Computers and Writing Panel

Here’s a description of the panel I will presenting on at the Computers and Writing Conference at Purdue this summer. Panel members are Derek Mueller, Brian J. McNely, Stephen D. Krause, and yours truly. Since I’ll be offering some of the background for the panel, I am speaker #1 in the description below:

Virtual Mentorship

Our work inquires into virtual mentorship by positioning its theory, history, and practice in relationship to digital, networked writing platforms.  Self-sponsored online writing practices and the informal circuits of influence they make possible, we contend, invite us to reimagine commonplace approaches to mentorship.

With the continued growth of the social web, or Web 2.0, in recent years, teachers and researchers face an expanded domain rich in examples of many-to-many mentorship activity. Traditionally, mentorship privileges interpersonal relationships, person-to-person connections and deliberate guidance, often in the context of explicit institutional arrangements. Among many web-based platforms launched over the past half decade, however, powerful alternatives have emerged for guided influence spanning disciplines, institutions, and geographic distances. This panel offers a critical examination of the available systems already supporting distal circuits of influence relevant to teaching and learning, an articulation of the complementary relationship between existing mentorship models and the ad hoc networks of influence available in Web 2.0 platforms, and arguments for the viability of specific online platforms, such as Delicious, Twitter, and blogs, as transformative sites of non-directive for mentoring activity.

Speaker #1 (Ryan Trauman) will offer a theoretical framework for an historical analysis of contemporary mentorship structures. He argues that as material modes for transferring disciplinary knowledge and skill, mentorship practices evolve as technologies change. Speaker #1 will contrast his experiences as a potter’s apprentice with his current status as a graduate student learning disciplinary practices. He argues that while certain mentorship practices in Rhetoric and Composition have waned, their necessity has not. As a result, various digital technologies have structured more distributed and disembodied notions of mentorship.

Speaker #2 will address the implicit value in the informal, self-sponsored exchange of metadata-encrusted bookmarks produced and circulated in Delicious. This presentation takes stock of Delicious networks as a paradoxically emerging and aging alternative to hierarchical, institutionally defined mentoring arrangements. Alternative mentoring practices, which we should characterize as holarchic, can complement the prototypical person-to-person model common in institutional settings while at the same time raising hard questions about the durability (i.e., longevity, sustainability) of any platform-dependent network.

Speaker #3 explores two overlapping inquiries regarding professionalization. First, how do professionals cultivate a network of disciplinary insiders who will offer ongoing mentorship and support? Second, how do professionals cultivate productive asymmetric relationships with knowledge workers in disparate disciplinary and professional domains?

Mentorship and professionalization in the age of networked publics is both insular and intersectional, bridging “structural holes” in social capital (Burt 2003). After coding and examining one-to-one and loosely coordinated asymmetrical social ties on Twitter, Presenter 3 articulates an argument for effective mentorship in overlapping, networked publics.

Speaker #4 will discuss the influence of absent, unintended, and accidental mentors, especially as they are present and as they function in communities of academic bloggers.  Just as “community” itself among bloggers is often indirect, complimentary, and unspoken, mentoring and the distinction between mentor and mentee can often be fuzzy.  In this talk, this speaker will discuss both recent research on the loose definition of community often present among bloggers, and he will discuss specific examples of  of unintended blog-based mentors from the recent past.


For my part, I’ll be looking at text that explore notions of mentorship, apprenticeship, and handicraft. David Pye, Richard Sennet, Matthew Crawford, Bernard Leach, Soetsu Yanagi. And I’ll be trying to historicize some of the craft/apprenticeship principles they invoke, but I’ll be trying to inflect that analysis in terms of contemporary digital scholarship practices. Any suggested readings would be much appreciated.

Have a great New Year’s celebration!