Dissertation talk, 2002

I used this crib sheet in conjunction with the other interview notes.

Here are the various ways I'll describe my disseration project.

One sentence:

I'm looking at the ways concepts of ease and easy have structured notions of complexity and difficulty in composition pedagogy, computing, and American culture as a whole.

One minute (notes):

Diss is "ease in composition studies."

Project began in computer classroom in Spring 1997.

Noticed reappearance of ease in many contexts: demanded of computer applications. Also of course -- compared difficulty of my section of comp to others. Handbook demanded it of student writing -- clarity, simplicity, brevity. Making prose easy to understand.

Cursory investigations into ease showed numerous contexts where ease was demanded, and unquestionable patterns of definition. More study.

Concluded that ease was important ideology -- one of ways culture structured, system of representation.

Also realized deep connection between ease and composition dating back into C18.

Diss investigates this connection with focus on the implication for teaching writing in electronic environments.

Five minutes (notes):

Working in electronic environments, long term goal of research is pedagogies for them.

In teaching, prof experience noticed ease, word easy, similar notions like simplicity and transparency in variety of forms: instrumental (interface), curricular (simplicity), general.

Presence of ease also noticable in wider culture -- one of professors suggested "ideology of ease" -- definitely -- setting limits, exerting pressures; ease works as system of representation.

Study of comp history showed ease presence there as well -- could trace influence of ease, Named as such and in other forms, back several hundred years. Strong connection between ease and literacy.

Long term project, next five years, is thorough investigation of ease. History, current definitions and effects, etc. Pedagogical work. Smaller side projects as well.

Short term, diss is one path through larger field. Considers ease in light of question of teaching in computer classroom. Goal of diss is begin to develop methods for teaching which address some of the problems of ease; create analog to ease more suited for post-literacy.

First two chapters of diss outline history of ease and describe ease as a concept. Early definitions of comfort, transparency, and effortlessness. Simplicity and pragmatism. Femininity. Expediency. Pictorialism. Not always positive -- some problems with certain applications of ease. Need for careful investigation of the role of ease in culture.

Second two chapters demonstrate the close connection of ease and comp studies. Four main areas in which goal is ease; style itself easy; easy to learn; easy to teach; path to life of ease. C19 C-R and C20 too, even lC20 reform pedagogies.

Final two chapters address computing pedagogy. Call on critiques of ease to develop "anti-ease" and begin the task of figuring out something which takes its place. Analog to ease which is suitable for electronic classrooms, moving beyond the restricted field of writing.

five minutes, second draft

Saw ease in the classroom. Started considering role of ease while teaching. Noticed frequency and scope of demands for ease and making it easy.

Preliminary invesigation showed two things:

  1. Definite patterns to ease. Name some. Specific not general; practical over abstract; expediency; femininity, others.
  2. Not always positive -- Johnson talks about way easy can make things tough in absence of apparatus. Restrictions. Often system-centering. Expert/novice split. Disciplinary structure.

Given role of ease as goal of writing, look at history of comp. Found ease everywhere. 1704 texts "Grammar made easy", etc. C19 C-R writing should be easy, style, teaching, betterment. Debates over difficulty of curriculum.


Three major parts:

  1. Outline history and define ease, discuss ways it functions.
  2. Demonstrate connection of ease and writing as manifest in C-R.
  3. Anti-ease: develop concepts, pedagogy which address problems of ease and can be alternative to it.

It's a much bigger project than diss, can say more.

Dilger job materials from 2002