Thursday, November 30, 2017

Inside the node

Researchers in many fields have been studying and mapping networked interactions among groups and individuals, particularly in social media spaces. But I believe no one is better equipped than those of us in OWI in general and composition specifically to study what happens in the nodes themselves. Yes, there is so much in the node for us.
My co-author Diana Gasiewski and I have just submitted to NCTE the final manuscript of our book "Writing Together: Ten Weeks Teaching and Studenting in an Online Writing Course" (more about that very soon). For some of the weeks in the OWC we describe in the book, we provide simple maps of course discussion threads to give readers a glimpse of those interactions -- and how they became more involved as the course progressed. Here is a blown-up piece of one thread:
node image
Many fields, e.g., computer science or sociology or communications, have provided fascinating insights into the black squiggly lines -- how (and sometimes why) entities interact and connect in webs of networks. Software tools have been developed to do this mapping, even do-it-yourself apps like NodeXL (1). Through these analyses, we can see how individuals behave in networked settings, whether it is dozens of students in a class or hundreds of thousands of people on Twitter.
But while comp/rhet folks are also interested in these webs of interaction, we are also uniquely equipped to look within the nodes, as, for us, each contains the artifact we study best: writing (or multimedia).

We can complement and augment the work in other fields that investigates these network maps by describing what happens within these nodes in the context of the overall environment, essentially using our field's tools of inquiry.
I think this gives us a tremendous niche from which to work. Analyzing the links and spaces between nodes is valuable for sure; it shows us in new ways how human beings interact. But in the node, in the node we may find out what we’re thinking, and how specifically that thinking inspired the response -- or the leap to the next node.


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