Monthly Archives: May 2015

Sestina Challenge and Open-Ended Prompts

I have a fondness for creating within forms, having a pattern or structure to fill in as I choose, something that forces me to examine the harmonies in those choices as ideas or shapes or colors line up.

So I tend to gravitate towards poetry that uses ambitious forms. Not just the shorter and humbler haiku, which can convey computer error messages or be tossed off during a conference session or a boring meeting.

A few days ago, it occurred to me that the structure set up for Rhizo15 would lend itself well to translation into the sestina form. Now, sestinas are HARD to pull off well. The same six ending words shift order, each coming around seven times in 39 lines. That much repetition can easily get boring or clunky, unless the chosen words lend themselves to variation or multiple nuanced meetings.

If you want examples, here are some personal favorites by Elizabeth Bishop and David Lehman, Scott Reid’s clever Sestina in the Computer Age, and 16 more from famous poets.

So here’s one thing about “Daveness”: Dave Cormier has chosen words, for every one of his prompts, that are very open to interpretation. Six weeks of such open-ended prompts could easily supply the six words for line endings. And the many writings and themes that have emerged in our discussions have touched on and circled back to a wide range of meanings. There’s plenty of material here for a sestina, and the form maps well onto a six-week endeavor.

Here’s the order for the ending words. Ariadne Unst also provides a great explanation and tips on composing a sestina. And Josh Mandel has created a handy Sestin-a-matic to plug in your own words and generate the order.

  7. Three lines, using all six words: sometimes ACE, ECA, or (FB)(AD)(EC)

Some of the things I started to ponder: Would I want each stanza to represent a different point of view, or to mimic the contributions of different participants? Would I stick to my own journey in Rhizo15? Would I try to collaborate, or invite others to the same challenge and see what we each came up with? Should I start working on half the lines, based on the prompts Dave had already given?

So when Dave picked up Viplav Baxi’s Week 4 challenge, my first thought was “Oh no, that messes up what the arc of the poem would have been!” Dave (the name) as a prompt would give me much less to work with, than whatever gem Dave (the person) is holding off on sharing until Week 5. So I have to think more broadly, be willing to dance and play and ponder, and find a different word for whatever rings true for me in Week 4.

In any case, here are some of the possible end words from each week’s prompts, as one kind of starting point to use with the sestina structure. (Which of course could discard these words completely, and work instead with anything else that inspires reflection.)

  • Week 1 Subjectives
  • Week 2 Measure? Count?
  • Week 3 Content? People?
  • Week 4 Dave? Host? Role? Party?
  • Week 5 (TBD)
  • Week 6 (TBD)

Some among us have already explored multiple connotations of the formal definitions of these words. They have sparked reflection on many nuances and tangents in our blogs, Google+ and Facebook posts and tweets during Rhizo15. And some lend themselves well to variants (such as prefixes and plurals) if you want to free up the form a little.

There was some temptation to do this all behind a curtain, and unveil it at the end as a singular impressive accomplishment. But I’m too intrigued by the possibilities from the poignant and foolhardy poets among us. And knowing that others might take this on may spur me to follow through on the hard work of trying to do it well. So this challenge is too good not to share. I’d love to hear about others’ impressions and processes, as well as any products this inspires.

Berrypicking and Containers for Information

This post is inspired by Ray Maxwell’s post for #rhizo15, along with recent in-person and virtual library conferences, listserv messages, Twitter conversations, and all the sources linked below, peer-reviewed and otherwise.

Academic librarians are discussing, in many such venues, how to teach the threshold concepts from the new ACRL Framework for Information Literacy. The examples that currently intrigue me the most address the frame of Information Creation as a Process.

I’m inspired by Char Booth’s application of critical pedagogy to collaborating with faculty on an assignment for groups of students at Pomona College to research, critically source, and write new Wikipedia articles.

The Wiki Education Foundation provides materials to support such assignments and recognizes that they help to counter the biases of many volunteer Wikipedia editors:

Studies have shown that Wikipedia’s editor community is predominantly young, white, and male. Information on Wikipedia often describes the world from that perspective.

Wikipedia content quality is weakest when it doesn’t catch the interest of those editors. Articles on female novelists, or places in Africa, are alarmingly underrepresented….

68% of our student editors are women. And many of the articles our students write fill content gaps related to women. That helps Wikipedia provide knowledge relevant to more people, while reflecting a broader range of perspectives.

And this week in the online Library 2.0 conference (archived recording), Sara Gillsepie Swanson described teaching students at Davidson College to follow the threads of scholarly discourse across Twitter hashtags and blogs as well as scholarly databases. Of course this builds on the frame of Scholarship as Conversation as well as Information Creation as a Process.

For example: I began to follow the scholarship of Bonnie Stewart, who is new to me through #Rhizo15, across tweets about her recent talk at #et4online, through her blog post about finishing her dissertation, to an open-access journal article summarizing her research on Twitter use by academics. Serendipitously, I discovered that her scholarly research speaks to issues that have been on my mind as I develop a more visible online presence.

I could think of that chain of sources just as going down a rabbit hole in my Personal Learning Network. Characterizing it that way might keep my own process separate from orienting students to searching scholarly databases for the more traditional peer-reviewed resources they are expected to cite in most of their assignments. But that would be so 20th-century.

Peter Morville, 3-7. Marcia Bates' Berrypicking, Evolving Search (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Peter Morville, 3-7. Marcia Bates’ Berrypicking, Evolving Search (CC BY-NC 2.0)

As I recognize Marcia Bates’ iterative berrypicking model of information seeking, I should also acknowledge that the content which sparks a new thought can be found in many different kinds of containers (such as all of those listed in my first paragraph above).

I want to share with students the ways that 21st-century scholars stay up-to-date on the “good stuff”. Yes, this may sometimes lead students to less conventional sources that they may have to ask whether their professors will accept. It may even suggest new search terms that haven’t made it through traditional journal publishing cycles yet. But not sharing the tools that I use to find (and potentially contribute to) relevant research would be hiding the processes of information creation and scholarly conversation.

Content in Museums: Objects? People? Questions?

Dave Cormier poses these questions as the prompt for Week 3 of #Rhizo15:

So what happens when we peek under the word ‘content’ to see what lives there?
What does it mean for a course to ‘contain’ information?
What choices are being made… what power is being used?


Content is people. Discuss.

When I worked in museums, other organizations often wanted to partner with us because we had “content” by virtue of our collections. We might bring in “outside experts” to help develop or curate exhibitions, and we usually had curators, designers, a developer/writer, a project manager, an educator and an evaluator (me) on the planning teams. We would agree on a theme and several key “take home messages” to communicate to visitors, and these would shape the story line, text, media, and interactive elements. But the “stuff” of our exhibits were the real things, often unique, that were in our collections: art, artifacts, and specimens.

I’m struck by how the stories exhibits tell, or the questions they pose, can shape visitors’ encounter with the real things. (This fascination was what got me interested in studying museums in the first place, and motivated me to spend three years writing a thesis on exhibit labels.)

Michael Spock (son of Dr. Benjamin Spock) directed the Boston Children’s Museum, and then served as Director of Public Programs at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago from 1986-1994. At both institutions, he worked with teams to create exhibits that were “for somebody rather than about something”. Storylines built on what was familiar, so that a collection of skeletons was organized by the simple vernacular taxonomy of which were cats or dogs, and a hall full of dioramas at right angles was reinstalled as a nature walk, with meandering paths and bridges. One exhibit dared visitors to pull aside a curtain to see the most dangerous animal of all–which revealed a mirror.

For the 1992 exhibit Mining the Museum,the Maryland Historical Society gave artist Fred Wilson free rein to curate any objects he chose from their collections. He used juxtaposition to challenge assumptions. This included retitling paintings, and covering them with a layer that had cutouts to highlight only black people. The most thought-provoking case was labeled “Metalwork, 1793-1880” and contained an ornate silver tea set and a pair of slave shackles.

Our questions can invite people into a particular frame of reference. Of course, visitors and learners make their own meanings of what they see and experience.

In a keynote speech to the American Association of Museums, Sherman Alexie walked out on stage and said, “I’m scared. I’m an Indian, and you guys are museum people.” [Followed by silence, and then laughter.] I took that (pun intended) to mean that he didn’t want us to seize his body as an object for our collections.

Where people are presented as content, we are also challenged to look again at our/their place in the world.

Maybe I don’t have a conclusion here, as my ideas will keep changing over time, and through interaction with others. I think content is assembled and experienced in many different ways, under the influence of people, power, and perspectives.