Principled/Digital: Composition's “Ethics of Attunement” and the Writing MOOC

Principled/Digital: Composition's “Ethics of Attunement” and the Writing MOOC

Matthew Overstreet (University of Pittsburgh, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1718-4.ch005
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This essay argues that the primary goal of writing instruction should be the cultivation of an ethics of attunement. This is a habit of mind that allows a writer to adapt to the demands of context and therefore engage in successful rhetorical action. The ability to cultivate this habit of mind is the standard by which MOOCs, or any other writing instruction technology, should be judged. Working from this premise, the essay critiques MOOC-based instruction methods. It finds a deep tension between MOOC models and the theories of knowledge, learning and being which underlie contemporary writing pedagogy. This indicates that MOOCs, as they now exist, may be unable to satisfy composition's ethical imperative.
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Composition + Ethics

I am not the first scholar to suggest that at its core, composition is, and must remain, an ethical enterprise. John Duffy (2014), for example, argues that an understanding of the ethical, and the cultivation of what he calls “ethical dispositions” in our students, is composition’s “prevailing disciplinary narrative and… teleological reason for being” (p. 226). This is a bold claim. Indeed, some may reject the idea that composition, which rightfully prides itself on drawing from a diverse array of theoretical traditions and institutional sites, can even have a “prevailing disciplinary narrative.” I believe, and I’m sure Duffy would agree, that the story of what we do can (and should) be sketched in myriad ways. Pursuant to the ever-practical, ever-contextual nature of rhetoric though, Duffy sees the current moment as demanding a certain degree of disciplinary self-consciousness. In response to present social conditions, we need to “get our story straight.” This means articulating what we do and why as to provide a compass heading by which to guide our field’s engagement with the world. I agree. If composition is to be socially relevant, we must know where we stand. This is especially true in regard to our relationship with technological innovations such as MOOCs.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Context: The all-encompassing tissue in which a rhetorical event occurs. It includes both the material and immaterial, the subjective and the shared.

Instructor: One of the three roles of the writing teacher. In this capacity, the teacher acts as a translator, rendering the values and investments of a specific community visible to the student.

Exemplar: One of the three roles of the writing teacher. In this capacity, the teacher, through imitation on the part of the student, imparts values and investments of which she herself may be unaware.

Writing MOOC: A massive open online course, the stated purpose of which is to provide writing instruction. Such a course is likely larger than a traditional online writing course and more “open,” in that barriers to participation are reduced or eliminated.

cMOOC: Massive open online course built around the idea of connectivity among a group of peer-learners. Knowledge creation/distribution is decentralized, with each participant acting as both teacher and student.

xMOOC: The current, popular form of massive open online course. Defined by a “one to many” model in which information is distributed to learners from a centralized source.

Rhetoric: A social process through which abstract concepts are made real; inevitably implicates judgment and therefore ethics.

Respondent: One of the three roles of the writing teacher. In this capacity, the teacher acts as an embodiment of community values, guiding the student towards alignment with those values.

Ethics: Any line of thinking which investigates questions of right or wrong, better or worse in regard to human affairs.

Ethics of Attunement: A habit of mind emphasizing questioning, reflection and consideration. This way of being privileges attunement to the demands of context over abstract ideals or a prior rules. Its cultivation is the sine qua non of writing instruction.

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