning and flexibility. So, I think I’m going to take this approach for my course syllabus project—I’ll try to turn the class into a working, information and knowledge producing enterprise from which the students and I can all learn.


In light of our recent readings about and discussions of usability and digital literacy, I found the New York Times’ recent explanation of it upcoming paywall—and some of the immediate reaction to it—interesting. From a usability standpoint, it seems like the Times may have skipped that step. One of the chief complaints about the plan is how clunky (and confusing) it is. Here’s a link to the full explanation, and I’ve copied the publisher’s letter to readers below:


March 17, 2011

A Letter to Our Readers About Digital Subscriptions

This week marks a significant transition for The New York Times as we introduce digital subscriptions. It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform. The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Web site and on mobile applications.

This change comes in two stages. On Thursday, we rolled out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch. On March 28, we will begin offering digital subscriptions in the United States and the rest of the world.

If you are a home delivery subscriber of The New York Times, you will continue to have full and free access to our news, information, opinion and the rest of our rich offerings on your computer, smartphone and tablet. International Herald Tribune subscribers will also receive free access to

If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access up to a defined reading limit. If you exceed that limit, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber.

This is how it will work, and what it means for you:

• On, you can view 20 articles each month at no charge (including slide shows, videos and other features). After 20 articles, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber, with full access to our site.

• On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For access to all other sections within the apps, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.

• The Times is offering three digital subscription packages that allow you to choose from a variety of devices (computer, smartphone, tablet). More information about these plans is available at

• Again, all New York Times home delivery subscribers will receive free access to and to all content on our apps. If you are a home delivery subscriber, go to to sign up for free access.

• Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.

• The home page at and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times.

For more information, go to

Thank you for reading The New York Times, in all its forms.



Publisher, The New York Times


I suppose there’s some irony at work here—a business that (sometimes) makes money by communicating with readers does a poor job of explaining to those readers why it wants to charge them for something they’ve been getting for free for a decade now. Beyond the usability example—which might be the basis for an interesting classroom exercise—I wonder, if the turn to paywalls works for mainstream media outlets, how that might affect this kind of digital literacy. Will it, for example, send consumers to less traditional (and traditionally ‘written’) sources of information, thus complicating the literacy picture even further?



After reading Katz and Ornatowski, and after our discussion in class on Tuesday, I’ve been struggling to figure out what it means to teach ethics—in writing classes in general and in professional writing classes in particular. Flipping through Locker’s textbook, I see the hard-core instrumentalist approach (basically, don’t lie on your resume or CV). “Ethics” doesn’t even appear in the index. I’m still waiting on my copy of Peeples, so I haven’t been able to look at that yet. But I guess I have a few sets of questions/concerns, some of which I’ll have to figure out for myself before inflicting my regime of ethics on students: What do/will I mean by “ethics” in the writing class? I think it’s important—critical, perhaps—to try to get students to understand the implications (theoretical) and consequences (actual) of their rhetorical choices. Katz, to me, would be an extreme example for this kind of discussion. But what do I want them to take from Katz and from any discussion we might have? (Certainly more than polite classroom shock that this could happen.) How do I want them to act—in the workplace, for example—with Katz in mind? And how can I “teach” these ideas through an assignment or activity? Is a lesson in raising awareness, in “making sure you think about your rhetorical choices” enough? And things actually get more complicated, I think, in Ornatowski. The engineer Stephen is certainly thinking about the effects of his rhetorical choice between “hopeless” and “fruitless,” but is this really a question of ethics? If the choice is about what will be the most acceptable way to present a critical failure to the boss, whose ethics are being served? So what would I be teaching my students here? And I guess this links up to my ultimate concern—what is the effect of our stressing an ethical program that students, realistically, won’t be able to implement in the workplace? Are we teaching them that thinking about doing the ethical thing, perhaps even wishing that they could do the ethical thing, is enough? That seems to lie at the heart of the problem that Katz presents.

info eco

Although it may not have sounded like it in class, I do like Nardi & O’Day’s approach to the idea of information ecologies. And as I mentioned, their explanation of an ecology sounds like a more dynamic conception (a 3-D version, if you will) of  the rhetorical situation. I’m still wary of their “we are not cogs” position in the following comment, but I do really like the way they talk about what the ecology allows for, in the third sentence: “In an ecology, we are not cogs in sweeping sociological processes. Instead, we are individuals with real relationships to other individuals. The scale of an ecology allows us to find individual points of leverage, ways into the system, and avenues of intervention.”

Isn’t that one of the central lesson we hope our students will take from whatever writing class we are teaching? We want them to find a way in, a place to land—whatever metaphor/cliché you prefer. So I like what the idea of information ecologies could bring to a professional writing classroom.

As far as assignment ideas go, I’m having a hard time moving beyond the find-an-ecology-and-write-something-about-it stage. The Wolff idea that Christian posted looks interesting so I’m going to take a closer look at it. And I like Matt’s ideas about keystone texts.

Perhaps a good place to start would be with the concept of “diversity,” as explained by Nardi & O’Day. While they speak of diversity in people/knowledge/skills as well as tools/texts, I think I would focus this assignment on the tools/texts. There would be great value, I think, in students’ learning about all of the different kinds of informational and persuasive texts the populate any given information/workplace ecology. So that would be the starting point for the assignment: I would ask students, after they’ve read about this idea, to identify such an ecology and the texts that circulate through it. From there, they could engage in classification, explanation, analysis, and other kinds of writing exercises. (Clearly, I’m still thinking about this one …)


Week 4 Post

Our readings and discussion about design/usability brought a couple of assignment ideas to mind. The first, I’ll admit, feels a bit elementary for a 400-level course. But the Kramer & Bernhardt piece got me thinking about how little many students seem to know about the basic design capabilities of their primary writing tool: the word processing software on their computers. Think about all of those papers we’ve received with font changes, margin problems, line-spacing issues, paragraphing inconsistencies—you name it. If students can’t master basic print-on-page style options, can we really expect them to make smart decisions about larger design issues? Maybe we can. But I’m going to work on an assignment that forces students to learn more about the multitude of design options they have available to them in, say, Word. And I don’t want them to simply memorize the options available in Word. Rather, I hope to develop an assignment that will help them approach basic document design (starting, again, with print on page) with usability (and the rhetorical situation) in mind. Maybe I’ll call it “Beyond Default Settings” or something like that. More on this as I develop some concrete ideas (and I would welcome any thoughts …)

The second idea is more advanced, I think, but just as undeveloped at this point. Anyway, the question I’m starting with is this: How can we help students really understand the concept of usability in design? (Especially in the design of professional/technical/ business documents/texts.) I’m thinking about an assignment that would force students to pay attention to the texts they “consume” regularly and the often unconscious evaluations they make as they decide which of the texts they engage with fill their needs, which fail, and—most importantly—why. I guess this is another kind of analysis, but I think it could be useful in helping students work through what it means to design an effective (usable) professional/technical text.