On the night of Friday, July 18, 1969 at 11:15p.m., just two days shy of the Apollo 11 moon landing, U.S. Senator Teddy Kennedy drank too much and then proceeded to take a drive in his mother’s convertible with a beautiful girl sitting in the front seat beside him—a girl, we should note, who looked nothing like his wife. On that drive, Kennedy lost control of the car in what would come to be known as the "Chappaquiddick Incident." The car hurtled over the Dike Bridge and into a tidal pond. While Kennedy was able to save himself by swimming ashore, the girl, Mary Jo Kopechne, died at the scene of the accident. Kennedy, acting in fear or delusion, fled the scene. Throughout the country, there was much debate as to whether or not Kennedy should remain in office. Given the situation, it would even be reasonable to charge Kennedy with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Kopechne. However, a week after the incident, having just plead guilty to fleeing the scene of an accident, Kennedy gave a speech in front of a national broadcast audience in which he put on a masterful display of rhetoric. Somehow in that speech, Teddy Kennedy climbed himself out of that brackish mess, his clothes dry and gleaming white.
But how did he do it? In “A pentadic analysis of Senator Edward Kennedy's address to the people of Massachusetts,” Ling (1970) examines Kennedy's speech showing how Kennedy minimizes his own personal agency in the episode and how he deflects any agency he might have to his audience as regards his decision to remain in the U. S. Senate. To explain how this was done, Ling refers to Burke’s (1969) pentad, a rhetorical tool for analyzing the scene of communication to understand the different relationships of the agent in relation to the scene, agency, act, purpose. In Kennedy’s case, Kennedy emphasizes that he was himself was powerless at the scene. His focus on the agent-scene ratio framed him as a victim of circumstances, especially having lived in a family that had suffered so much tragedy. In a subsequent move in the speech, Kennedy masterfully transfers the little agency he possesses to his audience, and by doing so, offers them little choice: if his audience believes his version of the tale to be true, then they must support his bid to keep his seat in the U. S. Senate. As the Kennedy example shows, rhetoric is indeed a powerful tool that might be used to persuade an audience.
It is also a powerful tool that we might use heuristically, as a way to think up and create projects that persuade our audiences to not only go along with what we think, but to act on our behalf. This is, I argue, the most powerful thing that rhetoric can do.
I want my students to give their audience powerful tools to make Clemson a better place.
As rhetors, it is helpful to look at any communication in a dramatic sense using Burke's Pentad…that is, as rhetors we must establish a dramatic scene for our audience by considering the agent, scene, agency, act, and purpose.
While my students obviously focus on different outcomes in their own projects than Kennedy, Ling’s explanation provides an excellent example of how the Pentad works, and also how my students might motivate their own audience to act. Different audiences are motivated by different ratios in Burke's Pentad. In our case as makers of the Clemson APP, we want to emphasize agency and purpose ratios for our audience. That is, after we establish the scene and why our message is important, we want to transfer a sense of purpose and power to our audience. They can make a difference. In a digital medium of the Better Clemson App, I want my students to give their audience powerful tools to make Clemson a better place. In the digital medium, we should expect that any shift in our message towards audience agency and purpose should be accompanied by tools. This is why digital communication is so powerful. It is through tools that we make possible the realization of agency in our user.
The most popular technique my students use to provide tools for their audience is to set up an email form within their web-based document that emails a person of importance in a given situation. This is easily done through an Adobe Muse widget, but such forms are also available on the web as HTML code.
Additionally, students in my class have created links to petitions that were already being promoted by third parties. For example, a group that was studying football ticket distribution created a final link to a petition that intended to revise the system.
I have also had students gather feedback from their audience to create a discourse community. However, in that I challenge my students to create app development that does not require constant rebuilding of the webpage, I want any discourse tools to be built into the system. For example, students trying to problem solve how they could make better food choice options in real time by reporting the food offerings at our different cafeterias needed to think about how they could create a tool to accomplish this end.
The easiest solution in this case was to gather responses using a Google Form that students embed in the app and then publishing the response data by embedding the corresponding Google Sheet on a subsequent page. Now my student's audience would know what was being served where and how to make the healthiest food choices.
When we make a digital document, we need to create a scene that draws in our audience. Then we need to figure out how we might transfer agency in our user to act, giving them the tools to do so.
Some of the entries in the Better Clemson APP are gamified. Why? Because games are fun! But don't forget, games can also be persuasive. One scholar who has studied how persuasion works in games is Georgia Tech scholar Ian Bogost. Here is Bogost on the Colbert Report. Don't you wish you had that kind of scholar cred?
In Persuasive Games, Bogost defines procedural rhetoric as the “practice of using process persuasively.”
To explain procedural rhetoric in other terms...when a player fails, they must learn from those failings and make different choices the next time the user finds themselves in similar situations. The procedural is a move away from the verbal and into the realm of symbolic action.
Bogost believes that the power of persuasive games is the discourse that emerges from the user, as interlocutors “engage, consider, and respond in turn, either via the same medium or a different one.” The idea of procedural rhetoric is also important in the sense that we can create a virtual environment where individuals might begin to “practice” the sort of enactive change that may be necessary in the actual. As Bogost explains, “If policy issues are complex systems that recombine and interrelate with one another according to smaller rules of interaction, then video games afford a new perspective on political issues, since they are especially effective at representing complex systems.”
One way that you can easily make a persuasive game and teach your students simple computer coding is through the use of programs like Twine. In Twine you can storyboard adventures that require the user to make certain decisions to achieve a desired outcome; kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure book.
How might you craft a message using procedural rhetoric as the theory and Twine as the tool for communicating your message?
The New York Times ran an article yesterday about the disaster emerging in South East Asia's most populous city: "Jakarta Is Sinking So Fast, It Could End Up Underwater." Scientists and engineers are concerned with both rising sea levels and the rate at which the city is sinking--in some places almost fourteen feet in only a couple of years! Experts point out that while the causes of these problems are many, all are the result of human factors.
This story reminded me of the importance of science and engineering education and why our Clemson Stem Pop-ups are so important in that they bring STEM to the average student. This past semester, our students had the opportunity to engage with experts on nuclear waste disposal, potable water infrastructure, and climate change. While the latter two topics directly connect with the Times article, all three directly impact our college, town, and state. We can scale things up to the global, or we can scale them back down to the local--what matters is that we talk about these issues now and start thinking about solutions that can benefit everyone.
I begin my Better Clemson APP unit by asking my students to locate a problem on our campus that needs our attention. We often refer to significant problems, especially personal ones, as crises, but this definition isn’t very useful for rhetors. It is helpful to remember that the term “crisis” comes from the Greek krisis, a judgement. That is, when we locate a problem for our audience, we must call on them to do more than contemplate the gravity of a situation. It is our job as rhetors to approach a problem is such a way that it persuades our audience to inquire, judge, and attend.
Good communicators are not only adroit at locating a crisis, they are also able to communicate this crisis at the right time and place. The Greeks had two concepts for time. The first you know well, that of chronos, which corresponds with our linear time. But the other concept of time, that of kairos, refers to a break in time. Kairos is an opening, finite though it may be, that must be seized before it is lost. Here we might think about the time and place for a discussion, or the relevancy or effectiveness of information in particular times and places. An effective communicator has a strong intuition for not only what to say, but also when to say it. Exigency is another important concept that involves both time and message. The exigency considers the expediency of the message and a timely response to crisis. An effective rhetor, therefore, must communicate a message to an audience in timely manner before the audience’s patience wains or the situation changes. Ultimately, a good rhetor also wants his audience to act—we’ll get to this when we discuss agency.
Using Canvas Discussion (Canvas is Clemson’s digital classroom interface), I ask my students to write about the problem that they have found using stasis theory (see Oct 8 post below) and to generate a conjecture, definition, quality, and policy.
When students arrive to class for our next meeting, I ask them to read through the proposals on Canvas and respond to three posts from other students with which they find most interesting. From the activity on the Canvas Discussions page, I can start to judge which proposals are trending. With this data, I can begin forming groups based on the proposals students want to pursue. These cadres are ultimately self-selected though limited to four individuals.
I use cooperative learning strategies in this unit. Creative moves happen through working and thinking in communion with other thinkers working towards shared goals. To ignore this communion runs counter to the nature of doing both scientific and community work.
Turkey Week marked an important time for me in my academic career - the end of my month-long comprehensive exams - I passed! So one thing that was different about my 4th exam, my orals, was my use of VR visual aids. The idea was to give my audience an embodied experience while I read from my white paper. Follow this Link to see how I did it. I built a web interface that gives the user a different experience for laptops and mobile phones. To guide the audience, I built sound cues into my powerpoint to alert the user as to which visual aid they should be watching. I overdid things...per usual - but I was so excited to do something new and different in terms of multimodality and embodiment. I guess I'm really excited to see where this technology goes. It's not going to be long before VR glasses will be a requirement at your next conference.
It was nice having some time on Thanksgiving to relax a little bit and hang out with all of the people I have been avoiding for the last two and a half years while I have been working on my doctorate - what am I thankful for? I'm thankful they're still talking to me. As I was driving home from the mother-in-law's place, I had the opportunity to hear one of my favorite podcasts, Science Friday. This week's episode featured a recording of the 27th Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremonies at Harvard University hosted by the science comedy magazine the Annals Of Improbable Research. What was SO COOL about this show was how the writers of the Ig Nobel's communicated science with wit and humor.
For example, after the Ig Nobel honorees received their awards, they were given a moment to further explain their research or to acknowledge contributors. When the awardees spoke a little too long, rather than steadily raising the volume of the awards music theme, a young child would commence whining over the p.a. This year’s PHYSICS PRIZE went to Marc-Antoine Fardin in fluid dynamics who wondered “Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid?" which he pursued in his open-access publication "On the Rheology of Cats," Marc-Antoine Fardin, Rheology Bulletin, vol. 83, 2, July 2014, pp. 16-17 and 30.
Ok, so not the most reputable research, but we need all kinds in science. By this I mean that we also need a little humor if we are going to pique our audience's attention an get them interested in science. We have to make this thing called science fun.
My favorite bit, and one that relates to what we are trying to do with our Stem Pop-ups, was the 24/7 competition, in which scientists had to first communicate their research in 24 seconds, and then in only 7 words.
I'll try using my own research for the uber-condensed version: VR distracts otherwise hostile audience. I passed!
On to the diss.
This week at Clemson's Cooper Library, we will be hosting our final Stem Pop-up for the Fall Season
Join us on Friday, December 1, from 10-11 AM in the Clemson Cooper Library Foyer. Our special guest is Dr. Daniel Warner, Professor of Mathematical Sciences, who will be speaking about Climate Change Science.
At the event, we challenge students to use Adobe Spark to create science communication documents that communicate Dr. Warner's message. To wrap up the event, students will share their respective documents and perhaps win a 20$ Starbucks gift certificate.
Over the next few weeks I will be writing about a project that is part of my dissertation work. The project is called the Better Clemson App, and though it is not really an app in the downloadable sense, it is a web-based app that offers tools for learning and change. My students theorize, invent, and build-out the project in the same way an app might come into fruition. This will be the fourth time I have assigned the project, which challenges my rhetoric and composition students to work collaboratively to think about problems on our Clemson campus and theorize how we might solve them. The goal is to turn the app user into a change agent by both persuading the user and giving them the agency to act. We design the app for mobile devices with the intention of utilizing ubiquitous computing to effect user mobility; that is, we want to draw the user out into the spaces and places we are theorizing.
Representatives from Vegan Outreach visit Clemson University's campus to share the "i-animal project," a VR slaughter house tour.
Where is VR going? This is the question that's playing out in new media as we see more an more projects testing the affordances and constraints of this new medium. Recently members of Vegan Outreach visited Clemson University campus to share the i-animal VR project, which takes the viewer on a tour of an industrial slaughter house. Yes, there will be blood. But will there be converts? Faunalytics, an outside research group is currently gathering data about the effect of this VR video on its user.
At Clemson, you have the opportunity to test how VR might fit into your curriculum. We have a range of VR cameras available for student use in the library, video editing software available through Adobe Creative Cloud, a super-cool annotation software called ThingLink that lets you add hyperlinks to your images, and plenty of support to aid your implementation.
Stephen Quigley is a PhD student in Clemson