Archive for the ‘iteration’ Category

In about 10 minutes, I’m going to a meeting to discuss my theory of discount peer response. In a few months, assuming I can still get a plane ticket, I’ll present it at CCCC (which was iffy for a bit, until I found I had departmental funding). Somewhere between now and the beginning of the fall semester, I’m going to try to rewrite my thesis into a solid article, and try to publish it in CCC. I’ve already been advised on three major issues: the tone (less as an experienced teacher, more as an exploring one), the references (need more cutting edge stuff), and the name.


Much as I would love this to flow out of me as a fully formed academic argument, complete with support and high enough quality to immediately merit publication (and, as long as I’m dreaming, wide spread accolade), that just isn’t going to happen. So, at best, I can call this a brainstorm that may eventually lead to part of an academic argument.


I was having some slow-internet problems, so I decided to write this post off line and see if I could get it posted. I don’t know why I tell you this, but, in the interest of full disclosure, there it is.

I find myself thinking a lot about the future lately. (more…)

First off, the conversation I will attempt to engage in at the end of this post was inspired by the book I just finished reading. It’s called A guide to Mathematics for the Intelligent Nonmathematician by Edmund C. Berkeley. I found it while looking for some Iteration stuff in the library. It seemed like it might be fruitful, so even though it’s an old book (1966) and talks about ‘New Math’ like it’s a recent phenomenon, I took a look at it.

It’s an interesting book. Berkeley does what he says he intends and presents mathematics in a very accessible way, something that anyone can understand even without a basis in math. Though some chapters did start to shift into actual mathematics, for the most part I could read the entire thing without any memories from pre-calculus rearing their ugly heads. Berkeley goes point by point, slowly drawing the reader into a mathematical world by showing them that they’ve been dwelling in it all their lives. We do math all the time, Berkeley asserts. We just don’t usually look at what we’re doing.

That attitude reminded me of how I like to describe and teach logic. People think logically; it’s how we’re wired. Learning formal logic is really just forcing yourself to slow down and look at the steps you normally take, in order to be just a bit more careful. Berkeley seems to suggest that the same is true of math.

There were a few points interesting to my work on Iteration. When discussing approximation, and how to solve a few relatively simple problems, he suggests a variation of a guessing method. In his words, “Guess a reasonable value and try it. If it does not fit, then choose a more reasonable value and try that. And so on” (91). So make an attempt at something, then see if it works. If it doesn’t, improve and try again. This sounds like the mathematical equivalent of iterative development to me. Maybe it’s a primitive form of Iteration, but it’s right there.

Berkeley calls this method the “Method of Successive Approximations” (91), saying that while it is similar in principle to trial and error, there is thought between the trials that makes each successive trial more likely to succeed. Again, iteration.

Later on, he presents a form of iterative development at work. Discussing how correct figures are calculated at a business, Berkeley suggests that calculations are made first by one person, then passed on to the second. The second person does his/her own calculations, and marks any discrepancies between the second set and the first set. The first calculator then has to check each of the discrepancies and try to fix them, until both people agree with the calculations. Then the calculations are sent to a third person who spot checks several random figures. If he/she approves of those random figures, the calculations are taken as correct (110-112). This definitely seems like small group iterative development. Try something once, send it up the line to be tested. If it’s no good, try again. Keep doing that until the first person up the line approves, then send it to the second person. Continue the process until everyone’s happy. It’s a nice description.

Which brings me to the end of the book, where Berkeley, after discussing the way probability works (and demonstrating the proper way to look at the Gambler’s Fallacy), talks about the future. Before this section, he predicts that the likelihood that humanity will destroy itself with nuclear weapons at some point in the next 1000 years is 99.996%. Not very encouraging. But after that, he presents some predictions for what the world would look like if we got lucky and did NOT kill ourselves.

His predictions and then mine: (more…)

I’ve finished grading the first set of papers. These papers, remember, were written exclusively with DPR. Not surprisingly, some people got no help at all from the peer edits. In probably half those cases, the reason they got no help was that they ignored the suggestions that were provided. The rest of the time, suggestions remained on the surface.

What was surprising was that, on the whole, the papers were better. I think I graded more harshly because of my own new grading policy (that students who want an A in the course have to rewrite papers until they are of A quality), but even still, the vast majority of my students received a B or better. But that’s not what I mean by the papers being better.

When I graded papers last semester, I was astounded by how many students forgot to do little things, like include a title page. I would say that at least 30% of the students forgot that particular item. Considering that there were only 10 items they were being graded on (which they chose as a class), and that a title page is SUCH an easy thing to do, that was a bit surprising.

This time around, there were 3 papers without title pages. Out of 40, that’s pretty good. But there’s more. (more…)

<edit: I don’t know why the paragraphs didn’t come through. Hopefully, they’re visible now. sorry about that.>

I mentioned already that I tried DPR in class. I wanted to take some time and go into specifics for how I did it, so that any who care to try themselves have a baseline to jump from.I began by asking my class how many of them had done peer response in some form in the past. Virtually everyone said they had. I followed up by asking how many of them had gotten any real help from doing it. The number of hands decreased dramatically.

So I asked those who got help what kind of help they got. For the most part, they could tell me nothing more than help with grammar and spelling. The only other comment was that sometimes it helps to have someone else tell you your paper is good.

I then turned to the rest of the class and asked them why peer response didn’t help them in the past. Some people said they didn’t know what to look for, some said that they just focused on little things because that’s what they were supposed to do, some said they didn’t trust one another, and some said they didn’t know what to look for.


I started doing discount peer response in my classes this semester. It’s my first time doing it all the way. In the past I’ve had it along with regular peer response, in a twisted sort of hybrid. But now I have students that never peer respond in class; they do all the work on their own.

My plan was to have them do one round of that, fix their draft, and then bring the draft to class. If DPR didn’t work for them, I’d have them peer respond in class as normal and then go back to the old way, tail between my legs, thinking that maybe DPR is just a good idea in theory.

Thankfully, that’s not what happened. My students told me that they got more out of this type of peer response than they’ve ever gotten out of doing it in class. They asked questions, we dealt with issues, and they’re trying again over the weekend. I still don’t know if DPR works, of course. I won’t even be able to suggest that it can until I see their papers. If they did DPR but got nothing out of it, their papers will show. But thinking back to how my students did it in the past, and how much good it did them, I’m pretty confident.

What’s particularly interesting is that six of my roughly forty students completely started over after getting comments on their draft. They picked a different topic and wrote the entire thing from scratch. They asked if this was okay. What excites me about this is that they were looking at peer response as PART of the process, not as the end. I told them that they absolutely could, and that it counted as a draft (since they need 3 for each paper). I did say that they needed to have at least one additional draft beyond whatever they settled on, but that’s just so that a student can’t write two papers and then download a third (or download three). I want them to be able to actually improve from one draft to another.

<digression>Which brings up an interesting point. When working with peer response, in some ways plagiarism isn’t much of an issue. Yes, if they plagiarize they won’t have written the paper, but they can still learn how to peer respond and learn the value of writing an additional draft. I’m not saying that plagiarism is okay (far from it), but I think it’s interesting to think about peer response draft to draft.</digression>

In other news, I’m trucking through Jakob Nielsen’s Designing Web Usability, and hope to have a review of it up in the next day or so. After that, I have a short reading list before I go ‘fishing’ for more sources. I’m planning to study iteration, and will probably end up asking one of the guys who works at the library to point me to some interesting places. My current reading list (after Nielsen) is as follows:

  • Hueretics: The logic of invention by Gregory L. Ulmer
  • Applied Grammatology also by Gregory L. Ulmer
  • Selected parts of Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida

Like I said, short list.

My paper is really coming together. I need to move a few things around, but the essence of it is pretty solid. As I worked through it last weekend, I found that discount peer response just makes sense. I’m kind of amazed no one has ever written about this before. Of course, probably someone has; I just haven’t found it.

There’s a bit of parallel I still need to finalize, but the two (user testing and peer response) map so well onto each other that I’m frankly somewhat amazed.

Today in class I did an informal survey that helped me feel more confident about my findings. All semester, I have allowed students to perform a discount peer response on their papers for extra credit. If they took the papers to someone else and had that someone respond to the paper, then created a new draft based on the response, they gained two extra points. They could do this up to three times per semester. As I intended, those who did this generally didn’t need the extra credit (as a paper written in five drafts will invariably get a better grade than one written in two).

What I asked them today was, of those who did the peer response outside of class, which was more effective? Was peer response more helpful in class or out of class? (more…)

As the title of this post suggests, this is an informal brainstorm. I do not know what will come out of it, but hopefully it will be useful. It is my intention to try to pump out at the very least 2 pages of good text this weekend. My hope is that will include both a ‘disclaimer’ (that this is a sample from a larger work, written for a class, etc) and a solid introduction. I also want an outline, which is why I’m here.


I said before that I wanted to make a list of everything that interests me. My hope in doing so was to be able to figure out what part of this interest I want to focus on for the paper I am currently working on. I’ll get to that in a moment. Now, the list, including what was and adding what must also be:

  • Development of Technology
  • Process of invention (both user centered and otherwise)
  • Predictive power of science fiction
  • Conflict between ‘popular’ fiction and ‘Literary’ fiction (as examined through usability)
  • Pedagogy
  • Peer responding/editing
  • Parallels (between programing/writing)
  • Parallels and links between Philosophy and English Studies
  • Iteration
  • Writing Studies
  • Writing History
  • Philosophy
  • Logic
  • User Centering
  • Ease
  • Accessibility
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • New Media
  • Usability
  • History of writing
  • Methods of writing
  • Audience

The list is likely to continue to grow. Realistically, it should always grow; I should constantly be advancing what I am interested in.

Right now, though, I need to focus. My original problem with the paper I was writing was, I think, that I wasn’t focused enough. I didn’t follow my own mental model. Let me digress to explain that. (more…)