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Following the Thread:

A Writing Teacher’s Memories

and Arts-Based Transition to a

New Technology of Meaning-Making


Joan Vinall-Cox

A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements

for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the
University of Toronto

© Copyright by Joan Vinall-Cox 2004

In this postmodern arts-based autoethnographic inquiry, I investigate the impact
of the online computer on composing and teaching, penetrating to the core of the
labyrinth of what it means to be a teacher of writing in this computer-mediated age. The
online computer is my composing tool as I shape both my text and the appearance of
my text in order to uncover and display the effects of this new technology on writing
and on teaching writing.
I have composed narratives from my experiences as a writer and as a teacher of
writing and reveal my understandings through a chorus of voices, all mine yet none with
the “whole” story. While my Academic and Teacher voice provides a conventional
“ground” for my thesis, my other voices each have their own stories of my writing

my Oracles Voice, my homage to the writers from whom I have learned;

my Writing Process voice reveals how I write using the online computer;

my Illuminal Voice with hermeneutical overtones, reveals my musings, my

insights, and my significant memories;

my Published Voice reprints articles, and excerpts, written over a number of

years, showing how I experienced my journey of discovery at different
points in time;

my Living While Writing voice displays my quotidian existence while I write

this thesis;

my Querulous Voice exposes my fears and resentments connected with

learning and teaching writing;

my Artist’s Voice includes the arational leaps of understanding I gain from

my own and other’s poetry; and

Ariadne’s Voice speaks the thoughts of a rewritten Greek mythic character

who seeks the core of the labyrinth and the secret of the Minotaur (one of
my guiding metaphors) - an allegory about creativity mediated by
I use the visual potentialities of word processing to provide different fonts,
colours and borders for each voice in a bricologe structure that reveals meaning
cumulatively through connections not argument. As well, I am guided by my second
metaphor — this autoethnographic thesis is my home, and the reader, my guest. The
online computer is both my tool and my subject.


I have benefited greatly from the skills, knowledge and generosity

of many whom I have encountered during this thesis quest,

I wish to specifically acknowledge:

My thesis supervisor, Dr. Patrick Diamond,

for his sensitive guidance and generous editing;

Dr. Jean Mason,

for her inspiration and responsiveness;

David Booth and Dr. Mary Kooy,

for their assistance;

Dr Cheryl Craig,
for agreeing to be my External Examiner;

Sandra Hodder,
for her shaping of the Mobile Initiative at Sheridan
and the learning opportunities it provided; and

Dr. Diane Galambos,

for her generous mentoring and support.

- - iii
Table of Contents
ABSTRACT..................................................................................................................... II

TABLE OF FIGURES .......................................................................................................... VII

DEDICATION ..................................................................................................................IX

I - X N INVITATION AND AN INTRODUCTION........................................................................... 1

My Research Question ............................................................................................ 3

Assembling the Fragments ..................................................................................... 4

Some Bits on Bricolage....................................................................................................10

An Invitation to Linger .......................................................................................... 13

An Argument Around Form .............................................................................................14

A Play of Voices in Forms...................................................................................... 18

In Medias Res ....................................................................................................... 24

II - T ONTEXT: MY TOWN AND NEIGHBORHOOD ................................................................... 29

Writing Knowledge — My Home Town................................................................... 29

Writing (In)competence ...................................................................................................30

Writing Developments.....................................................................................................40

Sheridan Summer Institute of Writing — A Crossroads ....................................................50

The Educational Neighbourhood........................................................................... 61


Learning in the Ontario Community College System ........................................................72

Schooling Changes .........................................................................................................76

Teaching Theories ..........................................................................................................78

Writing Theory ................................................................................................................80

The Act of Writing...........................................................................................................94

The Neighbourhood Fadeout.........................................................................................110

III – I ITCHEN RECIPES: METHODOLOGY ........................................................................... 112

Narrative Inquiry................................................................................................. 115

Auto-ethnography.............................................................................................. 118

Arts-Based Inquiry ............................................................................................. 120

An Arational Rationale ..................................................................................................121

Potential Space, Transitional Objects and “Crystalizing” ................................................144

My Metaphor for my Thesis Quest.................................................................................148

Hermeneutics and Phenomenology ..................................................................... 150

Semiotics............................................................................................................ 152

Inquiry Materials Providing Sources of Meaning .................................................. 157

Welcome to my Home ......................................................................................... 161

Computer Tales ............................................................................................................161

The Computer as a Shiftless Typewriter ........................................................................164

The ISW Workshop .............................................................................................. 169

IV - AALES IN THE DINING ROOM: ARTFUL LEARNING .......................................................... 178

Aperitifs: A Bitter-Sweet Start ............................................................................. 178

Politics & Self Reconstruction: An Introductory Overview ...............................................181

Learning in the Colleges ...............................................................................................189

Beginnings: Electronic Communications.............................................................. 191

The Topics....................................................................................................................192

The Tool .......................................................................................................................194

The Computer Lab ........................................................................................................195

Word Processing and Presentations...............................................................................196

Screen Representations.................................................................................................198

Projecting the Lesson....................................................................................................199

Email Eurekas ...............................................................................................................200

Lessons and/or the Web ...............................................................................................209

Newsgroups and the Phenomenological ........................................................................212

Learning Struggles ........................................................................................................213

Up Against the Curriculum: Sharing the Challenge ........................................................220

The Main Course: Laptops-To-Go ...................................................................... 226

The Mobile Initiative .....................................................................................................229

Homage to the Institutional Support .............................................................................231

Homage to the Leading Teachers ..................................................................................233

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Caught on the Web .......................................................................................................237

Preparing for the New Classroom..................................................................................243

Dessert: Finishing the Meal ...........................................................................................253

V — F FTERS — TN MY STUDY ...................................................................................... 262

Confirmations .................................................................................................... 263

Insights .............................................................................................................. 265

Writing Necessities .......................................................................................................268

Learning the Tool..........................................................................................................272

The Zone of Proximal Development — Revisited ...........................................................275

Implications........................................................................................................ 276

The Teaching Challenge................................................................................................278

The Learning Challenge ................................................................................................280

The Research Challenge ................................................................................................281

Reaching the Core .............................................................................................. 286

THE LAST CHAPTER ..................................................................................................... 288

REFERENCES .............................................................................................................. 289

Table of Figures
Figure 1: A screen capture of a draft of this thesis in a Windows environment.............. 20

Figure 2: A screen captures of a draft of this thesis in a Mac environment.................... 20

Figure 3: Two Labyrinths - a microprocessor (Mortimer, 1990) and a church maze (The
Probert Encyclopaedia, 2003). .............................................................................. 26
Figure 4: A Canadian Blog about Information Technology and Education...................... 96
Figure 5: Art Object, made and photographed by JV-C ............................................... 136
Figure 6: Times New Roman and Arial fonts ............................................................... 173
Figure 7: This image of a page from The Non-Designer’s Design Book (Williams, 1994,
p. 14) reveals examples of each of the principles, and shows how they contribute to
a clean well-designed look for the page. ............................................................ 174
Figure 8: Two 'zines from the Constuction of Meaning course. ................................... 186
Figure 9: The banner made by a computer-savvy student, as part of my later office-
space decor ........................................................................................................ 187
Figure 10: A PowerPoint Slide Showing How to Manage Files ...................................... 197
Figure 11: A Screen Capture Showing a Screen Capture used in PowerPoint................ 199
Figure 12: The May 2003 Iteration of Cybersufing...................................................... 211
Figure 13: Three Aspects of the Outline View ............................................................. 223
Figure 14: A Sheridan Mobile Classroom .................................................................... 235
Figure 15: Lesson 1's introduction in Electronic Communications, mounted on WebCT
.......................................................................................................................... 239
Figure 16: Electronic Communication, Lesson 1, the middle section ........................... 240
Figure 17: Van Camp's Web site: .. 250
Figure 18: My First Home Page ................................................................................... 251
Figure 19: My current home page............................................................................... 252
Figure 20: Posters for 4 different Show & Share PD Days ............................................ 258
Figure 21: Styles in the Formatting Toolbar ................................................................ 270
Figure 22: A spelling mistake identified ..................................................................... 271
Figure 23: The Mail icon with one message indicated ................................................. 271
Figure 24: Google on my Personal Toolbar ................................................................. 272
Figure 25: A Screen Shot of my "Blog" (web log) ......................................................... 285

- - vii
To my dear husband, Jim Cox,
whose support, wisdom, and good humour
made this journey even more pleasurable.

For our ongoing conversation,

and much, much more,
I thank you.

To my beloved daughter, Meryle Cox,

who follows her own path,
for what I have learned
through and from you, thank-you.

To my first teachers and continuing supporters,

my gracious and loving parents,
George and Leta Vinall,
thanks for everything.

- - ix
Following the Thread

I - An Invitation and an Introduction

[E]ducation in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual
learner and for society must be based upon experience — which is
always the actual life-experience of some individual (Dewey, 1963 p.

Welcome to this, my thesis - the home of this tale of my exploration of the

computer labyrinth — my story as a writing teacher learning to use the online computer

as a new writing and teaching instrument. The online computer has become my passion,

my path, and the place where I increasingly dwell. I invite you, curious reader, to be a

guest here with me in this labyrinth, my home, my postmodern, arts-based narrative

inquiry thesis.

Above you have encountered two of the voices who speak in this thesis: the

Oracles’ Voice, quoting experts which you met in the box above, and my Academic-

and-Teaching voice, which you are reading now. Each voice, and there are more, will be

“heard” in its own font, with its own tones and powers. Below I introduce you to Ariadne,

the seeker who discovers meaning in the technological labyrinth, followed by my voice

of insight and discovery, my Illuminal Voice who here explains my choice of the myth of

Ariadne and the Minotaur as a metaphor for my learning journey:

I am no longer that Ariadne who trailed a thread to lead us
away from the technological Minotaur
and out of this Labyrinth

Now I am the recluse circling around, prowling

in the labyrinth, seeking
passageways, seeking
to explore this complex of
meaning and action and technology, seeking
the Minotaur and his stubborn,
passionately held secret
at the core. (Vinall-Cox 2003)

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Illuminal Voice

The Minotaur results from the union of human desire and the gifts of the gods,

expedited by technology, and then instantiated by yet more technology. In the Greek

myth, Ariadne’s mother, Pasiphae desired the white bull from the depths, a gift from

Poseidon, god of the sea (and home of the unconscious mind.) Daedalus, that careless

and pandering inventor, created the machine that made their coupling possible, and

thus the Minotaur was born. The dark story alleging that the Minotaur consumes human

victims was a tale spun by his enemies, just as those opponents of technology claim that

it consumes the will of humans who, they say in their dauntingly authoritative tones,

become its victims.

Perhaps, in this version of the story, we who seek the Minotaur at the core of the

technological labyrinth will reach less than happy endings, or perhaps we will find new

possibilities. It is not yet known. But this story will provide a worthwhile journey, and

not a tired rerun of that old story where the Minotaur is labeled as enemy so the

audience can simply turn its attention to the “reality based show” where Ariadne rescued

faithless Theseus from the Minotaur he feared, only to be abandoned on some island.

I hope that you will come to see my family of voices not as a code to be cracked

and challenged, but as a chorus displayed in fonts and colours, telling you stories of the

many aspects of my journey into the core of the technology labyrinth, each voice hitting

notes the others cannot, giving you a fuller experience of our music.

So who am I? In this, my academic and teaching voice, I speak as the main

narrator, a community college teacher of writing and story, sometimes called a

professor. I have been teaching in the college system for over 30 years. During the past

10 years, and especially during the past five years, I have been using an online computer

to create my course materials, and I have been using these to teach students how to

Following the Thread

write using the online computer as their writing instrument. What I am learning to do is

also what I am teaching. I believe that I am at the core of a pivotal time in writing

research. As Bolter (2001) comments in Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the

Remediation of Print:

The Internet and the Web, CD-ROMS and DVDs, and computer RAM
constitute a field for recording, organizing, and presenting texts – a
contemporary writing space that refashions the earlier spaces of the
papyrus roll, the codex, and the printed book (p. 12).

Our writing and indeed all our communicative tools are well into a period of

radical change that strongly affects individuals, both personally and in their roles in

business, government, and education. In this thesis, I operate as multiple “eyes” / “I’s”

with a chorus of voices describing this ocean of change, both technological and cultural.

My Research Question
I seek to investigate the impact of the online computer on composing and

teaching, penetrating to the core of the labyrinth of what it means to be a teacher

of writing in a computer-mediated age. This is my research question which guides

this inquiry. (I frame it as it frames this thesis.)

You will find I take up writing as threads from my own and other

consciousnesses, inviting you to weave with me your own “Web of meaning” (Emig,

1983), into cords to guide us as we seek our ways through the technological labyrinth

that we now all live within. As this thesis progresses, you will see “cord” thicken and

metamorphose into “chord.”

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Assembling the Fragments

The activity of consciousness is in constant flux and presents itself

only fleetingly (Diamond & Mullen 1999, p. 235).

I am sitting at my desk in my study with my laptop open in front of me. I have “a

room of my own” (Woolf, 1973) and, more significantly, a laptop for my exclusive use.

The laptop is, in many ways, my traveling “room of my own” because much of my work,

both finished and in process, resides on its hard drive. With the addition of a DATA

projector, I can turn any room into my classroom. Using a wall, I can project PowerPoint

presentations, documents, and, if there is an Internet connection available, Web sites.

The laptop gives me movable, revisable, colourful replacements for blackboards,

overheads, bulletin boards, and posters. The laptop, with a DATA projector and an

Internet connection, is the most powerful teaching tool that I have ever encountered in

over 30 years of teaching.

Before I could use my laptop as a teaching tool, however, I had to learn how to

construct the materials I would use in my teaching. I had to learn how to create

documents, visual examples, presentations, and Web sites to be shown in class and

mounted on the Internet. And to do all this, I had to engage in an extended time of

learning with a technology that initially terrified me.

As Polyani (1969) states, “[t]he structural kinship of the arts of knowing and

doing is indeed such that they are rarely exercised in isolation; we usually meet a blend

of the two” (p. 126). My learning how to use word processors, presentation software,

Web authoring software and course authoring software took place not in isolation before

I taught with them, but, of necessity, in relation to my teaching and using them. Initially,

I learned how to use them, because I was required to teach with them. I have an

operational view of learning; I learn when I need to by doing it.

As Britton (1982) says —

Following the Thread

The value of each discovery is limited to the successful solution of this

particular problem at this particular time; but the power of the teacher to
make that journey and make it again — there above all lies the value of
the whole enterprise (p. 151).

I might never have acquired my computer skills if I had not been embedded in an

institution with its multiple demands and supports, its technology projects and demands

for role models. As Bruner (1990) points out,

what the learning [person] is doing is participating in a kind of cultural

geography that sustains and shapes what he or she is doing, and without
which there would, as it were, be no learning (p. 106). (Italics in the

We are living at a cultural turning point in the development of communication

technology. I originally taught before the computer became widely available, before the

word processor, before presentation software, and before the Internet. I am now

teaching in a structurally mobile, pragmatically focussed educational institution, a

community college. And I am teaching at the moment and in a place where the

computer is no longer contained under the exclusive control of computer programmers

but where it has become a user-friendly tool available to, and necessary for, even non-

technologically-oriented people, such as I once was.

I am a part of a learning culture not just in the technology I use to create

meaning, but also through my understanding of how that meaning is made. How I tell

this story is part of this story; the form carries the meaning as surely the page, or

screen, displays the text. I believe, as Richardson (1997) asserts, that “[w]e are always

viewing something from somewhere, from some embodied position” (p. 58).

Consequently my doctoral research is focussed on my experiences, indwelling (Polanyi,

1969, p. 148) with my own learning and classroom work as a learner of writing, as a

teacher writing, and as a writer who teaches.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Connelly and Clandinin (1988) point out, in Teachers as Curriculum Planners:

Narratives of Experience, “[that a] practitioner does curriculum; a theoretician thinks

about it” (p. 87). I am both. I am in a doctoral program, studying theory because I have

been a practitioner, a teacher, who learned how to use a computer and the Internet as

part of my profession. As I moved into closer encounters with word processing, email,

and the Web, then into teaching using learning management software in a laptop

environment, I discovered a passion for the online computer, and for writing and

teaching writing with it. I also developed a need to explore how I, as a formerly

technologically challenged middle-aged female professor, had developed this new

passion for writing, and teaching writing, using the online computer as a tool for

making meaning. The technological labyrinth that I used to fear has become my


My focus on representing and reflecting on my own experiences points me

towards arts-based research because “[a]rts-based modes best accommodate and

express the direct aspects of experience” (Diamond & Mullen 1999, p. 39). Arts-based

inquiry using narrative, phenomenological, hermeneutical and semiotic understandings

as a rich and blended research medium gives me the loam I need, a seedbed for this

thesis that I am writing. In this aesthetic loam, the blue-flowered flax of my memories

grows and I write as a way to “rett and scutch” these flax stems and extract the fibres,

the threads of memory and discovery, that I spin into the linen threads with which I

weave my cord of meanings. (Metaphors propel my quest forward!)

We humans see ‘signs’ and read ‘meanings’, in other words, we are interpreters

par excellence, and constructing meanings is our most human modus operandi.

Furthermore, we are always seeing things from our individual positions, and from our

embeddedness in various groups and/or cultures. Denzin (1989) argues that “[n]o self

or personal-experience story is ever an individual production. It derives from larger

group, cultural, ideological, and historical contexts” (p. 73). Additionally, what we

construct when we read signs is not a stable, final meaning, but an ongoing stream of

Following the Thread

shifting and limited interpretations, as Iser explained (Albertson, 2000), even of self and

its shifting voices.

As Diamond and van Halen-Faber (2002) say, “the self experiences and,

therefore, constructs meaning that, in turn, creates the self. The reflexivity of arts-

based inquiry allows us to write ourselves into our world, inserting ourselves into it as

agents” (p. 125). I am writing about my learning and teaching experiences to embrace

and deepen their meaning because that allows me to grasp them more firmly. Through

writing and through consciousness both of my action in my own ongoing story and of

the cultural story it is embedded within, I attempt to catch the wave I am a part of, to tell

the stories of my learning how to use this new tool that is exploding into cultural

ubiquity, the online compute.

Yet, as I sit here in my study writing on this online laptop computer about my

adventures in learning to write on an online computer, I am aware of the complexity, the

randomness, and the mysteriousness of my development as a writer using the online

computer. As Denzin (1989) says “[s]tories …, like the lives they tell about, are always

open-ended, inconclusive, and ambiguous, subject to multiple interpretations” . How do

I write about my writing? I have decided to do what the American poet Theodore

Roethke (1958) recommends; I will “learn by going where I have to go” (p. 413). As I

write, I observe how I write. In van Manen’s words, “writing is the method” (1997, p.


Before I can tell my stories to you, the reader, we have some questions to

contemplate. As Richardson (1997) asks:

How does the author position the self as a knower and a teller? Who is the
writer? Who is the reader? For the experimental writer these lead to the
intertwined problems of subjectivity / authority / authorship / reflexivity,
on the one hand, and representational form on the other.
Postmodernism claims that representation is always partial, local, and
situational …. There is no such thing as “getting it right”; only “getting it”
differently contoured and nuanced (p. 91).

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Joan Vinall-Cox

I position myself here as a postmodern writer and a teacher of writing, a teller of

stories about teaching and learning and also as a theorist, one who analyzes her own

process of writing, who recognizes herself as embedded in her life while she writes it,

who is an intuitive thinker, and a playful poet. I invite you, as reader, to visit with me in

my thesis home, where you will hear many voices, some mine and none telling the

complete story. In this, my arts-based postmodern narrative thesis, you will be reading/

hearing a plurivocal inquiry, a harmonised and counterpointed chorale that can also be

seen as cobbled together like a bricolage. A fourth of my voices speaks, my “Living

While Writing” voice, using the earth colour, brown, interrupting my academic voice

which provides the (back) ground to all my voices.

Living While Writing

Picture a woman riding the GO train wearing a black down-filled

coat, and a dark blue backpack with her laptop in it. As the train doors

open in Union Station, she flows out and down, turning corners and

flowing down more stairs. On she flows into the Toronto subway, north on

the University line to St. George, where she exits. Up more stairs, through a

turnstile, and she’s into OISE/UT, her destination. She takes the elevator;

stopping on the third floor to pick up the DATA projector she’d booked a

month before. She pushes the cart onto the elevator and heads for the tenth


Tonight I give a presentation for my fellow classmates in Professor

Diamond’s class, Works-in-Progress, using my laptop, the DATA projector,

and the wall. I have created a PowerPoint presentation with screen shots

and bulleted points, showing how to use the Outline View and Styles in

MSWord, and how a Table of Contents can then be automatically

generated. I am passionate about how this makes the writer’s work more

organized and reader-oriented. I love what I can do with the computer in

terms of writing and teaching. Instead of feeling constrained, limited, and

Following the Thread

inadequate (my sense of myself as a writer before being forced into using

an online computer), I feel more than competent, even skilled and

powerful, and, responding to a reflexive teacherly impulse, I want to share

that skill and power.

My Academic-and-Teaching Voice speaks now to introduce you to what I know

about my own writing process. I write and rewrite and “cut & paste” because that is how

I think in written words. I shape and reshape this path of words to create the flow of

your reading mind engaged with my writing mind, moving together, following our

thread, the text.

This depthful writing cannot be accomplished in one straightforward

session. Rather, the process of writing and rewriting (including revising
or editing) is more reminiscent of the artistic activity of creating an art
object that has to be approached again and again, now here and then
there, going back and forth between the parts and the whole in order to
arrive at a finely crafted piece that often reflects the personal “signature”
of the author (van Manen, 1997 pp. 132 - 133).

After many revisions and writing decisions, some parts of this thesis remain

clearly demarcated and can be seen and read as separate voices, separate threads, and

some have been smoothed over and woven into this complex cord to guide readers

through this labyrinth of meaning. These re-structurings and re-writings are part of the

artful craft of writing for others-as-readers as well as for oneself-as-writer. My Writing

Process Voice follows and comments.

Writing Process Voice

The paper, if this had been written a few years ago, would appear worn and grey
here, marked by erasings and overwritings showing the multiple changes I have made!
My process feels so haphazard, so arational. The section below is an add-on, to an add-
on to an add-on, and maybe more times that that. My writing has turned into “a
complex process of rewriting, (re-thinking, re-flecting, re-cognizing)” (van Manen,
1997, p. 131).

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Joan Vinall-Cox

I’ve inserted the word “bricolage,” after being surprised and intrigued when I
encountered it in my reading. I researched it, claimed it as describing how I think and
learn, and came to understand that it is central to representing what it is I am studying
about how I learn. Delighted with the connections that arose in my mind as I researched
the word, I carefully highlighted and dragged small sections of my text to different
locations to better shape the path for you, the reader.

Some Bits on Bricolage

Self-narrative is frankly intersubjective and fragmented (Diamond &

Mullen, 1999, p. 236).

In this thesis, I surface and highlight my rhetorical structuring as I seek to share

more than to argue. I wish to make you, as reader, more conscious of the bricolaged

nature of my thinking and composition by drawing your attention to the piecemeal,

collage-style laying-out and connecting of fragments of writing. I wish to suggest to

you that much writing is composed in this manner, but the additions and changes that I

emphasize here are normally sanded down and painted over, pretending to a unitary

nature of the composition that is constructed and fictive. Any sustained complex piece

of writing, such as a thesis, is created in bits and pieces and stitched together

thematically. I display such quilted thinking below with a collection of quotations and

use my voice of insight, my Illuminal Voice.

Gardner, (1972) describes how Lévi-Strauss, in his book, The Savage Mind, uses

the term “bricolage” to describe a way of thinking:

Myths and ideas are built up out of remains and debris, odds and ends of
thought put to service to help resolve philosophical problems or issues
confronted by society. … They seem to be cemented in the same
nonrandom but not completely foreseeable way as the reveries of young
children falling asleep: fragments of phrases, poems, and songs
occasioned by casual observations, combined in a novel creation with its
distinctive rhythm, tempo, and phrasing (pp. 140 – 141).

Following the Thread

Illuminal Voice

At night and in the morning, as I live in this time of study, meditation, and

writing, connections arise and represent themselves in words trailing through my mind.

Different “voices” whisper, leading me from idea to memory to reformulated

understanding. My thoughts accumulate and, shaping like coral, grow organically.

Friesen, in his Web site on Women and Computers, (2003) refers to what the well

known writer on issues of technology and culture, Sherry Turkle, Director of the MIT

Initiative on Technology and Self, has to say:

[She] … describes the way many women interact with computers as being
concrete, associative, and non-linear in nature. Using concepts drawn
from anthropology, she characterizes this interactive style as being one
of "soft mastery" and "bricolage." She opposes it to the "hard mastery" of
linear, abstract thinking which has been privileged in the rationalist
tradition and in computer programming.

Illuminal Voice

I have learned that I learn by use, not by organized instructions. I learn bit-by-

bit, doing tasks that require a complex of physical learning (my fingers on the keyboard

and hand on the mouse) intellectual engagement (the patterns and purposes of

processes) and necessity (I must teach writing where it now happens, on the computer.)

Mason (2001) fleshes out idea of bricolage further by referring to Turkle and to


Pointing out that “bricolage” is a style of reasoning and not a stage that
happens as part of an individual’s progression to a superior form, Turkle
notes that “soft mastery” thinking has been validated by Carol Gilligan’s
work which “validated bricolage as mature widespread and useful” (57-
58)… [T]hat, furthermore, this style of thinking may result in a more
virtuous way of acting, as “soft mastery” thinkers tend towards
negotiation and compromise as opposed to … competition and
dominance (para. 24).

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Illuminal Voice

I see this “associative” way of thinking, this way of seeing / creating connections

that generate meaning, as the basis of poetry and literature. I see this “bricolaged”

method of placing pieces in conjunction with each other as resulting from an innate way

of thinking where connection is as significant as linearity, and maybe more so.

Each piece means more and differently depending on what it is near. The

writer suggests connections with his or her placement of words and / or images, and

the reader then constructs further meanings with them. When Roethke (1958) wrote that

“We think by feeling. What is there to know?” I believe he was describing the kind of

associative thinking that a bricolaged approach displays openly. Bricolage, then, is the

kind of thinking that artists use in crafting their work, and the engaged, active reader of

poetry celebrates it.

A similar kind of piecemeal, cobbled together, associative, but goal-directed

learning allowed me to move from being a “technophobe” to being a writer and teacher

who was delighted with and empowered through using the online computer for writing

and for teaching. Frost has been quoted as saying that to get an education “you have to

hang around till you catch on” (Parini, 1999 p. 185). My learning to use the online

computer and a variety of software was achieved by “hanging around” over a number of

years and learning incidentally from school workshops, colleagues, students, the IT Help

desk, Help in the software, what I could find through the search engine, Google, and,

but only if absolutely necessary, manuals. This piecemeal and often “just-in-time”

learning is my experience of bricolage, my way of learning.

Thus, this thesis inquiry is focussed on the changes in my writing process that

occurred as I learned to write using the online computer as my tool. I also seek to

explore how this shift may have impacted my writing and my thinking processes. As I

delight in the kind of thinking found in poetry, and

Following the Thread

think by connecting more than by working in a linear mode, and

learn for and by doing,

bricolage is the appropriate form to describe and display my journey.

Consequently, I use my many voices, cobbled together in a succession of boxes,

not set off separately but strung together like a collection of gems on a cord.

Rather than privileging univocal word use, polysemy is embraced. More

than one line of interpretation or reading at any one time is encouraged,
and through increasing our linguistic resources, the range of possibilities
is broadened. The unique arrangement of ordinary and poetic or
picturesque descriptions is encouraged over technical descriptions, and
conversation is less purpose-driven and more exploratory (White &
Epston 1990, p. 82).

Although this thesis is built according to the principles of the traditional external

architecture (the conventional sections and academic conventions), its interior is

eclectic, and even eccentric, or, in the language of Lather, (1991) “ex-centric” (p. 33). In

a postmodern de-centring, “the formerly silenced …come to voice” (p. 33) and finally

take their turns in the centre. I write with different voices that rise from my different

modes of being which each contribute to my understanding and thus to my writing. My

thesis does not politely ignore and sweep these different modes under the academic

carpet. Here, in my thesis, they will be enabled to speak from their (normally hidden)

separate points of view, so you as reader and I as writer can see if and / or how using an

online computer rescues and emboldens my multiple voices.

An Invitation to Linger

In the very process of perceiving the world, we give and find shape,
pattern, order. In our talk and writing — the way we tell the stories of
our lives — we give and find further shape (Britton, 1982, p. 210).

In and through this metaphor-laden inquiry, I seek to reveal the story of how I

came to teach writing using the online computer as an arts-based writing tool. It is a

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Joan Vinall-Cox

story of discovery and insight about writing, teaching and learning, but, as I have

confessed, it is not confined to using the traditional, expository academic voice. It is not

in my nature to give you as reader and myself as writer only a single thread, a single

voice to follow.

An Argument Around Form

My contention is that no analysis of text content and meaning can be

satisfactory which fails to attend to what one might call the content
of texture (or the content of its form) (Fairclough, 1995, p. 5).

I will not argue propositionally, here in my thesis-home, or drive my point

brutally into your mind. Instead I invite you into my artistically arranged collection of

artefacts, of stories, and essays, and comments, and quotes, and poems. I am offering

you a bricolaged thesis where you, as reader, and I, as writer, dance together to shape

this postmodern collage knowing that “coherence, and thus meaning hinge on the

unifying consciousness of the perceiver” (Mason, 2000b). This is a constructivist thesis

where the text is assembled in voices, not in a directorly scripted form but with the

improvised page as the stage. I cut and paste bits and pieces together to mirror the

capabilities that the computer extends to the writer. I move from font-revealed voice to

inserted image and offer colour as a guide. I visually assemble this bricolage form by

using the tools that the computer offers. With my shaping I imitate the mental

connecting style both of the leaps of hyperlinks and the reader control of “surfing the

Web.” This is how we, reader and writer, search this labyrinth, and shape the form of my

thesis rhetorically to represent its meaning.

Rhetorical form is the product of designing extended texts so as to

manage, so far as possible, how they are to be taken by an audience. As
such they are devices for handling illocutionary force. And as
interpretation requires that one detect audience directed intention, it
requires an awareness of rhetorical form (Olson, 1994, p. 135).

Following the Thread

I invite you to bring your rhetorical knowledge of the thesis tradition to this

reading. I also request that you open yourself to the changes promised by postmodern

thinking, as realised by arts-based representations. By using some of the basic

capacities of the online computer, I transform the labyrinth into a thesis playground and

sometime palimpsest where “different voices are laid side by side or top to bottom, up

against one another, in juxtaposition” (Diamond & Mullen, 1999, p. 433) You will be my

guest here, not my captive. If, as reader you allow me, I will:

invite you into this, my thesis home;

show you my town — where I grew up — and the neighbourhood that contains

my current home;

bring you into the kitchen, where I have cooked up this bricolage and show you

the recipes I’ve used;

seat you in the living room with my aperitifs distilled from the books that have

nourished me and present you with a scrapbook of the narratives of computers

from my past;

feed and entertain you in the dining room as I share with you my narratives of

learning word processing and teaching online; and

take our postprandial drinks in my study where we can reflect what it might all


In this inquiry, I am offering you, as reader, as guest in my home / thesis, an

opportunity to experience the treasures I have created and arranged. What I ask is that

you not think that this artful arrangement is anything less than an openly crafted

fabrication designed to reveal both how I am constructing my learning story and how I

have discovered and am discovering computer-use. I invite you in, hoping you will take

pleasure in my construction and perhaps see similarities to, and possibilities in, your

own experiences.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

A Chorus of Voices

My interest lies in the interaction of experience and thought, in

different voices and the dialogues to which they give rise, in the way
we listen to ourselves and others, in the stories we tell about our
lives (Gilligan, 1982, p. 2).

In this thesis, I construct a chorus of many voices, with meaning as segue and

glue. By using a bricolage form, I hope to highlight how meaning wends its way from

me, the author, through the marks on screen to those on paper that mediate the making

of meaning by you, the reader. I hope to display how ideas can be linked in patterned

sequences that are more associative than directly linear and hypothetico-deductive.

Often the conventional argumentative mode is created simply through a “smoothing”

that erases the bricolaged seams that more authentically represent the activity of

thought. Here I introduce you, dear reader, to my familiars, the voices performing in my

inquiry, the voices popping out from behind my academic voice, all the voices you will

meet in my thesis home. Here I briefly name them as a preliminary overview which I will

follow up with individual introductions of their appearance and the meaning they


My Voice of Homage displays my gratitude and respect for those thinkers and

theorists who have given me insights, and speaks at the beginning of each

section to guide our understanding;

My Writing Process Voice is my theoretically-shaped commentator displaying

elements of my actual writing process;

My Academic Voice will dominate by being the ground and container of the

traditional content of a thesis. It also contains;

Following the Thread

The voice of my Teaching Persona appearing from within my Academic

Voice in multiple aspects;

Teaching materials — as texts, images, and screen shots of Web pages;


Teaching insights – as excerpts from my graduate coursework;

My Published Voice with articles and excerpts from work I have previously

published displays some past insights and developmental steps;

My reflective, hermeneutical side, my Illuminal Voice, comments on

proceedings, revealing my memories and insights;

My Artist’s Voice sings the insights I or others have reached through lyricism

and poetry;

My Living While Writing Voice tells stories from me as the writer who has a life

to carry on with while writing;

My (usually) hidden, ironic, and sometimes Querulous Voice will occasionally

burst out with some dark or forbidden thoughts; and finally, (to animate and

comment on the phenomenological detailing and academic analysis,)

Ariadne’s Voice, made up of fiction and poetry, created from a postmodern re-

writing of the Greek myth of Ariadne and the Labyrinth from the early days of

our Western academic culture is an arts-based allegory of the learning quest and

embroidery for (y)our pleasure and insight.

Each of these interior Voices will tell its own version of this thesis journey, the

storied account of my voyage as a writer from technophobe to technophile. Now, let me

give you the keys, the visual signifiers so that you will know which voice and / or source

you are encountering. They are my devices.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

A Play of Voices in Forms

All our constructs are devices that we and our paradigms make up in
order to achieve a purpose (Diamond & Mullen, 1999, p. 242)

As an “affirmative postmodernist” (Diamond & Mullen, 1999, p. 424), I “accept

personal experience, feelings, empathy and play as substitutes for ‘scientific’ method”

(p. 424), and invite you to “indwell” (Polanyi 1975) with me, and imaginatively

participate in the writing and reading of this text.

Writing Process
In talking to my friend Mary Ann who teaches Graphic Design, I mention using a
Lucida font. I don’t tell her I chose it as much for its name as its appearance. (I hope to
write a lucid thesis.) She responds vividly, praising me for choosing a family of fonts
designed to work together. I come home and look at my academic voice, at that time
written in Arial. For a week I write and think and look. Then I sample Lucida Sans for my
academic voice, and I decide on it as part of my design choices. I think I will use the
Lucida fonts for all my voices. I want a coherence of design as well as content. And here
in my Writing Process Voice, for a while, I speak with the Lucida Sans Unicode font. As I
build the content in words, I also design the form of the content, in its appearance.
Then, a change in my teaching assignment leads to my having to exchange my
IBM ThinkPad laptop for a Mac PowerBook G4 laptop. The word processor on the Mac
doesn’t have the same fonts as the IBM. After investigating the cost of buying more
Lucida fonts, I decide to reformat my Styles choices using the two Lucida font sets
available to me on the Mac: Lucida Grande and Lucida Handwriting.
A central aspect of my composing is the visual design. I can’t just write the
words; I feel compelled to design the page simultaneously. Even though I am aware that
I will edit and change the appearance as well as the words, I build both text and design
as I write. For me, the meaning is in the arts-based connotations of the appearance of
the text as well as in the denotations of the words.

Here then, speaking in my more or less properly behaved academic voice, in

Lucida Grande font, 10 point in size, double-spaced, I will now formally introduce

you, dear reader, to the voices and patterns I use.

Following the Thread

The introductory quote, under major titles is the Voice of Homage, in a special

font, Lucida Grande bold, 10 point, 1.5 spaced, and boxed and framed, to show my

respect for the scholars who have written the books and articles that have confirmed

and explicated my experiences as a teacher of writing and inquirer into my own

processes. These are the Voices that have come before mine and have helped to light

my thesis home.

My Writing Process Voice, containing my “writing anecdotes” (van Manen, 1997,

p. 121), speaks in Lucida Grande font in italics, 10 point and 1.5 spaced, boxed with
a simple line border. It tells the stories of just how this thesis gets written. As the
online computer is my writing tool and influences my writing process, my Writing
Process Voice is an important voice.

My Teaching Voice appears within my academic voice, in Lucida Grande font 10

point and double spaced, and is focussed on what I have learned through and about

teaching. It will speak in its embodied form through the relevant course materials that I

have created as part of my teaching assignment, including screen captures from my

course Website and/or course PowerPoints. These will be inserted as figures, and

referenced. To demonstrate, Figure 1, below, shows what my screen looked like as I

composed a version of this section in an IBM Windows environment. Notice that,

although the screen capture shows a yellow background for my “Living While Writing”

voice, the yellow background has since been removed because it looked better on the

screen than on paper, the ultimate home of these words.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Figure 1: A screen capture of a draft of this thesis in a Windows environment

Figure 2: A screen captures of a draft of this thesis in a Mac environment.

Following the Thread

I have also removed the ornamental detail seen in Figure 2, above, in the Mac OS

X screen capture which displays the desktop with many elements visible in addition to

the Word page. The Windows screen capture, Figure 1 above, shows only the Word page

itself. I work in each environment differently because they each operate in their own

way. In both the Windows and the Mac OS X environments, I have placed the bar, or

dock, that allows me to navigate from application to application at the bottom of the


These kinds of explanations with visual supports, and glossaries where

necessary, are typical of my teaching voice. My teaching voice will also speak reflectively

through excerpts and adaptations added into this work from relevant essays completed

for some of my graduate courses. Some of these will be labelled and referenced.

My Published Voice, my previously to mark it off. It will be introduced and

published written pieces, will be referenced. (The “rule” is an influence
announced and signaled by Lucida from the writing conventions of Web sites
Grande 10 point font, 1.5 spaced, in where lines are often used to indicate a
double columns, and in grey, as faded break.)
text, with a grey “rule” above and below

My Illuminal Voice, with hermeneutical tones, will reveal the results of my

musings, my insights, and my significant memories in Lucida Grande 10 point font,

double-spaced and in grey, within a light-grey box.

My Living W hile W riting voice, using Lucida Handwriting font,

point 10, 1.5 spaced, in brown with an orange line as box, reminds

the reader that, as the writer, I am writing in the ongoing flow of an

embodied life, that “each of us may be seen to inhabit different lifeworlds at

different times of the day, such as the lived world of work, and the lived

world of the home” (van Manen, 1997, p. 101).

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Joan Vinall-Cox

My life events appear, not in chronological order, as I do not write

consecutively, but conveniently. My life stories are ordered by the text they

are tied to, not their own chronology because the text of my thesis was

written in chunks that I later re-assembled into an accessible order for the

benefit of you, the reader.

My Querulous Voice reveals what is usually hidden or denied, my

fears, angers, and secrets, my shadow, in an ugly olive colour in Lucida

Handwriting font, 10 point and 1.5 spaced, contained within an

unattractive greenish yellow box.

The Artist’s Voice speaks through my own poems and lyrical musings and
through the poems of other poets who nourish me, in the colour of deep water, in dark
teal, with prose in Lucida Grande italic, 10 point, 1.5 spaced, and poetry in Lucida
Grande bold, single-spaced, within a shadowed teal-coloured box.

Ariadne’s Voice
Finally, this tale of the labyrinthine learning required to arrive at agency with the
online computer as a tool for making meaning is leavened by excerpts from a rewritten
Ariadne myth in Lucida Grande font, 10 point and 1.5 spacing, in the faded tone of
old pulp fiction, grey, surrounded by a romantically frilly border. In this postmodern
thesis, “the activity of reference is problemized and celebrated” (Diamond & Mullen,
1999, p. 431). I learn best through the leaven of beauty and narrative, and, in this arts-
based inquiry, I offer an apparently frivolous allegory to lighten your way.

I suggest that, as you read, you not worry about remembering the details of all

these keys. I will remind you (we as multiple voices will remind you) when each voice or

aspect of my inquiring self appears, what each signifies and where it comes from. As

you grow to know this collage of writings, the visual signals will grow more familiar,

reminding you and reinforcing your awareness of my different voices and sources. Each

Following the Thread

voice is an imperfect map of the labyrinth that, pieced together, leads Ariadne to an

understanding of the Minotaur.

Illuminal Voice

A brief note: a central source of my enthusiasm for the computer as a tool for

making meaning has just been demonstrated. The ability to use text, colour, and

borders as part of making meaning is a significant aspect of the rich diversity of

possibilities the computer offers.

The Artist’s Voice

Here, near the beginning of this “Web of meaning” (Emig, 1983) I include a
reverie, a morning thought-dream from a time close to the conclusion of my writing. I
weave a macramé bricolage with different coloured threads plaited together to form the
cord to guide us, as I write and you read, through this story of meaning and the
technological labyrinth. Please look at the strands of my multiple voices, coloured and
textured for your delectation. The spiral lines of the multitudinous iterations of my
teaching/learning journey spin around these strands, giving them body and heft. The
warp of my memories and the weft of my readings create this linen cord. As I will
throughout this visit to my home, my thesis, I share my map/companions. Now, here, a
snippet of T.S Eliot and a taste of William Stafford.
From T.S. Eliot (1965), from a book I’ve carried and read since my undergraduate
… the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time,
… (Eliot, 1965, p. 59)

This is my perception of the impact of writing on understanding. We start with a

fascination which gives us the energy to explore, and end with a richer, though never
“complete,” understanding of where we have been exploring. This is my experience
writing this thesis.
From William Stafford (2003) whom I discovered in a collection called Teaching
With Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach (Intrator, 2003).

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Joan Vinall-Cox

The Way It Is

There's a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't let go of the thread (Stafford, 2003, p. 15).

In the world of the World Wide Web, threads are found in message boards or
discussion groups. They are formed as people respond to a message and a chain, or
thread, is formed from one message to the next. Sometimes a writer will shift, or even
utterly change, the topic. The thread goes on as long as there is energy among the
readers to respond, despite or because of changes.
Ariadne left a thread to guide Theseus away from the Minotaur s/he feared. In
this mystory (Ulmer, 2003), she confronts the technological labyrinth and creates the
thread that guides her to the centre, the core, the meaning, and the Minotaur.
What is this thread I follow? The technology is its setting, not its answer. Is it
teaching or writing, or a plaiting of both? Or is it a “new voice/ which [I] slowly
recognize… as my own” (Oliver, 1992)?

Now, dear readers, in writing this I am seeking your help to see my thread

clearly. In writing for you, I uncovermy meaning. I hope you are ready to “go with this

narrative flow” and because we are scholars and researchers who seek the “truths”

hiding behind and inside stories, we will start before the beginning, or in the middle of

things, as the Ancients and the Oracles advise. Here, then, the story opens.…

In Medias Res

Awareness, like self, is multiple and fragmented, divided against

itself in the act of observing and being. (Diamond & Mullen, 1999, p.

Following the Thread

Like Eisner (1991) I believe that, “[t]heory … grows in the light of perception.

Perception gives rise to consciousness, and interpretation gives meaning to it” (p. 129)

The advent of the online computer has created new arenas of communicative

possibilities, and the teaching possibilities in this kind of a milieu call out for the

development of theory. Consequently, I have chosen to temporarily leave my role as a

practitioner doing curriculum, and take a sabbatical to become a theoretician (Connelly

& Clandinin 1988) thinking about my experiences on this journey of writing and

classroom / teaching change.

As an experienced and ongoing practitioner of theory-shaped teaching, I am in

graduate school to develop myself further as a teacher, to grow by stretching my

knowledge and skills, and to do this through exploring “stories about [my] own

struggles for self-knowledge and identity” as a writing teacher (Mitchell and Weber,

1999, pp.1 - 2) who learns to use a computer. I am using both the content and the form

of my writing to create and communicate my understandings. What I have learned how

to do with an online computer gives me great personal joy and professional power, and

it is the source of this joy and power that I seek to explore. With Atwood (2004), I hold

that “’[t]he arts’ — as we’ve come to term them — are not a frill. They are the heart of

the matter, because they are about our hearts, and our technological inventiveness is

generated by our emotions, not by our minds” (A, p. 19).

I love using an online computer because it provides such support to what I

create. It allows me to produce learning materials that, 20 years ago, would have taken

several highly specifically trained people to produce. As the key to my Voices, above

shows, the computer with its software and peripherals gives me, as a writer, the agency

of a team of people including:

a copy editor;

a graphic designer / layout artist;

a photographer and photo developer;

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Joan Vinall-Cox

a slide show technician;

a printer; and

a publisher;

worldwide communication using e-mail;

worldwide communication access through the World Wide Web, both

synchronous and asynchronous.

Shifting Semiosis

Thinking operations occur in our responses to all the texts we

experience in our lives — conversations, films, books, magazines,
tapes and CDs (Booth, 2001, p. 20).

The online computer provides a communication centre that allows me to be

creative with words, and with the a

annccee of text, and to think with arts-based

images. “Imaginative rationality” as Lakoff and Johnson (1999) call it.

Figure 3: Two Labyrinths - a microprocessor (Mortimer, 1990) and a church maze (The

Probert Encyclopaedia, 2003).

On the Web, I can also think with moving images and sound, though these cannot be

presented on paper. In Figure 3, above, on the left is a microprocessor, a basic

component of computers, and on the right, a spiritual labyrinth, a maze. Their similarity

is clearly visible and this is far more easily seen, than verbally described. The online

computer allows me to find such images easily through using the search engine,

Google, and then to copy and insert them into my document.

Following the Thread

Using the online computer as a tool allows me to create and support a holistic

curriculum. The aesthetic qualities of what I can create in PowerPoint presentations, or

on Web pages, or through visually designed paper products, give me pleasure, and are

part of the dramatising of the meaning of the materials that I produce as part of my

teaching. They are one of my ways of connecting “the cognitive and the affective

domains” (Miller, 1988, p. 110). The use of the online computer in my teaching also

allows me to create individualized teaching materials that are authentically shaped out

of my understanding of specific classes and students and created for their development.

The ease of creating and revising learning materials, and ensuring

communication even while not together physically in the classroom, allow me to co-

create an atmosphere that is shaped for and with the students with whom I share our

learning task. I can “be with students” (Miller, 1988, p. 137) in a rich and authentic way,

and, with the creative possibilities of the online computer, with its links to libraries, data

bases, and search engines, I can relate our “subject matter to the interests of [each]

student” (p. 137) in a deeply connected way. Thus the communication possibilities of

the online computer are both my subject and my method, and, in a fully integrated and

holistic way, they provide my curriculum.

This ease and ability to shape and respond to individual classes and even

students is another reason why I have created my thesis in the form of a bbrriiccoolla

This collection of bits and pieces is created, assembled, arranged, and designed to lead

you, dear reader, through the kind of postmodern, arts-based narrative inquiry

(Diamond & Mullen 1999) that the computer does not simply allow, but positively


Writing Process
In composing this arts-based postmodern thesis, I have used:
initially an IBM ThinkPad with a Windows operating system and MS Office
software and Netscape as the internet browser;

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Joan Vinall-Cox

followed by an Apple G4 PowerBook with the OS X operating system, MS

Office software, with Netscape and Safari as internet browsers;
followed by an Apple iBook PowerBook with the OS X operating system, MS
Office software, with Netscape and Safari as internet browsers; plus
the support that software offers for the technical requirements, such as all
the advantages of word processing, for example, Styles in MSWord, plus
software like EndNote, a bibliographic package; as well as
many voices and many visual aspects to guide the reader, by the use of
images and patterns, to see/hear which voice is speaking when; and
principles of design to guide and shape my layout for the benefit of
communicating more fully and thus more powerfully with readers.

And I take advantage of an arts-based approach combined with the

functionalities of the online computer to be “playfully serious, and seriously playful”

(Richardson, 1997).

Following the Thread

II - Context: My Town and Neighborhood

Studying ourselves is a form of research and our own accounts of
“how we got here” can contribute to a body of knowledge about
teaching, learning, and adult identity. Studying ourselves might be
regarded as research-in-action (Mitchell & Weber, 1999, p. 9).

You are entering my past, a town, which, I assume, will resemble yours in many

ways. I am going to show you the schools I grew up within, and tell you some stories

about how I learned in their classrooms. I also assume that you, dear reader, have gone

through your own learning-to-write experiences and that you can compare and/or

contrast them with mine. Crayons, pencils, straight pens, ballpoints, fountain pens, and

typewriters were my early instruments as I practiced and learned how to write. I felt little

skill and control as I strove to learn to use them.

Writing Knowledge — My Home Town

Communication in writing relies on the formal meanings of words

and requires a much greater number of words than oral speech to
convey the same idea (Vygotsky, 1962, p. 142).

Writing Process
This following section has been developed out of a reflective narrative piece written for
Professor Jean Mason’s course, Writing Matters: Theoretical and Practical Models for
the Study and Teaching of Writing which I took in the spring of 2003.
Originally I wrote about learning to write using both memory and reflection on
memory. I tried to use illuminal moments (Denzin, 1989), and, because I have thought
through my writing experiences previously, some of these stories are actually memories
of memories. With my use of the third person, I hoped to both show distance, and to
create an imaginable visual experience for the reader.
After the original paper had been written, I encountered the work of Mitchell and
Weber (1999) in using “memory in the third person” with teachers. I was struck with
how closely my work resembled what they were describing. Consequently, I have used

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Joan Vinall-Cox

their ideas as a pattern and the original paper has become the source of bits that I have
pieced together, the same way my mother and grandmother used the leftovers from
previous sewing projects to create their quilts.
Like an artist in the music industry, I am “covering” my original paper, using the
original music, but creating a new “sound” with it, more suitable for this “project.”

Ariadne Speaks
In my pack I carry indigo, a gift from a wise woman encountered on my journeys.
Tonight I rub it on my hands before I begin to weave and it colours this part of the cord I
weave that guides me back into the labyrinth I once fled.

Writing (In)competence

Making marks which can serve mnemonic and communicative

purposes is as old as human culture itself (Olson, 1994, p. 65).

Illuminal Voice — A Much-Told Tale

My mom and dad tell how, when I started kindergarten at four, they walked the

route to my first school with me, down a block, along three blocks, turn at the bridge for

another block, then turn again and three more to the school. They tell how they walked

the route once, and from then on I could follow this labyrinthine path all by myself. I

walked by myself, everyday, to and from school. This is a mythic family memory.

What I remember is a feeling. I liked school. I never understood, and still do not,

why on the radio and now on television we are encouraged to feel normal if we hate

school, and weird if we like it. I like(d) it.

Public School — Writing Beginnings

English is not a linear subject, and a person’s language abilities are

complex, so that progress is not really like climbing a ladder from
one rung to the next. It is less misleading to think of it as the waves

Following the Thread

advancing and retreating on a beach, one wave making a gain but the
next falling short of it, just as a young writer may present very
variable quality of work from one week to the next. Obviously over a
period progress is taking place, but not taking place obviously
(Andrew Wilkinson, 1986, p. 12).

Picture a little girl in the 1950’s in a new public school, a one story, flat-roofed

double string of classrooms encapsulating a central hallway. She sits in a classroom with

a blackboard at the front, a wall of windows on the left, bulletin boards across the back

and along the right side, and a large wooden teacher’s desk at the front, near the

windows. The students’ desks, set out in careful rows, are small metal tables, with a

storage space beneath the hinged, liftable top. She sits a row over from the side bulletin

boards, just a little back from the middle. The sunlight coming in the windows and the

Bible comics posted on the side bulletin board become part of her future memories.

Now, however, she struggles to figure out where in her notebook this work goes, under

the “S” that is “Science” or the “S” that is “Social Studies”; one starts at the beginning of

her notebook and the other in the middle. Even though Mrs. M*** told them what

subject this work belongs to, she struggles, because both subjects start with ‘S’ and the

names get tangled up for her. If she chooses the wrong one, she’ll have to erase her

work and it will look messy.

Illuminal Voice

With this memory, I also “sense” the classroom, as I described it. Yet sitting in

my messy study so many years later, I wonder why I worried so intensely about making

the correct choice. I wonder why the fear of creating a messy notebook was so strong

that, fifty years later, writing about learning to write, I remember the struggle. In this

thesis journey, as I go over the same ground repeatedly, I see that from early in my

school career, I struggled to achieve “perfection” in my writing, which I equated with

graphic neatness.

- - 31
Joan Vinall-Cox

Public School — Writing Tools

Picture the same girl, a little older now, in another school, an older red brick two

story building, right at the foot of a small step in the Niagara escarpment, set in a large

asphalt playground edged with scruffy grass and green-leafed trees. In this, her third

school, just as for the other two, she lives at the far edge of the territory, and walks a

long complicated route.

In this “new” older school, she is in grade five, even though she failed one of the

units in her “old” newer school. They had three units a year there and she failed one.

They don’t have units here, and the grade behind her is already too full, so she’s in

Grade Five. Miss F***, her old and grey-haired teacher, doesn’t smile much. The long

poster stretching above the blackboard has thin blue lines at the top and bottom and a

pink line in the middle. The whole alphabet is up there, with how you write a capital ‘A’

and how you write a small ‘a’ and so on for the entire alphabet. She stares at it


Her battered wooden desk has a stained hole in the front right-hand corner. It is

for inkbottles. You can only get a bottle with real ink in it and a straight pen to go with it

when you can “joined-print” well enough with a pencil. She wants to write with a pen.

That is how real writers write, and she has seen pictures with plume pens. She will not

get a plume pen, but a straight pen to dip in the ink, and write, and change the nib

when it gets scratchy. She looks at the others near her, the girls and some of the boys

with their straight pens dipping into their inkbottles. She sighs and tries to write a good

capital “A” with her pencil.

She finally gets her pen and ink, one of the last in her class to, and she wonders

if she got them because everybody else has theirs and the teacher could not wait any

longer for her to get good enough with her joined-printing. She slides her mind away

from the fear that she is not good enough but no one is telling her.

At first, she loves writing with the straight pen, but soon she feels inadequate

here too. She presses too hard, and the nib splurtches out blots. Her pages are even

Following the Thread

messier than when she wrote with a pencil, and when she spells incorrectly and writes

an “a” in a word where she should have known an “e” was right, it is harder to erase and

really shows. The grey ink eraser rips up the surface of the paper where the pink pencil

eraser just left a grey blotch. Her fingers are almost always ink stained and messy now,

and she knows most Grade Five girls can manage better. Writing is hard and

unsatisfying and she knows she is not good at it.

Illuminal Voice — The Shadow of the Past

Now, I almost always have at least one fountain pen with me and I take great

pleasure in the colours of ink I can use. Currently I have a pen with hot pink ink and a

pen with turquoise ink. I use them to handwrite class notes, my journal, my dates, and

my cheques. My fingers still get ink stained occasionally, but now I find it mildly

amusing. It doesn’t make me feel clumsy anymore. I have integrated my history into an

aesthetic pleasure.

A year later, in Grade Six, her almost constant reading satisfies her attraction to

words. She has a pattern in her reading. She keeps a book in her desk to slide half onto

her lap and read when she has finished her schoolwork before the others. She has a

book at home that she reads any chance she gets. She reads two books at the same time

because she does not want to carry stuff on the long walk back and forth between

school and home, but sometimes a book gets so exciting that she just can not wait till

the next day to read the next part and she has to take it with her. She visits the library

once or twice a week and takes out from three to six books. She reads and reads. Her

spelling is not so good and her handwriting is loopy and sloppy, and she has no real

friends among her schoolmates, but she loves to read.

- - 33
Joan Vinall-Cox

High School — Writing Identity

Growth in writing is not just producing masses of words and then

throwing the rejects away …. The common model of writing I grew
up with preaches control …. This paradox of increased overall control
through letting go a bit seems paradoxical only because our normal
way of thinking about control is mistakenly static: it is not
developmental or process-oriented because it leaves out the
dimension of time (Elbow, 1973, pp. 32 - 33).

My next memory of writing is tied to writing exams in high school, and I

remember it in the first person, perhaps because I was starting to theorize, to

consciously recognize patterns and use them to my advantage. And that, of course, was

the beginning of my development of agency, power, a sense of “I” that was consciously

aware and acting.

Ariadne Speaks,
As a child I learned how to grow and harvest the flax I needed to create my
garments and my art. First I had to learn how to de-seed, rett and scutch the fibres,
preparing them, and then spin the cleaned fibres into the linen threads I would need to
make the cord to guide Theseus (and later myself) with. In those early days, my voice
was faint. Even though I first clung to his future, and long remained blind to my own,
now I am learning to create my own cord and tospeak my own story. Then, I embraced
his fear of the Minotaur and gave him the escape cord, as Dadaelus had instructed. I had
not yet begun to separate “the voice of [my]self from the voices of others, … [and ask] if
it [wa]s possible to be responsible to [my]self as well as to others and thus to reconcile
the disparity between hurt and care” (Gilligan, 1982, p. 82).
Theseus and my sister, Phaedra, never learned that lesson, and I have come to
pity their moral blindness and all that resulted as a consequence. For myself, I have
learned how to follow the thread.

I remember the physical details less than I remember what I thought. I think it

was Grade 11 History, and I think it was with Miss L***, a stiff, thin teacher, with little

vibrancy to her. However I remember having the sense that there was a real person

Following the Thread

hidden away underneath her brittle surface, and I remember thinking that the hidden

person was a nice human being. I think I felt safe and competent with her as my teacher.

I remember feeling troubled because my best friend Barbara studied longer and

harder, and often helped me the night before, and clearly knew our work better than

me, but I got better marks, although neither of us was at the top. I wondered if I was

somehow cheating.

Illuminal Voice

Now I see that I was learning, that I was teaching myself through my curiosity

and surfacing analytical tendencies. I was discovering auto-didactic approaches and my

future teacher voice. On re-writing, I also see the self-doubt and fear of success that I

lived with.

Our exams were a mixture of multiple choice and essay questions. By Grade 11, I

had figured out that, with multiple-choice tests, I was better off to go with my first and

instinctive answers. I was often unsure that my answers were correct, but, as I remember

it, I had done some informal experimentation and discovered that the answers I second

thought and changed were more likely to be wrong than the ones I “guessed at.” So I

taught myself to stick to my instinctive first answers, and do the multiple choice

questions relatively quickly.

We also had essay questions to answer. One of my strategies for studying history

was to find and read historical novels about the time and place we were studying. I

especially liked novels where the political events that we had to know about for history

had an impact on the action in the stories. Authors like Nora Lofts helped me pass

history. But I had trouble with remembering dates.

Illuminal Voice

Nobody knew about dyslexia then, and my dyslexia is minor, but numbers and

spelling were areas of special weakness. Remembering the dates was something I did

- - 35
Joan Vinall-Cox

not do at all well. Stories I remembered easily, but remembering dates was/is difficult. I

look back, now, and see I was developing important language skills, despite my

weaknesses with spelling and neatness.

In grade 11, I had an illuminal moment. I realized that I could phrase my essay

answers in such a way that they suggested that the teacher and I shared some

knowledge. I didn’t have to be explicit about the date I could not remember. I could

pretend to forget that I needed to include that bit of information. I could pretend I had

the knowledge but had simply slipped up and failed to include it. I could, as I remember

consciously naming this strategy, talk around something, using the knowledge I

remembered from the course or picked up from my historical novel reading to suggest I

had more knowledge than I actually did (or thought I did). It seemed a kind of cheating,

but it worked; the teachers gave me good marks, so I thought maybe it was okay.

Illuminal Voice

I now know I was struggling with a kind of gap tied in with Attention Deficit

Disorder and a consequent lack of confidence. I was learning, but denying myself credit

for my learning because I was not learning “the right way.”

My conscious awareness of strategic writing, and hence rhetoric, was being born

here. I remember other strategies I was aware of, all connected with school writing and

the discovery that I could get good marks, though never the top ones that I wanted.

I developed techniques that allowed me to change what I was saying in my inked

and permanent script if I was part way through a sentence and needed to make a

change. I could play around with words in my head, and figure out how to change the

direction of my sentence without having to re-write the whole page or use White-Out.

This is something no modern child will practice with the assiduousness I did,

because of the fluidity and plasticity of text on a computer screen. Cut-and-paste with a

word-processor has eliminated the need for this kind of strategic revisioning, and

White-Out, and that may be a loss in learning a kind of language flexibility. However

Following the Thread

that ease of recursiveness using cut-and-paste was also one of the initial reasons I was

attracted to word processing.

High School — Writing Tools

We use the term “pedagogy of reinvention” to describe the process

of making both the immediate and distant pasts usable. It is a
process of going back over something in different ways and with
new perspectives, of studying one’s own experience with the insight
and awareness of the present for the purposes of acting on the
future (Mitchell & Weber, 1999, p. 8).

This high school girl hated typing. She took it in Grade 9, with all the other girls,

because it was required or expected. She sat near the back of the room, on the right-

hand side, at a manual typewriter with no letters on the keys. They were supposed to

remember them; something she found difficult. There was a chart of the keys, showing

where the letters were, high up on the wall to her right and behind her. She could check,

but it was really obvious to the teacher (some anonymous figure she never felt any

connection to) if she turned and looked. She was supposed to learn where the letters

were by memory so she could type fast. Everything was about skill and speed. Nothing

was about meaning.

Querulous Voice

My mother was a secretary and took great pride in her speed and

accuracy when typing. From a young age, without thinking it through, I

knew that I wouldn’t be following in her footsteps in this area where I felt

inadequate compared to her. Typing class confirmed my sense of helpless

inadequacy when facing the unforgiving keyboard and paper.

In typing class, she was evaluated by timed tests, where a formula combining

correctness and number of words led to an overall word count.

Illuminal Voice — Memory and Interpretation

- - 37
Joan Vinall-Cox

I believe the teacher dictated letters to us. As a weak speller, an aspect of my

(much later diagnosed) dyslexia, I never got good marks in dictated typing tests. I often

had to do these tests more than once. I suspect, looking back, that my anxiety

interfered significantly with my performance. I remember being aware that I almost

always made major errors near the bottom of the page, as if the closer I got to getting

the page right, the greater the stress and anxiety, and, consequently, the more

likelihood of making a mistake. I used typing as little as possible, even though we had a

typewriter at home, even through university.

I found trying to type so painful that I preferred using my messy juvenile

handwriting, even for my university papers. This avoidance was not something I was

aware of until writing this thesis, yet looking back, I can see how absolutely I avoided

typing. (I was fleeing from the Minotaur in his labyrinth of technology.)

She remembers that in Grade 12 and 13, she was taught how to write essay

questions to prepare for the Grade 13 Provincial exams. They were supposed to create

an outline on the left-hand blank page of their foolscap exam booklets, and then write

the answer in paragraphs, using the outline, on the lined right-hand side.

Writing Process Voice — Memory and Interpretation

By the senior grades in high school, I had found that just writing out the answer
in full sentences and paragraphs without bothering with an outline was easier. I knew
that was the “wrong” way to write, but it worked for me. The teachers gave me good
enough marks, so that is what I did.
In university, I wrote out the rough copies as I had been told to for writing
essays, but I still never outlined. The material didn’t fit in my mind that way. I had to
“flow” through it in sentences and paragraphs, to “think it through.” I thought and wrote
in a flow. It would be years before I found Britton’s (1982) phrase, “shaping at the point
of utterance,” and more years before I actually realized that I thought and wrote that
way. But I was beginning to figure out my own writing process.
In grade 12 and 13, when I was in an exam that demanded writing, I had my
strategy figured out. The questions were short enough and structured clearly enough
that I just answered each part in order. I had figured out, or been taught, that if I wrote

Following the Thread

down my answer in a kind of overview using the structure in the question, I had the
introduction. I started with that on the right-hand side of the foolscap exam booklet
because it confused me to try to plan explicitly. When I wrote, I just let my words out. I
wrote the introduction first and then I just made sure that I explained each chunk and
gave examples in the same order that was in the question. Then I concluded by
repeating a version of the question with my answers. It seemed obvious to me.
After that, I created an outline on the left-hand side, so I wouldn’t lose marks for
not using an outline. Sometimes I even deliberately put parts of the outline in the
“wrong” order so I could circle and draw arrows to “correct” it, making it look more like I
had indeed written it first, but I almost never had. I was “performing” the process the
teachers required, using my inauthentic but strategic voice.
In university, when I wrote out my rough copies of essays, I wrote on every other
line on only one side of the page. Then, if I had to revise it, I would add stuff in the lines
between, and/or I would circle a part and draw an arrow to where it should go.
Sometimes I even cut up the pages and taped them in a different order on other pages. I
corrected my spelling or got my mom to. (My dad struggled with spelling too.) Then I
wrote up the good copy in ink, using White-Out, if necessary. It worked well enough to
get me through my undergraduate university courses.

Writing Process Voice — Present Time

And this thesis is being constructed in the same kind of flow. I am writing this
thesis from beginning to end, pausing repeatedly to loop back to the beginning to
restructure and re-write. This section was initially written as a paper, then re-worked
and placed at the beginning of the fourth chapter. A question from my thesis supervisor,
Dr. Diamond, led me to re-think its position. I now see it as part of the context, and,
using the cut-and-paste feature of word-processing, I have moved it here, and am
again extensively revising it. I know the “chunks” required, the traditional chapters of a
thesis, and I organize my material that way. But the organization comes after the flow.
Now, as a mature student, I do not pretend to use a process that does not work
for me. I declare, as honestly as possible, my own composing process. And I know that
writing is rewriting.

Illuminal Voice

Teachers accepted my finished work and gave me adequate marks, so I

continued pretending to comply with writing (process) rules that did not fit my personal

- - 39
Joan Vinall-Cox

experience. Learning that there is no absolutely ‘correct’ writing process, that it varies

from person to person, and for individuals, from task to task, was very liberating for me

as a writer. Yet, as a teacher, I find student writers often resistant to finding out what

writing process might work for them by exploring journaling, free writing, mind-

mapping and outlining. They want the finished copy fast, and are reluctant to explore

further – as I was and sometimes still am.

Living While Writing

I glance at the rusted metal junk above the door, and my daughter

leads me through into the grubby, near-empty bar, and I follow her

flaming red dress into the crowded black back room, and I follow her

through the smoke, through invasively loud music, to the tables at the side,

and I step up, and I step up again to sit on the black bench high against

the black wall, and I look up at the TV monitor, and I watch the words

change colour, and the man in the shiny grey tuxedo sings, and the people

seated around the three walls wear black, and the people standing on the

floor wear black, and everybody yells over the music, and the lyrics are

violent and angry, and yet everyone cheers when someone sings, and

everyone smiles. I marvel over the urban young at play, their world and

their voices.

Writing Developments

There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to

good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be
able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rule
by which the young writer may shape his (sic) course. He (sic) will
often find himself (sic) steering by stars that are disturbingly in
motion (Strunk & White 1979, p. 66).

Following the Thread

I remember three pieces of writing I did in high school that pleased me: my

Grade 13 essay on Wuthering Heights, a poem I wrote just because I wanted to, and a

piece of ‘creative’ writing about the Skyway Bridge in Hamilton. Each of these pieces has

powerfully shaped my understanding of my writing identity.

My Grade 13 Essay on Wuthering Heights

All interpretation is situational, shaped and constrained by the

historically relative criteria of a particular culture (Eagleton, 1983, p.

Picture an awkward teenaged girl in a Canadian classroom in the spring of 1964.

She has a crush, which she’s been wise enough to keep secret, on her English teacher,

Mr. M***. He has a sardonic tone, Slavic cheekbones, wings of dark, aggressively

straight hair, and a dark five o’clock shadow clearly visible before noon. He has a habit

of sometimes running the class while stretched out on his side on the wide radiator

under the windows.

Illuminal Voice

Four years later Mr. M*** was the vice-principal of the school and my brother

had several run-ins with him, and hated him. Many years later, at a social event of an

organization for writing teachers, I encountered two people who had taught in a school

with Mr. M***, and found him to be difficult, authoritarian, and rampantly sexist.

Even so, I remember him with affection. He opened doors into literature for me,

allowing me both to love it and to learn the academic game. He prepared me for getting

through university. He also allowed me an emerging sense of competence in my writing

while showing me a significant teaching-learning pattern, as can be seen in the

following narrative. Finally, he was my image of Heathcliff, and as a literarily oriented

reader of historical romances, I can never forget my first encounter with the Demon-

Lover archetype.

- - 41
Joan Vinall-Cox

Mr. M*** is not lying on the radiator now, sardonically directing a discussion.

He’s put a couple of cardboard boxes on the radiator, and in them, in alphabetical order

by student name, are the major essays students have written based on questions Mr.

M*** thinks might be on the Provincial Examination in English Composition and

Literature. If this teen girl contributes an essay, she can borrow other essays. Her paper

was carefully copied out by hand, double-spaced, and satisfyingly long, though that was

partly because she writes in such a loose-sloppy style that her words took up more

space than neat writers’ did.

Illuminal Voice

This was my first literary essay using “secondary sources” though I wouldn’t hear

that term for over a year, and wouldn’t understand it for a couple of years more. I had

found a book, probably one written by David Cecil, the name re-found through Google-

based research as I write this thesis. I had read and loved Wuthering Heights at least

three years before I studied it in school and encountered Cecil’s analysis. He analyzed

Wuthering Heights, which was part of our course of study, pointing out the “children of

the storm” and the “children of the calm” as themes. I delighted in this “story” about a

story, and loved the stately orderliness and creativity of writing a paper using a critic’s

commentary. I had discovered my taste for theory and interpretation and the power of

writing models. (I was learning how to prepare and spin the linen that I could weave a

guiding cord with.)

This teenaged girl’s essay mark is “good enough” and Mr. M***’s comments are

positive. She decides to risk it, and puts her essay in the box. It is her first experience of

sharing her writing with other students, and getting to read their work. She is gratefully

aware that this is a good way to study for the exam she is so worried about. This is also

her first experience of the collaboration possible in a learning community, an experience

Following the Thread

that she will encounter and co-create many times, but not recognize as such until her

work in graduate school.

Illuminal Voice

I did not know it at the time, and I suspect Mr. M*** just did it intuitively, but the

box of essays to share was a really powerful teaching / learning technique. Although the

contents of the essays were important and helpful, more significantly, I am convinced,

reading the other students’ writing gave me a richer understanding of my own. Looking

back from my current perspective, I see my first experience with shared writing, — and

a model for teaching. The collaborative approach has been a major part of my

understanding of how to teach writing effectively. Looking back, I see students who

were learning cooperatively, and I see, with my theoretically-opened eyes, a small

discourse community (Fairclough, 1995). I was lucky to have been in Mr. M***’s class,

and to have perceived him as someone I could learn from.

Illuminal Voice — Memory Revisited

Many years later, at a high school reunion, I encountered a small group from my

Grade 13 class. Embarrassingly, there was someone who was able to remember me

while I did not remember him. What he also remembered was “acing” one of the major

questions on the provincial exam based on having read my essay. (I realized then that I

had probably “aced” it too, because of my essay, but I had not realized that before.)

What my former fellow student also remembered and embarrassed me by

speaking of was that all the way through the essay I had consistently spelled “children”

as “childern.” When he laughed about this, I had a momentary felt memory of actually

wondering about the spelling when I was doing my final copy, but letting go of the idea

of checking with Mom or the dictionary. I thought I was right so I just made sure all the

versions of the word matched.

- - 43
Joan Vinall-Cox

What I also realized, many years after the reunion, was that this was an example

of my dyslexia, and of my attempts to deal with it by making sure I spelled the words

the same way. My laughing classmate had said he admired my consistency. I cannot

remember either him or Mr. M***, telling me of this error at the time. It is a silence I find

unnerving because it left me unaware of something I needed to correct and learn.

A Teaching / Learning Pattern

[T]he inner learner [has] two selves: an analytic, verbal self and a
more holistic intuitive one. … [A]t different times different selves
need to be in control and … an important part of learning is to teach
each self when to take over and when to leave it to the other
(Boomer, 1988, p. 72).

The Artist’s Voice

I find I have arrived at a new voice. I cannot talk about pedagogy, or poetry, or
some of my earliest truly authentic writing, in the third person. Now I am displaying this
aspect of how I am constructing this narrative to (y)our conscious awareness. I am
singing with my own voice now, no false falsetto from / about my childhood, but in my
mature voice, sometimes in memories, and sometimes in reflections on those memories,
but now both in the first person.
To speak to you as richly, as complexly, as I yearn to, I use word processing as a
tool. I combine two sets of information to craft these pages, my knowledge of how
readers confront the page, that is, what you need to know and to see, together with the
knowledge I have cobbled together about graphic design.
Here, in this voice woven into a single plait from my separated strands, I seek to
express my complex, recursively reflected on, understanding of how I learned to
compose my writing. I start by naming Mr. M*** as an important teacher, as
foundational in shaping my language learning.

My First Poem, Sort Of…

A writer who produces a poem may do so because [s]he is under

pressure from an experience [s]he has undergone; [s]he feels [s]he

Following the Thread

must verbalize it and attempt to understand it for [her or] himself,

whether anybody else does so or not (Andrew Wilkinson, 1971, p.

Sometime, during my time as a student of Mr. M***, in Grade 12 and Grade 13

English, I encountered Emily Bronte’s poetry, and tried to imitate it. I remember basing

my poem around the name Elizabeth, in its different abbreviations. The poem had a

traditional form, with the rhymes carefully placed, and the rhythm counted out. I was

very proud of it, and I showed it to no one.

Illuminal Voice

I am intrigued now to realize that I wrote in the voice of a male, to a tripartite

love object, who becomes unified, because the speaker loves her. The speaker in the

poem sees Beth, Bess, and, I think, Liza, “[be]come one.” I am not going to look at a

Jungian analysis, or a basic literary and/or psychological examination of what it all

meant about me then (and, consequently, now.) All I will say is that it was my first

conscious attempt at poetry, and I wrote it myself, that is, not as an assignment but

simply because I had an urge to write it. Even that long ago, I was intuitively multiple, as

I am in this thesis with my chorus of different voices.

In university, later, a fellow undergraduate showed me some of her free verse,

and I studied a wider variety of poetry, especially in Mrs. M***’s course in Modern

Poetry, and those influences were what opened me up to writing poetry regularly. I have

not often published my poetry because I have not had enough of a sense that it was

worthy of someone else’s reading time to learn how to push it at editors or even share

it. Besides, what I value my poems for is what they do for me while they are still secret.

The Artist’s Voice

For me, poetry provides a liminal space, a door to what I do not yet know
consciously but which my unconscious is asking me to be aware of. As such, it has been
a part of my growth and healing over the years, and, significantly for this paper, has
been a part of my understanding of my teaching. I sometimes write poems that help me

- - 45
Joan Vinall-Cox

understand who and where I am in a particular class or school moment. As Van Manen
(1997) says,“ Poetry allows the expression of the most intense feelings in the most
intense form” (p. 70). And Richardson (1997) says that “[l]ived experience is lived in the
body, and poetic representation can touch us where we live, in our bodies. Thus poetry
gives us a greater chance of vicariously experiencing the self-reflexive and
transformational process of self creation” (p. 143).
Here I share with you an example of how I have experienced November and do
again even now as I am writing this thesis in 2002:
November in School

In November, everything crashes -

files are lost,
cars slide into each other,
suiciding squirrels shut down generators

and I
am late for school.

In November, people weep -

assignments fail,
teachers and students snarl,
work done is less than hoped,

and more,
much more, is required.

In November, we fear -
even if Christmas ever comes,
even if spring only hides behind
the winter we have to endure,

we have lost
whatever we came here to find.

(Vinall-Cox, 1995)

Illuminal Voice

Writing such poetry, putting such understandings into a concrete, observable

form, supports me and comforts me and helps me grasp and cope with my lifeworld.

The quality and form of Mr. M***’s teaching of literature provided a significant

foundation for that skill and pleasure. I thank him here.

Following the Thread

Over the Skyway

Writing helps us to understand ourselves and other people. We do

not need to be writing about either in any obvious way (Andrew
Wilkinson, 1986, p. 80).

I grew up in Hamilton and Stoney Creek, and when given the assignment of

writing a creative, descriptive piece in Grade 13, I decided to describe Hamilton Harbour

as seen at night while riding over the Skyway Bridge. I saw the steel mills with their

flaming chimneys reflecting in the dark water of the Harbour as barbarically splendid.

The affective reason why I saw this scene as beautiful comes from my family’s

experience. I knew intuitively that with my Dad working at a company on the Harbour,

like most of my friends’ families, our prosperity was rooted in Hamilton’s industry.

Plus I liked the drama of the image. Perhaps I had encountered Blake’s

description of “dark, satanic mills”, or maybe I was consciously avoiding pastel topics

because I was writing for an admired sardonic teacher. In any case, I was really satisfied

and proud of what I had written. I got a mediocre mark and a lot of painful criticism. I

found out later a possible explanation.

Querulous Voice

In the grade ahead of me there was a strange, intense, gawky boy

with a weird European name. I remember admiring my friend, Barb,

because, even though he was so different, she was friendly with him. It never

occurred to me that I could be friendly with him too. I was highly, though

inarticulately, aware of being marginally geeky myself and knew I couldn’t

offer him a social hand up. I, too, was a recipient of Barb’s social

generosity. Besides, he almost always wore a ferocious scowl.

I arrived a year after him at McMaster University, and, hanging

around the fringes of the Mac student paper and the drama society, I

discovered he was highly regarded and had a real status within that

crowd, probably enhanced because he couldn’t care less. I learned a lot

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Joan Vinall-Cox

from what he wrote and published in the paper. In 1965 he was the first

ecologically aware person I had encountered. I also saw my first Escher

etching in one of his articles. He was brilliant, passionate about the

environment, he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he had been the person who

read and marked my Skyway piece.

I found out from some mutual high school alumni that Mr. M*** had paid this

very bright young man to mark some of our class’s papers. Where I had seen barbaric

splendour, he saw rampant pollution. He marked severely, being young and passionate.

I understand why he responded as he did, but now I wonder why I accepted his opinion

that the piece was not as good as I thought it was.

The Ontario Council of Teachers of English had a journal, indirections, and I was

published there a number of times. My first article, “Bridging Between Student and

Teacher”, (1986) was about using peer group editing groups and interviews with the

teacher for teaching writing. I used the story about my piece of writing on the Hamilton

Skyway to explain and support this approach. In the middle of the article, in my

Published Voice, I make the following statement:

Writing is a complex, multifaceted vital influence was treated as

task with many possible “correct” information I didn’t need to know. Then
answers and a shifting set of rules about I was evaluated for, in effect, a different
“acceptable” grammar. What one person task from one I had thought I was
will praise, another will reject. This is performing, and by someone without
why we drill our students on the training and without a context. It was …
necessity of audience awareness, which an acceptable but poorly thought-out
is, after all, the basis of rhetoric. The approach to teaching writing (p. 23).
reader of my writing was changed – a

Writing Process Voice

Following the Thread

I wrote the article the excerpt above is from using an early word-processing
application, the Bank Street Writer, and since that time I have used some word-
processing package for all the prose I have ever had published and all the academic
writing that I have done. Currently I use MS Word, the designated word processing
software in my institution.

Ariadne Speaks

This tiny piece of amber with its frozen memories was part of a necklace I made

when I first started exploring the labyrinth. Now I tie it into my cord, part of my new

map as I travel towards the core of the labyrinth.

As I wrote “Bridging Between Student and Teacher”, (1986), I was exploring both

Academic and Teaching Voices by writing about my experiences as a student learning to

write, and as a teacher seeking to extend both her writing and her teaching skills,

similarly to what I am doing with/in this thesis.

Illuminal Voice

I clearly remember my delight in writing the original piece about the Hamilton

Skyway, and I know that the grade I received strongly affected my attitude toward my

writing. The idea that I could not expect people to appreciate what I had written was

highly reinforced. It has been a hard lesson to overcome, and I only really became more

comfortable about letting others see my writing when I found a nonjudgmental space.

When I found what it was like to have people read my writing with the intention

of helping me accomplish what I wanted to with the writing, I began to revise my

opinion of, and my behaviors around, my writing. When I experienced sharing my

writing with a small group at the Sheridan Writing Institute in the Eighties, and with a

small group of colleagues after, I began to understand that what I wrote to please me

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Joan Vinall-Cox

could also please others. I had found my public voice, which you see examples of in my

Published Voice.

Sheridan Summer Institute of Writing — A Crossroads

[The teacher] must survey the capacities and needs of a particular

set of individuals with whom he (sic) is dealing and must at the same
time arrange the conditions which provide the subject-matter or
content for experiences that satisfy these needs and develop these
capacities. The planning must be flexible enough to permit free play
for individuality of experience and yet firm enough to give direction
towards continuous development of power (Dewey, 1963, p. 58).

The Sheridan Summer Institute of Writing, led by Dr. Robert Parker (1986), was a

profound learning experience for me. The combination of

a clearly established daily structure;

intensive reading and discussions about theories on teaching writing;

the freedom of writing ourselves on anything we wanted to write about;

the experience of developing our piece(s) with our writing group; and

the experience of then ‘publishing’ them by reading them to the full class,

allowed me to develop both in my writing and in my teaching.

I attended the Summer Writing Institute because a new administrator had

organized it, not realizing I was actually ready to learn theory about writing and

teaching. I had close to 20 years of teaching experience to draw on and Dr. Parker was

an authentically constructivist teacher. It was a deeply exciting learning experience for

me, and a central moment in the journey this thesis is tracing. Two strands have

emerged for me from this time. Interestingly, only one has been in my focus; the other

has been hiding in plain sight, but is now obvious because of my writing.

Following the Thread

The first strand, my delight in theory that can explain my experience and its

application to my teaching, is part of all the writing about teaching I have done since

then, and a central part of this thesis. These pieces display the theories that became my

neighbourhood, which both allowed me to see and name where I lived, and thus to

shape it. I will continue to include excerpts from my published work or even whole

articles as part of the bricolage of this, my arts-based narrative inquiry, just as I have

already been using portions of my course writing and Comprehensive Examinations.

This delight in pedagogical theory has led me twice to OISE/UT to study more of

it, and it is no accident that I asked Dr. Parker to write an initial recommendation letter

for me when I first applied to enter the Masters program; what I learned through him

changed my direction, or maybe even gave a direction to my teaching life. He was a kind

of muse for me as his teaching set me on the road to this thesis.

However, there was a second strand, a cross street absolutely essential to

exploring my neighbourhood and reaching this thesis-home that I am currently

constructing. I have been looking at my delight in these exciting new concepts I was

learning, but have been oblivious to the tool that was helping me learn them in a deep

and holistic way. I had only a subsidiary awareness of the marginal clues of what was

equally important (Polyani1969, p. 140). What made this summer in my life so fortuitous

was not simply the theory I learned, but the instrument, the tool I had only recently been

introduced to. If the pedagogical theory was seminal, the body that carried and

birthed it was as least as important, and that was the computer and word


During the Sheridan Summer Writing Institute I used a pen and handwrote my

class notes and the journal we were required to keep. However, I did the writing for my

small group by using the Bank Street Writer, an early word-processing application

developed for students who struggled with writing. (I wanted to learn how it felt to

students as they used it.) Below, I introduce an article I wrote about my first experience

with word-processing.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Two-Handed Writing

Discovery changes the way that I see; in discovery, I change myself,

altering and renewing the very framework of assumptions,
understandings and values which pointed towards the discovery
(Watson, 1980, p. 22).

In June 1988, I had an article published in indirections, the Journal of the Ontario

Council of Teachers of English. In it I celebrated writing using a computer. The entire

text is duplicated below because I see in it an origin of this thesis.

I wrote it, as I wrote all my articles, for no extrinsic reward, except for seeing my

words and name in print. There was no pay, and being published was not seen as

significant in the college system, so there was no benefit to my career. I wrote for the

intrinsic pleasure of writing. I wrote to synthesize my understanding of where I was and

what I believed. I wrote to “shape [my] li[fe] into a kind of narrative in order more fully to

possess my experiences” (Britton, 1982, p. 210). I wrote out of my desire to be “an

active construer of meaning in [my] transactions with experience” (Emig, 1983, p. 153).

And I was writing myself into being and agency by finding my first public voice.

Ariadne Speaks
Theseus gave me two gifts, and knew neither of them.
The first was — he let me love him. Creating the cord to guide him away from
the Minotaur he feared (and out of the labyrinth he hated) taught me that I could put
together strands that could guide someone. Later I came to see that I could create my
own cord and guide myself. I thank him for that.
The second was — he left me on an island. I thank him and my sister for that
too. They went off to their fate, which I am happy to have no part of. I followed
Dionysius and travelled toward my own fate, my bliss, and the labyrinth I had fled. As I
mapped the distance from my youth I realized I still had pieces of the cord I had made
for Theseus, and that I could make my own cord. I began to look for flax and a spindle.

Following the Thread

A Memory of Living While Writing: Sheridan Summer Institute of Writing

I remember the room, with its wall of windows, the rows of tables, the

collection of teachers, with a scattering of educational bureaucrats. I

remember the warm intensity of a room full of focussed people discussing

important ideas. I remember Rob (Parker, 1986), the teacher, asking how

we knew when a student had learned something, his gentle refusal to

accept a claim that it could be seen in their eyes, and his probing for

something more in the answer. I remember, because this was the beginning

of my conscious development as a teacher aware of “’the indeterminacy of

what we think we know’” (Pinar, 1995, p. 195), and consequently of my

search for “ways of giving form to the ‘shadowy and incomplete condition’

(Schwab 1978 p. 278 - as cited in Pinar) which is the human world” , and

the classroom.

I saw, while looking back, “interrogating” (Mitchell & Weber, 1999) my memory

and this artefact, the article that I include below, that I had been missing something

obvious. The room and physical and mental space plus the teacher and students within

it, gave me deeper, richer understandings about what writing is and how to teach it. I

acknowledge that fully and gratefully. However, what is surfacing as I write this inquiry

is what was hiding in plain sight. I wrote and sought to get what I had written published

only after I began using a computer and word-processing as my writing tool. I came to

the Sheridan Summer Writing Institute after I had started working with students using

the Bank Street Writer. I agreed to work with students using the Bank Street Writer

reluctantly and only because my colleague and friend insisted we should, and there was

a computer technician always available. I decided to deal with my discomfort around

using computers with students by learning to use the computer to write as part of my

participation in the Sheridan Summer Institute.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

These two threads, my introduction to theory about teaching writing and my

beginning to use a word processor for writing, are fundamental to this thesis. Thus,

include my article on writing using a word processor in its entirety for three reasons:

It is a record of both what I thought then and how I “went public” with my

views on writing and learning to write;

I wore this large amber crystal as adornment before I knew I would come

searching for the labyrinth and the Minotaur. In this guiding cord that I am

now creating, the amber reveals a map from time past, a template for the

quest I am now on. I stitch this amber map into the cord I am spinning and

weaving now, as an artist would stitch a jewel into a wall hanging that she

had designed in response to its colour and shape.

This piece is an early version of what I am attempting to do now, in this

thesis inquiry. As such, my Published Voice has an archaeological value for

this thesis.

Two-Handed Writing … or six, I struggled through the arduous

Why I Love To Write work of learning to recognize the tiny
Using a Word Processor little squiggles that, when sequenced
I used to be a one-handed writer – correctly, convey meaning. I was
exclusively - when I wrote, which wasn't learning to name those funny little
often. The pen, ballpoint or marker, marks that the adults called letters. If
blue, green, purple or black, was my you don't remember how hard that was,
tool. None of my rotating choices of take a look at some Arabic or Chinese
pens really satisfied me, and, inevitably. script and try to find and recognize
I stopped writing. Now, sometimes I am different squiggles. It's almost
a one-handed writer: increasingly I am a impossible.
two- handed writer. I have discovered After I started getting to know some
the word processor. of the letters, I found out I had to learn
Writing, with any kind of tool, is the another set of letters, often quite
result of many years of learning a very different, that were the "small letters". I
complex sign system. When I was five or learned those; then I had to learn the

Following the Thread

sounds that went with the letters, and of the Second World War, but no blood
most times a letter had more than one or fragments of bone marred the clean
sound. How confusing it all was! Finally, page. Even the pictures were unmoving
I could see that I was beginning to images, often in black and white and l
recognize words, just like the adults and could study them without a problem.
bigger kids who had been reading to Books were safe, and both teachers and
me. I finally had access to all those parents approved when I read, so my
wonderful stories. I could read books; I self-esteem flourished. Writing was
was on top of it all. different, though.
I had, however, failed to take an I don't remember learning to print, or
important factor into account. They - that next step toward maturity, joined-
adults, my parents, my teachers - printing, but I do remember my grade
wanted me to reproduce those little four struggles with a straight pen. I
squiggles; they wanted me to learn to loved the romantic idea of using a
print, and to produce my own stories. I straight pen and could hardly wait to be
thought that the recognizing part had granted this privilege. The teacher
been difficult to learn; the reproduction showed us perfect examples of written
part turned out to be far harder. words on the blackboard, using the full
I can't remember a time, once the two lines for the big letters and the
initial struggle was over, when reading single line for the little letters. I worked
wasn't easy. From the time reading away on my paper with the blue and
came into focus for me, I didn't see pink lines, struggling to match the
squiggles, or letters, or words, or even teacher's perfection. I was taking so
paragraphs any more ~ I swam in the long to learn how to copy her perfect
meanings. I wasn't left with phrases or blackboard writing onto my page that it
logical arguments, but with the images I was depressing. Only the thought of
had built, the emotions I had felt, and achieving that straight pen kept me
the “sense" of the book. It was never going.
work; each book was an opportunity for Looking back, I have no idea why I
pleasure. I loved reading. had to learn to write using a straight
Printed books were regular, neat in pen - it was of no use whatsoever, but
appearance, and predictable in format, we had to learn to use a straight pen
even when the stories were explosively before we were allowed to use a
new and exciting. Anne's passionate fountain pen or a ballpoint. It was the
anger with Gilbert came into my mind, RULE. And what a pain using a straight
but the book and the page remained pen was; it almost put me off writing
neat and calm. I read about the horrors permanently.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Finally, I got my straight pen and my job! So boring, in fact, that I often made
inkpot filled with dark blue ink. Now I careless mistakes while I was recopying.
would write. It wasn't quite the thrill I The impact, the status, of the neat page
had imagined. I worked hard but my constantly escaped me. Despite the joy I
letters looked big and awkward, and the sometimes experienced of getting lost
frequent scratches and blots depressed in my writing, and despite reasonable
me. Writing was very difficult physically, marks, my writing didn't feel successful
and after all that work, the result was a to me. It looked amateurish and messy.
messy-looking piece of paper. Writing A grade nine typing course didn't
made me feel clumsy and inadequate. help, Errors were more forbidden on the
Even after I had mastered the typewritten page, and harder to
fountain pen and was in high school, I disguise. Even that wonderful invention,
wasn't happy with my writing. First of correctable bond, only allowed limited
all, it was still big and inelegant. How changes. You couldn't move phrases or
could I say anything other than sloppy, paragraphs around, and if your spelling
personal stuff in that kind of script? And error required two letters in place of
my third finger would develop a sore one, you had to retype the line, or
spot right where the finger got indented maybe even the whole page. Writing
when I wrote a lot. It was still remained messy, and it was difficult,
distressingly physical in a way reading time-consuming and boring to make it
was not. look as perfect as the printed page (the
I found writing hard work with little only real writing). Consequently I wrote
reward, and I knew it branded me, only in my diary and when I had to, for
revealed me as inadequate. On top of its school or for business reasons.
inelegance, there was another problem Suddenly one spring, I was face to
now that I wasn't just copying out the interface with a computer. I was going
teacher's words, but trying to compose, to teach using a simple (so they told
to put words together to make them me), straightforward (so they reassured
mean something. As I tried to "improve" me), word pro called the Bank Street
what I was saying with my writing, the Writer. I wasn't unprepared. I lived with
page got messier and messier. When I someone who talked and played his way
crossed out words, or used arrows to through computer stuff. I'd earnestly
indicate where sections should be taken the TVO Academy on computers. I
moved to, my work looked worse rather knew some of the jargon and basic
than better. To gain the credibility that concepts. I was even a co-owner of a
should result from these improvements, computer. None of that mattered: I was
I had to recopy my work. What a boring

Following the Thread

terrified. Here was another form of randomly all the way through. I thought
writing I would have to struggle with. the printing machine was broken; I
Learning even this very simple word thought I should give up. I thought this
processing program was difficult was another painful form of writing that
initially. I had trouble learning how to I would have to struggle with. I was
move the Cursor, skating a little blip of wrong on all counts.
light around the words on the screen by The Bank Street Writer, a quite simple
tapping or holding down buttons with word pro, opened a whole new road to
arrows on them was completely novel to writing for me. I found myself doing less
me. I hadn't even played any computer work, and having more polished
games and here I was cursing the material to show for my writing time.
cursor. Not only could I correct spelling
The concept of “delete" was foreign mistakes with the delete button and a
to me, too, but I found it an easy one to dictionary, and forget about the borders
adapt to. In fact, delete was the first on my page with the wraparound
aspect of word pro that I really liked. My feature, I discovered other timesaving
typing skills had never been strong, and wonders. I could move whole
I'd allowed them to fade away over the paragraphs using the cursor. I could
years. I was slow at finding the letters, keep lots of half-done work in a small
and I made a lot of stupid mistakes. amount of space on a disk. I could print
"Delete" helped me deal with these out a beautiful-looking piece of writing,
mistakes easily and efficiently. discover four spelling errors, and decide
"Wraparound" is the word pro trait to change three sections, and it was NO
where you never have to hit return as PROBLEM! I simply moved the cursor
the letters approach the right-hand around as required, rewrote on the
border of the screen because the screen what needed to be changed, and
computer moves to the next line printed it up again. I no longer had to
automatically. Initially wraparound drove copy, and re-copy, huge chunks of
me nuts. I carefully hit "return" each mostly correct material. It was like being
time the line of words on the screen freed from a kind of slavery!
neared the right-hand border. (I'd never Writing for myself in my journal, I
heard of “wraparound" and I didn't know still do longhand. The immediacy, even
that the number of words in a line on the messiness, feels right for my raw
the screen was different from the emotions, or my raw ideas. However,
number of words in a line printed up.) the writing I do for my writing group
You can imagine how ridiculous my first and/or for publication, I do almost
printout looked, with lines stopping always on a word pro. I like to sit in

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Joan Vinall-Cox

front of that TV-like screen and stare at I was thinking about. I would surface to
it, thinking. I like being able to start at notice the time with a shock; I had been
any point, at the end of what I've written lost in the joy of writing, in a way similar
before, in the middle, or back up at the to the way I always got lost in my
beginning. I like the transitory nature of reading. Using a word pro, I fell more
what is up on the screen; I can dump it, and more in love with writing.
or save part or all of it. I like the This is not to say that writing,
efficiency of saving chunks of material, composing material for others to read,
in polished or in half-formed state, on a is always an ecstatic experience, or a
small, neat disk. I can have all kinds of breeze. Even with the help of a word
pieces of writing in process, all available pro, planning, altering, editing, and
from the list of files on my disk. I can proofreading are necessary and they
work on a piece for a while, then clear take work. But I know that I have to
my screen and call up another to work work on only what I'm changing, not on
on. There's no limit to the number of all the parts that are already well
times I can play with any one piece of written. And I know that when I print it
writing. And then there's the ease and up, it will be neat and professional and
delight of watching my words appear more of a pleasure for my audience to
neatly on a page as the printer clatters read.
away. The word processor gives me I don't mind the hard work parts of
freedom, and I love it. writing now, because it is work with
It is difficult to say whether I started immediate gratification. I see my writing
writing more often because I had started with no messy marks or errors
to write with a writing group, or whether obscuring it. I feel like a runner who has
I was writing more often because of the discovered that it is much more
ease of using a word pro. Personally, I pleasurable to run with well-made
believe it was a fortuitous combination running shoes on than to run barefoot. I
of both. I discovered the pleasure of am an artist who has discovered her
using the word pro because the medium, her instrument. With a word
pleasure of having an audience led me pro as my writing tool, I delight in the
to write more and more. Sometimes I beauty of my ecstatic word-dancing.
wrote just for the fun of it on whatever I The Bank Street Writer has freed the
wanted to. I would be doing my writing writer in me (Vinall-Cox, 1988).
for my group and I would find myself
swimming along through a story, or
immersed in a description of something

Following the Thread

Illuminal Voice

I am astounded, as I reread this article from indirections, the journal of the

Ontario Council of Teachers of English, at how much it prefigures the thesis I am writing

now. I wrote it because I had discovered that I loved writing using word processing

software, and that is what I wrote about then, as I am writing now about writing and

teaching using the online computer. I see, in this article, elements of arts-based work,

narrative inquiry, memory work, and phenomenology, yet I had not at that point studied

any of those approaches. I simply wrote then, and later discovered validating theories

for how I had unthinkingly chosen to represent my experience. Throughout this auto-

ethnographic thesis I ask myself the questions: “How does [my] past experience play

into who [I am] and how [I] teach today” (Mitchell and Weber1999, p. 4)? And that same

pattern, of acting and then discovering that a theoretical basis exists for what I did

intuitively, occurred in my teaching too, as I will reveal.

I see a pattern that I never consciously intended, but that I am discovering the

existence of as I reflect and write.

Writing Process Voice

Before I could include this article, I had to find out if, and then how, the scanner
worked with the Mac PowerBook G4. The lead Mac technician in the college was kind
enough, and intrigued enough with the technical challenge, to multitask for a couple of
hours, fitting in researching, using Google, on how to get the scanner to work, installing
Classic 9, an older operating system, finding and downloading a “driver” for the scanner,
finding and downloading OmniPage 8 SE, for the OCR (Optical Character Recognition)
and finally going through the process with me so I could write down all the steps.
My first attempt was two hours of frustration as I tried to follow the steps as I
had recorded them. I “vigorously” and noisily made clear my frustration to my husband,
Jim, and then ignored the scanner for a couple of weeks. One day, when the words were
not coming, I went back to trying out the scanner. I went into Google and found a site
my husband had mentioned, which recommended using the tiff file format, not the pict
that I had written down. I remembered the technician muttering about saving in “black &

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Joan Vinall-Cox

white” mode. I tried again with these changes. It worked! I scanned the article, went
through the process as I now understood it, saved the file as a Word document, and
then edited it. This is typical of my learning trials and adventures as I learn to use the
I discovered that scanners can read “and” as “arid”, “d” as “cl”, and make other
visual misreadings. The editing took a long time, but not as long as re-entering the
whole text would have taken.
Querulous Voice (Interrupting!)

Maybe it’s perverse of me, but I rather enjoyed the long struggle and

eventual triumph.

There is no way I could have accomplished this task without the support of the
Mac technicians and Jim, so being embedded in an institution with a culture of sharing
and helping was, again, a central support of my learning.

The first time I re-read the article, I did not really “see” the content. I saw it as a

memory piece: this is what I remembered then and now I can question how it influenced,

and how it compares with, the way I describe my memories now. But, as I struggled to

thus “interrogate” this piece of my writing, my construction of myself, what had been

marginal came more and more into focus. I gave you, dear reader, the whole article

because it is the seedbed of this thesis. Not only was I writing about teaching, I was

using the computer and word-processing, and it was having a profound impact on me

as a writer. Beyond that, I see aspects of a phenomenal understanding, of narrative

inquiry, of arts-based awareness, none of which I had yet studied. Somehow, after I had

written the article above, and I cannot remember how, I found my way to OISE/UT and

the type of research that I was already intuitively doing. This is the crossroad that

brought me into my neighbourhood and ultimately to this, my thesis-home.

Illuminal Voice

As a mature teacher and a reader of psychological theories, both popular and

scholarly, when I saw on article in the Toronto Star entitled, “‘My Time’ Follows Midlife,”

(Trafford, 2004) I read it. “A new stage has emerged in the life cycle. This bonus period

Following the Thread

comes after middle age but before old age” Trafford says, and among the activities she

lists as typical of this time is getting an advanced degree.

I recognize myself in her description. This assures me, but doesn’t resolve the

paradox that my arrival at this crossroads has surfaced. I see myself as having stumbled

accidentally into teaching, rather than having known my calling and mapped my way to

being a teacher. I see myself as having stumbled accidentally into OISE/UT and the study

of narrative and arts-based inquiry, rather than having recognized my strengths and

sought suitable education. I see myself as poor at planning, yet I have arrived at the

place I started from almost 20 years ago and am seeing it as if for the first time.

How do I explain to myself that I saw no path when I looked forward, but I can

see a clear and direct path as I look back? What does it say about living by intuitively

following one’s bliss?

The Educational Neighbourhood

The traditional school could get along without any consistently

developed philosophy of education. About all it required in that line
was a set of abstract words like culture, discipline, our great cultural
heritage, etc., actual guidance being derived not from them but from
custom and established routines. … Revolt against the kind of
organization characteristic of the traditional school constitutes a
demand for a kind of organization based upon ideas (Dewey, 1963,
pp. 28 - 29).

Welcome to the neighbourhood. As you can see, it is older and fully treed, with

well-kept lawns, often innovatively landscaped with ground cover and interesting plants

rather than plain grass. I hope you enjoy your stroll as I prepare for your visit, and copy

out the recipes that I have chosen for your delectation.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

This is the neighbourhood that the crossroads I encountered in the Summer

Writing Institute led me to. This is the context that led to and surrounds this, my thesis

home, part of the labyrinth centering around the Minotaur.

Illuminal Voice — A Memory Surfaces

I have a letter from Rob: he is running the Summer Writing Institute for the

second summer, and I have been invited to assist him. I am delighted to have the

opportunity to learn more and immediately agree. He also asks permission to use one of

my daily journal entries that I had given him the previous summer, as a course

requirement. I am a little reluctant, but I give him my permission. It was hand-written

and even messier than usual because I had been angry when I wrote it, and my raw

emotions were totally obvious.

I had written to vent my annoyance with my husband who kept coming home

from his course in statistics, something I had no understanding of or interest in, and

telling me about his class. He would go into excruciating detail, and I would get

increasingly irritated. While I was ranting in my journal, I had an epiphany. The reason

Jim kept telling me about his statistics classes, whether he was aware of it or not, was so

he could talk through what he had learned. In the Summer Writing Institute we had been

reading and talking about the importance of oracy for learning, the importance of the

learner putting his or her ideas into his or her own words, and here was a prime

example in my own home, and all I had been focusing on was my inability to understand

the concepts of statistics and how irritated that made me feel.

Right there, in the flow of writing my journal, I had, in writing, linked the

pedagogical theory I was studying with an embodied experience. Then I had an

aftershock. I wrote about how writing can engender insights, and this was an example. I

thought it was a rich journal entry, which is why I had originally handed it in. I

remembered how confused and messy I had felt while writing it, but I had felt so alive,


Following the Thread

I can’t remember now if my journal was simply Xeroxed and handed out in all its

messiness, or if it was typed out and my sloppy handwriting and spelling slips hidden.

In any case, I remember re-reading it and being stunned to see that it was coherent and

made sense. In fact, a number of that summer’s participants said it helped them

understand the concepts. I felt affirmed; they liked and valued my writing voice.

I also developed a theory of my own: it is difficult to judge the quality of one’s

own writing immediately after writing it. One’s (my) tendency is to ascribe the emotions

felt while writing to the judgment. Because I felt messy and ashamed of myself, I saw my

writing as messy and inadequate. And that showed me another reason why feedback

from others is essential for writers. We need the balance of a trusted reader to help us


Another strand for this cord I am creating: midwives, readers who respond, are


The Sheridan Summer Writing Institute fostered the conception and birth of me

as a new kind of teacher and writer. For the first time I had a voice beyond my journal

and my poetry, both of which were largely private; they were my “inner speech”

(Vygotsky, 1962, p. 131). My “external speech … for others” (Vygotsky, 1962, p. 131)

came into existence through the combination of finding theoretical language for my

teaching insights, of discovering the writing instrument that freed me to “shape at the

point of utterance” (Britton, 1982), and the feedback of an audience who recognized my

(written) voice. This early voice precedes my voices in this thesis, and their singular

tones evolved from it.

My earliest public voice had a deliberate folksy quality to it, very similar to my

speaking voice in the classroom. With my tone of voice I sought to establish myself, as

among those I was speaking to, not in any way separate from. Just as in the classroom,

where I saw myself as a “guide on the side” before I encountered that phrase, so I

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Joan Vinall-Cox

presented my voice in the articles I published for teachers. I had discovered early in my

infatuation with pedagogical theory that many teachers resented and mocked any

obvious theoretical language. So I tried to tell stories of my experience without

mentioning theory, leaving it openly obvious to those who would recognize it, but

hidden from those who would be turned off by it.

I offer some excerpts, in my Published Voice, from my second published piece on

writing as a social activity below. I offer these excerpts for two reasons:

they display my first public voice as it initially emerged; and

they reveal both my “tone of voice” and my understandings of how public

writing is created.

Ariadne Speaks
More amber, smaller pieces, that I weave into this linen cord to mark this point
on my journey and help me continue to travel towards the core of the labyrinth with its
secrets and memories. Dadaelus used scientifically made machines to foster the creation
of, and then to contain, the Minotaur. Is it the Minotaur that Theseus feared, or the
power of the technology?

Writing is a Social Activity: A Published Declaration About Writing

[Writers] should get responses from readers based on the readers’

efforts to understand the writing and enjoy it and tell the story of
what was happening in their minds as they were reading — rather
than trying to judge it and figure out how to make it better (Elbow,
1998, p. xix).

Writing is a social activity. Or at least Then my response to their response was

it is for me. Until recently, however, that highly predictable: if they suggested any
wasn't so. For years, as I flirted with changes, I smiled and thanked them and
writing poetry or stories (and wrote never showed them any of my writing
from time to time as part of my job), I again; if they gave my written work
was reluctant to show my writing to any unqualified approval, I assumed that
except those who would appreciate it.

Following the Thread

they felt that way because they liked responses to my story. By the second
me. week I was pleased when one member
It was a lose-lose situation and the of my group pointed out a gap in logic
hungrier I was for response, the less in my story. He was right, and fixing it
able I was to receive it. I wrote less and helped me reach the story's climax. I
less. Finally, I wrote only on scattered was surprised when I noticed it had
occasions, usually at times of crisis. never occurred to me to be offended.
At the same time as my own writing Only after the fact did I understand that
was dwindling, I was continuing to teach we had always discussed, honestly, what
students how to write. I felt fraudulent was good first. As well, we would ask
as I assured them that they could learn questions if we were confused or simply
to write well if only they did ... whatever wanted to know more. Only slowly, as
the text I was using recommended. First the trust and comfort grew, did we start
of all, I wasn't writing that much myself, to ask hard questions or suggest that a
what did I know? Second, I didn't follow certain area could be better written. We
the text-book structures myself when I learned how to talk to each other about
was writing; I had a variety of our writing, and how to listen. Those are
approaches, none of them identical to important, and usually ignored, skills.
the ones I was teaching. I began to We all improved our writing. I could
develop a fear: what if I weren't really hear the improvements from day to day.
teaching my students anything. The I had never before heard the shifts a
good writers remained good; the weak piece of writing takes as a writer moves
writers remained weak. Were all my red it through the process of composing.
ink and instructions futile gestures? This was another important learning
****************************** experience, as well as a delight. I came
I didn't call it writer's block; I was to enjoy my writing group immensely,
being sensible. Writing was a yearning, for my learning and for the social
a dream that I would get over, occasion it was as well.
eventually. *********************************
Then I took a course, sensibly, on I was surprised, too, at the changes
teaching. people's writing went through. "How did
************************************** they get from there to here?" I would
I was lucky in my group; two of them wonder as a piece I had heard before
had worked in writing groups before returned, changed in a manner I never
and were wonderful at responding, and would have thought of. I also watched
the four of us worked very well cross-fertilization in action as one
together. I found myself eager for their person would try a new form, or another

- - 65
Joan Vinall-Cox

new content. after hearing others in the them to be more authentic, less
group write that way. sycophantic. As well, their inner sense
********************************** of how an audience reacts will grow as
As I said at the beginning, writing, they experience a variety of different
for me, is a social activity. I find I need a audiences, and experience for
real, feedback-giving audience, not one themselves what they as an audience
that is only potential or a fantasy. I want need and want.
to know that specific people will be *******************************
reading or listening to what I have Finally, both we and they need to
written. I want, in fact, to find out what I hear each other's ways of shaping
think by writing to people who can writing, and learn from each other at the
understand what I'm trying to say level where real learning happens, in the
because they know both me and my parts of our brains that we can't control
writing style, people I know well enough or monitor. This can occur only when
to speak to in a manner that they can writing is shared while it is still raw,
understand. I am learning what I have to before it has solidified and been
say, and how to say it most clearly, by stamped "finished". When we share
writing to my own specific audience. writing with our peers before trying to
This has a powerful impact on my get it published, we see it as malleable,
motivation for writing and on what I say changeable. In this non-threatening
when I write. More importantly, and this atmosphere (where we all know the
was the point of the Writing For writing is unfinished so criticism is
Teachers course which I took that inappropriate and help is
summer, working in writing groups nonjudgmental) we learn how to revise.
myself has had a powerful impact on Students, too, will learn the habit of
how I teach writing. revision if they get feedback from their
********************************* peers and gentle guidance from their
Even if we have established a friendly teacher before their work is marked. (I
relationship with our students, we are don't mean have their mistakes
still primarily teachers to them. That is corrected for them; I mean quickly show
the role we were playing when we first them where their most immediate
met them; the school is our common problems are so they can improve their
social structure. Consequently both they writing.) As the students see the
and we expect us to respond to how changes they make and experience the
they have written more than, or other exhilaration of successful
than, to what they have written. Writing communication, and see their fellow
for fellow students, for peers, frees students undergoing the same process,

Following the Thread

their understanding of how to write or preferably a regular basis, be part of

expands exponentially. a writing/reading group.
Paradoxically, the more responsible **********************************
the students are for their own and their Only as we model and practice
classmates' writing, (and the less feedback techniques can we broaden
harried I am about their errors,) the our repertoire of responses to students.
more they improve. Last year I watched And only as we write and revise,
one second-language, mature student repeatedly over a long period of time,
go from inarticulate incoherency to an with the help of a peer group, do we
almost lyrical flow, with few errors. develop a real instinct for the helpful
*********************************** question or comment.
R***'s improvement was exceptional Once we have learned what helps us
(and based on her use of a journal as write, we are more likely to be able to
well as the writing groups), but I saw help our students write. To be effective
many other students shed writing teachers of writing, we must continue to
anxieties and blossom too. And, as I work on improving our own writing. The
pointed out to them, they were learning best way to do that, in my opinion, is in
how to work in groups - an important the social structure of our own writing
professional skill. Writing in a social group.
context creates learning in a variety of
directions. AUTHOR'S NOTE on the writing of
The teacher must practise this style "Writing: A Social Activity"
of social writing in order to "know" it, I wish to thank the writing/reading
and she or he must "know" it to activate groups that have helped me say what I
it effectively in the classroom. What this wanted to say by telling me repeatedly
means is that the teacher who wishes to what they had heard me say. Specifically
use the "writing group plus I want to thank Joan Condie, Gord
teacher-as-consultant" structure for Smith, Gerry Ryan, Ben Rose, and Helge
teaching writing, must, on an occasional Hongisto. (Vinall-Cox, 1987)

For a few years, I taught writing using student choice of topic, small groups for

student feedback, pre-marking teacher-editing, and readarounds. I found that the

students’ commitment to their writing was much higher, and they produced more

writing to a higher standard than I had seen students produce when I taught writing in

the traditional style. I learned more from my students too. Not just more about who they

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Joan Vinall-Cox

were and how they thought, though that was interesting, I learned about the world as

they saw it from what they were writing about, and I learned why a teacher must make

space for students in responding to students’ writing. I learned I was not always a good

audience, and sometimes my students could help each other more than I could help

them, as I reveal in the poem that follows. One student’s writing and her fellow

students’ reactions showed me how important it is for students to have more than

simply one person, a teacher, as an audience. I came to this insight through writing a

“pedagogical discovery” poem about a classroom experience that disturbed me.

Artist’s Voice



Soft pastel smiles

and a soap opera murk, a story
of cancer and births

she presents with pride

and I

ask questions:

Is this a story you know?

(Read, ask, learn)
How do you want the audience to react?
Try "I", not "she".

On the reading day, we all read and

she takes her turn,
using "I" she gives us
the journal of a woman waiting
for a grandchild's birth
and death by cancer.

Against my will —
tears and choked breath,
(memories defeat judgement);
the others all hear, see.

I don't

want her

Following the Thread

to like me.

Another day of reading,

another melodrama,
this time of rape and death.

I sit, arms crossed,

legs crossed,
proudly closed
to the story of her heroine —
help refused,
("No, I'm okay.")
pain clung to,
(“I'll never stop hurting.")
and foolish death.

I don't want

to tell her;

I want her

to know already.

I hate this soft murk

and sentimental vision
(but yes, it is better told,
and yes, she has learned
the power of "I" wrapped in another journal.)

And I am amazed

as witty Simon, complex Caroline,

difficult Bart and the others
crowd around
animated, praising
this commentary
on date rape

The students whom I thought highly of showed their reactions as readers, which

were very different from mine. In this poem, which I wrote to explore my discomfort at

what had happened, I discovered that my reaction was, inevitably, rooted in my own

subjectivity. I saw again that a multiplicity of hearers was needed to help students learn

to write in our classrooms.

- - 69
Joan Vinall-Cox

When I came to OISE/UT in the early Nineties, after my experience with the

Writing Institute and being published in indirections, I continued to develop an

understanding that my writing might have strength and power, that I might be, for some

readers and in the context of some discourse communities, a “good” writer. I have

returned to OISE now in the early 21st century, both to explore how writing gets done

and to seek improvement for my teaching. I came expecting to inquire and write and be

read, and I am enjoying that aspect greatly.


Before I began working on the computer, writing was quite tiring. I

would get really bored and my thoughts just wouldn’t flow. After a
few days on the computer, ideas began to come. Not only was I
surprised at the ease of typing words on a screen, I was surprised by
the arousal of my interest (as quoted in Goswami & Stillman, 1987,
pp. 198 - 199).

Writing Process Voice — Background Information

This collection of narratives about my background as a writer is my view from:
midway through writing a thesis on composing and teaching using an
online computer;
over half-way through a sabbatical that allows me the privilege of
studying full time;
from my cluttered crowded book-piled study in my home;
from my late fifties; and
from a lifetime of reading and writing.
I hope it is feeding you, the reader, and giving you grist to grind in your own mill
of thinking about writing.

Writing Process Voice — Technical Comment

I am writing this portion of my thesis using, currently, an Apple PowerBook G4
with OS X, having moved my half-finished thesis over from an IBM ThinkPad using
Windows 2000, a task that I avoided as long as possible. It used to be difficult to move
from an IBM computer platform to a Mac. However, I just “burned” my IBM files onto a

Following the Thread

CD (having had instructions before and having the software available on my machine)
and then opened my files on my PowerBook G4, another computer and another
platform. So this frightening task turned out to be a minor chore compared to the many
major changes in writing tools, even within my lifetime, let alone during the long history
of human inscription practices.

Within my lifetime, the tools for writing have changed radically. When I entered

university, handwriting was almost universally used for schoolwork, though some of the

more sophisticated students used the typewriter, as did secretaries in business. Courier

was the commonly used font, though we lacked both the perception and the language

back then to recognize and name it. Currently, handwriting is becoming limited to (for

some) taking notes, first drafts and personal writing such as journaling or diary keeping.

The manual typewriter is a quaintly anachronistic machine, and the electric typewriter is

also passé. For most who write now, writing is almost totally associated with the

computer and word-processing programs.

Living While Writing

Midsummer at our friends’ cottage, I am inside, sitting beside

another visitor who has waist-length white hair and is chatting about her

child who is married to the child of another one of the guests. She tells us

the story of their romance and their education. The children had married

while in school and then both proceeded to get their Ph.D.’s. They are now

professors at different universities. I listen quietly. Then she laughs and tells

us that, about a month before they wrote any set of exams, they would stop

using their computers for writing, and handwrite all their work. Intrigued,

I asked why. She explained that they believed that they had to get their

hand muscles back in shape for writing their exams, and they also

believed that they thought differently when they wrote by hand than when

they wrote using a computer. Now I am riveted. That has been my

experience, too! We are changed by the tools we choose to use.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

As well as this major change in the tool of writing, the practice of teaching within

my career as a teacher, has undergone and is continuing to undergo, radical change.

One of these changes, the increase in students staying on much longer in school, I will

address briefly. The second, theories about how learning takes place, especially in

writing, and therefore about how to teach writing, I explore through some of my own

learning narratives. The third, the change in the tool, and therefore the process, of

writing, is central to my experience, and I will introduce the basic context of the ideas

that I am addressing about writing and its impact. First, however, I will introduce you to

the context of my learning about how to teach writing both before and after the arrival

of the computer, and to my part of the educational system, the sometimes-

misunderstood system of Ontario Community Colleges.

Learning in the Ontario Community College System

Ontario colleges generally offer certificate, diploma and post-

diploma programs of one, two or three years. These programs enable
the graduate to become employed in a field related to their training.
Established ties with business and industry ensure that the
programs offered by Ontario colleges are cutting edge, relevant and
meet the demands of the employer (CanadaCollegesOntario, 2004,
para. 2).

The Ontario Community Colleges fill a unique and necessary educational niche,

but their role and how they fill it have not always been widely understood. In order to

give you a fuller understanding of this educational context that is neither university nor

high school, I have included excerpts from a 1998 article I wrote for an in-house college

newsletter. In it I have described how I saw my educational “neighbourhood,” my College

and the Ontario Community College system.

I have reproduced these excerpts below because they provide a context to this

thesis. I have detailed my views, at that point in time, on the value of the Ontario

Following the Thread

Community College system, how it is structured academically, how its students learn,

and my observations on teaching and learning. I wrote this voluntarily because I felt the

need to engage in “knowledge-telling” (Bereiter and Scardamalia, 1987, p. 7) in order to

confirm and affirm my place in the educational universe. The content is a description

from inside of the college system; the process can be seen in my choosing writing as a

learning path. The act of writing this article is paralleled by my act of writing this thesis

in that I am using writing to investigate where I find myself, and who I am as a writing

teacher and thesis writer.

Ariadne Speaks
This amber is yellow like the sun, opaque, not the clear gold that lets me look
into the past it holds. This yellow amber brings the nourishing sun that fostered my
growth into the story being woven into this guiding cord, this art I follow, the making of
which is my bliss.

The Uniqueness of Ontario’s Colleges, thought Ontario’s colleges were like the
1998 — from 28 years teaching in American system of junior colleges.
Ontario’s colleges That has never been true.
What makes Ontario colleges unique *******************************
in the Ontario educational system? The The colleges’ mission, training for
colleges’ mission, the colleges’ employment in a wide variety of non-
curriculum, and the colleges’ students. academic fields, has quickly gained a
The Colleges’ Mission higher profile, especially as the
Until the early ‘90’s, Ontario’s emerging information age brings a rapid
colleges were the best-kept educational proliferation of new types of jobs.
secret in Ontario. Few people outside *********************************
the college system, and even some What is not so clearly understood is
within, did not understand what the that what is taught at the colleges is
colleges were doing and how unique we widely different from what is taught in
were. Most Ontarians, if they noticed high schools and universities, and the
colleges at all, assumed that we were way students learn in the colleges is
simply weak copies of universities for quite distinct too.
students who didn’t have the money or
the marks to get into universities. They

- - 73
Joan Vinall-Cox

The Colleges’ Curriculum needing a quick re-entry into the job

College students must be prepared market seek out the colleges.
for the world of work. The content of *********************************
our programs is formed, not from the This pragmatic approach underlines
academic disciplines that shape the high another significant difference between
school and university curriculums, but the college population and the
from the skills, knowledge and attitudes university population. College students
required by employers. College do not have the kind of emotional
professors must have contacts with and response to their schools that university
/or do research on their program’s students do.
industries so they can keep their *******************************
courses current to industry standards. The preponderance of two year
*********************************** courses, (a year getting used to the
College professors have to watch college, a year preparing to leave and
where the various aspects of their find a job,) the job-oriented nature of
industry are going in terms of the the college students, plus the mature
shapes of jobs and the tools/ skills students’ outside responsibilities, all
required, and they have to figure out these contribute to a less emotional
what is essential for their students to response to school events than might be
learn…. found in universities. College students,
********************************** if they develop an enthusiastic loyalty at
The employers form an essential part all, develop it for their program rather
of our market. However it is equally than the college as a whole.
important that we look at the market we *********************************
serve directly, our students. [M]any college students actually learn
The Colleges’ Students differently than university students do.
Many people believe the college Although there are college students who
student population is the same as the have received good marks in high
universities’, and largely they’re right, at school, others have not found high
least age-wise. However, colleges have school a place where they felt “smart.”
a significantly higher mature student Howard Gardner’s work on Multiple
population. Increasingly, because Intelligences is absolutely central to
college is seen as not just the best understanding the differences between
post-secondary educational bargain but university and college students. The
the most pragmatic choice for a job- seven intelligences he describes in
oriented education, mature students Frames of Mind explain what I have
often seen occur in college programs. I

Following the Thread

have seen students start off diffident or create film sound tracks, or draw
frightened or reluctant then slowly and animated images, or assess injuries with
delightedly begin to blossom as a level of intuition and knowledge that
learners. They have found that in their is almost magical.
program, they are good. Their The increasing standards of the
intelligences are a good fit, finally, and college students for their programs,
they do far better than they used to in their strong focus on learning direct job
high school. skills, and the kinds of intelligences
Gardner says that of the seven they have - all these mean that college
intelligences that he has identified, only professors need to be skilled, not just in
two correlate with school marks. The their program’s field, but in the art and
academically gifted are usually strong in craft of teaching.
the linguistic and/or mathematical ********************************
intelligences. Those who come to It is not enough that we in Ontario’s
college may well have their greatest colleges are recognized as having an
strengths in the musical, visual/spatial, important mission. It is not enough that
kinesthetic, interpersonal and/or we have curriculum content that
intrapersonal intelligences. As a employers approve. We must, if we are
teacher of writing for over 25 years in to fulfill that mission and serve
the college system, I have observed, employer needs, pay much attention
at first with bewilderment, and later and spend much time on the quality of
with the understanding that Gardner’s what happens in our classrooms.
theory gave me, that students who College professors need to be as good
are not proficient in language can be at our teaching as our students deserve;
brilliant in their chosen fields. I have and that is very good indeed. (Vinall-
seen students with weak language skills Cox, 1998)

The excerpts above are from an article published just prior to the pedagogical

and technical change this thesis is about, the introduction of laptops as a teaching tool

in classrooms. The Ontario Community Colleges, and Sheridan in particular, have

provided the medium for my growth as a teacher and have supported my learning about

writing and teaching using an online computer. The hands-on, employment-oriented

milieu of the colleges gave me access to pragmatic learning and the opportunity to

explore how students learn, as the article details.

- - 75
Joan Vinall-Cox

When computers started becoming central to workplace communications,

Sheridan was at the forefront of preparing students with its mobile computing initiative,

DELTA3. Consequently as a technophobe who liked to write, I found myself learning and

teaching the basics of communicating using this new tool, the online computer. I was

not a computer insider, but someone teaching how to communicate using paper and

presentations. Thus I approached the tool not as an expert but as a user, and learned

how to use the online computer to help people learn to be users of it.

As you have undoubtedly noticed, I take great pride in the part of the

educational system I teach in. As I identify myself as a teacher, I have also been a

dedicated observer of the changes overall in education.

Schooling Changes

Without schooling and other institutions, written texts could not

permeate culture, and without writing, institutions (schools, the legal
system, and modern bureaucracy that accumulated around literacy),
could not exist in their current form. (Bolter, 2001, p. 193)

Over the course of the twentieth century, the attitude toward higher education in

general has shifted from seeing it as exclusively the reserve of a small minority, to an

expectation that almost everyone must be admitted to it. Describing the American

educational pattern, which was similar to the Canadian, Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery and

Taubman (1995) indicate that, “until 1930, most children had completed their education

when they finished elementary school” (p. 85). In my own time as a youth in school,

mid-last century, I can remember being in one of many of the grade nine classes, twelve

or more, in my high school, yet when I reached grade 13, there were only three classes

of my cohort still in school.

Querulous Voice!

Ironically, this increase in years in school seems to have changed the

status of teachers from the setters of standards that students were expected

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to reach, to professionals held accountable for student failure, … but that is

another story.

Also, the twentieth century saw an explosion of scientific and technical

knowledge, together with knowledge about human nature, how and why people behave

in certain ways, and how we learn. During this time, although the content of courses

changed, the form and style of education remained much the same. Schools became

more plentiful and larger, but teachers and students spent their time in classrooms, with

teachers speaking and marking, and students listening and trying to perform what the

teacher required.

Even the look and technology of the classroom remained remarkably similar:

desks in rows faced the front of a room with its teacher on a dais who used chalk on a

blackboard to make displays that were largely image-deprived. By the 1980’s, it had

become clear that film and television were not going to radically change the classroom

culture, but the blackboards had become green, and overheads had become ubiquitous.

However, during the Nineties, in my role as a college professor, I saw some teachers

begin to mount parts of their courses on Web Sites that they had created, so students

could have access to materials at any time they could go online, thus replacing or

supplementing course notes. Then, in my college, the “mobile initiative” meant that

some programs required that all their students be on laptops. Consequently, I saw some

classrooms change radically.

Desks in rows were converted to multi-person desks shaped to encourage

students to work in groups. Simultaneously, the computer and the DATA projector

replaced overheads, film projectors, and television. Even more radically, as more

programs began requiring their students to have laptop computers, their teachers were

required to use something called “learning management software” to contain their

courses on a Web site. Suddenly a new school environment existed, and, after the initial

shock, I was surprised to find I delighted in it.

- - 77
Joan Vinall-Cox

I will describe, later in this inquiry, the “puddle” tables and classroom design that

were developed based on pedagogical issues rather than rote reproduction of traditional

classrooms. In my college, pedagogically sophisticated teachers were allowed to

influence part of the change to laptop use. They asked for a classroom layout that

allowed them to use their teaching theories in the new classrooms being renovated for

the “mobile initiative”, as it was called. These teachers wanted an environment that

allowed for group work as well as teacher-led and individual work. The “puddle” tables,

the soft, non-“techie” colours, and the classroom layout were all chosen and shaped by

teachers choosing what they wanted as a good learning environment. Consequently,

part of the story of my experience of the mobile initiative resides in “the architecture of

[my school] and the ways classrooms are organized” (Craig, 2000, p. 38).

Teaching Theories

A theory should be considered as modifiable and, ultimately,

expendable. (Kelly, 1963, p. 30)

The second issue I wish to address here is theory-based teaching. When I

started, like most college and university teachers, I had no specific training as a teacher.

I knew my subject and a week’s introduction to the college and teaching was deemed

enough. I taught from my implicit understanding of what it meant to be a teacher; in

other words, I reproduced what I had experienced. The much later happy combination of

circumstances, which I detailed in my stories about the Sheridan Summer Writing

Institute, gave me a wonderful initial experience of teaching theory. Long after I had

discovered intuitively how to teach my students, I found that there was a body of theory

that matched, supported, and expanded my teaching approach, my (the new word I had

learned) pedagogy. This was a central change for me, moving from an unarticulated and

largely unconscious understanding of how teaching and learning occurred, to an

increasingly conscious, theory-based approach.

Following the Thread

Illuminal Voice

I use the term “pedagogy” to refer to the art of teaching, even though it refers

etymologically to the teaching of children. Although I teach young adults, and the term

“androgogy” is the accurate word, “pedagogy” is now the term used for teaching,

without any reference to age. In fact, the Merriam Online Dictionary (2002) does not

include the word, “child” in its definition of “pedagogy” as “the art, science, or

profession of teaching.”

There is a large and growing body of theory on language, writing, and the

teaching of writing, largely developed since the 1960’s, although some work from

earlier in the century is foundational. I frequently refer to and/or cite from these

theories as part of the story about what has guided my understanding of both writing

and the teaching of writing. I start by re-purposing a brief quotation from my

Comprehensive Examination’s question (2003) on my specialist field of interest:

I find myself solidly within the constructivist camp (Kelly, 1963, p. 190),
using an expressivist pedagogy (Allen, 2002, pp. 141 - 176) with my
employment of the process and collaborative approaches to learning, and
my understanding that what students learn is dependant on their goals
and needs, as they define them (Berlin, 1982pp. 765 - 777). I have also
intuitively adopted an arts-based approach (Diamond & Mullen, 1999,
Cole & Knowles, 2001) because of my, and my students’, focus on
design. I have adopted these approaches because of

my experiences as a teacher;

theories and research I have read; and

my own action research (Vinall-Cox, 2003a).

I teach using theories that help me understand how learning can happen for my

students as I teach them how to write successfully.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Writing Theory

Theory does not catch on because it is true, rather, it vibrates

positively and sympathetically with the growing intuitions and
beliefs of the teacher (Boomer, 1988, p. 25).

My understanding of theory about the teaching of writing began when I attended

the Sheridan Summer Writing Institutes run by Dr. Robert Parker (1986) in the mid-

Eighties. Through the readings he gave us, the discussions he led, our own practice of

writing, and our immersion in writing groups, I discovered theory as a map that

described (or failed to match up to) my own experiences. I had previously thought that

theory was simply a way of “showing off” obscure knowledge, and that it was practically

useless. I had never understood that theory was more than an elaborate academic game.

Because the tiny snips of theory I encountered made no sense to me, I rejected the

whole field. However through Parker’s (1988) belief that “[w]hat is needed is a more

balanced concern for theories in relation to methods. Such a conception requires us to

put teachers at the center of the picture, as agents of both theory and practice” (p. 36).

Through the Summer Writing Institute, I discovered that theory gave me the language to

express my intuitive understandings of how to teach. Moreover, some theory extended

my abilities to see and understand the writing of both others and myself, and to help

students develop as writers. The theory I learned through Dr. Parker’s course

fundamentally changed my perceptions and my practice.

Living While Writing

Picture a woman sitting on the GO train, blind to the winter scene

outside her window. She is reading Denzin’s Interpretive Biography (1989).

“Epiphanies are interactional moments”, she reads, “and experiences which

leave marks on people’s lives” (p. 70). She pauses to think about where she

has heard the word “Epiphany” before. In church, it is the time after

Christmas, when the Wise Men arrive. (Later, she will use her computer to

look up the word and discover this meaning: “an illuminating discovery, …

Following the Thread

a revealing scene or moment” (Merriam-Webster Online, 2002), but now she

reads on.) “The meanings of these experiences are always given

retrospectively, as they are relived and reexperienced in the stories persons

tell about what has happened to them.” (Denzin, 1989, p. 71) Her mind

moves to the Qualifying Research Paper (QRP) she had written 10years ago.

She had loved telling stories about her reading, then unpacking

each story with theoretical references. She sighs gently, and continues

reading her “story as narrative is filled with multiple stories, stories within

stories. Each story is organized in terms of an Illuminal moment” . She

pauses again with a growing sense of discovery. That was exactly how she

had organized her QRP. As she continues to read her excitement grows; she

reads what Denzin (1989) says and sees that it does, indeed, describe how

her QRP was structured. Her reading has quickened and her interest

deepened because she is, in effect, reading about her own


James Britton, Nancy Martin, Andrew Wilkinson, Peter Elbow, and foundational to

them, Lev Vygotsky and George Kelly, provided the theories that gave me language to

understand, describe, and extend my understanding of the writing process and my

intuitive approach to teaching writing. Indeed, they often gave me language for what I

had taken for granted but never articulated, or ever heard anyone else articulating. I

heard about all of them and read excerpts from most of them in the Sheridan Summer

Writing Institute. I will next review some of their most fundamental theories in terms of

their direct pedagogical impact on my teaching.

James Britton
Britton’s (1982) categories of writing functions gave me a framework that made,

and still make, sense to me. He described

three major categories of [discourse] function: transactional, expressive,

and poetic. Transactional is the form of discourse that most fully meets
the demands of a participant in events (using language to get things

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Joan Vinall-Cox

done, to carry out a verbal transaction). Expressive is the form of

discourse in which the distinction between participant and spectator is a
shadowy one. And poetic discourse is the form that most fully meets the
demands associated with the role of the spectator – demands that are
met … by MAKING something with language rather than by DOING
something with it (Britton, 1982, p. 53).

As a college teacher, I frequently teach aspects of business writing, and clearly

that is a transactional function. Students are learning how to use language to get

something done. I found Britton’s definition helped me pedagogically. I had a fuller

understanding of what I was teaching as I taught business writing and/or presentations.

Now, in this arts-based thesis, I am continuing to learn how to make a verbal object to

accomplish a task.

From Britton, I also learned about Expressive Writing as “the form of written

discourse closest to speech … and a ‘natural’ starting point for beginning writers” (p.

63). This I could see in the journals where the students, or I, could write without

worrying about correctness and coherence. Just writing whatever we were thinking

helped us think further and learn more. So this was also useful to me pedagogically.

Whether I am using journals as part of a reading course, or “free writing” as part of the

writing process in a writing course, I understand the purpose and value of expressive

writing, and am not tempted into obsessing prematurely over spelling or other forms of

correctness. I know that expressive writing is a thinking tool, not a product, and I teach

students how to use it for such inquiry.

From Britton, I developed a rationale for understanding the place of poetic

discourse, and thus literature, in the college curriculum. Not only could students

develop a richer understanding of language skills from reading, but the concept of the

Spectator (p.62) looking at rather than operating through language, of the made object

as different from the channel of activity, aids an understanding of the nature of editing.

To edit, you look as a spectator, not as a participant. And editing is one of the most

Following the Thread

important language skills that all writers need. I understood Britton’s theories through

my experiences of teaching and writing, and his theories helped me to become more

conscious and deliberate in my writing and my teaching. Even more importantly, I was

also unknowingly preparing to write this, my arts-based inquiry.

From reading Britton, I also learned about “Vygotsky’s view that learning to read

and learning to write must be seen as inseparable aspects of one process, that of

mastering written language” (Britton, 1982, p. 62). “Reading and writing and talking go

hand in hand. And development comes from the gradual internalization of the written

forms .… Development comes in two main directions – towards the transactional and

towards the poetic. … [E]xplorations of the outer world demand the transactional; …

explorations of the inner world demand the poetic, and the roots of it all remain in the

expressive” (p. 110).

Britton gave me theoretical “glasses” to see through, and consequently I learned

to see my students’ writing differently, more as a tactful reader encouraging their

purposes and less as an impatient judge.


Because Britton often cited Vygotsky, I began to learn more about his theories.

The first pedagogically significant concept I found was Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal

development” (1978), which “is the distance between the actual developmental level as

determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as

determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with

more capable peers” (p. 86). “What children can do with the assistance of others is even

more indicative of their mental development than what they can do alone” (p. 85).

Querulous Voice

This Zone of Proximal Development initially seemed too obvious to

me. Of course there is a space where people know a little but not totally,

where we are starting to “get it” but we need some help; I knew that! I am

sure everyone has experienced that. My cynical voice mocked the obvious.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

However, slowly I began to see that the concept of the zone of proximal learning

gives theoretical support to such practices as classrooms where the teacher can spend

time with individual students on a regular basis, the use of cooperative learning

techniques, and the value of group work. It also shows the inadequacy of individual

testing as an accurate measure of student development. Students often, maybe always,

know more than they can show. So, even though my initially sceptical opinion was that

Vygotsky’s definition of the zone of proximal learning was obvious, I grew more aware

that it clarified my thinking and gave me language. The changing zone also prefigured

my use, as here, of a series of changing voices, a mix of different perspectives. Beyond

that, how I learn and the support of learning communities can be explained through the

concept of the Zone of Proximal Development. Eventually, the concept of the ZPD led me

to purchase and struggle through his Thought and Language (Vygotsky, 1962).

When I read that “[t]he relationship between thought and word is a living

process; thought is born through words. A word devoid of thought is a dead thing, and

a thought unembodied in words remains a shadow” (p. 153), I connected it to Britton’s

expressive writing and felt even more determined to teach students to use expressive

writing to help themselves learn. I read more Vygotsky. “Words play a central part not

only in the development of thought but in the historical growth of consciousness as a

whole. A word is a microcosm of human consciousness” (p. 153). I meditated on

Vygotsky’s words, and then found myself, as a twentieth century person, thinking

visually in images from cartoons and moving pictures like computer-generated models.

Living While Writing

I fall into sleep thinking of Vygotsky’s words and dream and while

dreaming I see a vision of words as rooted into the individual’s and the

culture’s past with silken threads radiating out and connecting to other

similarly rooted words in an ever moving radiant network, and in my

dream the glowing words shift, change colour, and size, and linkages and

Following the Thread

these threads that are the words produce ever changing tapestries and these

grow brighter and turn their luminous beams forward onto the tapestries

still being made from our words continuing to move through time. I awake

with this vision grown from and illuminating Vygotsky’s words. And rush to

pour it through my fingers into the words that appear on the screen.

Martin, Britton’s colleague’s, also used Vygotsky’s work to support her

contention that language is central to all learning and should be part of the teaching

and learning throughout the school curriculum; she advocated a language-across-the-

curriculum approach. For me this has become computer-mediated learning, which I see

as also necessary across the curriculum.

Nancy Martin

Martin’s (1976) focus on Language Across the Curriculum made pragmatic sense

to me. I took for granted the idea that developing language skills was the responsibility

of teachers of all subjects, not just English teachers, because all courses required the

use of language. Martin(1983) says “every piece of writing, and the circumstances that

gave rise to it, represents a network of past experience, relationships and expectations

linked to a continuum of other such networks” (p. 106). As an English teacher in an

Ontario community college, I teach students who have already self-selected into various

job-related programs. I usually consult with the program teachers to find out what kind

of writing the students are likely to do, both in their program courses and in their future

jobs. Students are more committed learners in my classes when they come from

programs where the teachers understand and take seriously students’ language needs.

(Students from programs where the teachers ignore or denigrate time spent learning

language skills are generally harder to motivate and teach.)

Querulous Voice

In the college, there are complaints that students still write “poorly’”

despite writing classes, so what’s the point if the teachers can’t teach

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Joan Vinall-Cox

writing? Some program teachers signal, in meetings, their nervous

expectation that English teachers will correct them as they speak or write,

and some teachers do “correct” others. Few people seem to pay attention to

what research reveals about how to teach, and how to teach writing. I

watch and see that many teachers, including many English teachers,

ignore and discount such expertise.

Over the years of reading theory, I have found I learn by “thick reading,” that is

by reading lots of authors writing about the same subject. And having more than one

framework to bring to bear on experience gives me a richer overall understanding.

Although in The Foundations of Language, Wilkinson (1971) is looking at the impact of

the mother’s behaviour on children’s language, he creates a model of language use that

has similarities to Britton’s. Laying the two models up against each other increased my

understanding of language and teaching language.

Wilkinson speaks of the conative, the affective and the cognitive uses of

language. His “Conative Use” (p. 105) of language sounds similar to Britton’s (1982)

transactional discourse (p. 53). Wilkinson (1971) describes the conative use of language

as a child learning to use language

to make his (sic) own needs known, to influence others, to gain his (sic)
ends, to make it clear that he (sic) matters (p.105).

Similarly, Britton (1982) says that transactional discourse is language used to get things

done (p. 53).

Wilkinson (1971) describes the affective use of language as rooted in both the

mother’s response to the child’s feelings, and in the stories and rhymes that the mother

and child share in verbal play (p. 106). This appears to connect with two of Britton’s

(1982) forms of discourse, the expressive where the free flow of feelings pours out, and

the poetic, where language creations are art objects (p. 52). This difference is the result

Following the Thread

of Wilkinson looking at the source of language learning and Britton looking at how

language is used. Different angles of research require and create different models.

Wilkinson’s (1971) category of the cognitive use of language has some parallels

to Britton’s (1982) transactional discourse (p. 52), in that it is focussed on requests for

more information. However it is quite different from Britton’s transaction discourse

because it is the use of language to discover, develop and extend knowledge. It is the

adult eliciting from the child information from the child’s zone of proximal

development. “Educare,” the Latin root of “education” means to elicit, to bring out from

within, and that is the aim of this kind of language use, which is a kind of “covert

teaching” (p. 113).

Wilkinson’s (1971) framework for looking at language is both similar to Britton’s

(1982) and distinctively different. In his later research and writing, Wilkinson (1986)

displays a detailed taxonomy of written discourse (p. 130) and other models that have

fine-tuned my ability to diagnose what my students are doing, or attempting to do, in

their writing. However what I treasure in Wilkinson’s work is his call, in the teaching of

writing, for “[t]he range of writing [to] provide more scope for the development of

thinking and feeling and for moral growth” (p. 137). He makes explicit the moral and

affective dimensions of writing, and recommends that schools include this in the

teaching of writing.

This touched a deep and previously inchoate chord in me, a belief in and

commitment to honesty and compassion in the use of language, and thus in teaching

language. His humanity as well as his scholarship shines through his writings, and I

honour and value both. I hope my own commitment to honesty and compassion in the

use and teaching of language at least glimmers through my writing here.


When I speak of what I honour and value, I recognize that I am thinking in terms

of my own personal constructs and I next come to Kelly (1963) one of Britton’s main

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Joan Vinall-Cox

sources, even as Kelly’s own were Dewey and Vygotsky. Kelly said that “[i]f we stopped

to pay our respects to all the thinking which has preceded and influenced what we have

to say, we would never get it said” (p. 42). However, we build on each other’s work, so I

chose, in this survey of the writings of those preceded and influenced me, to name and

give credit to Kelly as the creator of the psychology of personal constructs. I chose to

thus name and acknowledge Kelly (1963) for four reasons:

the influence of his theory on educational theory, and thus on teaching. This

is part of the culture I am embedded in;

the explosion of understanding (an epiphany) about myself and my students

that Kelly’s theory gave me;

the foundational constructs that Kelly’s theory gave me that allowed me to

build some understanding of postmodern thought, in particular the concept

of de-centering; and

the practice of giving credit where credit is due, inculcated both by my

parents and the academic practice of citing authorities.

Kelly was at first just another name I learned through the Sheridan Summer

Writing Institute (Parker, 1986) but then Kelly, too, gave me a language that allowed me

to see and understand, and then to see the glasses I was seeing through, my personal

constructs. He said,

Man (sic) looks at his(sic) world through transparent patterns or templets

(sic) which he (sic) creates and then attempts to fit over the realities of
which the world is composed. The fit is not always very good. Yet without
such patterns the world appears to be such an undifferentiated
homogeneity that man (sic) is unable to make any sense out of it. Even a
poor fit is better than none (pp. 8 – 9).

Britton, Vygotsky, whom Kelly cites, Martin, and Wilkinson all gave me their

theories, their constructs, and I came to see and adapt my own implicit theories by

adopting (some of) theirs. Kelly gave me a metacognitive theory that showed me that we

Following the Thread

all are theorists. He thus allowed me to approach my subjective understandings as

provisional and revisable, to understand learning as reconstruction.

Living While Writing

The driveway appears suddenly and I turn into it and follow it

toward a mid-century style rose brick church with a grey roof capping it

and I drive around and behind and I park beside the other cars and nod

at the people I see once a week here and walk towards the door. I go into

the lobby and hang my coat with all the other coats and I speak to this one

who is my daughter’s age and that one who is another teacher and watch

the families cluster and flow up the stairs and watch the old ones using the

railing and I follow the others up the stairs and shake hands with the

greeters and accept the bulletin and smile and nod and move to the pew

where I usually sit and I sit down and feel the movement of people as they

come in and find their places and the two women who are mates stop and

we whisper briefly and I watch the choir form into their double line and the

music changes and people stand and open their hymn books and the choir

slow -marches up the centre aisle and I sing and all of us sing “Holy, holy,

holy,” as the tall woman in the long white robe smiles gently and follows the

choir up the aisle. I am both whole and a part of the whole.

Another writer who wrote about teaching writing, gave me more than theory,

Elbow gave me a thick description of the experience of the teacher in the writing



In Writing Without Teachers, Elbow (1973) described in detail the process of

writing, using as “[his] main source … [his] own experience” (p. 16). When Elbow

described his experiences as a writing teacher a shock of recognition went through me.

[W]hen my teaching began, I had an experience of the student’s paper,

but I had no idea what to tell the student. But then I gradually moved
farther away from my experience of the paper: instead of noticing my
reactions, I noticed where the writing fit my model of good writing and

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Joan Vinall-Cox

praised those parts, and noticed where it departed from my model of

good writing and criticized those parts, and told the student how to make
improvements. I could afford to ignore my experience and reactions
because at last I had a workable model. And it was a great relief — not
just because I finally felt I had something useful to say, but because it’s
too exhausting to experience and react to a stack of 20, 40 or 60 papers.
To bring to bear the whole organism and all its reactors is too much. To
bring a good model to bear is much easier, much more sanity-conserving
(p. 120).

As I read this, I remembered how I had felt watching students looking at papers I

had spent 15to 20 minutes each marking. It was the end of the class, and I handed them

their papers as they were preparing to leave. Most immediately turned to the back to

look at their marks, then many of them, as they left the classroom, casually dropped

their papers in the garbage. I remember a feeling of shock and then a bleak sense of

depression. All that work of mine wasted. Everything I had written, unread and ignored.

Elbow, too, had found that the “good model,” the virtuous approach to teaching

writing seemed to be a rote exercise that students did not appear to benefit from. What

a relief to find that someone else had experienced a similar sense of ennui in his or her

teaching. Even more of a relief was reading about Elbow’s method.

“Learning to write is an exercise in slow, underground learning” (p. 84), Elbow

suggested, and described the solution he had found. Elbow said, “it didn’t take [him]

long to realize it would be better if the student could get the experience of more than

one reader” (p. 121). When I read this, I remembered high school and Mr. M***’s

cardboard box on the classroom windowsill with its collection of Grade 13 essays. I

remembered how reading others’ essays had made me feel more accepting of my own. I

remembered the sense of pride I had had at the school reunion when my former

classmate told me that my essay had helped him pass the Grade 13 Provincial

Examinations, despite his also remembering my spelling error. I related to Elbow’s

stories of his experience.

Following the Thread

What Elbow offered me was quite different from what I received from Britton and

Wilkinson, though equally valuable. It was not so much a theoretical model as a sensitive

manual for how to teach and learn writing that was implicitly based on his constructs as

Kelly (1963) might have named them.

Elbow had no bibliography for me to check citations, but Vygotsky’s (1978) belief

that the “primary function of speech, in both children and adults, is communication,

social contact” (p. 19) could effectively support the use of writing groups that Elbow

advocates. Elbow (1973) describes the need for writers to experience how readers, (or

listeners,) actually retrieve meaning from their written words by saying “[w]riting is a

string you send out to other consciousnesses” (p. 77) (as I do both literally and as a

metaphor in this thesis) and “[y]ou need movies of people’s minds while they read your

words” (p. 77). Clearly, writing is a socially embedded act too, and to learn to write well,

people need to know how their words “work” for / with the recipients, the readers. Our

words are simultaneously a labyrinth created for our readers and the string, the thread,

that guides readers and listeners through this labyrinth.

Elbow showed me that both my students and I needed responses to our writing,

and he showed me how to organize for us to be able to get such feedback. Elbow also

helped me become more conscious of how I thought and behaved while I was writing. I

now even respond to my own writing, and to my writing about my writing, as here in my


Living While Writing

My thesis supervisor, Pat, has gone over my first draft intensively.

There are yellow stickies several layers deep extending from the top to the

bottom of the right side of my cerloxed copy and several pencilled notations

on most if not all pages. When he hands it back to me, he leans towards me,

his eyes concerned. I think he’s worried I’ll be upset at all the markings. I

notice that he doesn’t use red ink, but soft pencil, like I do when I’m giving

feedback on students’ writing. We go over part of the thesis together and I

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Joan Vinall-Cox

make notes.

Later, at home, I sit in my study, my laptop open in front of me, and

my much marked-up copy scrunched into the space to the left of the

keyboard. Page by page, I go through and change what is on the screen.

When I talk to my parents that night, my dad is concerned about how I feel

at all these “corrections.” As I am explaining to him that I appreciate Pat’s

work, I realize that I really do appreciate it.

I’ve marked hundreds, maybe even thousands of papers this way, but

I’ve never had anyone give me this kind of help that I can remember. And

some of my mistakes are just silly. I should have looked up what you do

when you cite multiple pages. Each time Pat has written in the extra “p”, I

appreciate it. Each thing he corrects, I feel gratitude as I make the change.

Sometimes I even read ahead and see where I’ve done it again, and make

the change before I check his notes.

He tells me, too, where what I’ve written is unclear and makes

suggestions to expand at certain points. Having an attentive reader is such

a gift! I am grateful.

Elbow also wrote an Appendix Essay called The Doubting Game and the Believing

Game – An Analysis of the Intellectual Enterprise (p. 147). This essay has deeply affected

my understanding of my own way of thinking. Elbow advocates using “Tertullian’s

original formulation: credo ut intelligam: I believe in order to understand” (p. 149) as a

heuristic approach. He points out that “the doubting game has gained a monopoly on

legitimacy in our culture” (p. 150) and shows how, by itself, it is an inadequate method

for learning. He says that “[b]y believing an assertion we can get farther and farther into

it, see more and more things in terms of it or “through” it, use it as a hypothesis to

climb higher and higher to a point from which more can be seen and understood – and

finally get to a point where we can be more sure (and sometimes completely sure) it is

true” (p. 163).

Following the Thread

The believing game emphasizes a model of knowing as an act of

constructing, and act of investment, and act of involvement: what Michael
Polyani calls “the fiduciary transaction” (p. 173).

What Kelly (1963) called the “as if” game, imagining for the sake of acting. This concept

of learning by making a commitment, by building understanding from the inside of a

subject is not just a new theoretical approach for me; it is the way I have always learned.

It is, by necessity, the way I have learned to write and teach using the online computer.

Elbow lists cognitive and affective character traits that predispose someone to

either the Doubting Game or to the Believing Game. When I read through his list for the

Believing Game, I see a list of what I believe are the characteristics of a good teacher:

involvement, projection, commitment, willingness to explore what is new,

opening, loosening, metaphorical, flexible, yielding, impulse for risk,
floating self, learning to be larger, more encompassing, softer, more
absorbent, nonaggressive: meeting threat by bending, incorporating;
nonviolent, supporting, cooperative, working in a group, listening,
silence, agreeing (p. 179).

I see someone who learns by immersion and curiosity. I also see “soft mastery” (Turkle,

2002), bricolage learning and a description of the pattern of how I learned to use the

computer as a writing instrument. Although I understand that the Doubting Game is as

important for thinking as the Believing Game, I prefer to operate through the latter.

Having this approach described and affirmed allowed me to think and learn with more


Elbow’s approach to teaching writing and to thinking about learning reinforced

and shaped the teaching approach that I was playing the Believing Game with. I learned

first to imagine, and then to persist until I found my way of doing it. I also came to

understand that a teacher who approaches a student’s writing this way, who tries to

help her (or him) reach her (or his) meanings, is playing the Believing Game as a

teaching-learning tactic.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

As I later found, the phenomenological approach has much in common with the

Believing Game. By immersing myself in a learning experience and exploring its nature, I

am experimenting with an approach to find out how it works. Both are “hands on” and

both are useful for those of us who need experience before theory, who learn like many

of the college students, by doing and thinking about what we did and what happened as

a consequence.

Ariadne Speaks
Many were the weavers I learned from, all creating their own patterns, their own
threads to follow. I study their weavings to learn both their patterns and their styles.
And I weave my cord in the hope that it will be a source for other weavers who follow
me. Perhaps the core of my labyrinth will be a portal for them to travel further.

The Act of Writing

The act of filling the page with the meaning the writer chooses to
put out into the world alters the writer’s relationship to self and
world: The writer becomes conscious of consciousness and at once
defines and transcends a situation. The writer acts upon the world,
and in so doing produces a changed world and a changed self in the
world, a self that takes responsibility for deciding what meaning is.
(Allen, 2000, p. 281)

The major change in education central to this inquiry is the evolution in how we

inscribe the squiggles that denote words and thus meanings. The choice of writing tool

has changed radically in the past 15 years. I believe that this change, using the online

computer as a writing tool, is, in some ways, more radical than the introduction of the

printing press because it affects anyone writing at their “point of utterance” (Britton,

1982). The printing press affected the appearance of written text and its availability

rather than the actual composing of text. I acknowledge however, that universal literacy

is a result of the printing press, and that has had an incalculable impact on our culture.

Following the Thread

The act of writing, of composing written work, is, however, at the beginning of a

massive change, going in unforeseeable directions with

hyperlinking (providing direct access from one distinctively marked place in

an onscreen document to another in the same or a different document);

email, (messages sent asynchronously using the online computer and

electronic mail applications);

chatting (communicating synchronously, using online chatting applications);

text-messaging (sending short text messages from one cell phone to


blogs (Web logs, that is Web sites used exclusively for frequent

chronological postings of the site author’s thoughts, feelings, and chosen

links. A kind of online diary);

MOOs (a form of online text-based game where “players” play defined

characters); and

other online computer innovations.

What it means to write and communicate with text is changing and these changes will

shape how people write and think about writing in the future. What else is clear is that

writing is a popular mode of communicating, especially among the young, especially

when they can write what they want and how they want.

Blogs, which can range in content from informational, academic, opinion, and/or

diary-like, are proliferating on the Web. I suspect that more people are writing for

pleasure in blogs than ever did in private journals or diaries. Certainly reading a variety

of blogs can give fascinating insights into the surprising things people want to write


Here, In Figure 4, below, is a Canadian blog, (weblog) written to open up a

discussion space on information technology and education. There are many hyperlinks

and readers are encouraged to respond — .

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Figure 4: A Canadian Blog about Information Technology and Education

As I look at what is known about the nature of writing and the impact of the

media used, I am intrigued by four elements:

the impact of writing in shaping our culture;

the impact of reading text;

the materiality of the physical equipment for writing and the appearance of

the written work; and

the impact of thinking on writing and writing on thinking.

Writing and Our Culture

The medium is the message. (McLuhan, 1964, p. 7)

Text is ubiquitous, which makes any attempt to study the impact of reading and

writing difficult because almost all humans now live in writing-drenched environments.

Following the Thread

Whether we are reading newspapers, magazines, books, billboards, instructions,

manuals or Web pages, we are looking at text. And many of us spend significant

amounts of our time, workplace or leisure, using computer keyboards to input text of

some sort. How, then, can we find out how different our thinking would be in a textless

world? We must start by reading text in order to explore its impact.

Shlain (1998), building on McLuhan (1964), argues that the very physical

structure of our brain is altered, rewired, by learning to read, and the arrival of this new

style of thinking led to our mechanistic Western culture. And both McLuhan and Shlain

see major changes coming in our thinking and culture as a result of developments in

communication media during the twentieth century, changes that Shlain refers to as an

“iconic revolution” which draws on what what McLuhan refers to as “the auditory sense-

life.” “The return of the image in the modern age through the medium of photography,

film, television, and the internet have brought about a sharp rise in the values

denigrated during the 5000 year reign of patriarchy and literacy” (Shlain's The Alphabet

Versus the Goddess, 2003).

Living While Writing

I sit in a restaurant on Queen St. sharing supper with my daughter.

My eye is caught by the bright clear colours on the plasma screen above the

bar where the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine is playing without its sound, its

animation moving separately from the other rock music. filling the room,

and I watch as the cartoon John Lennon moves in the cartoon landscape

and a giant glove is joined by the text “Glove” and then the “G” dissolves

and the word “love” remains and I understand by watching without sound

that these are images with the song … yes, there’s the text on the screen, “All

You Need is Love”, and I watch as the text appears on the screen as a

graphically designed image that is part of the action.

The lyrics from the music that I can’t hear are there in the text that is

also a character in the visual story, and no matter whether it’ is image or

text, or both, my eyes are held by its movements and colour.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

McLuhan’s final chapter in Understanding Media, (1964) Automation, is, I

believe, prophetic. The global market, just-in-time production, the move towards

interdisciplinary studies in education, and the internet are all easily identified within his

projections of the impact of electricity and automation. McLuhan’s prescience, writing in

the mid-Sixties, a time I can remember clearly from an adult point-of-view, his ability to

project what was coming, leads me to take seriously his view of the historical impact of


Linear argumentation, as both McLuhan and Shlain suggest, will be joined if not

replaced by more intuitive, holistic thinking. Taylor, (2000) in an online article called

Editing for the electronic age from McLuhan Studies: Issue 2, described the effect of the

online computer screen with its hyperlinking capacities on the work of editing. He says

“[l]inear thinking is logical, analytical, sequential. Words and ideas flow in an orderly

pattern. Parallel thinking is more intuitive. It takes leaps, often unpredictably. To

oversimplify, traditional editing is left brain; electronic editing will have to be right

brain” ("The end of linear thinking", para. 4). This presents hyperlinking as much like the

bricolage manner of thought and composition that Gardner credits Lévi-Strauss with

identifying. Connections are “cemented in [a] nonrandom but not completely foreseeable

way” (Gardner, 1972, p. 141). Ideas are linked, as in art, by intuitive connections that are

neither rational nor irrational, but different from, outside of, beyond rationality, in what

could be called arational thought. Writing and thinking are becoming more a creation or

recognition of pattern and connection and less a demand for a linear so-called rational


The Twentieth Century is remarkable for the growth in importance of text, but

even more so of image and sound, both of which require holistic, that is right-brain

processing. What the printing press did for text, presenting uniform, identical multiple

copies, the development of photography and of sound recording has done for image

and sound. What would be remarkable would be if this massive increase in the use of

Following the Thread

the eye as image reader and the ear as sound decoder did not affect the pathways in our

brains. I suggest that, as a species, we are engaged in a gigantic experiment as our

children live surrounded by films, music recording and television more than by text. Yet

text is also essential to the creation and dispersal of these new kinds of communication


Russell, (1997), in his article, Rethinking Genre in School and Society: An Activity

Theory Analysis, says “activity theory traces cognition and behaviour, including writing,

to social interaction” (p. 509). He points at the social, indeed the transactional (Britton,

1982) function of writing. In our culture with its legal contracts, manuals, business

plans, memos and emails, people are always using writing to accomplish tasks, even

when those tasks are the creation of artefacts in alternative kinds of media. We have not

just had our brains restructured by the written text, it is essential to our economic,

cultural and academic activities: the communication networks we live in. So I conclude

that perhaps reading text has physically altered our brains and totally permeates our

lives, but that simply underlines our need to know more about how individuals connect

with text. That is a part of the focus of my self-study.

Reading Text

Reading and writing in both spectator and participant roles are

mutually interactive and supportive activities (Thomson, 1987, p. 85)

I read more text than I write, and I suspect most people, with the possible

exception of some academic and professional writers, would report the same

experience. We start learning to read before we start learning to write, although as long

as we continue writing and reading, we come to them in an interactive learning process.

I read some words, phrasings, or genre, say an arts-based thesis, and I start, largely

unconsciously, to write in a similar style. Then, as I try consciously to write in an arts-

based style, I read examples looking more closely so I can see how to write that way,

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Joan Vinall-Cox

and I learn to understand the elements of that style in greater detail. My writing style is

shaped by what I read, and by what I then study the style of.

What I read affects how I speak. Reading gives me information to talk about,

vocabulary to talk with, and a way of phrasing what I say. Olson (1994), in The World on

Paper, suggests that “[w]riting … provides the model for the production of speech (in

reading) and for the introspective awareness of speech as composed of grammatical

constituents, namely, words (p. 77). That is, “writing, rather than being an attempt to

represent speech, provides a model for that speech” (p. 78). He further asserts that

writing has allowed us to learn about language. The written record can be studied in

detail and over time, thus allowing us to make metalinguistic observations, and thereby

to learn more about ourselves.

Olson (1994) also indicates that written words are not enough for clear

interpretation. “The history of literacy … is the struggle to recover what was lost in

simple transcription” (p. 111). Reading is interpretation, but until text became uniform

and widely distributed, the issue of differing understandings of the same text was seen

very differently. The invention by Gutenberg of the printing press, and the introduction

in England of the printed book by William Caxton, followed by the push by Protestants

for universal literacy, led to a new approach to reading. Universal literacy became a goal

in England and Europe so people could read the Bible in their native languages, so they

could interpret it for themselves, or at least agree with the interpretations of their

religious authorities. However printed text was also increasingly useful in science and

philosophy as well as law and business, for the spread of ideas. As literacy grew,

people’s reading also continued to include the traditional forms, poetry and stories,

whether historical or fictional. Reading became increasingly an individual act, which

inevitably included individual interpretation of the meaning of the text.

The development of an “objective” and detailed manner of writing for science

and business was partially the result of an attempt to ensure that the text represented

the ultimate meaning, the unambiguous “Truth.” But by the middle of the Twentieth

Following the Thread

Century, the idea of a single unambiguous Truth, a correct interpretation, had become a

battleground. In literary studies, what captured theorists’ interest was the reader — “it is

in the reader that the text comes to life” (Iser, 1978, p. 19) — and the consequent

recognition of the ambiguity of meaning that is central to postmodernity.

In this focus on the reader, the act of writing came to be understood in the

stereotype of a solitary individual writing poetry or novels in a lonely garret. The

existence of the publishing industry, and the continuing use of writing by hand for

recording information and agreements by clerks in business and the law were so

ubiquitous as to often go unrecognized as aspects of writing. However, before anything

can be read, it must be written, and that is an action by the writer’s body (as well as

mind) with and on physical objects.

The Material Act of Writing

[A]ll texts, like all other things human, are embodied phenomena,
and the body of the text is not exclusively linguistic (McGann, 1991,
p. 13).

Although the act of writing has used many materials for inscribing on, such as

rock, wet clay, animal skin, papyrus, and wax, paper has dominated as the surface for

inscription, especially since the invention of Gutenberg’s press in 1436. The tool for

inscribing has a somewhat wider variance, including the stylus, bamboo, the quill, the

straight pen, the fountain pen, the ballpoint pen, and the pencil, when writing by hand.

Another material aspect of producing text is the printing press which used replaceable

wooden or metal letters. A variety of recipes were used to produce ink to leave the

markings that were the result of the act of writing, that is, the text.

Interestingly, shortly after the invention of the printing press, the Italian “running

hand” was invented. (Bellis, 2003). So texts simultaneously became more mechanistic in

their public form, and more of an embodied flowing motion in their personal form. In

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Joan Vinall-Cox

the business and legal professions, clerks with “good hands”, or the ability to write in a

uniform and easy-to-read manner were essential until into the Twentieth Century.

Writing Process Voice

I want to print up a copy of the text I have created on screen so I can see what it
looks like on paper, its ultimate destination. I cannot imagine how long it would take on
our home computer, which produces each page slowly with a number of mechanical
moves. I decide to burn my file on to a CD and go to a local business store and get them
to print it up and put it in a cerlox binder. It takes them about 20 minutes and I hold in
my hands a portion of my thesis, looking like a professional document. Ultimately, this
text will form a book. I am writing a book! The thought pleases me, and the object in my
hands is a step on the way.

About 300 years after the printing press and cursive writing appeared, another

major change occurred, the typewriter. By late in the Nineteenth Century, the typewriter

was becoming common in business. The text produced by typewriters looked like

printed texts, owing to the use of uniform metal letters, but the typewriter could

produce individual texts useful for transacting business or establishing a text to be

published. And now there were two distinctly different physical ways for an individual

writer to produce text, the one-handed cursive writing and the two-handed.

Some writers say they prefer handwriting because of its direct physicality, the

learned flowing movements that produce the text with one hand and presumably from

one side of the brain, but typing is also physical and also becomes a highly automatic

act. This can easily be seen by simply asking anyone where the “A” on the keyboard is.

Almost always the answer includes moving the little finger on their left hand, which is,

of course, the finger used for the “A” key.

Like most computer keyboards, mine has the QWERTY layout, just as the old

typewriters I was forced to learn typing on. Many attempts have been made to produce a

“better” keyboard, but once the QWERTY keyboard has been learned, people do not want

to do the physical and mental re-learning that another keyboard would require. The

movements of their fingers to produce particular letters has become entrenched.

Following the Thread

Typewritten work, with its resemblance to printed text, soon carried more

authority than handwriting. In fact, in the early Eighties, before I was computer literate, I

paid a friend to type up my poems, which I had written by hand. I wanted “good” copies,

that is copies that looked as close to the appearance of poems in books as possible. My

art, my poems, I implicitly assumed, would be “read” differently if they were typed rather

than handwritten.

Handwriting did not disappear with the arrival of the typewriter, as it was still

useful for making notes and personal communications. However handwriting came into

greater prominence as an art form. Just like factory production of bread made baking

bread a popular art, so the replacement of handwriting by typing led to the spread of

calligraphy. When mechanical production becomes common, the process left behind

becomes not just restricted in use, but seen as a craft or an art form.

Ariadne Speaks
This cord I weave using a loom, though some weavers knit cords together with
only their fingers, as our ancestors did. This loom (loaned to me) allows me to create
more, and I take joy in this beautiful and lucid art. With this hand-loom, I create the
cord that guides me through the labyrinth, that helps me move toward the Minotaur.

The Materiality of Text

To read Blake’s illuminated poems, or any newspaper, is to be

reminded of the crucial importance which spatial relations play in the
structure of texts (McGann, 1991, p. 113)

Text is made up of markings on a surface that can be recognized as letters in

words that can be read and/or decoded. While words can be embodied either as sound

or as these visual squiggles, they are always encountered in a material form. As such,

just as different voices create different responses in listeners, different formats also

create different responses, even to the same words, as I hope my different voices show

in this thesis. As McGann (1991) states, “the reading eye is a scanning mechanism as

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Joan Vinall-Cox

well as a linear decoder” (p. 113). McLuhan (1964) and Shlain (1998) spoke of how the

brain reads images and the iconic revolution. McGann (1991) says that all

texts call out spatial modes of reading in their audiences. … [S]ome

operate more clearly than others. One thinks, for example, of advertising
texts, which typically are collaged assemblies of different kinds of
scripted materials, including many different type fonts and sizes.
Advertising texts, like poems, insist that their audiences manipulate both
linear and spatial modes of reading (pp. 114 – 115).
This kind of spatial reading is also prominent in Web pages as page design includes

layout and text. In fact, in graphic design, graphics come first and text second.

In the early Nineties, while Word Processing was still new and before text was

often transferred electronically as attachments in email, I wrote the following poem

tracing the material movements of a text I had written and submitted for publication

Writing and Reading

You are reading

far away
from the time and place

where/when synapses
their ballet

and I thought
a feeling
a rhythm
held in these words

sliding in black
on a page

for synapses
and time
and fingers
green life
through electric connections
to a screen

that holds
and releases

Following the Thread

thoughts, words


and printing up,

through black tape,
in a rhythm
of line and page

these words

which bent
and folded -

and, wrapped,

to be studied,

Next, a bored stranger

these words,
through finger ballet,
to the machine

that prints
these words

for you

to read
(Vinall-Cox, 1992)

Simply by the layout of my words on the page, I have suggested that you read

this description as a poem. McGann (1991) speaks of:

a related pair of important truths about poetry and all written texts: that
the meaning of works committed into language is carried at the
bibliographical as well as the linguistic level, and that the transmission of
such work is as much a part of their meaning as anything else we can
distinguish about them. Transmission is an elementary kind of
translation, a reenactment (and often one kind of completion) of the
poetical act which the artist sets in motion (p. 149).

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Joan Vinall-Cox

The rigidly uniform reproduction of plain text by the printing press led to the

“bibliographic” or visual aspect of text becoming virtually invisible. One of the most

evident aspects of using the computer as a writing instrument is the level of control the

writer has, as I am demonstrating in this thesis, over the “bibliographic” aspect of the

text, that is, over the appearance of text.

Living While Writing

I’m in the bathroom reading Macleans and find an article on a firm

that prints books only as they are ordered. The opening recounts a story

about how Robert Service’s poetry first got published and I am intrigued so I

continue reading: “Batchelor’s company, Trafford Publishing – a cross

between a vanity press and a traditional publisher – leaves full creative

control, from font size to the cover design, in the hands of the writer”

(MacKlem, 2003, pp. 32 - 34). I am delighted but not surprised. The technical

capacity only had to be recognized. I suspect over the next five years this

method of publishing will increase greatly.

However, even before widespread attention to the materiality of text,

composition theorists, such as Emig (1983), were constructing “models of the writing

process” (p. 110).

The Physicality of Writing

Research into perception has made it quite clear that, in part, we see
and hear, as we move our hands, with our brain (Emig, 1983, p. 111).

The act of writing is highly personal, and the first draft is the most idiosyncratic

in nature. Emig (1983) addresses the physicality of writing directly in her article “Hand,

Eye, Brain: Some ‘Basics’ in the Writing Process” (pp. 110 – 121). She suggests that

there are three possible modes of writing:

by hand;

Following the Thread

using a keyboard; or


Most writers favour one mode exclusively; although some may use one mode, say

handwriting, for composing poetry, and another, such as using a keyboard, for

composing narrative or exposition. That is my pattern. I am writing this thesis directly

on a computer keyboard, looking at the screen, which is how I do most of my

composition. However, I still compose my poems more directly “by hand” and I write my

journal with a fountain pen in hardcover bound books. My academic writing, my fiction,

and my teaching materials I compose directly through the keyboard and screen of an

online computer.

Writing Process voice

It is after midnight, my computer is hot to the touch, and is making strange
grinding noises. My husband is asleep in our bedroom, but I am restless, and trying to
write. I want to write about how physical writing is, but I simultaneously have no ideas
and a logjam of too many ideas.
I believe how we “see” text, how we experience it — as messy, authoritative,
official, aesthetic or otherwise — influences our attitudes about, our feeling towards, the
text we produce. I also believe that how writing feels physically and emotionally to us as
we write it has a profound effect on our perception of our writing.
Outside my study window, I can hear the rain and the sound of a car driving by. I
think I have written myself into knowing what I want to write next.

Emig (1983) speaks movingly about “the cruciality of literal writing in the

composing process” (p. 111) yet she is open-minded enough to pose it as a question


For what kind of writer engaging in what kind of mode or modes of

writing is writing initially or steadily by hand a crucial component in the
writing process? For what kind of writer does initial or later dictation or
use of the typewriter serve (p. 113)?

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Illuminal Voice

I remember that both Emig and Parker were graduate students of Britton and

Martin, as was my supervisor, Patrick Diamond. I realize I have a lineage in my studies!

My daughter’s handwriting is messy and juvenile in appearance. Mine is loopy

and sloppy-looking. When I was a university undergrad, I taught myself to handprint the

notes I took in lectures, partially because my printing is easier to read than my writing,

and partially because the appearance of my writing embarrasses me. Many people with

Attention Deficit Disorder are dyslexic, Many are also dysgraphic; they write slowly and

with difficulty. It is difficult to experience your work as an effective or aesthetic object if

you and others see it as sloppy or ugly. It is also hard to enjoy the process of writing if it

is physically difficult and uncomfortable.

Emig (1983) also asks the practical questions:

Should children be presented with composing and handwriting at the

same time, age, or grade level (p. 113)?
My answer would be that it depends on the child. There are people who are highly

skilled in language use, who find handwriting difficult or distasteful. For people like my

daughter, myself, and others similar to us, composing using a computer, what I call

“two-handed” writing, is a liberating experience. That piece in this bricolage, the article I

published long before I read Emig or dreamed of writing this thesis, called “Two-Handed

Writing” (see p. 54) declares how profoundly releasing of my ability to write I found the


The Cognition of Writing

Most of the current talk about the basics of writing is not only
confused but, even more ironic, frivolous. Capitalization, spelling,
punctuation – these are touted as the basics in writing when they
represent, of course, merely the conventions, the amenities for

Following the Thread

recording the outcome of the process. The process is what is basic in

writing, the process and the organic structures that interact to
produce it (Emig, 1983, p. 110).

“Process” is the basis of how I write my thesis. It seems self-evident that writing

involves thinking, but thinking occurs mostly within the confines of our minds and is not

accessible for observation. Some thinking can presumably be seen in what people write,

but often this is highly groomed thought, carefully built and then smoothed into a pre-

determined shape, like the academic argument. Sometimes it is not even thought, just

information inserted into a standard format, as in a business memo. Theorists about the

teaching of English Composition have sought to discover how to best help students

think and produce written products in the manner required of them. One avenue of

composition research has involved studying how writers physically write, as described

above; another avenue is the search for cognitive models.

Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) draw a distinction between two kinds of writing

processes, knowledge-telling and knowledge-transforming. In knowledge-telling, the

writer uses only a limited number of “cues for content retrieval –- topic, discourse

schema, and text already produced” (p. 7). Most essay questions in examinations or

regular school assignments would require this kind of writing process.

The knowledge-transforming process includes and extends knowledge-telling,

becoming a discovery process by turning writing into an heuristic exercise. In the

knowledge-transforming model, the writer is constantly forming and solving both

content and rhetorical problems “in ways that allow a two-way interaction between

continuously developing knowledge and continuously developing text” (p. 12), — as I

am doing in writing this thesis. However, even knowledge-telling can have an aspect of

knowledge-transforming. “Even though knowledge telling relies on readily available

material from memory, it is probably the case that putting such material into words has

a knowledge-transforming effect” (p. 29). Once we have wrestled information into a

structure, we tend to remember what we have written. Even writing about

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Joan Vinall-Cox

straightforward, well-understood information can create learning, which is part of the

logic behind the Writing Across the Curriculum movement.

Ariadne’s Story
It took me years, years, to be able to see and read this map of the labyrinth
caught in the amber I wore as an adornment — a gift from Theseus, made by Daedalus.
Even once I knew enough to be able to recognize the map and seek to read it, I was
gambling that I could find the entrance to the labyrinth, which was both everywhere and
nowhere, in the core and in the neglected outside.
My father and mother never understood themselves, which is why they created
and hid the Minotaur. Now Daedalus, that technical wizard who couldn’t communicate
clearly enough to save his own son, Icarus, is long gone, and Theseus, whom I had
thought would be my husband, long ago betrayed me for my sister and became trapped
with her in a vortex of betrayals. After their betrayals, I sought consolation with
Dionysus, but he gave me no map, except perhaps, for showing me how to follow bliss.
Yet all of them, by not helping me, helped me to do it by myself. Each had given
me a part of the map, a way to spin and weave my thread, but only I could follow what it
meant for me. I have studied it for years.

The Neighbourhood Fadeout

The environment, in other words, is whatever conditions interact

with personal needs, desires, purposes, and capabilities to create the
experience that is had (Dewey, 1963, p. 44).

My town had many streets to be navigated before reaching my neighbourhood

where we can find my thesis-home. As above, I teach writing and story structure in the

Ontario Community College system, and, as a middle-aged teacher, I have seen many

changes in schooling over my lifetime.

I showed you my town, and brought you to the crossroad where this thesis was

conceived. I have displayed the seminal understandings I cherish — theories about how

to teach, especially theories about teaching writing, and I have mentioned the theorists

who most helped me grow as a teacher. I have shared my surprise at discovering that

Following the Thread

once hidden partner which is also part of the creation of this thesis — the computer and


You have been invited to see that I am intrigued by writing. I have explained how

I see writing as part of our culture, how we read text, and how both writing and text are

material experiences. I have become conscious that my “productivity depends on new

forms of flexibility” (Bateson, 1990, p. 235) in the structure, content, process and tool of

writing. This thesis uses and displays that flexibility.

Writing Process Voice

My thesis supervisor, Dr. Patrick Diamond, has suggested that when I use
dashes, I should use a dash, not two hyphens. My keyboard has no dashes available,
only a hyphen. I am planning on just quietly ignoring his advice; I have such a good
excuse. Then Jim, my husband mentions “Symbols” under the “Insert” Menu, and
creating a dedicated keystroke. I sort-of understand him.
I click on “Insert”, go down to “Symbols” and click again. A page comes up
offering a table filled with many symbols, including a dash. “Okay. I can do this,” I think,
but do I have to do it this way every time?” Near the bottom of the field there is a button
that says ”Shortcut Key…” and I click on that. There’s another page where I can
designate a shortcut for the dash. I set up the Apple Command button plus the hyphen
as my dash. I feel powerful and smart, and I look forward to showing Pat what he has
inspired me to do.

I invite you, now, further into my artfully designed and created home. We will

start in my favourite party space, the kitchen, as I show you the recipes that I have used

to produce this, I hope, delicious mélange, an edible (readable) bricolage.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

III – Kitchen Recipes: Methodology

The first need is for the cultivation of perception. The second is to
understand the variety of ways in which the world can be described.
The third is to acquire the ability to use theory so that it can explain
what perception has provided. (Eisner, 1991, p. 239)

Do you mind coming straight into the kitchen? Have a seat while I do a few last

minute tasks. Maybe you would like to look at the recipes I have assembled. I have to

confess that I chose the recipes after I went to the larder and found out what I had on

hand. I think, though, that you will find that the recipes fit the materials perfectly. I hope

you can see that your visit has inspired me to experiment with a wide variety of research


In research, the methodology used is profoundly affected by the question posed

and the question is shaped the choice of the method. What fascinates me, what I want to

explore, is my personal experience of learning to write, and to teach writing, using the

online computer as a writing and teaching tool. As I stated previously, “I seek to

investigate the impact of the online computer on composing and teaching, penetrating

to the core of the labyrinth of what it means to be a teacher of writing in this computer-

mediated age.” (See page 3.)

In our language-drenched and bureaucratic culture, how we write is a

fundamental aspect of our lives, in the business world, in the academic world, and,

indeed, in any aspect of our lives that requires written agency. As a long time teacher of

writing in a community college setting, I have seen a transformation in how we write and

how we teach writing.

I have moved through a number of positions in my understanding of teaching. I

started with an understanding of writing that was simply instrumental and have moved

to a theory-based understanding of how language works, and how to develop students’

ability to write effectively and well and even artistically. I started from an implicitly

Following the Thread

positivistic teaching position stressing correctness, and moved to an explicit process

approach centred on the student’s goals for the piece of writing, including personal

transformation. And I have moved from writing by hand to two-handed writing using a

simple word processor, and then to using the complex capabilities of a sophisticated

word processor in an online set up.

My experience of writing and of teaching writing started in one mode,

handwriting supplemented by typewriting for highly controlled and restricted

publication, and is currently part of the most massive shift in communication since the

invention of the printing press. Now I can create something that looks polished and

“professional” and put it up on the Web where anyone anywhere in the world (with an

online computer and the access programs) can read it. We now have the technology that

allows me, and others, to communicate directly with the world. Beyond this ability to

“publish” in a worldwide environment, our actual writing process has changed as the

tools have changed. Consequently, I believe research into the new process of writing is


As a teacher of writing for over 30 years, I have an articulated understanding of

rhetoric and composition theories, and the practical in-the-classroom experiences that

allow me to judge their usefulness. That is to say, I know which theories work in my

circumstances. I have learned both the technical aspects of a variety of communication-

oriented software, and the layout, communication and navigational skills required in this

new medium. As I have, in addition, the “ability to be reflective, insightful, sensitive to

language and constantly open to experience” (van Manen, 1996, p. xi), I believe that I

am the best source, as both the subject and the author of this thesis. Thus, I am writing

an arts-based auto-ethnography, rooted in Narrative Inquiry, using a hermeneutical,

phenomenological approach.

Ariadne Speaks
What a load of heavyweight, polysyllabic words, but this woman who sometimes
shares my mind is throwing them down on the page with growing assurance. The cord

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Joan Vinall-Cox

has led us to this portal and I am sliding inside the inner labyrinth, feeling my way into
the maze, starting my search for the core, and the Minotaur. I am certain, now, we are
certain, that searching for him is leading me (us) to secrets worth knowing, worth

As a teacher who has come from a technophobic position to become a

technoenthusiast, someone who has been teaching writing for a number of years using

a computer as a writing instrument to develop class materials, and as an instrument that

students must learn to use as their writing instrument, I have a fund of stories about my

educational experiences in using this new medium. I am demonstrating, and revelling in,

the vviissuuaall ppoossssiibbiilliittiieess the online computer adds to text, and I explain how this

adds to the communicative power of meaningful messages, as well as giving me creative

pleasure. As Eisner (1993) says, “[w]e exploit different forms of representation to

construct meanings that might otherwise elude us” (p. 6). With the plasticity the

computer provides, I claim that we can express meanings more artfully, vividly and more

evocatively. As Eisner also says,

Not everything can be “said” with anything. Poetic meaning requires

poetic forms of thought and poetically treated form. Visual art requires
forms of thought that address the import of visual imagery. How we think
is influenced by what we think about and how we choose or are expected
to represent its content (p. 7).

In order to research the shift in writing that is occurring as students and teachers

learn to use the computer as more than a “shiftless” typewriter, I need the artistic

possibilities of poetry, (which I often use to “intuit” aspects of my teaching experiences)

and of the visual aspects of the page and / or screen, to explore and represent what I

have experienced.

Below, I explain in more detail why an arts-based auto-ethnography, rooted in

Narrative Inquiry, using a hermeneutical, phenomenological approach with a conscious

Following the Thread

awareness of semiotics is my chosen approach for my study by examining each of these

aspects in turn.

Narrative Inquiry

Our questions, our research puzzles, have focussed around the broad
questions of how individuals teach and learn, of how temporality
(placing things in the context of time) connects with change and
learning, and of how institutions frame our lives. (Clandinin &
Connelly, 2000, p. 1)

I will use arts-based narratives of my learning and teaching adventures with the

online computer as the basic phenomenon and method for producing my thesis. Like

Bruner, (1990) I “suppose that there is some human ‘readiness’ for narrative” (p. 45) that

is the basis for how we construct meaning both for ourselves and within our culture.

Storying is a fundamental aspect of being human. Stories are a basic gestalt, the

patterning through which we achieve meaning. Jung’s theories about archetypes (1976)

suggest that we are born with plots and characters already incipient in our unconscious,

and Campbell (1972) too claims that symbols and myths “are the spontaneous

productions of the psyche” (p. 4). Further, like Carr (1986), I argue “that narrative form

is not a dress which covers something else but the structure inherent in human

experience and action” (p. 65). Carr quotes “Barbara Hardy’s remarks that narrative is a

‘primary act of mind’ that derives from nature…” (p. 69) and points out that

our actions constitute narratives for us. Their elements and phases are
lived through as organized by a grasp which spans time, is retrospective
and prospective … (p. 69),
as I show here.

When we have goals that we attempt to reach over time, we are living a plot with

a beginning, middle and an end. To see ourselves as agents existing in time, having

direction and the ability to accomplish significant ends, we inevitably think in narrative

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Joan Vinall-Cox

structure, and to organize what we are doing, we think about our actions in story-telling

ways. Thus, my actions in learning how to use the online computer for writing and

teaching were built through my attempts to achieve goals for my purposes. By creating

and reflecting on stories about these actions, I -

can organize and reorganize [those] action[s] for me. Similarly, telling the
story of my life in autobiographical accounts can serve to make a sense
of my life that I have not been aware of before” (Conle, 1999, p. 15).

As Narrative Inquiry invites me to see and create the stories that are the sources

of meaning of and for my teaching life, I will be using it as my foundational method for

research, and the supplier of the phenomena I seek to explore.

The Artist’s Voice


We live in stories:
we recognize a pattern
and embrace the trajectory
we put ourselves into costumes
so the audience knows our role.

The story composes

its makers
who circle
around the patterns,
seeking and making

The ending imagines

the beginning;

the teller is caught

in the tale.

The story expands

the audience as each, absorbed,
grasps, through the story,
the secret they yearn for
and fear.

We swallow stories
and become them.

Following the Thread

We drink stories
and colour all we see
and feel.

We are a species who story.

(Vinall-Cox, 2001)

By looking at Dewey’s (1963) focus on experience as “a moving force” (p.38), tied

into Bruner’s (1990) claim that “the human condition [must be] interpreted in the light of

the symbolic world that constitutes human culture” (p. 138), I claim Narrative Inquiry as

the approach that will give me both “the phenomenon and the method” (Clandinin &

Connelly 2000, p. 18) that will allow me to explore my experiences composing and

teaching with the online computer.

Learning to use the online computer as a writing tool constituted both a crisis

and a challenge for me as a writing teacher. Learning to work in a computer-mediated

environment was a further challenge and one that became an exciting journey for me.

The sheer novelty and intensity of what was demanded of me made it a story-rich

situation. On one occasion, I used Campbell’s (1972) Monomyth as a structure to

inform an article, “Going Mobile: A Journey into a New World”, for The College

Association of Language and Literacy (CALL) online magazine (Vinall-Cox, 2003b). I

simply had to reflect on my learning and teaching experiences in story form, using story

as both narrative and metaphor, because of the impact of my learning about this new

teaching and writing instrument.

I am, as you have already seen, using my published stories together with some

unpublished ones from my personal and my teaching journals as sources for this

inquiry. I also have located some potential stories in my memory. I want to also confront

the “gaps and silences that take on new significance when interrogated from the

perspective of who [I,] the rememberer [have] become” (Mitchell and Weber, 1999, p.

54). These materials will allow me to “fill in the richness, nuance, and complexity of [my

research] landscape” (Clandinin & Connelly 2000, p. 83).

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Another reason why I have chosen the form of narrative inquiry as an umbrella

for my research is that “[n]arrative inquiries are always strongly autobiographical. Our

research interests come out of our own narratives of experience and shape our narrative

inquiry plotlines” (p. 121). I am both the practitioner and the researcher of my

experiences of learning how to write using the online computer; consequently an auto-

ethnographic approach is most suitable.


Persons as selves have experiences, experience referring here to the

individuals meeting, confronting, passing through, and making sense
of events in their lives. As Bruner (1986, p. 6) observes, experience
refers to how the realities of a life present themselves to
consciousness. (Denzin, 1989, p. 33)

This inquiry is focussed on my experience of learning to use an online computer

as my writing instrument for the purpose of composing teaching materials for students

also being taught how to write using an online computer. Thus it is a subjective journey,

and involves “drawing on personal experience [and] the personal experience of others in

an effort to form an understanding and interpretation of a particular phenomenon”

(Denzin, 1989, p. 27). As I am the one who has had these experiences and am inquiring

into them by writing about them, I am writing, as also above, “an ethnographic

statement which writes the ethnographer [me] into the text in an autobiographic

manner” (p. 34). That is, I am writing a “descriptive and interpretive” (p. 34) auto-

ethnographic narrative of my experiences of learning how to teach writing in an online

environment to students using online computers.

As I am also a graduate student immersing myself in theoretical writings, I

understand that I am choosing to locate my “Self not in the fastness of immediate,

private consciousness but in [the] cultural-historical situation” (Bruner, 1990, p. 107) of

Following the Thread

my culturally-shaped experiences. I am researching, trying to achieve a “narrative truth”

(p. 112) knowing that “[t]he object of a self-narrative [is] not its fit to some ‘hidden’

reality but its achievement of ‘external and internal coherence, liveability, and

adequacy’” (p. 112).

As Bruner (1990) also notes,

There is something curious about autobiography. It is an account given

by a narrator in the here and now about a protagonist bearing [her] name
who existed in the there and then, the story terminating in the present
when the protagonist fuses with the narrator (p. 121).

I am the author constructing this tale, the adventurer at the centre, and the spectator

observing. Being conscious of these, my multiple Selves, I realize I must be self-

conscious about how I tell my story/(ies). Ulmer (2003) speaks of “(my)story” where “one

simply documents the external details of any situation that has persisted in one's

memory. … The mystory testifies to these moments of self-consciousness awakened

by the problems of being and becoming” ( para. 2).

As Richardson (1997) states, “[h]ow we choose to write raises two metawriting

issues: guiding metaphor and narrative voice” (p. 17). My “narrative voice” emerges as a

polyvocal chorus of voices. They sing my discoveries, allowing me the playful freedom to

create the richest version of my tale, and allowing me to most fully exploit the

potentialities of the computer as a writing instrument. I seek to show, not simply tell,

the reader why I delight in using the computer for my purposes, in my way.

My Guiding Metaphors

If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely

metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and what
we do everyday, is very much a matter of metaphor (Lakoff &
Johnson, 1980, p. 3).

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Joan Vinall-Cox

I use two guiding metaphors. In the first, I represent my thesis as a home that I

have invited the reader to enter as my guest. In this metaphor, I see my text as

entertainment and sustenance, and the act of writing as creating an environment where I

am the reader’s host. The second metaphor I use is a literary allusion, that of the myth

of the Minotaur in the labyrinth. With this I suggest a need to transgress the traditional

story. I intend, by comparing writing using the computer to the effect of the Minotaur in

the labyrinth, thus adapting this mythical allusion, to suggest how computer technology

contributes to individuals’ aesthetic representational powers. I see computers less as

“beast-like” and technically over-determining, less as demanding great human sacrifice,

and more as a creative and artistic tool, perhaps with a dark side, but also presenting

bright aspects.

I believe that we need to alter our perception of the impact of computers in order

to recognize that the life form at the heart of the technology is our humanity. The plot I

imagine now is a transformative, happy-ending story where this new union, the animal-

human at the centre of the technological labyrinth, has life-affirming gifts for those who

seek in an open playful manner. Consequently, an Arts-Based approach is best fitted to

sharing my research as process.

Arts-Based Inquiry

By use of curriculum theory and rigor, we are able to integrate

knowledge, create a bricolage of research, and to interpret what we
learn, what we teach. These “steps” lead us to the ability to make
meaning of our world. (Steinberg & Kincheloe, preface to Diamond &
Mullen 1999, p. xvi)

As arts-based work is a relatively recent approach that is not always fully

appreciated, I am incorporating, as part of my bricolage, an extensive rationale and

explanation for the effectiveness of arts-based inquiry, drawn from a major paper I

wrote for Professor Jean Mason’s course, Writing Matters: Theoretical and Practical

Following the Thread

Models for the Study and Teaching of Writing, which I took in the spring of 2003. The

paper itself was based on my experiences in Professor Patrick Diamond’s course, Arts-

Based Teacher Development, which I had taken in the fall of 2002. I speak both as

teacher and as student.

Ariadne Speaks
From the wise woman, I take a gift she gave me, and add these smoothed over
amber beads. I first received the raw amber from a wise man, and strung it on a cord of
my making and gave it to the wise woman. Her gift to me was the time to make the
necklace, and then, when she gave it again to me, the time to polish the beads, to
smooth them out and add them to this, my guiding cord.

Within this iteration, I used voices, but not the same chorus as I am using for the

rest of this thesis. Consequently, the match is not always direct, but the titles in each

box will guide the reader. The original paper has been altered, revised and revoiced, the

same players in a different theatre.

An Arational Rationale

Using Arts-Based Inquiry: An Explanation

Artist’s Voice — The Call

The sun flowing over the city

slanting into the classroom,
warming my stretched-out legs -

What do we mean, as memories

splash over conversation,
rocked loose by readings and talk

in this sun-filled space where I feel

safe and
can listen and hear

(Vinall-Cox, 2002)

In this section of my thesis, I will explore the developmental aspects of Arts-

Based Inquiry in order to explain why it is a central path to transformative, or “deep”

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Joan Vinall-Cox

learning. First I will explain my understanding of what Arts-Based, or Arts-Informed

Inquiry is, second I will make clear my definition of transformative, or “deep” learning,

and third, following the logic developed by Allen (2002) to explain the surprisingly

effective impact of his writing pedagogy, I will show, using Winnicott’s (1990) terms,

“True Self,” “False Self,” and “Transitional Objects,” why Arts-Based Inquiry can create

effective learning.

Arts-Based Inquiry

[A]rts-based inquiry [is] an emerging form of alternate research that

is appropriate to the postmodern age (Diamond & Mullen, 1999,

I first encountered Arts-Based Inquiry in a course given by Dr. Patrick Diamond

at OISE/UT in the fall of 2002. My initial response was divided. I had trouble accepting

the use of a variety of forms and the playful qualities of some assignments and

presentations as appropriately scholarly yet I found myself spending more time and

energy doing the readings and assignments for this course than for my two others.

By mid-term, I was consciously aware of a paradox. My discreetly hidden cynical

observer-self questioned the approach, but my mind-body human complex was having

a different response. This can be seen in the poem with which I opened this section. In

it, I described myself as being in a classroom where my body was relaxed, my mind was

engaged, and, most importantly, I felt “safe and/ i /[could] listen and hear” (Vinall-Cox,

2002a). Once I had written that poem, and then read what I had said and reflected on it,

I knew I had to take Arts-Informed Inquiry seriously because the safety I named wasn’t

simply an escape, or a response to a “bird course,” but a space of open engagement, a

space where I was learning deeply and holistically.

This sense of safety and openness to learning, which is something I take very

seriously both as a learner and as a teacher, was in contrast to my responses in two

other classes. Both were intellectually engaging and I learned many “facts;” however, in

both I was occasionally in a defensive mode, carefully hiding from potential attacks. In

Following the Thread

one, most of the other students were distant and spoke at, rather than with, each other,

with little teacher input or direction. In the other class, the teacher at one point raised

his voice at me in response to an admittedly stupid question; I resented it and feared a

repetition. In both classes ‘I’ performed adequately, but always wearing a mask and

body armour, which absorbed some of my energy, thus limiting what was left for

thinking and learning.

Illuminal Comment

My imaginary reader who guides my writing is leaning over my shoulder and

whispering that I am over-sensitive, and other people would not be bothered by such

events. This is true, and both teachers have their student fans, and I respect much of

what these teachers did to guide our learning. However, I believe that all teachers, and

especially those who teach teachers, teacher-educators, should be highly attuned to the

human qualities of their students. Dewey (1963) says: “Any experience is mis-educative

that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience” (p. 25).

The intellectual confusion caused by the loss of a sense of safety is inevitably mis-

educative. Correspondingly, a feeling of safety is educative precisely because it is rooted

in both “objective and internal conditions” (p. 42).

Now my imaginary reader is whispering rather impatiently, “Yes, yes, so the

teacher was good; you felt safe and could learn. But what did you learn? What is this

Arts-Based stuff and why are you advocating for it? Or is it just the teacher?”

A Postmodern Position

We seek, however temporarily, to satisfy requirements for arts-based

authenticity and empathy rather than those for once-and-for-all-
time causality and definition (Diamond & Mullen, 1999, p. 238).

Although it is a cliché, change is the one constant in life. We are currently living

in a world of accelerating change and shifting bedrock, and I think we have only two

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Joan Vinall-Cox

choices: drown or learn to swim. As part of the change we live with, we are also living in

a world where diversity increasingly interpenetrates everything everywhere. And, as a

species, we are producing scholarship that struggles to become ever more conscious,

more self-aware. Ours is a postmodern world. Diamond and Mullen (1999) recognize

what this means for writing.

Postmodernists replace the idea even of a single radiating self as a stable,

unified, conscious subject with that of a lightheaded, fluid, constantly
changing community of multiple selves within and for consciousness. …
They call for texts that openly contradict themselves, maintaining first
one thing and then another and then still another (Booth, 1985). Both
subject and text offer multiple opportunities for representation,
emergences, comment, and speechlessness.
Any self or text is “not as a line of words releasing a single
‘theological’ meaning (the message of the Author-God) but a multi-
dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original,
blend and clash” (as quoted in Barthes, 1977, p. 146) (p. 22).

In the postmodern world, there is no singular Truth, there are only small, local,

contingent truths (Rorty, 1982). As Lemke (1994) says:

Postmodernism … argues that what we call knowledge is a special kind of

story, a text or discourse that puts together words and images in ways
that seem pleasing or useful to a particular culture, or even just to some
relatively powerful members of that culture. It denies that we can have
objective knowledge, because what we call knowledge has to be made
with the linguistic and other meaning-making resources of a particular
culture, and different cultures can see the world in very different ways, all
of which "work" in their own terms (p. 67).

We see “signs” and read “meanings;” in other words, we are interpreters par

excellence, and constructing meanings is our human modus operandi. Furthermore, we

are seeing from our individual positions, and from our embeddedness in various groups

and/or cultures. As Denzin (1989) says “[n]o self or personal-experience story is ever

an individual production. It derives from larger group, cultural, ideological, and

Following the Thread

historical contexts” (p. 73). Additionally, what we construct when we read signs is not a

stable, final meaning, but, according to Albertson (2000) speaking of Iser’s ideas, an

ongoing stream of shifting and limited interpretations.

Fictionalizing pervades life, from lie to dream and from hypothesis to

explanation. Human existence cannot experience its beginning or its
end. Nor can we, even in the most intense Illuminal moments, possess
the full meaning of what occurs. Because human being finds itself thus
decentered, unable to be present to itself, it creatively constructs a virtual
self-possession out of imagined possibilities in literature. This is the
impulse to fictionalize: the universal but asymptotic attempt to be and
have oneself at once (2000).

We cannot know everything, so we construct images of who we are and claim

that as “reality.” Thus, depending on the moment and mood of the writer who is, of

course, shaped by her or his culture, different stories emerge as different voices speak

at different times, as I display here.

Denzin (1989) carries the case for a multiplicity of voices (and/or viewpoints)


A story that is told is never the same story that is heard. Each teller
speaks from a biographical position that is unique and, in a sense,
unshareable. Each hearer of a story hears from a similarly unshareable
position (p. 72).
Denzin points to the unshareable positions of teller and hearer and to the constant

change that is characteristic of life itself.

What is new is what was previously covered up. A life and the stories
about it have the qualities of pentimento. Something new is always
coming into sight, displacing what was previously certain and seen. There
is no truth in the painting of a life, only multiple images and traces of
what has been, what could have been, and what is now (p. 81).

Following these theorists, we cannot claim absolute, timeless knowledge or

objectivity. In a postmodern world, we must recognize our limited and subjective

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Joan Vinall-Cox

perspectives and the constantly ongoing flow of time as boundaries in what we can

claim to understand. The closest we can come to “truth” is a representation of many

voices, many visions laid down beside and across each other, carrying on a conversation

among the voices as well as with the reader(s). This has profound implications for how

we chose to represent life, whether our own, our cultures, or “Others.” Joan Vinall-Cox
Comment: Is this a quote or my own text?

How We Know and Represent What We Know

When there is a crisis of representation we are freed from the

intellectual myopia of hyperdetermined research projects and their
formulaic write-ups (Richardson, 1997, p. 14).

In the postmodern world, every deliberate human action ‘signifies’ meaning,

whether it is words performed as a dance between “author” and “reader,” or wordless

images, or other forms and/or activities. For Saussure, (1983) the arbitrary nature of the

sign is the first principle of language (p. 67). For Eisner (1997) the form of

representation, pointing to and beyond language, shapes perception.

The selection of a form of representation — or, as some people call it — a

symbol system (Solomon, 1997) is a selection of not only what can be
conveyed but of what is likely to be noticed (p. 7).

That is, we see what we know how to see; we perceive what we have learned how to


Illuminal Voice: A Conversation with an Imaginary Reader

Ah, my imaginary friend whispers, “Good. You understood enough to write about

it and writing about it, you understand more. But you sound like you “believe,” if that’s

the “right” word, in this postmodernism. I thought you had only disdain for “po-mo.”

I shrug, somewhat embarrassed. “Well, yes, I thought it was just the noise the

Academy makes to amuse and employ itself. That is true. But that was before it started

making sense to me.”

Following the Thread

“So,” this intimate reader whispers, “How did that happen? How did it come to

make sense to you?”

After a pause, I reply thoughtfully, “Well, it started in the Arts-Based Teacher

Development class. I knew I did not have to declare belief, chant the “po-mo” creed or

anything, and that took away my transgressive urge. Then, when I was not resisting and

my guard was down, it kind of snuck up on me. In the readings or in class something

would make me think of one of my poems, and how writing poetry often helped me

understand a complex issue in a way that logical, linear writing did not. What can I say?

Postmodern concepts helped me understand my experiences, and my experiences

helped me understand the concepts. The beginning of understanding that I caught in

Arts-Based Teacher Development made me curious, hungry to understand more of


“I found myself playing on my computer and using Google to find some sites on

postmodernism. I read and thought about it. When postmodern ideas came up in

readings in my course with Dr. Jean Mason, Writing Matters: Theoretical and Practical

Models for the Study and Teaching of Writing, they made more sense to me, and I

realized that I was beginning to actually consciously experience the world through my

own “po-mo” lens. The lack of fear and the freedom from a sense of ideological demand

in my classes had allowed me to “catch” the cultural logic of postmodernism.

“More than that, I read in Richardson (1997) that: ‘The part of me that is

marginalized is attracted to poststructuralism, as I imagine is also the case with others

seduced by postmodern theory’ (p. 125) and I saw that I wasn’t so much a convert as

enabled by postmodern theory to make sense of my personal history. Even when I was

quite young, I had felt decentred by the use of ‘Man’ for all humans, and the use of ‘he’

for the singular third person, and had questioned this in My Grade 13 English class, in

1964. In the Seventies, I had discovered the lack of acceptance of my voice as a young

female in departmental meetings. As well, at conferences, as a college teacher /

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Joan Vinall-Cox

professor, a member of a small minority who was neither a high school teacher nor a

university professor, I often felt invisible and marginalized. So a theory that questioned

authorities and grand narratives, that allowed me to experiment with representational

forms and explore intellectually was inevitably attractive to me. And it had been opened

up for me in the safety of both the classroom of my poem, and in the safety of playing

with a variety of forms and materials.

“So you tell me, my reader, does that make sense to you? Not the conceptual

sense I was making before we started our conversation, but embodied,

phenomenological sense? Not answering yet? That is good. Take your time, and I

certainly do not expect you to see it entirely my way. Take some more time and think

about it, maybe read up a bit on it. You could do worse than go to Google and explore

that way. Or read Richardson’s Fields of Play (1997): “Postmodernist culture permits us

— indeed, encourages us — to doubt that any method of knowing or telling can claim

authoritative truth” (p. 188). She argues that we can “crystallize” (p. 92) ethnographic

material in poems and plays, and demonstrates how. It makes sense of my own

experiences for me, so I move further into the postmodernist worldview.

Not there yet? That is okay. We will talk more later, but now, I have to get back to

my thinking / writing.”

I believe that what we have lost of certainty and absolutes in this postmodern

world, we can make up for in increased forms of representation so that many ways of

knowing are part of the scholarly search for meaning, not simply one or two privileged

ways of knowing. Further, as Richardson (1997) points out, “[c]asting sociological

interviews into poetry can make visible the underlying labor (sic) of sociological

production and its sales pitch (conventional rhetoric)” (p. 144). Using different,

unconventional, forms not only allows us to think differently through using different

Following the Thread

representations, it also makes us more conscious of the constructed and rhetorical

qualities of all forms of representation, conventional or not.

As I noted above, Gardner (1983), in Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple

Intelligences, lists seven intelligences, (and later added another) based on specific

biological and cultural criteria. The Ontario public school system, like most of the

Western world, privileges only two of the eight, linguistic intelligence and mathematical

intelligence. By allowing largely extra-curricular attention to musical intelligence,

kinesthetic intelligence, and visual intelligence, while virtually ignoring the personal

intelligences, interpersonal and intrapersonal, the school system implicitly devalues

them. This, even though research reveals that the Personal Intelligences are central for

successful living (Goleman, 1995), and that the other intelligences support learning in

the two chosen or dominant ones (Gardner, 1993). Clearly we have multiple ways of

knowing. It would be rational and logical, if only we could step outside the cultural

prejudices we live within, to make use of multiple ways of representing and to inquire

more fully and richly into human knowledge.

Why Arts-Based Inquiries in Educational Research?

To understand the curriculum as aesthetic text questions the

everyday, the conventional, and asks us to view knowledge, teaching,
and learning from multiple perspectives, to climb out from
submerged perceptions, and see as if for the first time (Pinar et al.
1995, p. 605).

Constant change and many viewpoints, even within a single person, are the

postmodern experience, and educational institutions, as bellwethers of society, exist in

this postmodern state, with many voices making contradictory demands and pleas.

Several times in my teaching career, change, major change, has been required of me.

Often the change necessitated my learning new approaches, or in the case of the

computer, a whole new way of teaching and of being. This is not a situation limited to

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me; it affects all contemporary teachers and educators. Consequently, teacher

development is an urgent and ongoing requirement in education today.

Teachers who do not understand what or why certain changes are required may

pretend to change, or even try earnestly, but because they did not “get” whatever the

change was, they do not implement it well. I believe Whole Language approaches in

Ontario were crippled because of this. What Craig refers to as a “’rhetoric of

conclusions,’” (Craig, 2001, p. 343) was used to introduce Whole Language and many

teachers felt at an impasse because they could not integrate what they were expected to

do with what they knew how to do. School reform failed.

Because teachers’ professional welfare, sometimes even their jobs, are at stake,

feeling threatened is almost inevitable when a change either does not “make sense” or is

difficult to learn. Fear is always mis-educative, and thus, always blocks and/or slows

down change. Effective teacher development requires a sense of safety for the teachers

for the real change that is needed to happen. More than union protection is needed to

create a safe learning situation; teachers, and students, need to be able to engage

openly and playfully to learn deeply. As Fleckenstein (1997) states:

[T]he creation of meaning requires a participating, not an alienating,

consciousness, one that emotionally identifies itself with the object being
learned. Any act of learning thus requires the integration of subject and
object, a process that creates and orders each simultaneously (p.26).

When we create an art object, or perform an art piece, or explore either reflectively, we

approach its meaning through art forms, and thus differently from approaching

meaning through the form of expository writing.

As teachers, like our students, we have different strengths and ways of

understanding the world and our experience of it. Embedded as we often are in

institutions of learning that are complex “lifeworlds” (van Manen, 1997) and performing

a complex task, teaching, in a deeply inter- and intra-personal situation, we need more

than conceptual knowledge plus safety to make changes. We need the opportunity to

Following the Thread

represent our understandings of what is happening in our classrooms using our own

modes of representation. We can think most deeply and effectively in the modes we are

most knowledgeable and/or most playful in. As arts-based Inquiry allows learners to

think and create in different modes of representation, it allows efficient and effective

ways to approach teacher development.

Furthermore, teaching is enacted bodily, in complicated situations where

teachers are performing loosely scripted “improv’s” trying to create understanding

and/or develop skills with sometimes difficult and/or resistant audiences. This is not a

linear, propositionally directable process; rather “the curriculum comes to form as art

does, as a complex mediation and reconstruction of experience” (Pinar et al. 1995, p.

567). That is, the creation of an art object is a closer match to the experience of

teaching than reading or writing expository prose.

Arts-based Inquiry with its complexities and multiplicities is, therefore, more

directly parallel to the complex experience of teaching than any description of a

prescribed method. If a teacher is attempting to confront and explore a mandated

change and/or to develop more fully as a teacher, arts-based Inquiry is simply a better

fit for effective learning, and thus more likely to produce the kind of complex and deep

change that is needed and/or wanted.

Speaking subjectively, I have found that I feel the need, from time to time, to

write poetry based on what is happening in my life. As I am passionate about teaching

and learning, some of that poetry is about my school experiences. Often I find, when I

reread and reflect on what I have written, that an understanding that I was not fully

conscious of has appeared within the poem. (This happened within the poem I included

at the beginning of this section.) Long before I heard the term “Arts-Based Inquiry” I was

practising a form of it as part of my personal and professional development.

Given the paradigm shift that postmodern thought results from and extends, the

increased knowledge we have about how we know and represent our knowledge, and

our growing understanding of the complexities of teaching, arts-based inquiry is a

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Joan Vinall-Cox

“sane and reasonable” (Richardson, 1997, p. 41) approach to teacher development and,

indeed, all kinds of learning. As van Manen (1997) says, “over the ages, human beings

have invented artistic, philosophic, communal, mimetic and poetic languages that have

sought to (re)unite them with the ground of their lived experience” (p. 9). In this section,

I am suggesting we make use of the learning possibilities available in arts-based


An Addendum

Art objects make accessible realities inexpressible through other

orders of representation (Pinar et al, 1995, p. 570).

One of my concerns, as I began to accept the Arts-Based approach as an

effective method of inquiry, was that the art might not be “great” art. I resolved that

concern for myself when I recalled a distinction I make about poetry. I firmly believe

that, for me, poetry is a channel between my subconscious awareness and my conscious

recognition (Woodman, 1985). My poems show me what I am coming to, what is

emerging into my conscious perception. Thus, they are deeply personal and very

valuable to me. They are my private poems. However, I view arts-based works as fitting

into the category that van Manen (1997) describes. He says “that phenomenology aims

at making explicit and seeking universal meaning where poetry and literature remain

implicit and particular” (p. 19). Arts-Based Inquiry is phenomenological and aspires to a

different epistemological end than “art for art’s sake.” The question of whether Arts-

Based works are “great” is irrelevant; what is relevant is what I (and maybe others) can

learn with and from them. As Diamond and Mullen (1999) say, "arts-based inquiry is art

pursued for inquiry's sake" (p. 25). And for professional development, like mine.

Following the Thread

Transformative Learning

The place that is familiar can be the place where we are most lost
(Grumet, 1988, p. 65).

Authentic teaching is an embodied performance art involving the “teacher” and

the “learner” who sometimes change roles with each other as the dance goes on.

Authentic learning is a deeply engaged practice of puzzling and trying, with moments of

triumphant experience. What do I mean by that? I mean the opposite of rote learning

and directive teaching. I mean the lively moments where people are present and open to

change, and the flow. I mean learning that changes the way the learner is in the world,

so s/he experiences and performs differently as a result of what they have learned.

We are part of a culture that has being seeking to understand how we humans

know and learn for millennia. From before Socrates and onward (Miller, 1988, p. 62 -72)

we have been trying to understand how we learn because that is central to ongoing

human existence. We are the species that learns, and records our learning so others may

learn from and/or through us. I claim that tradition as carried forward by these and

others in the Twentieth Century. Hall-Quest (Dewey, 1963) in his editorial foreword to

Dewey’s Experience and Education, speaking of Dewey’s ideas says:

Experience is educative only to the degree that it rests on a continuity of

significant knowledge and to the degree that this knowledge modifies or
“modulates” the learner’s outlook, attitude, and skill. The true learning
situation, then, has longitudinal and lateral dimensions. It is both
historical and social. It is orderly and dynamic (p. 11).

Kelly (1963), in A Theory of Personality: The Psychology of Personal Constructs,


Man’s (sic) thinking is not completely fluid; it is channelized. If he (sic)

wants to think about something he (sic) must follow the network of
channels he (sic) has laid down for himself (sic), and only by recombining
old channels can he (sic) create new ones. These channels structure his

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Joan Vinall-Cox

(sic) thinking and limit his (sic) access to the ideas of others. We see
these channels existing in the form of constructs (p. 61).

In this inquiry, I display (some of) my channels embodied in the voices I present and in

the conjunctions suggested by their spatial relationships.

With Vygotsky (1962), I too find that:

[e]very thought tends to connect something with something else, to

establish a relationship between things. Every thought moves, grows, and
develops, fulfills a function, solves a problem (p.125).

This describes how I envision my thinking as working in a bricolaged structure,

overlapping where everything connects, and every connection accomplishes a task.

These connections both result from and create “channels” in Kelly’s (1963) words.

I also agree with Bruner (1990) that:

[t]he realities that people constructed were social realities, negotiated

with others, distributed between them. … And both mind and the self
were part of that social world (p. 105). (Emphasis in the original)

And I add that reading is one of the “social realities” (p. 105), and Bruner (1990) has

helped me build my constructs by recording his, as I am also doing here for my reader

and myself.

Of course, the classroom is a deeply social environment and as student and

teacher, I have built constructs there, both tacitly and explicitly. I could not, I believe,

have come to appreciate the power of arts-based work, without constructing that

understanding, that channel, socially, with others I respected and cared for.

Miller (1988) suggests that −

[t]o be holistically authentic is to care, for if we see the connectedness to

others then inevitably we care for them as well (p. 137).

Following the Thread

Arts-based work is inevitably social, whether synchronous, in the classroom or a

group, or asynchronous, when read or viewed. It is a richly human experience, as

Diamond and Mullen (1999) implicitly explain –

[a]rts-based phenomenological humanists … provide interpretive

accounts of emotionalized experience. Such texts are simultaneously
argued narratives. They have the literary and catalytic power to engage
and transform readers, encouraging them to question and draw upon
their own imaginative as well as experiential resources (p. 41).

When we use arts-based approaches, or other similar ones such as Fleckenstein

(1997) describes, we are allowing the whole human to learn and grow.

Exploratory pedagogy is a term I use to describe the growing, loosely

coordinated work that integrates such nontraditional approaches to
teaching as intuition, meditation, imagery, and somatic learning. It offers
a crucial complement to social, liberatory, and cognitive approaches.
…[It] acknowledge[s] the importance of affect in cognition, affirm[s] the
worth of personal experience, transform[s] our concept of the self, and
build[s] meaning dialectically (p. 27).

Experiential learning, constructivist learning, authentic learning, transformative

learning, holistic learning, arts-based learning, exploratory pedagogy, and all real

learning involve change, involve experience, happen when we make connections, in

socially embedded circumstances, and produce emotional responses. Teachers, or any

kind of learner, must have a safe space and some freedom in how they represent the

new understandings they are trying to take in if change is to be achieved. Personally, I

have found that arts-based inquiry gives the kind of safe space needed for teachers and

others to construct their new understandings and transform themselves and their


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Figure 5: Art Object, made and photographed by JV-C

“Potential Space” and “Transitional Objects”

Cultural experience, Winnicott asserts, grows directly out of

transitional phenomena and playing (Allen, 2002, p. 159).

Along with the other students in Professor Diamond’s course, Arts-Based

Teacher Development, I created an “art object” (see Figure 5, above) as part of a

presentation I co-facilitated. I chose purple for this rather simple spiral, with a green

bead and some gold embossing. Although made using the same materials as my fellow

students, this was not truly the “transitional phenomena” for me that it was for them. I

will explain how this all came about more fully in the following section.

A Presentation Moment

Holding is Winnicott’s term for the protective, empathetic, space-

creating function of the caretaker. Holding means making a secure
space (Allen, 2002, p. 164).

The classroom is sunny, and all the students are sitting facing the back wall,

looking at a collection of brightly coloured hanging objects. They are yellow, green,

Following the Thread

purple, or orange, decorated with embossings, beads, feathers, buttons, crayon

markings, and images. Most of the objects have a spiral shape, and some are truly

beautiful. The quiet energy that, to me, denotes focus dominates as one of the students

speaks softly, “I did not really think about a teaching moment. I was having such fun

with the colours and textures and shapes, and that was all, I thought,” she says.

I am a little disappointed at what the speaker is saying. As one of two students

leading this class presentation, I had watched, gratified, as most of the others stood

beside their art objects and told intriguing stories of important school experiences.

However, I smile anyway and comment, quite honestly, on how beautiful this student’s

art object is. She smiles back, and shakes her head. “But I was actually thinking of a

moment,” she continues. “As I listened to everybody talking about their objects, I

remembered one particular experience, and it connected with what I had made!” A kind

of surprised excitement infuses her voice and, after a brief pause, she continues her


As a co-facilitator, as someone “holding the space,” I am delighted; it has

worked. Later, in my course journal, thinking about the experience, I wrote:

I really enjoyed the writing and performance parts. I was surprised at the
level of commitment in the class on the creative project − how long they
took with their spirals and how connected to the topic they were − we had
not explicitly planned to put up the spirals and have them comment
individually, but that evolved and we went with it − and it was amazingly
focussed and on topic. It felt so good, doing the seminar (Vinall-Cox,

The presentation was a rich experience for my co-presenter and me, and, as

many of the other students told us, for them. It was an important transition in my

understanding of the power of arts-based work.

Although I did not have a name for the construct then, my co-presenter and I

had created a “Potential Space” where the other students could create “Transitional

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Objects” to examine their educational experiences through using different media. I

discovered this construct in Allen’s (2002) article where he describes an approach to

teaching writing very similar to the one I have found most effective.

Allen, Winnicott and “Good-Enough” Support

Winnicott sees the capacity to reason as an outcome of development.

In other words, nonrational factors determine whether or not the
subject — for our purposes, the learner — achieves, or does not
achieve, potential (Allen, 2002, p. 142).

In “The ‘Good-Enough’ Teacher and the Authentic Student”, Allen (2002)

explores “the decisive role played by nonrational determinants in the way people learn”

(p. 141). He explains that “[t]he Enlightenment paradigm — that people learn through

the application of reason and logic” (p. 141) not only does not explain the discoveries he

made while teaching his writing classes about how students learn to write, but the

application of a positivist approach actually “retard[s] learning and neglect[s] the

conditions that actually do produce development” (p. 141). I find his analysis compelling

because I have made a similar discovery while teaching writing in the community

colleges and participating in the above arts-based course.

Pointing out errors does not improve people’s writing; giving them the

opportunity to write about something they genuinely care about, an audience attentive

to their meaning, and advice when they’re ready does create improved written work over

the long term. It is not “rational” in positivist terms, but it is rooted in a “common sense”

understanding of how people actually develop, and that is what Allen focuses on.

Through his careful collection of student data, he is able to state that “the best way to

improve students’ performance in academic writing was to offer intense training and

experience in personal narratives” (p. 146). Allen theorizes why this is so using

Winnicott’s (1990) work on the emotional development of infants, including the

development of the “False Self” and the “True Self.” I follow Allen’s lead in applying

Following the Thread

Winnicott’s theories, but apply them to teacher development through the use of arts-

based learning-and-teaching narratives. Britton and the London School of Research he

founded also found the following theories useful.

Winnicott’s Theories

In the healthy individual who has a compliant aspect of the self but
who exists and who is a creative and spontaneous being, there is at
the same time a capacity for the use of symbols (Winnicott, 1990, p.

Winnicott (1990) posits a “False Self” (p. 142) which, in its benign state, is simply

“the polite and mannered social attitude” (p. 143) that gets us through normal social

interaction. However, problems develop when there is a “tie-up between the intellectual

approach and the False Self” (p. 144). When a student, whether a teacher in the position

of student, or simply someone attempting to learn, feels inadequate or fearful, s/he will

automatically, unthinkingly, hide their “True Self” (p. 147) behind their “False Self,”

becoming compliant and imitative (p. 147). “Only the True Self can be creative and only

the True Self can feel real” (p.148).

In this inquiry, I present aspects of my “Self” as “Voices” displaying them by the

use of fonts and borders, thus showing the channels that I think through. My “True Self”

appears as a chorus, each thread adding its particular insights to my overall

understanding, becoming the cord that guides me in my learning quest. (My “Querulous

Voice” acknowledges the negativity I perceive, and is my strongest shield against my

“False Self” which emerges from the shadows of denial.)

Before I further link Winnicott’s theories to the subject of arts-based teacher

development, it is necessary to explain how the False Self develops. Winnicott looked at

the early stages of infant development, where the infant is learning how to communicate

its needs and desires as an individual. The infant’s partner in this communication is the

mother, or the caregiver fulfilling the mother-role. As Winnicott explains,

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Joan Vinall-Cox

In seeking the aetiology of the False Self we are examining the stage of
first object-relationships. At this stage the infant is most of the time
unintegrated, and never fully integrated; cohesion of the various sensori-
motor elements belongs to the fact that the mother holds the infant,
sometimes physically, and all the time figuratively. Periodically the
infant’s gesture gives expression to a spontaneous impulse; the source of
the gesture is the True Self, and the gesture indicates the existence of a
potential True Self. …
The good-enough mother meets the omnipotence of the infant
and to some extent makes sense of it. She does this repeatedly. A True
Self begins to have life, through the strength given to the infant’s weak
ego by the mother’s implementation of the infant’s omnipotent
expressions (p. 145).

To understand this somatically rather than intellectually, picture a mother you

admire dealing with an infant. Notice the intense focus of the mother, often maintaining

strong eye contact, as she works at answering what her child wants. “Is it this toy,” she

silently asks, “or a session of rocking, more activity or less, food, changing, or

emotional comforting that is wanted?” She will work intensively at understanding what

the infant is inchoately trying to communicate. When this attentive inquiry into the

infant’s desire is continued repeatedly, the infant will learn to expect to be understood

and to have her or his desires and needs met most of the time, and redirected when not.

The infant will begin to feel a kind of agency, that their actions cause results that they

are seeking. If, using your empathy, you can get a sense of this, you will have a richer

sense of how “Good-Enough” communication creates the sense of competency that

allows authentic learning, thus creating a more developed “True Self”.

Now remember a teacher you learned from. Remember the feeling you had when

you were with her or him and attempting to learn. Thinking of a teacher I admire, I

remember the light touch on my shoulder, the rewards of smiling praise for small

achievements, the sense that the teacher was on my side, the sense of complete

confidence in the teacher and in the teacher’s caring. If you can remember similar

Following the Thread

experiences kinesthetically and emotionally, you will have a sense that goes beyond

intellectual comprehension of how a developing “True Self” learner feels, and what

Winnicott was describing.

Winnicott (1990) continues :

The mother who is not good enough is not able to implement the infant’s
omnipotence, and so she repeatedly fails to meet the infant’s gesture:
instead she substitutes her own gesture which is to be given sense by the
compliance of the infant. This compliance on the part of the infant is the
earliest stage of the False Self, and belongs to the mother’s inability to
sense her infant’s needs (p. 145).

This time, picture a mother (or other caregiver) whose interaction with an infant

makes you uneasy. What is it you want her to do? What do you hear in the infant’s cry or

see in her or his gesture that you want to respond to, or see the mother respond to? Is

the mother gazing into her infant’s eyes or are they turned from each other? And, most

importantly for our purposes, do you think the communication successful?

Now think of a teacher from whom you felt alienated. I remember the two I

mentioned at the beginning of this paper, though the disappointment was mild. One did

not protect the students from each other, and the other momentarily raised his voice.

Both evoked my perhaps overly sensitive False Self who took on the task of protecting

my vulnerable-feeling True Self. Both, quite unintentionally, left me feeling isolated and

potentially powerless. Have you ever felt the anxiety of knowing that you were unseen

and unheard?

Finally, think of being at a meeting where you are being instructed in how to

implement a system that does not match your experience, your constructs, of how

things work in classrooms. For example, perhaps you have spent all your teaching

energy in marking every single mistake in students’ papers, spending hours on this

highly detailed work, only to see the students glance at the final mark and toss their and

your work into the garbage. You feel virtuous, yet bitter and frustrated. Then the

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Joan Vinall-Cox

administrator in this meeting tells you to teach using a different approach, gives you

some confusing and contradictory instructions, and will not, you believe, be in your

classroom or easily available if the new system does not “work.” Which learner self

surfaces, the True or the False Self?

When we teach according to positivist instructions, we may feel the logic of the

material, but our approach is not logical precisely because it is not developmental.

When we operate through power rather than “good-enough” communication, it is

inevitable that those around us will be present in their False Selves, and, with their

creative True Selves in hiding, will be limited in their learning.

Somewhere, somehow I learned to present a false “False Self” by silently

speaking to myself. I also learned to treat my “True Self” somewhat similarly; I learned to

speak my perceptions silently, in my mind, and then allow the words out silently onto

paper (or screen.) Writing poetry and keeping journals were/are my pressure escape


In the classroom described in my opening poem for this section, I was in my

True Self, and alive and open to learning. (And the pleasure led me to write the poem.)

When I felt no compulsion to comply with my teacher in his clear acceptance of

postmodern thought, I lost my False Self’s transgressive wall that it had thrown up

against it, and then found I resonated with it. I was learning deeply, broadly, holistically

because I felt safe and my True Self could be fully open.

I once had a “good-enough” superior, who encountered me in the hall when I

was trying to switch from a mistake-based writing pedagogy to a version of Britton’s

(1982), Elbow’s (1973), and Wilkinson’s (1986) developmental approaches. It was late

October and I felt that this new approach was not working. I was upset but trusted him

enough that I could actually tell him that I was having trouble implementing this new

writing pedagogy. He listened to me at length. We talked about how students could

sense your discomfort when you tried something new, and how they would feel

discomfort themselves with a new approach. He pointed out they would try to pull and

Following the Thread

push me back into the old approach, even if it did not work, just because it was familiar.

He listened to me and he looked me in the eye, so I listened to him. He knew I was

impressed by Elbow’s “believing game” (1973) and reminded me of it. By the end of the

conversation, because I felt heard and supported, I was ready to go back and keep on

trying. By end of term, it was clear to both the students and to me that our new

approach was leading to improvement in their writing. A real conversation where I could

speak authentically allowed me to survive the difficulties of change and to adopt a new,

more effective approach to teaching writing.

Another “good-enough” manager, who made it clear she respected me as a

teacher and needed me to introduce students to the basics of using a computer to

communicate, created the kind of situation that allowed me to move from a

technophobic attitude to someone able to teach computer basics with enthusiasm. She

worked by supporting the approaches I was trying out. When I wanted to teach page

layout as part of teaching word processing, she told me to go ahead. Her support, her

ability to listen and point out my achievements, especially when they were small and

reached only with difficulty, allowed me to develop as a teacher. She was a “good-

enough” manager because she paid attention to my messages, my views, while keeping

both of us attending to the requirements of the school and the needs of the students. In

both these situations, the courses I created were “Transitional Objects,” a term which I’ll

explain more fully later.

Illuminal Voice: the Imaginary Conversation Continues

“Yes, very interesting,” my most intimate reader murmurs, “but how does this

connect to arts-based inquiry? That is what you’re writing about, isn’t it?” I hear from

my inner critic.

I ignore the sarcastic tone and answer as best I can. “This section is, itself, an

example of arts-based work,” I point out. “This conversation between you, my imaginary

reader, and me, the writer, is an example of postmodern playfulness and part of a

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serious attempt to communicate using “narrative reasoning” (Richardson, 1997, p. 28)

to give a “contextually embedded” (p. 28) explanation. These stories are all linked and,

combined with the calls to somatic and experiential understanding, together with the

traditional academic references, all point to an understanding of how arts-based inquiry

“works.” I hope now to “crystallize” (p. 92) this understanding, to “provide…us with a

deepened, complex, thoroughly partial understanding of the topic” (p. 92).

Potential Space, Transitional Objects and “Crystalizing”

The use and the value of the biographical method lies in its user’s
ability to capture, probe, and render understandable problematic
experience (Denzin, 1989, p. 69).

When I worked with my partner on our presentation for Professor Diamond’s

course in Arts-Based Teacher Development, we were not simply preparing an academic

presentation; we were preparing an arts-based inquiry performance. We used narrative

in a variety of arts forms to invite the participants to explore their own and others’

understanding of school experiences. Our plans and the handout were designed to

gradually increase the participants’ involvement, until they told their own story and

created their own art object. Their story and their art object were their “Transitional

Object,” their “security blanket”, their “potential space” where they could take learning

risks. As Allen (2002) says:

Winnicott calls the psychic space between caregiver and infant potential
space. This potential space, a creative place for both caregiver and child,
is a place where the “work” of childhood happens. Here we find the
paradox, both separation and connection. In the potential space child and
caregiver are separate, but through creative play, the psyche of the child
connects to the psyche of the caregiver. It is important to recognize that
the space is only “potential” and depends on the “good enough” caregiver
making and maintaining that space. If the caregiver interferes with and

Following the Thread

dominates the space, then the space and its potential are compromised.
If the caregiver is negligent, there will be no defined, protected space
where “the work of play” can happen (p. 151).

I hold that the classroom should be such a “potential space.” If the teacher is

“good-enough,” she or he can hold that space and allow the learners the necessary

“play.” If the teacher neglects holding that space, and dominates or allows individual

students to dominate, the learners will learn to stay in their “False Selves” because they,

quite reasonably, do not feel safe. This understanding of “potential space” and learning

has profound implications for curriculum and the classroom, especially for learning

writing and for learning how to use the online computer as a communicative tool.

As Allen continues,

According to Winnicott, an important event in this potential space is the

infant’s identification of a transitional object. This is some object, like a
toy or a blanket, that becomes the infant’s first “not-me” possession. …
The transitional object provides an illusionary sense of a soothing,
responding, sustaining object experience. The illusion is crucial and
positive. It … allows autonomy since the object, unlike the caregiver, is
under the infant’s control (p. 151).

In the classroom, the student’s work is a transitional object if the teacher is

holding the potential space in such a way that the student is enabled to be in her or his

“True Self” and to create. Sadly, even with a “good-enough” teacher who is able to offer

such a potential space, if the student has been trained in other less beneficent spaces to

feel fear or a sense of inadequacy, s/he will have trouble making good use of the space.

(The great emphasis on expository writing and contradictory notions among different

teachers of what makes such writing “good” causes many students to write, and think,

from their “False Selves.” The pattern among those teaching computer applications to

have students perform a rote copy of an already created project similarly evokes

students’ “False Selves.”) That is why Allen advocates personal narratives for his

expressivist pedagogy. That is why I advocate arts-based projects for teaching computer

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applications, and arts-based inquiries to promote the development of teachers and their

learners. And that is why I have chosen to write an arts-based thesis.

If teachers (as well a students) are freed up in the kinds of writing and/or

representation work we can do, we can develop more creatively and effectively. If we can

safely play with new ideas, approaches and media, we can use the potential space to

create our own “’transitional phenomena’” (p. 151) (as I am with this thesis) and thus

move towards new classroom cultures.

Finally …

[T]eachers as educational artists can describe and convey facets of

experience through personalizing and fictionalizing them in literary
and visual forms (Diamond & Mullen 1999, p. 20).

The opportunities my partner and I created for the participants in our

presentation for Professor Diamond’s course in Arts-Based Teacher Development was

the kind of “potential space” Winnicott (1990) described, and the art objects the

students made were transitional objects that they could think and learn with and

through. The creation of and holding of that space for the participants was my co-

presenter’s and my transitional object. After having listened to the participants’

accounts and looking at their art objects, I felt the kind of excitement and pride that a

teacher feels while watching students’ independent and well-developed creations; I felt

the pride of the “good-enough” teacher. My understanding of Arts-Based Inquiry


As a teacher of writing to students who are both arts-oriented and production-

oriented, I know experientially what it feels like to see students produce art pieces as

part of their learning, and what it feels like to engage them in writing in a creative

manner. To me, art-based inquiry is a powerful way to support teacher development.

Using Winnicott’s understanding of the developmental requirements for human being

Following the Thread

and learning, and Allen’s use of Winnicott’s theories to explain why writing personal

narratives has such a profound effect on students’ learning of writing, I suggest that the

kind of deep, transformational learning that is essential for teacher development can be

promoted through postmodern arts-based inquiries.

Writing Process
The writing of the section above (p. 122 — 147) was profoundly influenced by
the possibilities provided by word processing. If you compared these pages to the
original paper as I submitted it, you would find some passages were repeated word-for-
word, some were entirely missing, some were altered, and some were added.
Initially I inserted the file containing the paper, and then using the moveable
cursor and word processing’s plasticity and iterative possibilities, I added text, and with
“Cut & Paste” I deleted and moved sections. I changed the font and other aspects of the
original paper’s appearance. Indeed, if we could see traces of this editing on the
physical page when it is printed up, grey eraser marks would cover all of the text and
would intensify over many parts that have been re-visited and altered a number of
This use of a computer-created “object” for more than one purpose has given
rise to a new phrase and a new word in educational commerce. “Learning Objects” are
exercises or examples that can be placed in a number of different lessons and teachers
are encouraged to submit theirs to a “bank,” or collection, from which they will be able
to draw on “learning objects” created by others. “Re-purposing” is a term for altering
and then reusing already created materials, as I have done with this paper. The
computer makes this so easy as to be inevitable.

The paper presented above as a section of this inquiry was my transitional

object, the spindle I used to spin the thread of my own understanding of arts-based

inquiry. This thread is one I am using to weave the cord I use to explore the labyrinth of

my inquiry into the use of the online computer in writing and teaching writing.

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My Metaphor for my Thesis Quest

Metaphor is not merely an ornamentation or a grace note: It conveys

cognitive content. … Implicit metaphors orient and prefigure
knowledge (Richardson, 1997, pp. 43 - 44).

We think and learn through metaphor. Gibbs (1994) says, “not only is much of

our language metaphorically structured, but so is much of our cognition” (p. 5). As one

of my touchstone poets, Roethke (1958), says, “[w]e think by feeling” (p. 413), and

metaphor is both embedded in and carries feeling. Gibbs (1994) also

suggests that metaphor is indispensable in both everyday conversation

and educational instruction. People do not really have a choice about
metaphor, in that such language is necessary to communicate in a vivid,
compact manner ideas that might otherwise be inexpressible (p.134).

This arts-based inquiry has both controlling and incidental metaphors to “help capture

the vividness of our phenomenological experience” (Gibbs, 1994, p. 125).

In Diamond and Mullen’s (1999) “An invitation to an In-quest” (p. 1) they use the

referent of the labyrinth, as I do in one of my two controlling metaphors. However, I

have a different analogue. Like theirs, mine is focussed on a quest represented by the

image of the labyrinth and the dreaded beast at the core; however Ariadne, my searcher,

using the amber map of her memories and the linen threads she spins, is creating a

cord that is guiding her to a new ending. My analogue, learning to use the online

computer, is my research focus. The online computer has been feared and resented, and

sometimes demonized, despite and / or because of its powers, because of the way some

fear it “consumes” the young by offering them all the forbidden (and dangerous)

pleasures of anonymous desire and the possibilities of dark seductions. And for some, it

is especially feared (although this fear is usually unacknowledged) because of its

anarchic refusal of hierarchical power.

Like Diamond and Mullen (1999), I

Following the Thread

argue for, and provide new tools for, representing and inquiring into
educational questions and the teacher-researcher self. [They] float
between text and figure, image and shade, evidence and doubt, and
between ways of thinking that no longer provide a hold on events and
those that are being birthed. In the midst of death-in-life and life-in-
death, we are detectives in-quest and in need of creativity. Although we
feel that “things fall apart: the center cannot hold,” we do not yet know
whether it is boon or “rough beast, its hour come round at last,/
[that]Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.” (Yeats, 1996, p. 187). (p. 7
– 8).

For me as a late-career teacher of writing, during an age of radical change in

communicative media, exploring the impact of a new technology on teaching and on the

students in the classroom (especially a technology so infused with the possibilities of

creativity, and so elusive, ephemeral, and plastic in its representational powers) arts-

based inquiry offers me the most appropriate research path. The computer and this

“new vision of inquiry and teacher development” (p. 8) are remarkably complementary. I

seek to intermingle the labyrinth and the Minotaur (my metaphoric image drawn from

Classical Greek mythology which comes from the beginnings of our academic culture)

with the new technology and the postmodern context of my current classrooms. I

believe that:

[t]o embrace the potential of art to inform scholarship is to be open to

the ways in which the literary (as well as visual or performing) arts can
inform processes of scholarly inquiry. (Cole & Knowles 2001, p. 212)

As I had to learn to be open to the new technology, so I take pleasure now in

being open to advancing knowledge through new forms of research.

Any knowledge claims [I make] must reflect the multidimensional,

complex, dynamic, intersubjective, contextual nature of human
experience (p. 217).

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Joan Vinall-Cox

I am writing about my own experiences in a form I find compelling and with a tool I find

both familiar and exciting. I understand that I am also creating an “intimate space” for

this representation of my life, an intimate space that readers can visit, an intimate space

that I name metaphorically as my home.

For both these concepts, to effectively use these metaphors, an arts-based

approach is central so I can work richly with the experiences I study. As I practice my art

with words and exploring with words, I also explore hermeneutics and phenomenology

as an approach to finding meaning in my experience.

Hermeneutics and Phenomenology

[T]he hermeneutical phenomenological method does not offer a

procedural system; rather its method requires an ability to be
reflective, insightful, sensitive to language and constantly open to
experience. (van Manen, 1996, p. xi)

An inquiry into teaching “requires a phenomenological sensitivity to lived

experience … a hermeneutic ability to make interpretive sense of the phenomena of the

lifeworld in order to see the pedagogic significance of situations” (van Manen, 1997, p.

2). I am reflecting on my experiences in learning to compose using an online computer,

and learning to teach students to compose using an online computer. As Moustakas

(1990) points out, "[t]he self of the researcher is present throughout the process and,

while understanding the phenomenon with increasing depth, the researcher also

experiences growing self-awareness and self knowledge. Heuristic process incorporates

self-process and self-discoveries" (p. 9).

Living While Writing

She is struggling, struggling to hang on to the thread she is weaving

that will guide her onwards through the labyrinth. She is being buffeted by

the winds of unwelcome change and the swinging weight of worry. Nastily

Following the Thread

hatched changes for her husband’s employment, academic problems for her

daughter, and suddenly she is mired in fog, thick, debilitating, noisy,

dense fog that slows her down and scatters her thoughts.

Can she, should she, wrap herself in her (re)search to achieve rescue

from this noxious time? She reaches into her memory of music, and takes

advice from Gladys Knight and the Pips. What she must do is to “Keep on

keeping on.”

To study my self-process, I research in the manner suggested by two

phenomenologists, Moustakas and van Manen (1997). As van Manen (1997) explains:

Reduced to its elemental methodical structure, hermeneutical

phenomenological research may be seen as a dynamic interplay among
six research activities:
1. turning to phenomenon (sic) which seriously interests us and commits
us to the world;
2. investigating experience as we live it rather than as we conceptualize
3. reflecting on the essential themes which characterize the
4. describing the phenomenon through the art of writing and rewriting;
5. maintaining a strong and oriented pedagogical relation to the
6. balancing the research context by considering parts and whole (p.

This approach fits well with Narrative Inquiry and auto-ethnography especially in

the first three points and the fifth and sixth. The fourth point concerning writing and

rewriting and the structural aspects of the sixth point deserve separate consideration, in

terms of the use of language.

When we write or read, we are inevitably interpreting, using our experience of

the world. “Good interpretation shows the connection between experience and

expression” (Smith, 1999, p. 31). The online computer presents a rich array of new

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Joan Vinall-Cox

possibilities of expression. I am using this new communicative tool, the online

computer, to create a thesis that shows that “[u]nderstanding that which confronts [me]

as new is made possible in the ‘now’ by virtue of the forestructure of understanding

which is already in [me] through past experience” (Smith, 1999, p. 33). My experiences

with, and feelings about, writing and the appearance of the written word have shaped

my learning of how to use the computer for writing, and my experience as a teacher

teaching writing have led me to see how the computer and the Web could contribute to

a richer learning environment for students.

In taking a hermeneutical and phenomenological approach to my own

experiences, I am telling stories and reflecting on them. I am doing this with words, with

text. Consequently, I am aware of the need for “a deep attentiveness to language itself,

to notice how one uses it and how others use it” (Smith, 1999, p. 33). Accordingly,

some knowledge of semiotics is needed. To introduce my orientation towards semiotics,

I call on my memory. As Mitchell and Weber (1999) use the term, I am working within a

“pedagogy of reinvention … studying [my] own experience with the insight and

awareness of the present for the purposes of acting on the future” .


[T]he very languages and constructs I use to think about the world
are themselves very much of the world itself (Smith, 1999, p. 45).

I remember in grade 13, in 1963/64, being puzzled by a sentence that said

something like “the last man alive will spend his last hours searching for his wife and

children.” This statement was in a context that used the term “man” as a generic term

for human beings. I was puzzled because it was clear to me, a female, that the generic

should include the female (slightly more than) half of the human population, yet it didn’t

seem to. It didn’t say “spouse and children”; it was clear that the gender of the active

Following the Thread

searcher was specifically male. My grade 13 English teacher behaved as though my

question was pointless, unimportant. I retreated, but I did not forget.

In the early Seventies, my husband saw and admired Germaine Greer on a T.V.

talk show and bought her book, The Female Eunuch, which I immediately appropriated

and devoured. Her language astounded me, and her ideas often put into words

something I immediately recognized from my own experience, but previously had had

no concepts for understanding. Greer’s deconstruction of female stereotypes gave me

an understanding of the semiotics of appearance and grooming, and prepared me to see

the world in a more sociological and anthropological manner. Her use of boxed quotes,

a style I had never noticed before in a book, was the kind of bricolaged presentation

that has influenced this thesis. The Female Eunuch, to use a term ironically in a manner

that I suspect would amuse Greer, was seminal to my growth in ability to perceive


Some time in the mid to late Seventies, I encountered a book by Farb (1975)

called Word Play: What Happens When People Talk. Neither Jim nor I can remember who

originally bought it, but it ended up on my bookshelves. Every August for a number of

years, I reread it as part of my mental preparation for teaching in September. I found it

sharpened up my perception of my students’ (and, of course, my own) use of language.

In the Acknowledgments, Farb says,

To write about language and also to present a report on the state of

linguistic research demanded that I explore many disciplines —
linguistics, anthropology, sociology, psychology, ethology, poetics, and
so on — and consequently expose myself to the hazards of
interdisciplinary points of view. Further, in writing about language I had
no alternative but to use the medium of language itself — which is nearly
as difficult as lifting oneself by one’s bootstraps (p. vii).

Farb’s lucid writing and vivid examples were a wonderful introduction to the

semiotics of language, and provided a strong foundation for my future learning in this

area. His explanations on how we use language and are, in turn, shaped by language, on

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Joan Vinall-Cox

how we use language for power, or get defeated by language, ours or others, prepared

me for some of the ideas I later found in postmodern thought.

My interest in semiotics predated my interest in research. However, as a

researcher inquiring today, I realize that I require some understanding of semiotics. I

see that, as a researcher, I am looking at things and behaviours that signify, that mean.

When I write out what I perceive, I create a further system of signs representing the

meanings I chose to focus on. Once I had became conscious of the constructedness of

what I was able to see and how I then constructed what I perceived, I could not help but

focus on linguistics and semiotics.

Lemke (1995), making an essential postmodern statement, states that “No one

sees the world as it is” (Italics in the original.) (p. 4). He says further that

All meanings are made within communities and that the analysis of
meaning should not be separated from the social, historical, cultural and
political dimensions of these communities (p. 9).

I, of course, use my discourse sub community’s “own system of Intertextuality”

(p. 10), citing those authors with ideas that provide support for my approach and my

words. As well, I invoke discourse communities by the manner in which I write. How I

put together words, and how I manage the appearance of the text signals a complex mix

of social meanings. (I believe any writer, especially any writer in the social sciences, even

more especially any writer with pretensions to a knowledge of modern theories of

rhetoric and composition, of necessity addresses these issues in order to have

credibility.) I consciously address this for three reasons:

My very topic, composing using the online computer, is predicated on the

added communicative impact that can be created by the visual impact that

accompanies the text, in other words, in the added semiotic content of


Following the Thread

having chosen an arts-based approach, I must deal with the consequences of

the layering of semiotic impacts that the forms I chose to convey my

meanings carry with them; and

I will be using visible words to describe my experiences, and will have to use

visual words to indicate a conscious Self that acknowledges my socially-

shaped situatedness, and semiotic choices.

Querulous Voice

Wa-hoo! The big words are flying. She wants to show that she’s been

reading. She wants to be let into the academy game. She want to be part of

this “discourse community” (Freedman & Medway 1994, p. 7). Is she showing

off? No, she decides. She really likes pulling ideas into her mind through

words, and finding new words and concepts that help her “catch” and play

with patterns that were just alienating confusions before she read and

wrote. Is it work or fun? Both, she decides.

I am writing within a form with a history, the research thesis, yet pushing, if not

transgressing the borders of this form. I hope my work will be able to:

recognize, appropriate, participate in — and perhaps transform, in ways

small and large — the genres that operationalize [this] disciplinary /
professional activity system (Russell, 1997, p. 529).

Not only am I writing what I know, I am writing from where I know, and writing

towards ends that I am aware of, and within my taken-for-granted, “commonsense”

situatedness. It is my intention to be as clear and as honest as possible in my version of

the stories I tell and study, but I acknowledge that I can only tell my limited version,

from my “here-where-I-was-when-writing” and my “now-at-the-time-of-writing,” in

the forms I am reproducing and transforming.

Writing Process Voice

She as reader and writer dreams herself awake and listens to the whispers of her

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Joan Vinall-Cox

mind. She sees through her bedroom window the black mass of evergreens presenting
an isosceles triangle from the bottom to the top right of the window; she sees the bare
branches of a leafless tree against the other silver-grey triangle. A black bird flies by.
Some branches move.
She hears/sees the words “The Crisis of Representation and the Tool of
Opportunity” and synapses in her brain stretch and touch, and the connection ripples
through more synapses, catalytically flowing outward, linking and linking.
Now she is awake and filled with wonder. The postmodern idea of “decentering”
(Lather, 1991, p. xix) matches the pedagogy she admires where the students are their
own subjects (Allen, 2002) when they write, and the teacher is shifting between margin
and centre. She thinks of Buber (1958) who knows the closest we can get to another’s “I”
is being radically open to “Thou” and she wonders how this links to postmodern
“polyvocal complexities” (Lather, 1991, p. xvi) and “examining ‘self’ and ‘other’” (p.
She is shifting towards “a conceptualization of knowledge as constructed,
contested, incessantly perspectival and polyphonic” (p. xx). And this feels like home,
like a place she started from but didn’t know until now, as the synapses link.
She knows that she is writing an auto-ethnographical account which is
“consciously infused with literary devices, and which rejoices in, rather than recoils
from, the partial vision and situated knowledge of [her] own ‘lived experience’
(Richardson, 1997, p. 87).
She wants to write with a thick, rich rhetoric, and she knows that before the
advent of the computer and word-processing, she would have been imprisoned within
the limited aesthetics of what a typewriter allowed. She couldn’t have been postmodern
before the computer and its possibilities. She wouldn’t have understood so easily that
[a]ny text is part repetition, part creation” (Fairclough, 1995, p. 7) without the moving
power of “cut-and-paste.”
She sees, feels, knows that the computer is the postmodern writing tool, and she
sees, feels, knows that postmodern thought is woven out of and around her
constructivist understanding of pedagogy. Her tool and her task are linked through/in
this postmodern world.
She rises, dazed and excited, and sleepwalks through grooming and breakfast,
eager to sit down in front of her laptop and represent her insights in text.

In the following section, I acknowledge the sources of the meaning I have, am,

and will be constructing. And things are never absolutely clear. I may find out that what I

Following the Thread

am looking for cannot be revealed or shaped in the manner I originally intended. I am

learning that my meaning evolves as I write.

Inquiry Materials Providing Sources of Meaning

[A] ‘person’s’ knowledge is not just in one’s own head, in ‘person

solo,’ but in the notes that one has put into accessible notebooks, in
the books with underlined passages on one’s shelves, in the
handbooks one has learned how to consult, in the information
sources one has hitched up to the computer, on the friends one can
call up to get a reference or a ‘steer,’ and so on almost endlessly.
(Bruner, 1990, p. 106)

For my narrative, I have had an almost overwhelming amount of material to sort

through and choose from. Although Richardson (1997) points out “the intertwined

problems of subjectivity / authority / authorship / reflexivity … and representational

form” (p. 91), I prefer to see them as different voices accompanying me on my journey.

As I travel with these elements in my self-narrative, I seek to “crystallize” (p. 92) and to

achieve “a deepened, complex, thoroughly partial understanding” (p. 92) of my

experience of learning to write using the online computer, and then teaching students

how to write using the online computer.

For the meal I am presenting to you, I use a variety of sources. My narratives, as

here, will be cobbled together, woven harmoniously, and / or positioned to allow the

kind of postmodern “multiple and contradictory readings” (Lather, 1991, p. 44) that

encourage the reader to use this “polyvalent data source … to vivify interpretation” (p.

91). (Emphasis in the original). I list the ingredients below.

Picture, if you will, baskets filled with different materials that, as the inquirer and

artist, I will sort through, seeking the raw amber crystals that I can string together to

create a thesis of merged voices and memories and years of collected writings, formal

and informal, and course materials. Indeed all those elements that allow me to create a

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Joan Vinall-Cox

bejewelled cord to guide myself through the labyrinth created by this new

communicative tool, the online computer. Here, then, are the labels of the baskets that

contain my inquiry materials:

stories drawn from my memories (Mitchell & Weber, 1999) of my initial

language learning as a child and young student;

stories, again drawn from memories, of Illuminal (Denzin, 1989); moments

that contributed to my development as a teacher, and specifically as a

teacher of writing;

poems I have written and preserved that rose out of my school and teaching

experiences (Richardson, 1997, p. 180);

articles I authored which were published in association journals and in-house


my academic voice, using the contents of my theoretical readings;

materials I have created for my courses on composing using an online

computer (Vinall-Cox, 2001b);

the Web site I created partially to support my students’ learning, and partially

as a learning activity for myself (Vinall-Cox, 2002b);

my teaching logs covering over 15 years;

my “Free Write” Diaries, with almost 40 years of ranting and thinking on


written work from my graduate studies -


an interactive journal – learning letters exchanged with a professor;

developmental narratives;

responses to learning invitations for postmodern teachers (Diamond &

Mullen 1999);

Following the Thread

written pieces for a Writing Theory course;

essays for my Comprehensive Examination;

photos of the spaces I teach and live in, and screen shots of my Web sites, in

particular my course Web sites;

some public domain materials from my institution’s Web site, and from some

of my colleagues’ Web sites; and

A narrative that is loosely metaphoric, based in a transformed Greek

mythology, providing low relief, a balance to the academic seriousness and

the deliberate artfulness.

The primary sources are materials I have created, although some public domain

materials are included in this arts-based autoethnography. I hope this mixed menu

gives aesthetic pleasure and helpful insight to you, as you read, as well as to myself.

This is the larder, and you have seen the recipes. Now I invite you to come and

sit down in the living room and watch this old slide show of my history as a writer.

But just before you settle in, Ariadne speaks, …

Ariadne’s Story
I had to learn how to read this map that I was buying with my life. I left my
parents and my role as Princess, daughter of a king and queen, and I went adventuring. I
tried to leave my family for a hero, and found that I had to become a hero myself. I came
to understand that “[p]art of the heroine’s quest is to find her work in the world, which
enables her to find her identity. It is important for a woman to know that she can survive
without dependence on parents or others so she can express her heart, mind, and soul”
(Murdock, 1990, p. 44).
When Theseus left me lost on an island, he was travelling towards his own future
labyrinth, his own inescapable fate. My story is different. I was deserted, wandered lost,
then found a purpose: seeking the Minotaur in a labyrinth by creating a cord to guide
myself with.
I tell my story this way: I was left isolated on an island, and I was lucky: the
fumes of Theseus no longer fogged my senses, and the god, Dionysius, only showed me
the power of following one’s bliss. I had no one, so I had to create myself. I learned to

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Joan Vinall-Cox

string amber on a cord to adorn myself with. I carried my past within me as memory not
as a prison as I searched for the question I knew I must answer.
All of life trained me, showed me how to search for the treasure, though no one
marked the map that would guide me to my treasure. That direction I had to create for

Following the Thread

Welcome to my Home

Thinking on paper is characterised by an ability to record the factors

involved, to classify or otherwise order them, to observe the
connections between them, to draw conclusions from them, all the
time going backwards and forwards over them, to reconsider, to
modify, add or subtract additional information (Andrew Wilkinson,
1986, p. 8).

Come in. Sit down. Relax. Is the couch comfortable? Can I get you a drink? Is

there anything you want while we settle in and look at my scrapbook? Feel free to

interrupt any time, especially if you have had a similar experience. Here’s the scrapbook

then. I hope you enjoy my comments on the stories. We will get to dinner soon.

Writing is my art; the online computer is my tool. How I have arrived at research

on the use of the online computer for writing is my story in this section. Before

exploring the focus of this thesis, writing and teaching using the online computer as an

instrument, I offer you the second of the strands of my history. Here, while we sit in the

living room, I speak of how I came to know the computer.

Computer Tales

Indeed, like many citizens, college faculty are just beginning to learn
what it means to work successfully within a society that is
dependent on computer technology for literacy activities (Hawisher &
Selfe 1999a, p. 3).

I was no technoenthusiast seeking to use the computer as a tool. In fact, I

avoided the computer as I avoided the typewriter, which was the initial association I

made with it. However, when my duties as a college teacher made avoiding the

computer impossible, I capitulated and reluctantly began to use it. I have since learned

about how to use the computer as a tool largely in response to the demands of my

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studies and my teaching assignments. However, in this reluctantly begun journey, I have

learned not just how to use the computer for my writing and teaching purposes, I have

discovered a “renewal of energy” (Hunt, 1992) and a great pleasure in the added agency

the computer gives me.

Early Times

[T[he mainframe computer when it was introduced was intended to

perform numerical calculations too tedious or complex to do by hand
(Baron, 1999, p. 27).

There was talk of computers when I was an undergraduate in the Sixties. They

were huge, filling up buildings and used only by professors and grad students doing

certain kinds of work. They were for number crunching. In the early Eighties, my

husband came home with a Commodore Vic 20, which I had no interest in. Later he

came home with a PC run by something called “DOS.” When he talked about it, I was

bored and confused. Computers looked like strange typewriters, and were connected

with math, and I disliked both. Then, in the middle Eighties, my English department

acquired a small computer lab and a friend and colleague told our department head that

both of us were interested in using computers in our teaching.

The Bank Street Writer

Personal computers were not initially meant for word processing

either, though that has since become one of their primary functions
(Baron, 1999, p. 27).

Picture a small classroom with a wall of windows opposite the door. There are

computers along both the side walls, and back to back in a row in the center. The faculty

assistant, M***, is trained and knows how to turn on computers and trouble shoot. Each

computer is loaded with Bank Street Writer, the user-friendly word processing software I

Following the Thread

have mentioned previously, which has been designed for students who struggle with

their writing. I sit down to write at a computer for the first time. It is like a typewriter

with a black TV screen instead of paper and neon green letters. It still feels like typing,

which I still hate, but I like being able to go back and correct mistakes without copying

everything out again.

I look at what I have written on the screen and then ask M*** to show me how to

get it printed. It is odd that I have to go to the next room to get the paper that has the

words I wrote in here on it. M*** laughs as she looks at my paper. “It’s not a typewriter!

You don’t hit ‘Enter’ at the end of every line,” she tells me, and explains how text-

wrapping works. I have just found out that what these (early) computers show on the

screen doesn’t match the lines as they print out. I sit down and painstakingly delete

every on-screen end-of-line “Enter” that I had so carefully included. This is not much

better than just re-copying the whole thing the way I would have to with a hand-written

piece. I leave for the day feeling discouraged.

Another day, in my role as teacher, I lean over G***’s shoulder and look at what

he has written. His writing is error-ridden and incoherent, but he is willing to work now

that he can make corrections without copying everything over. I suggest a few changes,

and then he prints it up and we go over it again. When I think about what his writing was

like at the beginning of term, I am amazed. He is definitely getting better, and that is

unusual with as weak a writer as he was. I continue to use the computers myself

occasionally. This allows me to get typewritten work, and M*** helps me with any

technical problems.

Illuminal Voice

I look back now and see that I began to use computers for writing and for

teaching writing in an environment with technical support. I have never used computers

for writing and for teaching writing without having institutional and technical support.

My learning has been scaffolded. Even though, as already confessed, in some ways I am

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an autodidact, I like / need the security of support while I am early in a particular zone

of proximal development.

I also see that much that I take for granted now, a screen that matches the

printed page in appearance, for example, was not available in earlier versions of

computers, which made them less “intuitive,” and less easy for someone who was not

technically-oriented to learn.

As the cutbacks in funding start, the budget and M***’s job description are

changed, and now only those teachers who can operate the computers and troubleshoot

them themselves can use them. Eventually, most of the computers do not work any

more, and the English computer lab on my campus is closed.

Despite how much computers helped students, especially remedial ones, learn to

write, we could no longer afford them. Our outpost of computers for writing and

teaching writing closed but, on another campus, other writing teachers kept an English

computer lab open. By the late Eighties, most of the school computer labs on our

campus were still for the students in computer programs, but increasingly other

students had started slipping into the labs to word process or use e-mail. The use of

computers was spreading outside its original territory.

The Computer as a Shiftless Typewriter

The next generation of word-processing computers gave us

WYSIWYG: “what you see is what you get,” and that helped less
adventurous writers make the jump to computers (Baron, 1999, p.

Jim, my husband, has bought us a PC, and I want to write on it. However, I am

somewhat dyslexic, especially with numbers. We have a DOS system, and I have trouble

with meaningless strings of letters and numbers, so it frustrates me. Every time I want

Following the Thread

to use the (damn) computer, I have to get Jim to turn it on. It drives me crazy. It drives

him crazy. Eventually he writes out the strings of letters and numbers and posts them

on the wall beside the computer. Mostly I can manage from that, but not always.

In the late Eighties, we have a dot matrix printer, and flimsy paper with holes on

the edges, and all the pages linked together with perforations. Sometimes the paper

gets set up the wrong way in the printer, and the perforated part ends up in the middle

of the typed text, and the page break is without perforations. And the printer is so slow.

But it is better than handwriting. I learn where the faster, better printers are where I

work, and begin to take disks in so I can print up my writing. I take a sabbatical to go

back to school, where I have to write letters, journals, and papers. I use the computer

for much of this work, and get help when I need it from the technical people at the

school I teach at. My 182 page Qualifying Research Paper (QRP) for OISE/UT is entirely

computer-generated using an IBM clone and DOS, but looks just like it was produced on

a typewriter.

Illuminal Voice

My awareness of the appearance of my written work is a strong part of the

interest that impels me to learn how to use the computer as a writing tool. Being able to

produce an object, a created piece, an artful creation is both my goal and my thrill, and

gives me the energy to keep on learning. As Dewey (1963) says, “The most important

attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning (p. 48). The visual

harmony that I can produce using the computer’s capacities seduces me into learning

more about how to produce more work in a more highly skilled and professional-

appearing manner

Living While Writing

The light comes early now, almost at Midsummer’s Eve, and wakes me

even with my eyes closed and I lie listening to the soft snuffle of my

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Joan Vinall-Cox

husband’s breath as he sleeps and I open my eyes and see the dome of his

forehead and scalp and I breathe in his scent, and my mind implodes to a

single thought: the memorial service today for the husband of a girl I grew

up admiring, now newly widowed. I reach out and gently lay my hand on

my husband’s warm pate.

Icons and Expanded Word Processing

Icons are small graphics (pictures) that appear on the Macintosh

screen; they represent items such as disks and folders and, in fact,
they actually look like a hard drive or folder (Bell, 2001, p. 13).

In the mid-Nineties in the Curriculum office, we use Macs. N***, V***, and L***

show me my new computer. No numbers to be memorized to start it up! In fact,

everything is run through little pictures they call icons. I like that. And everything is in

colour; no longer are there green letters on a black background. I like that.

Illuminal Comment

With the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) screen and colour, and the

emerging World Wide Web, a new aesthetic node had arrived. Although most printers

provided only black and shades of gray, and most texts produced were more in the style

of business documents than advertising copy, the screen with its colours and images

was fascinating. Adding the agency of creativity with that colour, those fonts, and

images only increased the fascination. A new tool for arts-based work had emerged.

A*** and B*** tell me about nesting, and show me how to tuck folders within

folders in a logical hierarchical pattern. I like that. I begin to develop training materials. I

see how N*** lays the page out, and I ask her how she does it. She really knows Word

Perfect, and shows me how to use bullets. I like that. I go back and write more.

Following the Thread

The next day I want to use bullets again but I cannot remember where that

command is in the menu. I look, get frustrated, and call out to N***. She yells “Format”

and I find the Bullets command and can continue writing. I like that.

The Curriculum and Instructional Development office and the Macs are my next

growth medium. The visual aspect of the Macs fits me far better than DOS. A*** and

B***, my fellow curriculum coordinators, expect me to write using my machine and

create professional-looking documents. N*** is always there and always patient as I ask

the same questions repeatedly. I begin to understand that word-processing is very

different from typing. I love the neat professional polish I can create using word

processing and the computer. My writing looks “real,” that is, like a book, like it has

been published. I really like that.

Writing Process
I was using Word Perfect, at that time the designated word processor for my
school. Shortly after, MS Word was designated the school-supported word processor,
and I switched to that. The transition was not difficult; all word processing applications
do similar things in slightly different ways.

V*** shows me the flyer. The school has set up small tutorial sessions on various

computer skills. There are a number on word processing; I sign up for Level 1. A few

weeks later, I find my way to the small room in the C Wing where there are 12 computer

stations. I remember when this room was the projection room for the two classrooms

that adjoin it, but now it has been converted to a tiny windowless room for staff

computer tutorials. I choose a seat and greet a couple of the others I know who are also

there to learn. I already have my, a new term, “user name,” which I have to know to get

on the school network. The teacher hands out the work sheets, and we start learning

how to use word processing to shape the text.

Illuminal Voice — Memory Insight

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Joan Vinall-Cox

This two-hour tutorial is the first of many I attended. What I found particularly

helpful was that I could take the same tutorial more than once. Over the next few years I

took tutorials here in several levels of word processing, in email applications, in Web

browsers, in Excel, in PowerPoint, in HTML and in Web authoring. These free and

frequent tutorials provided a significant way for teachers and support staff to learn how

to use computers, a small chunk at a time. I found them very, very helpful. This kind of

brief workshop that could be booked during work time and in the work environment

gave me, as a learner, enough time to practice and digest what I was learning, and a

sense of control because it was my choice to sign up for workshops as I felt the need of


A*** and I are scheduled to run a training session for teachers up at the Heavy

Equipment campus, and he has let me work on the training materials. He developed the

original workshop, and he wants overheads to go with the handouts. He has given me

the file on a disk, and, with N***’s help, I have opened it on my computer. I know what

to do. I have seen other overheads made this way, and I know what it is like for the

audience if the font in an overhead is too small. I highlight the text and change the font

from 12 to 24, big enough to read easily. If it is 48, only a few words fit on a line, and

that is awkward to read, but 24 to 36 is easy to read and enough words fit on each line.

I use bullets too. After I send the file to the printer, Verna helps me make it into an

overhead. It looks really good, really professional. I am proud.

Illuminal Voice: Memory of Insights

My word processing skills are growing. I see the possibilities that the plasticity of

word processing offer. Altering the text size to create overheads that are readable and

even attractive becomes a regular part of my preparation for teaching. I use overheads

all the time now, and the blackboard, (which is now green), only for backup and

supplemental information.

Following the Thread

I believe all teaching requires visuals. As I have my classes in different rooms,

and sometimes can only get into the room shortly before the start, writing on the

blackboard is not a good option. Besides, my handwriting is messy, and under stress, I

make errors. As I tell my classes, talking, teaching, paying attention to students’

reactions, thinking about how to explain something and writing on the blackboard all at

the same time is a little difficult.

The ISW Workshop

There will be others who, because of previous experiences, are

bumptious and unruly and perhaps downright rebellious (Dewey,
1963, p. 56).

Can I get you another drink? It won’t be long before our meal; I just need to get a

little more of this story told. Here, try this appetizer. …

It is summertime, the mid Nineties, in another college, a downtown college, and I

am one of a group of “facilitators” who are leading other college teachers through a

four-day ISW workshop. “ISW” stands for “Instructional Skills Workshop”, originally

developed in British Columbia for college teachers, as described in a current Web Page:

The Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) is a laboratory approach to the

improvement of the teaching and learning process. It is an intensive 4-
day workshop conducted by community college educators for community
college educators. Normally conducted over 4 consecutive 6 hour days,
each workshop can accommodate from four to six participants and is
usually co-facilitated. Participants review basic ideas about teaching,
check current practices, and within the safe environment of the
workshop, try new strategies and techniques (Instructional Skills
Workshop, 2003).

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Joan Vinall-Cox

A young man, with a disdainful swagger that to me indicates resentment, is

doing the first of his three 10-minute lessons. He is in his mid to late twenties; the rest

of us, facilitators and participants alike, are in our forties or fifties. He reminds me of

some of my students, and I wonder why he is in the workshop, which is supposed to be

for volunteers only. I am the observing-and-feedback facilitator this time; my partner is

videotaping the lesson for review and group feedback later. I watch in growing concern

as the young man lurches through his material in an off-hand and off-putting manner.

It is a requirement for facilitators to mention positive aspects of the performance before

suggesting a couple of possible improvements.

I have taken the ISW workshop myself, and the ISW facilitator’s training. I like the

format very much. It is practical and hands-on, just like the teaching and learning done

in the colleges. The videotaping and the written feedback are especially helpful. You can

really see what you are doing well in your teaching performance and where you need to

change. I know some teachers come because they are part-time and trying for a full-

time job, and some are new and want some direction. Some come because they want a

tune up, an invigorating renewal. Sometimes, however, some colleges allow managers to

push some reluctant teachers into going. I think that is what has happened here.

The timer goes off and the young man’s performance ends abruptly. Now he and

I go out into the hall so I can give him feedback; the other participants write down their

comments on the feedback form he had carelessly chosen before his lesson. The other

facilitator rewinds the videotape to a section he wants to comment on. As soon as the

young man and I are finished our discussion, we will return to the small group and the

other facilitator and the participants will give him their feedback. Right now, however,

we are sitting side-by-side on a wooden bench, with me angled towards him, and him

slouching with his legs straight out and his arms crossed, staring straight ahead.

This certainly does not feel like a “teachable moment,” but it is what I have. For

some reason I like him, and I want to see him be successful, and I believe in the ISW

format, so I take a deep breathe and start. I have found something to praise, and I tell

Following the Thread

him what I have seen. Then, with very great carefulness I begin to describe the impact of

his performance on me as an audience-member. I am honest and earnest. Slowly his

heels come back under the bench and he releases his arms so the palms of his hands

can rest beside his thighs on the bench as he slumps forward, and I feel that he is really

listening. When he turns his head towards me and makes fleeting eye contact before

responding, I know he is listening.

Later, during a break, most of us go up to the roof garden. I sit and talk with

him. He has had a really chequered school history, and he has developed most of his

skills outside of school. I listen, fascinated, and ask questions about what he has

learned and how. When it is time to return to the classroom, I hesitantly express some

concern about his next lesson, and what he is going to teach. With absolute confidence,

he tells me not to worry, so I pretend not to.

The next day, owing to some scheduling mess-ups, we are in a different room.

The young man is present, and I am pleased because sometimes participants who are

not happy just drop out. When it comes to his turn, he is careless with the choice of

feedback form, but he has got books and overheads and is clearly organized. Today I

am videotaping, so I can relax a little; the other facilitator will have to find the strong

aspects of the young man’s lesson, and point out what he can improve. I just have to

run the video camera and notice the tape numbers at a significant moment so I can

easily find it when I rewind.

Today he starts by following the formula we taught for “bridging in,” telling us

about a newsletter he edits and distributes. He talks about how important it is for it to

look professional and readable. He uses a computer, and some kind of newsletter

software. I find that interesting. Then he moves smoothly into his lesson, which is on

page layout. He explains, and using overheads, demonstrates the importance of

alignment. I am entranced. What he is saying is both obvious, and something I have

never been conscious of before. I do not notice that I have stopped looking for a good

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Joan Vinall-Cox

moment to replay later because I am so focussed on what he is teaching. He shows us a

book that explains layout. Peripherally I notice that the others are highly focussed too.

When he returns from getting feedback, I have a taped moment all lined up to

show. I tell him, and the rest of the group confirms it, that I had no trouble finding a

moment of excellence, because it was all so good. He shrugs casually and then, with

enthusiasm in his voice, distributes extra copies of his newsletter and points out more

layout aspects. We have to interrupt him to stay on schedule and get to the next

person’s lesson.

Later I tell him again what an incredible improvement he made from his first

sample lesson to his second, and I ask him how he learned about page layout. He shrugs

off the compliment, but seems to enjoy it. He tells me there are books around on layout,

and he had just gone out after yesterday’s lesson and picked up this one. I note down

the name, and go to three bookstores before I find it at Pages on Queen Street. It’s

called The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams (1994).

Illuminal Voice

With my discovery of page design principles, I became fully conscious that the

computer was not a typewriter, that the person using the computer could control not

just the words being written, but the appearance of the words in a way simply not

possible with a typewriter, and even difficult with a printing press. A page could now be

designed to greet the reader’s eye as a whole. A writer could shape the page to help

convey the meaning of the words. The reader could be wooed by the appearance of the

text before s/he ever encountered the words.

Suddenly I was awake to possibilities offered by word-processing using the

computer. As I studied Williams’ (1994) book and looked around me I began to see the

four layout principles, Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity (easy to remember

with the rude acronym the author so delicately reveals), (Williams, 1994, p. 14) all

around me. Printed advertisements were an especially rich source for study.

Following the Thread

My teacher’s voice breaks in. I delight in sharing my sense of wonderment at

what can be done visually with word processing, especially for learning materials. Here

are some layout basics.

Learning Layout

Serif I read Williams’ description of different type

styles, different fonts, and began looking at the shapes
of letters and trying to understand why and when
different ones fit better.
Initially my eye was slow to recognize the
difference between serif and sans-serif typefaces.
Here is a clear example of the difference using
two fonts that are often used as the default fonts in
word processors.

Sa ns-
The word on the top left has little decorative bits
at the ends of letters; those are serifs, and Times New
Roman is a serif font.
The word on the bottom left has none of these
decorative bits and is quite uniform; Arial is a sans-

serif serif font. And of course, both are 48 in size, rather

than 10, which is the size I have chosen for the regular
text. Lucida Grande, my default text for this thesis, is

Figure 6: Times New Roman and Arial fonts

I use William’s book as a text with my design-oriented students, teaching them

writing by wooing their energy through their ability to shape the appearance of their

written work. Many students are prepared to work more on their writing in order to

match in quality the layout and design they create. I take advantage of their interest in

the visual aspects of their work to get them to work on their writing. Now I teach writing

embedded in page layout, and design embedded in learning computer skills. Below is a

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Joan Vinall-Cox

reproduction of a page from my inspiration, William’s (1994) book, taken from her Web

site and reproduced only for educational purposes.

Figure 7: This image of a page from The Non-Designer’s Design Book (Williams, 1994,

p. 14) reveals examples of each of the principles, and shows how they contribute to a

clean well-designed look for the page.

Following the Thread

There is contrast between the size of the regular font and the font used for

headings and there is more contrast in the types of font used. The text is in serif font

and the headings are in sans-serif font.

There is repetition in the four subheadings; they are the same font and size

each time. The font used for the text remains constant too.

There is alignment in the layout with the major heading, “The four basic

principles” being perfectly aligned with the rule, (or line) underneath and the text for

that section, while all the sub-headings and their text are indented and aligned.

There is proximity with the subheadings having a space above them but being

close to the text they head.

Thanks to a “student” from the ISW workshop, I have learned to see text

differently. I have begun to see the context of the text, that which is with the text. I see

that, just as words have denotative meanings and connotative meanings, so text has its

own kind of connotations, created by choices in fonts and layouts, that is, in the design

of the page. I see another aspect of how documents are constructed.

A further aspect of reading is how we choose a book. Often we seek a specific

book or author with only minimal interest in its general appearance, although we will

“read” a sense of the book that affects our interest. The first copy of Wuthering Heights

that I read in my early teens had a lurid image of a man and a woman embracing in

apparent distress. That had a clear impact on how I “read” the novel. Browsing, either in

a library or a bookstore, is an important way of connecting with books. The physical

aspect of seeing and touching and glancing through a book often guides our choices.

Interestingly, as ordering books online becomes more common, the online booksellers

have tried to give their customers a simulacrum of this physical experience by providing

an image of the cover of and of some of the internal pages (see Figure 7 above) to

arouse our interest and entice us to buy.

So another aspect of how documents are read is based on the semiotic messages

of style and the authority of it being published.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

L***, V***, N*** and I are chatting. L*** has been talking to a public health nurse

about a problem one of her children is having. The nurse has advised an action that L***

thinks is out-of-date. When L*** asks about this, the nurse responds that it cannot be

out-of-date because it is in the pamphlet. L*** tells us that she does not say anything to

the nurse, but, as someone who creates pamphlets as part of her job, she does not have

such total trust in information found in pamphlets. She will do her own research.

Illuminal Voice

Published texts are artefacts. I know that, but L***’s gentle cynicism reminds me

that people make texts. I feel a “eureka” moment similar to the one I felt in first year

university when I saw a friend’s poetry, and realized that before poems appeared in

textbooks, real people had created them. I now understand that the computer allows

individual agency, the possibility of creating professional-appearing textual artefacts

that convey authority simply by their appearance. I realize that the computer is not just

a writing instrument, but an authority-enhancing tool too.

Ariadne Speaks
I am over the threshold, and into the inner labyrinth. The gift of a long life is to
see beyond those who create monsters, and those who use tales of monsters to bully.
Now I am ready to seek to understand the gifts of Daedalus the designer and technician.
Now I seek to direct my inheritance: my mother’s curiosity and desire and my father’s
daring and determination. And because I no longer see the world through the eyes of
Theseus, I can see that there may be another story about the “monster,” the Minotaur,
and I seek him out to learn what I must and can.
The labyrinth itself is designed. Can I learn the design by using my amber and
linen to create a beautiful cord to guide me through the labyrinth?

Ariadne’s cord is this textual artefact which I am creating using the computer, its

programs, my reading of books, my learning from teachers and colleagues, my

pleasures and desires, plus printers and paper. In the following chapter I tell you more

Following the Thread

about how my learning evolved and developed through and for my teaching tasks. I

invite you into my dining room where I will share with you how I learned to create with

the computer as my prosthesis, or, in Ariadne’s words, my loom.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

IV - Tales in the Dining Room: Artful Learning

Tied up as it is with value-laden notions of literacy, art, and science,
of history and psychology, of education, of theory, and of practicality,
we often lose sight of writing as technology, until, that is, a new
technology like the computer comes along and we are thrown into
excitement and confusion as we try it on, try it out, reject it, and then
adapt it to our lives – and of course, adapt our lives to it (Baron,
1999, p. 16)

You have travelled through my town and neighbourhood, looked at the recipes

with me in the kitchen, and listened to my stories over appetisers in the living room. Let

us move into the dining room so I can serve up what I have prepared. I hope you take

the time to look at the way I have designed this room (and all my home.) Although I am

not trained as a designer, I have done some reading and I have had some help, a lot

from my students.

Aperitifs: A Bitter-Sweet Start

Times of major transition offer many possibilities as well as pitfalls,

and those who can assess the terrain will be in the best positions to
make convincing arguments about what roads to take (Faigley, 1999,
p. 132).

It is the mid-Nineties, my contract with the Curriculum and Instructional

Development office is over and I miss teaching students. I decide not to apply for the

next contract. Here is the poem I wrote at that time which both shaped and shows my



I am richly tattooed with the stories that have made me.

I live in the circus while the audience flows past me.
I have learned how to see, with eyes less sharp yet more
discerning, what I am facing and how to move.

Following the Thread

Sometimes I reach towards what I have always known,

only to find

Now, here, I must chose to be a performer or work

Performers often complain, and work long hours;
Backstage people seem to get more
and to decide, (but others tell them what they must
decide about.)

I have chosen
the energy intersection,
the point where the performer
and the audience
to build
this timeless moment
and the future.

I won’t be able to plan the circus

I won’t be able to see where the audience goes
I will have lived the moments
with them;
we will have

(Vinall-Cox) Winter 1994

In this “new” “old” role, as a “regular” teacher who does not teach in the

computer area, I have no access to a computer, except in the students’ computer labs.

The computers in the students’ labs are IBMs, so I avoid them assuming they are DOS,

just like Jim’s computer at home. I want a Mac and icons. I hear of a Mac portable for

sale second-hand. It has Word Perfect, and lots of other software, because the previous

owner had been a partner in a Mac dealership. Jim says IBMs give you more computing

power for the dollar. I say IBMs with DOS give me no computing power because I don’t

know how to operate them. I buy the Mac laptop.

I sit in my study with my new Mac computer in front of me. I remember my

lesson on nesting and decide to organize my desktop, the one on the screen, not the

one my computer is sitting on. I begin cleaning up the desktop. I work diligently for

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Joan Vinall-Cox

quite a while, moving icons around. I cannot remember clearly what happened next,

maybe I closed the computer, but I had managed to be more thorough than I had

intended. Two thousand dollars worth of software was gone. I had tried to put it away

neatly, and instead I had deleted it. It was not retrievable.

My husband and the seller could not believe it. I was abashed. The seller could

not get access to the software to re-load it because he and his partner had parted

bitterly, and the partner had kept the software installation disks. I should have felt

worse than I did, but I only cared about one thing, word processing. As soon as I got

some Word Perfect software, I was happily writing.

(I do not shrug this setback off and believe that such stories that I have held

nested within me should be recovered and reviewed, so they cannot be “deleted” and

only the happy-ever-after versions allowed.)

For me, as for the majority of computer users, the computer was initially a

replacement for the typewriter. I used it as a writing tool.

Living While Writing

It is August and I am writing with my email open, waiting for the

“bong” that announces another message. I am trying to find out what my

fall schedule will be. Two of the sections I will be teaching need to be in

computer labs, and have not yet been scheduled. This problem needs to be

sorted out, and it is hard to figure out how to.

I am part of a “School” (or Department) at my college, but I do not

belong to a single program. The program coordinator working with the

scheduling office does most of the scheduling, but I do not fit into this

pattern. I am an anomaly, not quite anybody’s responsibility because I

belong to no single program. I teach language skills in a number of


So email messages lurch around among a group of us who are trying

to plan for the fall classes, even though most of us are officially on vacation.

If we can sort this out now, the fall start-up will be smoother.

Following the Thread

Politics & Self Reconstruction: An Introductory Overview

[T]he self, using its capacities for reflection and envisioning

alternatives, escapes or embraces or reevaluates and reformulates
what the culture has on offer (Bruner, 1990, p. 110).

In the mid-Nineties, politics heat up in the college system as cutbacks combine

with the published of the Ontario Community Colleges’ Vision 2000. Although “[t]he

report advocates nothing less than a major orientation of the curriculum in the direction

of general education and generic skills,” its mandate calls only for a required amount of

General Education, with no specific requirements for separate generic skills courses. My

Communications colleagues and I, having prided ourselves on being one of the best

such departments in the Ontario college system, are shocked when our department is

disbanded. Over a third of my departmental colleagues are laid off, and those of us with

enough seniority to survive, are distributed out to the other departments (called

“Schools”) and appended to the programs that chose to continue having

Communications courses. I have requested a transfer to the School of Animation, Arts,

and Design, and that is where I am placed.

I provide Communications courses for two programs, Media Arts and Interior


Querulous Voice

This is a difficult time for me, even though I was not one of those laid

off. I deal with survivor guilt, the dislocation of not really belonging

anywhere, plus menopause with therapy. Eventually it helps.

I still have a job, but now, instead of my consulting with programs and

developing courses to suit their students, I am being told what to teach and sometimes

how to teach it. As an experienced teacher with a Masters in Education and recognition

in my former department as a teacher with expertise, I find this change disorienting and

distressing. I feel like I have been demoted.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

“Crisis” Means “Opportunity” and “Danger

[A]ll moments of anxiety reproduce the painful feelings of the first

separation (Campbell, 1972, p. 52).

A coordinator in one of the program that I teach in comes back from a

conference in the States in her field, Interior Design, and she is uncharacteristically

abstracted. Apparently the use of the Internet for ordering products and for advertising

businesses is growing rapidly in the Interior Design field. Plus CAD (Computer Assisted

Design) is increasingly part of the industry. Later, when I meet with this coordinator and

the Associate Dean, I am told my previous course is being cancelled, and offered a

course called “Electronic Communications.”

I am afraid of two things, one is not having courses to teach, and the other is not

knowing enough about computers to teach this course. I am not at all a computer

expert; although a colleague who is a skilled computer user says I underestimate myself.

I believe I am only minimally competent, but I am a strong teacher and I understand how

to teach language skills. I inhale deeply and agree to teach Electronic Communications

to Interior Design students.

This is my giant step into the unknown, the fateful decision that moves me

more deeply into the computer labyrinth. I tell this as an epiphanal story and keep

returning to it because it was so frightening to me.

Ariadne Speaks
The capricious gods told me the price of my lodging was weaving. I had created
a cord by hand before, but that was different, and we were all in another country. I
needed flax and my spindle, and where were they? And where was this new loom I was
supposed to use?
There followed a time of trials, where I found my way with great difficulty, but
found helpers too. So it was a bad time and it was a good time, and all of it was part of
my story.

Following the Thread

At first, it does not appear to have been an auspicious choice. The Mac laptop

that I bought is no longer useful. I have to teach using the IBM system. However, the

Windows operating system has arrived, and, with its use of icons, is similar enough to

the Mac that I can adjust. I sell my laptop, and begin using the IBM system we have at

home, now with Windows. I ask for access to a computer at school, but the Associate

Dean is pre-occupied with other things. I continue slipping into the students’ computer

labs when I can find an open one, but all my papers and books are in my office; it is very


The Interior Design coordinator specifies that I teach File Management so the

students will be ready for the CAD teachers, and allows me to teach whatever I think

important in word processing, email, and Internet searching, and later, PowerPoint for

presentations. She leaves most of the planning details to me, for which I am grateful. I

am used to doing my own course development, and using what I’ve learned about

pedagogy through my experience, my readings and my OISE/UT courses. I also like

being able to adjust the teaching and the content to fit the students. The Interior Design

co-ordinator is happy to allow this, as she values her students’ learning and

performance. Because of her leadership, I begin to once again feel like a skilled

professional and a real teacher while I am working with the Interior Design students.

Manual Production

[A] close observation of the materials, the means, and the modes of
textual production… (McGann, 1991, p. 125).

In Media Arts, I am teaching writing to all the students in a course I call “The

Construction of Meaning.” The students write their own stories, only partially in class

because we are not in a computer lab. I had asked for space in a computer lab, but they

are not seen as something needed in a writing course, so I can’t get scheduled in one.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

It seems obvious to me that the students do most, if not all, of their writing on

computers. From my own experience as a writer, I have come to believe that we think

with our tools (Polanyi, 1969). On the most basic of levels, as almost all assignments

must be typed to be handed in, eventually all written materials will be transcribed using

a word-processor. Students need to practice writing on computers to be able to

complete their assignments. And some of them, like me, may prefer to write directly on

the computer without a handwriting stage. However, no computer labs are available for

my writing course. So I focus on the process of writing.

In class, echoing my pleasurable experience in the Summer Writing Institute, the

students read the stories they have written to their small groups for editing advice, The

small groups work on creating ‘zines (small roughly produced, usually Xeroxed

magazines then popular among the young bohemians) with what they’ve written. I do

brief “lectures” about writing and stories and how to give feedback in a productive way.

(Always give positive feedback first, ask questions, and don’t play “English teacher” and

“correct” the writing. Be an audience for your fellow students; tell them what their

writing makes you think of.) All students get their work edited by me before they hand

their stories in for marking. (This leads to them making the corrections I suggest and

learning how to actually improve their writing.) Finally, I reproduce the ‘zines and

distribute them to the rest of the class and each of their program teachers. I see this as

a way to make the writing more “real” by “publishing” it, again hoping to inspire them to

take their writing task more seriously.

Teaching Memory – “Behind the Scene”

The only freedom that is of enduring importance is freedom of

intelligence, that is to say, freedom of observation and of judgment
exercised in behalf of purposes that are worthwhile (Dewey, 1963, p.

Following the Thread

I am in the Xerox room, looking around furtively. All the designated “layout

persons,” one from each of the small writing groups, have figured out how to set up

their group’s collection of written pieces and some accompanying images so they can be

booklets — ‘zines — that can be folded and stapled in the middle. Each group has a

page limit, and I sat down with many of them to work out the logic of how to layer the

single pages.

The cover and the back page have to be side-by-side, on a landscape-oriented

page, using columns, and the inside cover and inside back page have to be on another

landscape-oriented page. When I put the two pages back-to-back, or copy them as a

double-sided sheet, I have a page for the booklet. I also showed them a low-tech

alternative. They could produce regular portrait-oriented pages and use the Xerox to

shrink them to half size, and then make up the pages for their group’s ‘zine prototypes

that way. The complication was getting all the pages set up so the booklet would flow

sequentially from page to page. It was much more complicated than I had first imagined,

but once I had worked it out with one small group, it became easy to explain to the

others. All the groups have produced a prototype ‘zine. I am delighted and proud of

their accomplishment.

It is a quiet Friday afternoon and no one is around to observe my excessive

Xerox use. I make multiple copies of each of the ‘zine prototypes, take them off to a

long, flat railing, and collate them by hand. (My Xerox skills do not yet extend to

automatic collating.) I discover another technical problem: most staplers are not

designed to staple in the middle of a page. I am tired, and I feel discouraged. I really

want to get these ‘zines done and distributed.

Then I have a memory “glimpse.” I remember seeing a booklet stapled in the

middle. I remember it from the Curriculum and Instructional Design office. I call L***

and leave a message about what I am looking for. On Monday, L*** returns my call and

tells me about a stapler that you can staple booklets with, and offers to loan me her

office’s. Many, many staples later, the ‘zines are finished. I hand them out in class, post

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Joan Vinall-Cox

them on the program bulletin board, and drop off copies on each of the program

teacher’s desks. I am proud of their work, and mine in helping them write and work

together and “publish.”

Figure 8: Two 'zines from the Constuction of Meaning course.

Some of the ‘zines (Figure 8) are fairly rude, but they are by students who usually

avoid writing, and the work is amusing and similar to the underground ‘zines I am

asking them to imitate, so I accept anything not racist or sexist. The teamwork is

important as a future employment skill, and some of the dyslexic students are quite

skilled at computers — a pattern I often see. The students who are limited in their

writing can do their share by completing the computer work.

I am also working at helping these dyslexic and writing-phobic students learn to

write by describing, so they can use their visual sense to help them write. I encourage

them to use computers to help with their lexical difficulties. I also encourage them to

Following the Thread

write in a storyboard style, which matches their visual strengths. Some use their

computer skills to contribute to the class. (See figure 9, the banner.)

Figure 9: The banner made by a computer-savvy student, as part of my later office-

space decor

I am proud of this course, I get positive student evaluations, and initially it is

supported in the program. Then politics intervene, and I am told the course is cancelled.

The replacement course is one that does not make pedagogical sense to me. After many

frustrating negotiations, I am informed that I am no longer in that program, not even for

my other course that the students are really enthusiastic about. When I complain to the

Union, they tell me that management has the right to manage badly.

Querulous Voice

I am in the strange position of being an employee without a specific

supervisor. My Interior Design teaching takes up a third of my time, but the

supervisor who was responsible for the other portion of my teaching time has

simply told me I no longer teach in the program he supervises. It is not clear

who is responsible for assigning me my teaching load, and I don’t want to

“bump’” another teacher with less seniority.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

I have the reputation of being a good teacher and good credentials

so I start visiting coordinators in other programs, looking for teaching

possibilities. It feels demeaning, but I don’t know what else to do. I tell

myself it is entrepreneurial. The students need to learn language skills, but

it is no longer a requirement. In fact, using the concept of Language Across

the Curriculum, many programs declare that language generic skills are

part of their pre-existing program courses and no separate courses are

required. I keep asking around. I don’t want to leave the college.

Eventually I am given a part of my teaching assignment in Cross

College General Education. These are courses available to students from a

number of programs, in a pool of courses, so they have choices, as mandated

in Vision 2000 , the paper on college reform. Now I find out how much

freedom I had in my previous English courses. There I could create the

curriculum for some of my individual courses to fit my students, and work

with a group of other English teachers to create pedagogically well-

structured courses that a number of us would teach. I had loved shaping

my courses myself, and shaping them for the students I would be teaching,

always after consulting with the program teachers to collect ideas about

what would be best for the students.

Now I have been assigned a course on Canadian Politics. I find the

material interesting, but it’ is what I think of as an information dump; I’m

used to teaching language skills and understanding. This course is

designed around the students learning the required information, not

around learning skills. And the students quickly make it clear they

consider anything other than their program courses a waste of their time.

I do my best. I produce acres of overheads with the information

synopsised on it, in large font so it will be easy to read. I set up small group

co-operative learning events, but they flounder in student apathy. I assign

group presentations, but attendance is irregular, so even in-class planning

time does not work well. I hint a lot about the content before I give

multiple-choice tests so they will learn at least some basic information, and

Following the Thread

that does work, sort-of. I set up short written assignments but find there’s no

time to help the students work on their writing. One student says to me, one

day when I ask why he is absent so often, that this course is not worth his

time, “No offence, Miss,” he adds. I feel like a failure.

Learning in the Colleges

To provide exceptional applied learning opportunities, enhanced by

applied research, and taught by outstanding professional faculty in a
student centred environment. Sheridan Mission Statement, 2004

As I have said before, how the colleges operate and what they are like in Ontario

is not well known. We prepare our students for their chosen professions. We are

pragmatic, and hands-on. Our students study in cohorts, with little contact with

students outside of their program. Once the students have chosen a program, they have

very limited choices in their courses, less than they had in high school, much less then

they would have in university. Sometimes that makes them restless; usually they

appreciate the focus and just want to get on with it. Or so it seems to me.

We are there for the students who want a pragmatic, hands-on approach. We are

cheaper than university; the tuition is lower and often the program is two years long, or

even only one year for the post diploma programs. There are a sizable number of

university graduates among the college students, seeking career entry. I have felt for a

number of years that colleges, and college graduates, and college students do not get

the respect we deserve from our university-focussed culture. We provide a necessary

educational stream for students and for society.

Querulous Voice

I would love to know the government support per student of the

colleges compared to the support per student in the universities. I’m pretty

sure we’re undervalued literally, that we are funded less well.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Writing Process Voice

At this point in my developing rant, it occurs to me that I might be able to find
out that information using Google. I put” Ontario "Student funding unit" colles” in the
Search field. Nothing shows up, but Google notices the error and I can correct it to
“colleges”. I chose the second site that turns up, “Grant Inequities In The Ontario
University Funding Allocation”, but there is a message: “The document has been
deleted.” I remember a tip from my computer mentor, and click on “Cached” at the
bottom of the entry. The deleted document is there. I read it but it’s not all that helpful.
I go back to Google and shorten “Student Funding Unit” to “SFU”. That brings me
links about Simon Fraser University.
I go back to Google again, and enter, “Ontario ‘Student Funding’ Colleges”. This
time I hit pay dirt, a Media Release from ACAATO on the proposed budget for colleges
for 2003/04. Here’s a quote:
Over a 10-year period, college enrolments rose by 34 per cent while
operating funds decreased by 42 per student; in per-student terms, that
means that funding has dropped from $7,552 per student in 1990-91 to
about $4,400 today. Universities receive about $6,800 per student, and
secondary schools about $6,700. Colleges receive the second lowest per
student financial support from government in the country (ACAATO,

2003) .
The Web and Google provide the kind of immediate research possibility that
delights me: the information I have found supports what I know but did not have
evidence for.

Querulous Voice

So universities get $6,800 per student, high schools get $6,700 per

student, and the colleges get $4,400 per student, a little less than two

thirds of what the universities and high schools get.

You can see the cause of all the changes in the colleges; in ten years

we lost 42% per student of our funding. That is why class hours for students

are two thirds of what they were when the colleges opened, and class sizes of

40 are average and a growing number of classes are large lectures with a

hundred or more students in them. This is not the learning environment

Following the Thread

that made the colleges so successful initially. And this is why colleges

conserve money by keeping so many of the college teachers in the part-time

ghetto, limiting their availability and commitment to the students, not to

mention slowing down the economic engine by keeping young people poor

and insecure.

This, then, is the background to my beginning to learn how to use computers for

writing and for teaching. Now we revert to two years earlier and the first days of my

teaching communications using the computer.

Beginnings: Electronic Communications

The computer has indeed changed the ways some of us do things

with words, and the rapid changes in technological development
suggest that it will continue to do so in ways we cannot yet foresee
(Baron, 1999, p. 31).

Electronic Communications for Interior Design was the hothouse that forced the

growth of my learning about computers. With it, my students and I learned the basics of

using the computer as a communication tool. We learned basic

file maintenance;

word processing;

email for business;

Web searching and evaluation; and

presentations using PowerPoint.

Eventually I included the authoring of simple Web pages as well. Electronic

Communications was and is a preparatory course for using the online computer for

communicating. It prepared my students to become effective communicators using the

online computer, and it prepared me for teaching using the online computer.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

The Topics

What [s]he has learned in the way of knowledge and skill in one
situation becomes an instrument of understanding and dealing
effectively with the situations which follow (Dewey, 1963, p. 44).

I have to teach file management; that is a central requirement of Electronic

Communications. I know about filing from my early days on the Mac. But this is IBM and

Windows, and I have never been good at filing in filing cabinets. I prepare by talking to

knowledgeable people. (I begin to understand that Windows Explorer is not Internet

Explorer.) I decide that there are two issues I have to teach, the logic of filing and the

use of the technology. I organize my own files, and see that the technology can be used

to support the logic and the two strands can be taught together.

The students already know how to create folders in Netscape’s Bookmarks. They

know that folders can be created and, if you are “in” a folder, you can create sub-

folders. (This is the logic of nesting that I learned with the Macs, but use now in

Windows Explorer.) This structure I describe as having a few “big baskets,” the top level

folders, with smaller baskets inside them, and smaller baskets inside each of these, until

the file level is reached. I insist the students create a folder for their schoolwork and a

personal folder. Within the school folder, I suggest a folder for each course. Further

sub-folders for specific assignments are possible, but not required.

Naming is important, for both files and folders, as Windows Explorer

automatically uses numbering and then alphabetical order. I will have to stress that, I

think as I jot down my lesson plan. First something on the logic of file management,

while they are still wide awake at the beginning of the three-hour class.

Illuminal Commentary

With each iteration of my courses I found and solved different problems in the

naming and storing of my files. The top level was obvious: a list of major categories

where I had files to save. The second level was any needed divisions within each folder.

Following the Thread

When I got to course levels, I found it logical to in include a minimum of two folders, an

“Administrivia” folder, and one for “Lessons.”

The organizational style that I eventually reached for lessons was neither a

separate folder for each week, nor a simple naming of the topics. I found that I often

changed the order of my topics from one year to the next, and having to search through

each week’s folder was a waste of time and annoying. I also found that I needed to have

all the files for a particular lesson grouped together. My solution was to use numbers

and recognizable topic references. If all the file names for all the files used in the first

week started with “01” followed by the topic information, for example,

“01filemang.doc”, then I could easily find files by both week and topic. And I put a “0”

before the “1” so that it would not be placed after “10” when I got to Week 10. Perhaps

this is utterly obvious, but I delighted in my discovery of it.

I continue making notes, planning the class.

first, review the making of folders in Netscape’s Bookmarks;

second, explain the logic of hierarchical structuring, using the “big basket;”

with smaller baskets inside, and smaller baskets inside of each of the sub-


third, guide them to Windows Explorer with a list of steps on an overhead;

fourth, run around the lab, looking at everybody’s screen to make sure they

are in Windows Explorer;

fifth, get them to make folders, first one for school and one for personal,

second, a folder for each of their classes inside the school folder;

sixth, run around the lab looking at everybody’s folders; and

seventh, move on to the next part of the lesson.

I make my notes by hand on lined paper that I take with me to class. I go into my

husband’s study to use his (our?) computer, so I can go through the steps to get to

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Windows Explorer, and type them up in large font for copying onto an overhead

transparency. This part of the lesson is ready, and it is early enough in the term that I

will be able to review it repeatedly as I teach a thread of lessons on computer folders,

starting with browser bookmarks, through file management to email mailbox folders.

The design of many computer processes replicates others, making it easy to layer the

learning. Stressing this pattern not only helps the students learn more effectively, it

prepares them for their CAD courses, and a future of computer use.

The Tool

The assimilation of a tool, a stick or a probe to our body is achieved

gradually, as its proper use is being learned and perfected (Polanyi
1969, pp. 127 - 128).

It is the mid-Nineties and I watch as T*** puts his computer on a cart; there is a

new one on his desk.

“What’s happening to your old computer?” I ask.

“Throwing it out,” he says, “it’s a 486.”

I have no idea what this means. It is a technical term, and I recognize only that a

generic computer is maybe available.

“Can I have it?”

“They’re just going to junk it; it’s really slow.”

“I don’t have one, and I have to teach computer stuff. Can I have it?”

“Sure. No skin off my back.”

Not wanting to risk losing this opportunity, I take over the cart and wheel my

treasure through the halls to my office. I awkwardly lift it off the cart and onto my desk.

I have a computer!

(Ariadne has her heavy, awkward, slow loom!)

But it is not that straightforward!

Following the Thread

Querulous Voice

I am learning that it is never that straightforward when you are

dealing with computers.

I go back to T*** with my problems, and he sends me to another technician, who

very kindly helps me get everything set up. Now I have a computer on my desk that

works! Now I can start to learn more about the Internet, so I can teach it.

Two days later I am sitting in front of the computer reading the book in my lap. I

typed in the letters that are the Internet address, and while I wait for it to appear

(download?) I read. Otherwise it is too frustrating. I now know what Tom meant when he

said it was slow. But I can word process my teaching materials on it, then save them on

a disk, and take them to a computer attached to a printer. I am happy.

The Computer Lab

[T]he changes supported by the new information technologies are

not without complication, and they have their own price for English
professors (Hawisher & Selfe 1999b, p. 3).

“Ouch!” I exclaim, but I stop myself from cursing in front of the students. I have

been rushing down the limited space between two rows of students at their computer

stations and once again, I have rammed my thigh against a chair a little further out than

the rest. The chairs are the stackable ones, with an orange tweed back and seat, and

square white metal rods for legs and for holding the seat and back in place. The white

metal rods holding the back are angled outward, as are the back legs. The square rods

have corners at their tops. When I am trying to look at students’ work on their computer

screens, I tend to rush, and that is when I bruise myself. All during that term, I have

bruises at the height of the chair backs on my thighs.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

The computer labs are converted classrooms, and the computers are in rows

back-to-back because that is the easiest way to wire them. One row of wires services

two rows of computers; it is technically efficient. However, it is not an environment

designed for teaching. It is difficult to set up group work, but I can try to get them to

work in pairs, side-by-side. I am happy to be teaching in these labs because it is often

hard to get scheduled in them. The computing programs get first choice. However, now

that I am teaching Electronic Communications, I get scheduled in computer labs because

I cannot teach computer skills in a regular classroom.

I notice that two students I do not know have slipped into the classroom and are

quietly working at some open stations. I assume that the drop-in labs are full. I slip over

to them, and tell them that if they are quiet and do not use the printer while I am talking

to the class, I do not mind them staying. They thank me politely.

Illuminal Voice — Memory

I remember a couple of times where students using the free stations during one

of my classrooms were less than polite, and once when they kept talking audibly after I

had asked them to be quiet. They were quite rude when I told them to leave. But they

were the exception. Most students understand that computer space is limited during the

day, and that teachers do not have to allow them into scheduled classes. A couple of

times, too, I have had drop-in’s quietly ask me how to do something they were

struggling with on their computers. Helping them made me feel computer skilled!

Word Processing and Presentations

Form in an essay is not dictated by conventions of deductive logic or

formal convention but rather by the author’s attempt to create a
satisfying and finished verbal artifact out of the materials at hand
(Hesse, 1999, p. 37).

Following the Thread

I teach writing, not word processing, but word processing is the way I teach

writing. Suddenly handwriting does not count, and spelling is largely supported if

students remember to use the spell-checker. Suddenly the appearance of their papers is

highlighted and fluidity and structure (or lack of the same) are prominent. I begin to

teach basic layout and design, using the theory that what looks smarter is read as if the

content were smarter. I find the résumé formats available in the word processing files

and get the students to try them out. It is exciting, exploring word processing and

having students take writing advice more seriously now they can see a direct relevance.

I continue signing up for the technology workshops. I take MSWord 1, 2, & 3; I

take workshops on the Web and Netscape, because they are the word processing

software and the browser my college has now designated. I also take the workshops on

PowerPoint, and discover a wonderful presentation tool; it is both easy to learn and

visually-oriented. I do not know it at the time, but I am riding the cultural semiotic shift,

where, as Gunther Kress (1999) states, “[t]he shift from page to screen is having its

effects on the modes of communication — writing and the visual — as much as it is

having effects on the media, such as book, page, and screen” (p. 81). I love the colour

and the condensed, bulleted text that holds me on topic but lets me talk around and

about the topic. I structure PowerPoints, and then they structure me, as in Figure 10,


Figure 10: A PowerPoint Slide Showing How to Manage Files

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Screen Representations

[A] move from narrative to display… (Kress, 1999, p.82).

Meanwhile, in walking through a hallway with computer labs on either side, I see

an instructor I know slightly teaching using an overhead, and I am immediately riveted

not by the overhead but by the content I can see projected onto the screen. There, in

black and grey splendour, is a picture of a computer screen. It is too detailed for her to

have drawn it, and it has no surroundings, so it probably is not a photo. I stare so long

she sees me through the window and comes to the door. Her students are busily

working and I can see I am not interrupting so I whisper to her, “What is that?” pointing

to the image projected onto the screen. She whispers back a phrase I have never heard

before including the word “screen.” I do not understand and do not want to interrupt her

class any further so I ask where her office is, and note down her answer.

Later I prowl through the hall leading to her office and find her in her little

windowless cinderblock cubicle. She is friendly and glad to show me how to create these

images. I learn the phrase “screen capture” and about the (IBM) key with “Print Scrn.” She

also introduces me to Paint under accessories, and I have the next part of my teaching

tool jigsaw.

PowerPoints are very easy to create, and suddenly are everywhere in business

and education. I have to teach my students how to use the PowerPoint program, and

now I know how I am going to. I busily make screen captures and build a PowerPoint on

how to create PowerPoints. I love the ironic circularity of using the software to teach the

software. I also love the templates available in PowerPoint, a number of which I find very

aesthetically satisfying. PowerPoints have the colour of films and television, frequent

change from screen to screen, and the kind of text and visual combination I increasingly

enjoy creating. (I have not yet learned the word “multisemiotic.”) When I learn how to

add arrows, I feel like a super-PowerPoint teacher and begin using them almost every


Following the Thread

The power of screen captures and PowerPoint as a teaching tool can be seen, in

Figure 11 below, with the image of the screen showing where and how to add images,

with arrows and text to underline the steps in the process.

Figure 11: A Screen Capture Showing a Screen Capture used in PowerPoint

Projecting the Lesson

[T]he semiotic landscape is changing in fundamental ways, and …

this change relates to others in social, cultural, economic and
technological domains (Kress, 1999, p. 83).

I am in the IT (Information Technology) equipment room, picking up a data

projector. I need it to show the PowerPoint. I have printed up enough copies of the show

to hand out to the students, with six slides a page and double-sided, I did the Xeroxing

yesterday, and today I am collecting the data projector so I can show them the

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Joan Vinall-Cox

PowerPoint. The handouts should help them remember and they can make notes on

them. I enjoyed making both the PowerPoint and the handouts. Although they took quite

a while to make, the attractiveness of the PowerPoint and the neat and visual clarity of

the handouts make me feel successful as a teacher. I have found I like making visual


Illuminal Voice — Memory

I was actualizing something I yet had no words or concepts for. “Information

which displays what the world is like is carried by the image; information which orients

the reader in relation to that information is carried by language. The functional load of

each mode is different” (Kress, 1999, p. 76)

My teaching continues to be the site of my learning, and the impetus for it.

Ariadne Speaks
I sat with others and we all worked with looms. Sometimes I could show others
patterns, and sometimes I watched and learned from them. Others who lived in this
town who were famous weavers would allow me to visit and study their works. I began
to dream of creating a great and wondrous cord like the one that now guides me in this

Email Eurekas

We cannot reduce our labyrinth of development to any simple line

(Diamond & Mullen, 1999, p.356).

Email was on the list of essentials to teach, (and learn) both for my own

purposes, and for Electronic Communications. Initially Eudora was the email application

designated by the college, so that was on the computers in the computer labs, and that

was what I had to teach. There were no manuals given out and the IT technicians did not

Following the Thread

have any and did not use Eudora for their own email. I could not find a manual in the

local bookstore. I had to learn where I could and figure out what I could.

Learning And Collegiality

The foundation of a collaborative learning community is

collaboration - working together for common goals, partnership,
shared leadership, co-evolving and co-learning - rather than
competition and power given to only a few (Cooper & Boyd).

It is the mid-late Nineties, I am in the library, talking to J*** about needing to

practice using Eudora so I can teach students how to use it. But I personally do not know

anyone else who uses email. It feels unnatural writing messages I am never going to

send, and there is never any mail for me to practice opening and reading anyway. J*** is

the only person I know who really likes email, but she uses PINE, while I am supposed to

teach the current college standard, Eudora. She shows me what she has saved in PINE,

all kinds of messages. I gather from talking to her that librarians are in the forefront of

using email. She has both professional and hobby messages on various topics,

organized into folders. I am so impressed. She shows me how she does it. I get the

concept, but I cannot catch all the technical details, especially as I am not that familiar

with PINE.

Later, back at my desk, I sigh and dutifully open my email account. There are

messages for me! I love that! J*** has added my name and email address to a list of

other names and email addresses, most of them teachers I know slightly, spread

throughout the college. Once or twice a week, J*** sends out some messages she has

collected with humorous stories, jokes, and sometimes with information about authors

she and I both like to read. Now I get email regularly and I can practice using “Reply,”

“Forward,” and other aspects of email. I get to know Eudora much better.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Illuminal Voice

Once again, the context, the community I am in, provides the support I need to

learn. J*** not only loans me books that I enjoy reading, she makes opening my email

something I anticipate, rather than something I have to push myself to do.

Learning and Semiotic Play

"Netiquette" is network etiquette, the do's and don'ts of online

communication. Netiquette covers both common courtesy online and
the informal "rules of the road" of cyberspace (Shea, 1994, para. 1).

It is the mid-late Nineties, I am sitting at my desk, and starting the computer. I

need to practice using advanced aspects of Eudora so I can teach students how to use it.

I have been avoiding some of the technicalities by teaching Netiquette, a contraction of

“Net” and “etiquette,” with suggestions on how to be polite while using email. That

seemed easy enough to teach. There are books that suggest appropriate ways of writing

email messages. I study them, and copy the most important rules out for the class. That

is easy for me to learn and it is easy to explain to the students and tell them to learn the

rules. It is just memory work, like teaching the business letter, and how to format it. But

there is a strange difference.

I teach Electronic Communications to Interior Design students. Most are women,

many are mature, and a few have at least some university credits. Most are not too

comfortable with computers. The ones who are “computer literate,” the new phrase for

people who are good at using computers, these knowledgeable ones, I find, are already

using email, and have developed some, to me, strange habits. They have a carelessness

with spelling that astounds me, and they use some strange short forms. Even the

students who have been to university write their emails this way, if they are computer


Following the Thread

Illuminal Voice — Memory

Early in the development of emails, the need for more context for the words in

the message, more “body language,” more illocutionary information, was clearly felt by

the developing community. Several communication-support signals were developed

from within the community of early email users. Writing in “full caps,” that is, totally in

capital letters was labeled as “SHOUTING,” and discouraged. Jokes or cute comments

were signaled as an attempt at being funny by what were called “smileys” or

“emoticons.” Any Google search will find descriptions and glossaries of these symbols.

(My Teacher Voice insists on interrupting here to show you the original, and my

favourite variant.)

A Happy Statement 

Word now automatically generates this symbol when a colon - : - is followed by

a dash - — - and a closing bracket - ). The basic smiley is so pervasive that it is

treated like a common spelling error and automatically “corrected” to the “smiling face”

symbol, as seen to the right. 

Humor Intended :->

I use this smiley to signal that I am making a joke or being ironic. It represents a

wink and a grin and is made up from a semi-colon, a dash, and the angle bracket made

with shift on the key with the period.

Short Forms

There are also text short forms that are becoming pervasive in emails —

FYI - For Your Information

IMHO - In My Humble Opinion

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Joan Vinall-Cox

RTFM - Read The Manual ("Manual" means any instructions)

ROTFL - Rolling On The Floor Laughing

And even such sound-based shorthand as

Sk8tr – “Skater” or “skateboarder”

A whole culture of Chat and Voice Messaging is evolving using much of this

language base from emails, but that is beyond the scope of this thesis.

Living While Writing

I get one of the amusing emails J*** still sends to me, and this one

fascinates me. I became a very fast reader because I was taught to glance

at a word and recognize it, rather than sound it out. I am surprised to

discover that I have no trouble reading the following:

The phaomnneel pweor of the hmuan mnid.

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it

deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the

olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the

rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll

raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos

not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Ins't taht boolmnig azmanig?

Perhaps creative spelling is more “natural” than being consistently


Following the Thread

Learning Youth Culture

It is a mistake to suppose that acquisition of skills in reading and

figuring will automatically constitute preparation for their right and
effective use under conditions very unlike those in which they were
acquired (Dewey, 1963, p. 47).

Before the computer, I had no trouble getting students to understand the

difference between writing a formal business letter and writing personal letters. In fact,

few of them wrote personal letters, and most of them wanted to be able to write

impressive cover letters for their résumés. They had an understanding of the difference

between informal and formal writing, and I assumed that this would carry over to work

done on the computer, and it did, to the letters of application that they learned. But,

with email messages, what seemed to me to be an obvious parallel about when to use

formal language was not obvious to the students. Personal letters do not match emails,

and the desire to produce the perfect covering letter does not transfer over into an

understanding of how to write business-style email messages. As Weinberger says in

Small Pieces, Loosely Joined (2002)

On the one side, email is like mail — you type it in and send it to
someone. On the other, email is like a conversation — you talk about
whatever you want, you make jokes, you don’t bother re-reading it
before you send it, you forget about it ten minutes later. So which is it? A
formal letter or an informal conversation? Get it wrong, draw the line
between public and private inaccurately, and you could end up fired (p.

Illuminal Voice — Memory

At the time, I did not know whether to be relieved or upset to discover I was

encountering a culture-wide phenomenon. I observed what was happening, and then

tried to steer my students sensibly.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Learning from Students

[I]t means that a person, young or old, gets out of his [or her]
present experience all that there is in it for him [or her] at the time in
which he [or she] has it (Dewey, 1963, p. 49).

When I am teaching, I rarely correct, or even comment on, spelling in students’

journals, free writes or rough drafts; however, I believe correct spelling and polite

greetings are important for business emails, and so do the program teachers. In my

effort to teach students a kind of business etiquette, I begin to research. I read up on

the growing use of email for business purposes, and see that correct spelling and a kind

of informal formal politeness are always called for. Even though Eudora does not (in the

mid-Nineties) have a spell-checker like MSWord does, I insist on correct spelling for

their school emails.

One of the weakest spellers begins producing error-free emails. When I

congratulate her, she grins and tells me she write her messages up in MSWord, spell-

checks them there, then cuts and pastes them into her email message space.

I am impressed with such a smart approach. I didn’t know that you could copy in

one, I don’t know the word, one kind of computer “thingy”, and paste the words into a

completely different, oh yeah, “application.” I get her to show me, and I deliberately

perform my amazement. I turn to the rest of the class and with great excitement I tell

them how they can easily have perfect spelling. I ask the student who showed me how

to, to tell the rest of the class how it is done. I thank her again, and tell the students in

the two other classes from Interior Design, the strategy, and mention that I learned it

from G***.

Illuminal Voice

My resources include my students, and they mentor me as I mentor them. This

sense of reciprocal learning, of sharing our strengths as we fit the cultural change

brought by the online computer to the prescribed curriculum, brings me great personal

Following the Thread

satisfaction. Even the computer phobic students get more relaxed with computers as

they learn both the patterns in the software and how to ask each other for help.

Learning and Panic

The original departure into the land of trials represented only the
beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiatory conquests
and moments of illumination (Campbell, 1972, p. 109).

We have studied Netiquitte — the version of etiquette used in email, especially

for formal or business messages — and discussed the difference between writing email

messages to friends and writing for school or business purposes. Now the Interior

Design students want to learn how to attach a file to the message. I do not know how to,

but I promise to teach them that next class, next Monday.

It is a busy week, and I do not get going on “prepping” till Friday. The librarians

know everything about email, so I plan on going to them. I’ve already checked with Jim,

and he does not use Eudora, so he cannot tell me. He uses PINE. So does J*** the

librarian when I ask her, and she does not know anyone who uses Eudora. The librarians

like PINE better. I do not have a manual for Eudora, and neither does the bookstore or

anyone I can find. I am starting to feel a bit panicky. It is Friday afternoon, and I have to

teach how to attach files in Eudora on Monday.

I head out of my office and into the hall. I see M***; she’s pretty computer savvy.

I ask her. She is excited and pleased to be asked. She just learned how to from D***. She

explains the steps to me. I write them down. I rush back to my office, and follow her

instructions. They do not work! My stomach is beginning to ache. By now it is after 3:00,

and most teachers have left for the week. What am I going to do?

I look up D***’s extension, and I dial, expecting to get his Voice Mail. I figure,

even if I have to put off teaching how to do attachments for another week, at least I’ll

leave a message and make sure I catch him some time next week. He answers! I am

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Joan Vinall-Cox

stunned and delighted. Giving up my planned message, I stumble into speech, and

explain to him that I need to know how to do attachments. He tells me how, and then

walks me through the steps over the phone as I go through them on the computer in

front of me, and then write them down. I thank him, and wish him a good weekend. I try

it again; it works. I teach it on Monday as planned.

Querulous Voice

This is my favourite story about my early trials in teaching computer

skills. It also rouses my defensiveness. I’m confessing publicly to being ill

prepared for teaching a class. Or am I?

Illuminal Voice — Question

Here is a question. If you were taking a writing course, would you rather have it

taught by someone who knows the software with absolute certainty, or by someone who

knows how difficult the software is because she is still somewhat struggling with it?

Would you rather have someone who knows how to write and how to teach writing, but

is learning word processing, or someone who knows word processing well but doesn’t

know much about writing and / or teaching writing? How do we say who can teach what?

The question, David Geoffrey Smith (1999) says, is how can “we live with

indeterminacy creatively” (p. 93). He also says that “the contemporary classroom [is]

already postmodern in character” (p. 94) and watching the rapidly changing shapes of

what I teach and what my students want to learn, and who my students are, I have to

agree with him.

I am seeking to show how in a time of cultural and technical transition, the

tool of literacy is both being changed and changing us as we teach and learn.

Following the Thread

Lessons and/or the Web

[A text] so remote from her experience that for the first time since
she learned to read she could not make the words cohere into
meaning (Hayles, 2002, p. 11).

I am supposed to teach the Interior Design students something about the

Internet, and/or the Web. I buy a book about it, and read up on it. I have a computer,

the 486 T*** was throwing out, but it is, as he warned me, so slow. And I do not know

what to look at or for. I do not know enough about the Interior Design profession to

judge the sites I can find. I sign up for another of the college workshops on the Internet.

I learn a little bit about how to use Netscape, but I cannot see the point. I wish I were

more interested, but I am not. Then someone, I can’t remember who, tells me about

Cybersurfing,, Sheridan’s “Explore the

Web” page.

I carefully copy all the letters into that space at the top of the Web page, double-

checking to make sure I have not made a spelling mistake. I pause to wonder if spelling

will become more valued now that there’s a consequence for getting the letters wrong. If

every letter is not just where it is supposed to be, the (damn!) Website does not show

up. But this time I have got all the letters set up correctly; this time a page comes up on

the screen. “Cybersurfing” is written across the top of the page. I stare at the page, but I

do not really understand it. There are a whole bunch of blue underlined words in a grid.

I know I can click on the words and go to another page. They are, I taste this new word,

silently shape my mouth around it, still learning it, “hyperlinked.” I understand the

concept, sort of, but I do not know what to do. I do not know how to read this strange

page. I do not know what the point is. I can read each word individually, but I do not

know what it means and what I am supposed to do.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Illuminal Voice — Memory

I know now, looking back, that I was entering a radically new form of discourse,

one being created by the new technical communication possibilities brought by the Web.

Fairclough (1995) says “[t]he interpretation of texts is a dialectical process resulting

from the interface of the variable interpretative resources people bring to bear on the

text and the properties of the text itself” (p. 9). I was trying to enter a conversation

where I did not yet know the communication patterns, so I found it more than

confusing; I found it unintelligible. I did not yet have the “interpretive resources” I

needed. I did not have the experience or knowledge to orient myself within the page so I

could “read” it, navigate within it, work with it. Looking at the page was like trying to

understand a new creole; I recognized the words, but the syntax defeated me.

I am at my desk, puzzling over the Cybersurfing page on the screen in front of

me. R***, another former English teacher, now part of the computer area, comes into

our office and says “Hi.” I respond abstractedly and then, remembering his background,

I focus on him. He was the strongest computer user in the former English Department.

He ran the English computer lab on a different campus. At least once, he had been

seconded for his computer expertise.

“R***,” I say, “Do you know the Cybersurfing page?”

R*** puts his armload of papers down on his desk and comes over to peer at my

screen with me. “Sure,” he says, G***, the Library Tech teacher, developed it. It is handy

to send the students to it for some assignments. She has set it up so it is helpful for

basic research. Let me see, um, okay.” He leans over my shoulder and points to the

screen. “Say you want them to write an essay with some basic information about

Canada. If you just ask them for something on youth unemployment, they will search for

that phrase and get American stats. Instead I get them to click here.” R*** points to

“Canadian Resources”; I click on it. “Then I tell them to find StatsCan,” he points to that

Following the Thread

in the list and I click again, “and get them to look around in there. The Net can be pretty

confusing, so I steer them to help them learn how to use it.” R*** continues to point out

other aspects of Cybersurfing until I am overwhelmed with information and ask him

about the class he just came from, to change the subject.

Suddenly there is a structure I can learn to navigate, a compass to explore by,

thanks to R***. Now I can see that digging out information is sort of like nesting files,

but in reverse. I start planning how to introduce my students to Cybersurfing. (See

Figure 12.)

Figure 12: The May 2003 Iteration of Cybersufing

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Newsgroups and the Phenomenological

Concrete descriptions of experiences do not explain phenomena but

they can create a strong reality sense of an experience that may
appear at the same time familiar and strange (van Manen, 2002, p.

I begin cautiously exploring the Web. At home, I am finding out that we have to

learn more about Attention Deficit Disorder as it is part of our family experience.

Somehow I find out about the newsgroup “” and begin reading it

regularly. I read lots of books on Attention Deficit Disorder at the same time, ranging

from self-help populist to medical books aimed at an educated general audience. While I

learn much from the books, it is the newsgroup with its daily infusions of real peoples’

stories that gives me the grounding I need.

I learn the newsgroup etiquette of “lurking.” I read the messages but do not post

my own. I am pleased at what this new technology makes possible as I read the

messages, posted only a few hours before, mostly from the States, some from Canada, a

few from Britain, Holland, Israel, and regularly from the fascinating woman in New


I read about diets that help, or do not, with ADD. I read about how helpful, or

dangerous, Ritalin is. I read about behavioural patterns that are familiar, or different and

I am grateful at not having to deal with those aspects of ADD. I read snippets of

information that help me learn more, and I find references to books and other

resources. All these small tales and ongoing stories give me the medium to grow my

complex understanding of ADD, with the books I read as fertilizer. I begin to see my

own history differently, and some of my relatives. I begin to see my students differently.

The wonderful woman from New Zealand writes about going into schools to

educate both students and teachers to what it is like to live with ADD. She describes one

technique that captures my imagination. She takes several radios into a classroom,

places them at different spots around the classroom, turns them all on, sets them all at

Following the Thread

different stations, and then proceeds to speak to the class. Almost immediately, she

writes, students begin protesting that it is not fair, that they cannot be expected to learn

under those conditions. That, she tells them (and us), is the point. That is what a noisy

classroom feels like for someone with Attention Deficit Disorder. I wonder who it is she

loves who has ADD. She never writes about them, just about what she is doing to lobby

for those with ADD.

I continue mostly lurking, but when someone new asks how to learn more, I post

recommendations and descriptions of helpful books. I take questions I find on the

newsgroup to my daughter’s doctor, then to my doctor. I begin noticing how I enjoy the

students who, given what I now know, I suspect might be ADD. I begin speaking of ADD

with its strengths and problems and occasionally I “self-disclose” in classes.

Learning Struggles

For those … who do, in fact, have ADD, it is of great importance that
the diagnosis be made as early as possible so as to minimize the
damage to self-esteem that usually occurs when these [people] are
misunderstood and labeled lazy or defiant or odd or bad. The life of
[someone,] and his or her family, with undiagnosed ADD is a life full
of unnecessary struggle, accusation, guilt, recrimination,
underachievement and sadness (Hallowell & Ratey, 1994, p. 43).

“Jack,” as I will call him, is a quiet, rather intense young man from my Story

Structure in Movies course at a time when I still taught in Media Arts. He always sits at

the back, and when he does speak, he’s articulate and intelligent. His writing does not

match his speaking and his assignments are often late. His leg is always jiggling too, but

I have not really noticed this much until he sits down with me for a requested talk after

the last class of the term.

He wants to thank me. One class, around the middle of the course, something

came up in one of the movies — I think in reference to Tom Cruise in Top Gun, and I

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Joan Vinall-Cox

had talked about ADD and how I was strong in some areas because of it, and how I

struggled in others, also because of it. I talk about distractibility and hyper-focus, and

how both are features of ADD, and each is both a strength and a weakness, depending

on the situation and the person. Jack now tells me that some of what I had said matched

his experiences very closely. He had felt he had found an explanation for his

experiences during and after high school so he had found out more about ADD. Just last

week he had been diagnosed and is now starting on medication.

He tells me he is leaving the college, and I am concerned. He tells me he feels

hopeful rather than depressed because now he knows more about how to steer himself.

We talk a little more, but I have another class to get to. Jack thanks me again and says

good-bye. I have never seen him since, but because of his story, I continue to briefly

self-disclose in classes or in conversations where an opening comes up when I think

someone might find the information on ADD relevant to them.

Living While Writing

A week after I wrote the rough draft of this story, two students hang

around after our class is over. One I am very concerned about; the other I

know needs to find out about the assignments she’s missed over the last

three weeks, and generally persuade me to help her catch up.

The first student I’m sure is learning disabled, and unlikely to do

well. She makes copious notes in very messy handwriting of everything I

show her on the computer. And I show her most processes individually many

times. I have watched her work away on her own trying to figure out what I

have just shown her while she is supposed to be working with a small group.

Even after asking her group (and her) who is doing what of the assigned

group work, she does not take on one of the tasks but wants to talk more

about how she can do programming but searching the Web is new to her.

Today she is telling me how group work is impossible with this class. I

think she will not do well in her program, which is oriented toward group

work; she does not understand that she is blind to social cues. I don’t know

Following the Thread

what to tell her, so I suggest she go to Student Services for help. She is not

interested. I feel sad, helpless, and irritated. She leaves and I turn to the

other student waiting to see me.

Class numbers were small today, the Friday afternoon before a

holiday, so I was able to spend some time showing her some of what she had

missed. Her rapid-fire speech and charm impressed me. I was even m ore

impressed when I showed her how to create a table in MSWord using the

table icon on the icon bar, and she stopped me so she could go through the

steps herself to “get it into her head”. I told her I was impressed that she

knew her own learning process so well.

Now I sit down beside her prepared to show her some of what else she

had missed. Again she tells me how little she knows about computers, and

how bad her spelling is. I show her how to make the table lines “invisible”

and set up a picture in one cell and the relevant text in the cell beside it, as

a formatting tactic. She leans forward, her hands reaching toward the

keyboard, and I pull back so she can go through the steps herself. I ask her

if she knows she’s a kinesthetic learner, and we start talking more. I tell her

how impressed I am at how quickly she gets the idea of the process and how

wise she is to immediately repeat it herself. She tells me that she “stares and

stares” when she is learning something, and she isa visual learner.

Her speeding from topic to topic makes talking with her fun. When she

mentions her bad spelling for the fifth or sixth time, I ask her what she

knows about dyslexia. Our conversation moves into ADD and depression. I

tell her some of my experiences, and suggest she go to Student Services. She

agrees immediately, and we continue chatting as I walk with her to their

office. They have left for the weekend, but a receptionist from another area

gives her a brochure and suggests she come back on Tuesday. She agrees

with great enthusiasm. I make a mental note to follow up with her next

class. I feel like I have made a difference for at least one student, and head

home in a happier mood. (At the end of the term, both the students I was

worried about have passed the class.)

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Joan Vinall-Cox

A Different View

The themes of ADD run throughout: inconsistency, and inconsistency

again, creativity, provocative behavior, winning personality, varying
motivation, exasperating forgetfulness, disorganization and
indifference, underachievement, impulsivity, and the search for
excitement rather than discipline (Hallowell, 1994, p. 65).

I am walking through the Media Arts lobby when a cluster of students blocks me.

“Bill” (as I will call him here) is ranting, intelligently, articulately, and taking an extreme

position, as usual. Sue (also a pseudonym) is calling him on one of his more extreme

points. Two others are watching, somewhere between entertained and confused. I am

amused, and then, as I join the conversation, I notice that Bill can be quite hurtful, even

nasty, in his comments. I see Sue’s face freeze at one of Bill’s verbal swipes. He appears

not to notice when she abruptly goes silent and leaves, and continues his rant.

I slide out of the conversation and catch up with Sue. She’s angry. “Why does he

always do that? Just when you think he’s okay, he turns into a jerk!” After a little

calming talk, I leave. I like both of them, and I can see both their points-of-view. And I

can relate to Bill’s ranting; I enjoy going on about topics I am passionate about too. The

nasty verbal swipe is also a familiar pattern; I have been on the receiving end of such

verbal swipes and I have worked hard to contain myself when I think something cruel. I

have learned to repress that impulse in myself, except that I sometimes whisper unkind

“cracks” about others to close friends.

On the newsgroup, someone writes about being a

“blurter” and a “ranter” and how this has lost him friends. I think about Bill. In another

conversation, I find a space to tell Bill about and a couple of days

later, I see his name in the newsgroup. The pattern, the etiquette, I have learned from

lurking and from reading about newsgroups, is to write brief questions or quickly

describe incidents and/or problems. Bill, even though he is new to the newsgroup,

writes an extremely long, though interesting, rant.

Following the Thread

Over the next few days, a number of the regulars speak back to him, creating a

substantial “thread” of messages. I am pleased because I think Bill has found a

community where he can have conversations and learn, which had been my response to When I see Bill in the hall, I refer to the responses his posting

had drawn. I can see he is not very interested. He tells me he has not been back to look

at how people responded, and probably will not bother. Shortly after, he leaves the

program in a cloud of recriminations and disappointed expectations, having alienated

almost everyone.

A few months later, after almost a year of regularly following the newsgroup, I

still enjoy its supportive atmosphere and its “lived experience description[s]” (van

Manen, 1997, p. 55) which I find comforting, re-assuring. I feel less alone and more

“normal.” I also get good suggestions and ideas. People are always coming and going on

the newsgroup, but some are long-term regulars. Most newcomers, when they post

messages, are responded to helpfully. Then someone arrives and stays on, someone

who “flames” others. The Computer User High Tech Dictionary says a “flame” is:

A heated argument in a newsgroup or other public electronic forum,

often resulting in personal insults and other angry remarks that are off
the subject (, 2000).

Soon the flamer is joined by another, and even gentle remonstrance has no effect

on them. One uses a female name, the other a male. I wonder if they are “performing”

with the newsgroup as a captive audience. I stop reading their posts, and then I stop

reading the newsgroup altogether. I have learned much, but the repetitiveness

combined with the overt hostility has “turned me off,” literally.

Illuminal Voice — Memory

In Small Pieces, Loosely Joined (2002), Weinberer says “Membership and

participation are identical for the most part with Web groups” (p. 112). I see, after

writing up my stories of my experiences with, that I was both

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Joan Vinall-Cox

learning and shaping a cultural pattern. I found a group with knowledge I needed to

explore, knowledge that was deeply relevant to me, knowledge that was more than

cleaned-up “book-knowledge,” and I “joined,” that is, I started reading regularly.

Weinberger says,

The Web public consists not of a mass but of individuals joined in an

enormous number of groups: discussion lists as well as all the other ways
the Web enables us to associate. But, because the Web is fond of taking
social structures, pounding them to bits, and letting the pieces rejoin
themselves, groups – fundamental social units – are reinventing
themselves in ways that challenge every assumption about groups in the
real world (p. 97).

In reading, in “belonging to,”, I was, if not a pioneer, at

least one of the early adopters, seeking a support group on the Web. Following was like letter reading, except I was reading lots of personal

letters from lots of people, without ever having met any of them, except “online.” And

they were writing, telling their stories, because they wanted to, and on the assumption

that their stories would help others. It was like a kitchen discussion, a sharing of

experiences, except it was all in text, a new kind of text, informal, asynchronous, and


When I wrote, it was like letter writing, except that I had not been obliged to

answer, In fact, the evolving etiquette was that I should not write anything until I had

“lurked” for a while and read any available “FAQ” (a list of Frequently Asked Questions). I

had somehow learned that “[l]urking [was] considered very good form, for it lets

‘newbies’ absorb the group’s ethos and mores” (Weinberger, 2002, p. 112) and,

consequently, Bill’s flaunting of this ‘norm’ had bothered me because I had “introduced”

him to the group.

These groupings are “a new social public space” (p. 119) yet, “the ground rules

are different from the real world precisely because there’s no ground on the Web” (p.

Following the Thread

119). In fact newsgroups, discussion groups, and “blogs” (a kind of “Weblog” or diary)

are introducing, not just a radically new public space but a radically new form of

discourse — casual, informal writing in a public forum. This is not public “speaking”;

this is public writing. I was part of a form of discourse that was shaping itself, as all

forms of discourse are always shaping themselves. As Fairclough (1995) says,

“[b]oundaries between and within orders of discourse are constantly shifting, and

change in orders of discourse is itself part of sociocultural change” (p. 13). I was reading

and occasionally writing in at a time when this form of discourse

was still in its childhood, and the newsgroup continues to be active as of this writing,

still a “place” to go to touch base with others with similar interests and experiences.

Accepting Students

The interest of the teacher is not to teach, in the usual sense of

imparting well-formulated epistemologies, but to protect the
conditions under which each student in his [or her] own way can find
his [or her] way (Smith, 1999, p. 20).

In an interesting way, the obvious struggle that I am going through as I learn

how to use the computer, which I often share in public, does not appear to offend my

students. The ones who do not know much about computers are watching me extend

my own learning, and I think it gives them some confidence that, if their middle-aged

female “artsy” English teacher can learn this computer “stuff,” they probably can too.

The few who already know some computer stuff often, for whatever reasons, are not

that good at academic and business writing, and my obvious respect for what they know

about computers gives them a balancing leadership role in this class. And, if I cannot

answer one of their questions myself, I make sure I can by the next class. In this way, I

can keep their trust in me as a teacher, and their learning feeds my learning as I seek

the answers they ask for. In all the Electronic Communications classes I teach over the

next few years, even as more and more students have some computer skills to start

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Joan Vinall-Cox

with, even as I get more knowledgeable myself, the sense of excitement and the pattern

of sharing, of a learning community, makes this a course that is a pleasure to teach.

The Artist Voice

I want to grasp this pleasure because I have become aware how fragile our joys
are, how easily things change, and how change is not always better. And this is true of
my teaching situation, too. I write a poem.
Everything is sharply edged,
more strongly felt,
like early love.

This task shapes

my beings and
my absences,
It wakes
my sleeping self
till I,
so I, am
for doing:

filled with my art

and ready.
(Vinall-Cox, 1997)

Up Against the Curriculum: Sharing the Challenge

The principle that the development of experience comes about

through interaction means that education is essentially a social
process. This quality is realized in the degree in which individuals
form a community group. It is absurd to exclude the teacher from
that group (Dewey, 1963, p. 58).

The most exciting teaching, in my opinion, occurs when both students and

teacher are fully committed to the learning. My first teaching employment was teaching

English to adult immigrants. They were totally committed learners, and I was as

committed a teacher. I have not always been that lucky in having students with such an

intense commitment to learning, and I have not always been able to offer such full

Following the Thread

commitment, but sometimes circumstances have given me a curriculum I can throw

myself into and students with a similar sense of commitment. In the Interior Design

Thesis course, I found myself in that situation.

The Interior Design Thesis Course: A Coaching Approach

We need to make students aware that what most interests us about

their writing is what they have to say, not just their errors (Booth,
2001, p. 79).

In the late Nineties, I am given another Interior Design course; it seems a natural.

Before students can graduate from this rigorous 3-year college course, they have to

write a thesis “of substantial length,” defined as 100 pages, with only 20 pages of

images allowed. They are not allowed to graduate without it, and that is the basis of

their commitment. The coordinator has structured this Thesis Course with a specific

purpose in mind: to have the program qualify for professional certification, thus giving

the graduates better credentials. Writing a 100-page thesis is a tough requirement,

especially for visually oriented students who have not written very many academic

papers since high school.

The course is laid out very sensibly, with due dates for all the “process” stages.

First a research due date, then an outline due date, then a first draft of the first (or any)

20 pages, and so on till the final copy’s due date. It is sensible, but writing is not always

that linear, and some of these students have no confidence in their ability to write at all,

let alone 100 pages. I like working with the coordinator, and I like the structure even

though I see it as awfully rigid. It gives me the freedom of “no choice.” I can join the

students and work with them against a challenging curriculum; they know I did not

create it and am as much under its rule as they are.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Writing Lessons

The insights of … writers are by no means necessarily related to

their literary ability, but arise as they seek their own particular
wisdoms (Andrew Wilkinson, 1986, p. 78).

Three of us are huddled beside my desk in the mezzanine of the studio area. We

can hear the students working in the studio, but we are focussed on our work. Two

students are talking with me about their fears. They do not think they can do this much

writing. I ask about their writing background and what writing they do now. I ask about

their research. One young woman begins to speak with enthusiasm. She is fascinated by

what she is discovering. Riding on her energy, I grab some paper and a pen and push

them at her. “Make a mind map,” I tell her, and she starts creating words and lines out

to other words. “See,” I say to the other, “What is your topic? Can you do that too?”

After a few more minutes of sorting out mind maps, we make a future

appointment. I tell them to bring their mind maps to the next class.

Some still have not chosen their topics or want to change the ones they have

chosen, but the outline is due next week. This week, I am teaching them to use

MSWord’s Outline View. As you can see below in Figure 13, the Outline View is one of

the choices under View in Word’s Menu bar. When you choose it, it displays the

headings indented to display the hierarchy. The Toolbar that comes with it, allows you

to indent more or less and set the levels of hierarchy that show.

I teach the Outline View as part of teaching the structure of an academic paper,

and only secondarily as an aspect of word processing. The technology actually supports

learning how to structure written work, and that is why I value it. The technology

changes how to teach writing. After the students have produced mind maps, I encourage

them to use the Outline View as the next step in their writing. I “sell” the learning of this

part of word processing by showing them how this is part of Styles, which they can use

to generate a Table of Contents automatically, with only a few clicks.

Following the Thread

Suddenly, with the addition of an early version of their Table of Contents, their

work starts becoming formal looking, official, and yet not dauntingly detailed and

complex. They can see that they are producing a formal document, something that will

enhance their ideas and their words, and this changes their attitude and their

willingness to produce text. The word processing application is their helper, their aid to

creating significant writing, and no longer just an annoying demand on their learning

time. They learn to write more effectively.

Increase Move up Level

Decrease or down

Figure 13: Three Aspects of the Outline View

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Joan Vinall-Cox

These students are designers, and their work should demonstrate that, I tell

them, and we talk about layout and design. The word processor allows them to create

an aesthetic object; their document can display their visual talent and knowledge. We

talk about font choices, sizes, margins — all those finicky decisions. I conspire with

them. The margins have to be standard, but the font can be Arial or Times, and 10 or

12. I show them how to take some of their text and test it out in different fonts. Arial 12

point wins every time for taking up the most space so they need fewer words to fill that

daunting 100 pages. With a computer as their writing instrument, there is more for

them to learn about writing visually, and more support for lexical difficulties.

What I am trying to teach them is how to explore and use the advantages of

word processing for their purposes. By aligning myself with them as a coach who

wants them to win out over this challenging curriculum, writing a thesis, we become

allies in a wonderful learning encounter.

I meet frequently with the students, often in twos or threes. I encourage. I nag. I

read their work and enthuse. Because I am a writing teacher and not an Interior Design

teacher, what they are writing about is often new to me, so I am fascinated, and I display

my interest to them. If, using my critical thinking abilities, I think they have some

inaccuracies, I check with them and/or one of the Interior Design teachers. I edit each

chunk of their work — and get annoyed if I see my corrections or suggestions ignored in

the next iteration. I encourage their design of the cover. I am midwife to their theses,

and we all know it.

Querulous Voice

Yes, but that was then. A few years later I had 60 students writing 100

page theses and no colleague to commiserate with, plus three other courses.

I just wore out. I lost my energy and enthusiasm. It started to become a

survival routine, and I didn’t have the energy to lift the fearful ones into

enthusiasm, or at least compliance. And I simply had to find some time to

work on my three other classes.

Following the Thread

At this point I found the marking needed to give enough feedback so

learning can happen (so it was a real not a rote course) had become so

onerous that I, the teacher, and then the students, began to lose hope and

interest. (I think this happens when managers look at numbers rather than

people and situations. I think this is called burnout, and often ignored. But

that is just my opinion after spending this past weekend marking 154 two-

page reports.)

The Interior Design Thesis Course and the commitment of the students allow me

to be fully student-oriented, a coach rather than a judge. I like the teacher-as-coach

role. I like working with my students, helping them use their strengths to accomplish a

significant task. I like showing them how they can use word processing to support

themselves in their writing. The weak spellers learn to use the spell checker, and an

editor in case of word errors. The messy hand writers learn to design their pages, at

least to a standard setup, sometimes in an effective graphic design. The visual thinkers

learn how to move their visual structure into a textual structure. They can learn how to

write well using the support provided by the intelligent use of computers. The Interior

Design Thesis Course caused me to learn more about using word processing and more

about writing theses.

Slowly, I accumulate more teaching time in Interior Design, teaching not just

Electronic Communications, and the third year thesis course where the students have to

write this 100-page thesis. Eventually, I get to create a second year introduction-to-

the-thesis course, to help the students improve their academic writing skills before they

have to write their thesis. I still have some unstable teaching time that changes from

term to term, but now I have an Associate Dean who sorts out most of that for me, so it

is not as bad. The courses I teach in Interior Design are stable and I have some shaping

power for them, and they are the ones that require computer use. This stability and

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Joan Vinall-Cox

freedom are at least part of the reason I become increasingly skilled and interested in

the computer and teaching.

The Main Course: Laptops-To-Go

Guided by faculty vision and imagination, this initiative has

profoundly changed the face of the institution, bringing together
individual ideas and perspectives into a total learning environment.
Collaborative and activity-based learning models have been
integrated with a technology rich environment into an innovative
learning environment. The challenging practicalities of
implementation have been creatively solved. The skills faculty
needed to implement the vision have been developed through
collaborative, peer-sharing professional development initiatives. In
our view, the key to the success of DELTA3 is inclusive, team-based
decision making that is focussed on enhancing student learning.
(From the winning nomination of Sheridan’s DELTA3 Laptop Initiative
for the 2003 ACAATO Innovation Award, p. 5.)

In the broader arena of the college, another significant change is happening.

Something called “The Mobile Initiative” is mentioned occasionally in memos and

meetings. It has got to do with students having laptops in classes. I monitor the

situation because the Interior Design Coordinator is very interested.

The structure of the Mobile Computing Initiative at Sheridan requires that all the

students in specified programs must rent laptops from the college, and the laptops

come loaded with program-appropriate software. So all the software is the same

version, and, with a laptop, students can work on their assignments any time that is

convenient for them. For mature students with parenting responsibilities this means

they can do their work at home without needing to hire a babysitter in order to use the

college’s computer labs. For other students, after midnight learning is possible, despite

the computer labs being closed. For the college, the need for a large number of up-to-

Following the Thread

date computer labs is lessened. And, although the laptops are expensive to rent, there is

a tax-deduction available to help mitigate the cost for the students. In May 1998, 55

students become part of what was named DELTA3 (Delivering Emerging Learning

Technologies Anywhere, Anytime, to Anyone) as Mobile Computing starts at Sheridan.

Although the Interior Design Coordinator wants to be part of the first year of

Mobile Computing, politics intervene and we are blocked from joining the initiative.

However, different politics make it possible for Interior Design to “go Mobile” in the

second year, the fall of 1999, and we do. What this means for the Interior Design

teachers, as for the teachers in other programs that have “gone mobile” is three-fold:

1. laptops are distributed to all the teachers in DELTA3 programs (including the

part-time teachers) for the duration of our teaching;

2. all the mobile classrooms are newly renovated and quite beautiful and

pedagogically suitable teaching spaces, with teacher input contributing

substantially to the design; and

3. teachers are expected to mount our course material on a course Website and use

it in our teaching. This means we are required to learn the program-relevant

software so we can teach it and new learning management software for course

Web sites, which means learning how to create Web pages and use email, as well.

It is the classic “carrot and stick.” We get laptops but we have to use them. Some

teachers are delighted; some are fearful and / or resentful. Five support systems help:

1. there is the added support of “Tech Tutors”, students who have computer skills,

and, in brief workshops, train the teachers and the students in the basic care of

the computers. They are also present to help in most DELTA3 classrooms for the

first week of classes;

2. a very helpful HELP desk, who help on the phone and, if necessary, come to the

classroom to help sort out the problem;

3. the DELTA3 PD Committee, made up of teachers who plan and lead professional

development sessions to help teachers learn more about teaching using the

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Joan Vinall-Cox

laptops and learning management software. It is grassroots driven, with any

teacher, no matter their skill level, welcome to join and help shape the DELTA3


4. The WebCT Steering Committee, which is made up of teachers from Sheridan’s

various schools including Continuing Education, and a cross section of IT people.

This committee is responsible for communication and coordination concerning

software, hardware, dates to add and remove student access to the course Web

sites, and other related matters that require both teacher and technical input;


5. teachers who are converting their courses to the Web have a time release

included in their Standard Workload Forms (SWFs), usually approximately 20% of

their time per course. It asks a lot from the teachers, but also provides a

wonderful learning opportunity.

Now, at Sheridan in 2004, over 30 programs and 5000 students are part of

DELTA3, the Mobile Initiative at Sheridan, and DELTA3 has won the ACAATO (Association

of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario) 2004 Award for Innovation. This

massive curricular change, as I experienced it, was the inspiration and is a significant

part of the content of this thesis.

The Mobile Initiative occurred late in the story of my learning experiences, after I

had learned and taught the basics of word processing, with MS Word, as the college now

mandates, and the basics of emailing and Web searching, using Netscape Navigator and

Messenger, as mandated by the college, and PowerPoint because that is the presentation


Following the college mandates has meant I could get support from IT and the

HELP desk, because they have to know the college-mandated software. This does not

make me feel constrained; instead I feel supported. As a new computer user, I had no

pre-made choices, and so I learned what had been mandated and now it feels “natural”

Following the Thread

to me, and thus has become my software of choice. I have not myself made informed

choices about what software or browser I favour; I have just learned what I am told I will

be teaching, and I assume that there are good reasons for these choices. The surprising

aspect is that when I do try another browser or word processor or Web authoring

software, I am not lost outside the labyrinth. I already have a partial map of what to look

for to guide me because learning one form of software makes learning others easier.

Process Notes
This description of the beginnings of mobile computing at Sheridan feels dry to
me, more a report than an aesthetic engagement, but it is an important part of this arts-
based thesis. I want you, dear reader, to understand that my sense of wonder which
supported my learning was itself supported by the structures within my institution. All
of the institutional supports, described above in such a business-like tone, provided the
field for my adventures.

Ariadne Speaks
Those capricious gods have given me a new lighter travelling loom for my own
use. I see that I can carry it in my pack as I travel. I go to the flax fields and pull up flax
so I can rett and scutch the fibres to take with me as I journey. I add my spindle to my
pack and begin creating this cord in earnest.

The Mobile Initiative

Thinking makes shaping, shaping makes thinking, new ideas arrive

and are instantiated in more shaping (Hayles, 2002, p. 75).

The four of us are sitting around a small table in the main hallway, and talking

seriously, the coordinator, two fulltime Interior Design program teachers, and me, a

fulltime teacher who teaches language skills to the Interior Design students. The Mobile

Initiative has been running for a year now, and Interior Design will be part of the next

expansion this coming fall. We will be getting laptops and be expected to teach our

first-year classes using the laptops and something called “learning management”

software. There are two varieties available, one called Course-in-a-Box and the other

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Joan Vinall-Cox

called WebCT. When I heard that it was sure that we were going to join the Mobile

Initiative, I talked to my computer mentor, D***, and read through the comparison of the

two systems on her Web site.

Illuminal Voice — Insight

I have a tendency to hero-worship people or leaders who seem knowledgeable,

and to assume other people will see how self-evidently right my heroes are. I remember

talking about the two course-authoring applications. My mentor favoured the

“robustness” of WebCT over the limited simplicity of Course-in-a-Box. Consequently I

wanted to use WebCT.

In the meeting I keep bringing up WebCT’s advantages. The coordinator watches

and listens. The two other program teachers are reluctant, worried about learning the

complexities of WebCT.

Illuminal Voice — Interrogating My Memory

I did not then think about the advantage I had over the other teachers from two

years of teaching Electronic Communications to three sections each year. Because I was

much more comfortable with computer basics than the other teachers, I pushed for what

fit my needs without thinking of theirs.

“Course-in-a-Box” is a short-sighted choice,” I repeat as the discussion circles

around. The two program teachers sit with their arms crossed under expressionless


The coordinator speaks decisively: “Joan will use WebCT and we will use Course-

in-a-Box.” I feel like someone who has been pushing on a door, only to have it swing

open, causing her to fall halfway through. And, as you will see later, getting what I

wanted and using WebCT was not painless.

Following the Thread

“If that is okay?” I say, but everyone seems content that the meeting is over, and

we all head our separate ways.

This meeting is the tiny tip of an iceberg of preparation.

Living while Writing

Outside my study window I see grey and white. Snow is falling lightly,

giving a white outline to the dark grey tree branches. I can hear squeals

from the schoolyard across the road as children play during recess. I can

hear the voice of my husband on the phone in his study beside mine. Books

are piled and scattered around the floor.

I sit, hands typing these words on the beautiful silver-coloured Mac

Powerbook G4, the second computer I have had the use of while writing this

thesis. I have to surrender it tomorrow. R***, one of the Mac technicians

from my department at Sheridan, will help me move this thesis, and the

EndNote library I have created while writing it, over onto another laptop,

an iBook, as the PowerBook G4 I have now is needed by another teacher. I

am a little worried. This thesis is densely formatted and the file is very

large. I fret as I prepare to save my material onto a CD, a silver disk.

Meanwhile, I think and write, and write and think.

Homage to the Institutional Support

Growth in judgment and understanding is essentially growth in

ability to form purposes and to select and arrange means for their
realization (Dewey, 1963, p. 84).

I sit in my study in 2003 reading a document from January 1999 — the DELTA3

“Mobile Computing Starter Kit” — and see the framework that was used for the academic

side of this massive change. The document is clear, sensible and impressive. I synopsise

it below.

First there is a series of DELTA3 questions and answers, laid out in a table format

in a reader-friendly style. The questions (and answers) are:

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Joan Vinall-Cox

about Program Suitability;

about Faculty;

about Costs; and

about Curriculum.

This is followed by:

a table with criteria and measurement for evaluating how mobile-ready a

program is;

a “Task List” as a framework for getting started;

information about the operating policies and procedures;

information about a “User Laptop Manual;”

information about Tech Tutors;

identification of training / education requirements covering both technology

and the appropriate pedagogy for using laptops in the classroom;

information on setting up a curriculum design conceptual framework for

technology-enhanced courses; and

suggestions for choosing a basic set of curriculum items to develop.

This clarity and structure was essential for cultivating this new field where the

flax seeds would later grow into flax plants from which I could spin and weave the cord

to guide me further through the technological labyrinth. But there was so much more

that was invisible to me then that I have learned about since, the most important of

which is the involvement and valuing of the grassroots (flaxroots?) teachers and the

learning community I was immersed in, a group of teachers who created and supported,

and grew in their teaching from and with the Mobile Initiative at Sheridan.

Following the Thread

Illuminal Voice

The Web of Learning is supported from many points. How humbling it is to look

back and see how supported I was by the school structure and cooperative and

supportive people in learning how to use the online computer as a teaching tool.

Without this structure, without these people creating and supporting the structure, I

would never have been able to learn what I have learned, to teach how I have taught.

The Learning Community is a central part of my learning.

Ariadne Speaks
In the labyrinth, now I can now see the beauty and complexity that I helped
Theseus to ignore as he ran from the Minotaur so many years ago. I look again at my
judgement of Daedalus, the maker of contrivances, and of my father, the determined
and daring king, and of my mother, filled with curiosity and desire. I had to run from
them as Theseus had to run from the Minotaur; it was fate. Now, once again deep inside
the labyrinth, I hold this cord I have made and am making, and see a richer possibility
than the black and white cord I shaped so rigidly so many years ago.
I pause to give thanks to the ones who, for whatever reasons, helped build these
virtually magic looms.
I pause to give thanks to those closer, whose town I lived in, who helped me
learn the loom, and gave me a loom to use.
I pause to give thanks to those who planted the field and grew the flax from
which I create the linen to weave this cord that is guiding me into the core of the
labyrinth, and to the Minotaur.

Homage to the Leading Teachers

[A]s teachers, our personal narratives are embedded within the

historical and cultural narratives of our society (Connelly & Clandinin
1988, p. 124).

The most remarkable aspect of the mobile initiative at Sheridan was that it was

not simply aimed at technical and/or computer programs. It was a broadly-based

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Joan Vinall-Cox

pedagogical decision, as is clearly evident in the nomination of DELTA3 for the 2004

ACAATO Innovation Award —

[U]se of a laptop in a program such as Early Childhood Education or Social

Service Worker - Gerontology, is often unexpected since there is no
obvious need for a portable lab. DELTA3 intends the laptop to be the
media distributor, the communication tool, the calculator, the
visualization device, the research enabler, the computer literacy assistor,
providing new and different ways of learning. (“Nomination for the 2004
ACAATO Innovation Award, 2003”)

As I was one of the “second wave” of teachers joining the Mobile Initiative, my

knowledge of the first year is limited to the shreds of information I have been able to

collect since I joined. A computer teacher was named the leader of the initiative, and she

took a clear grassroots approach. My mentor was a teacher in the human services area,

who consciously applied pedagogical principles in her teaching. A number of other

teachers in her area held regular “lunchbag” meetings to discuss co-operative learning.

The Interior Design coordinator was consulted, and there was a designer in Facilities

Management. All these influences and others made within the Information Technology

department lead to the creation of the mobile classrooms.

As a teacher who has taught in

the converted rooms of old houses;

the cinderblock rooms of a converted warehouse;

“ordinary” classrooms equipped with rows of tables and chairs; and

portables with mice and wasps and garbage trucks right outside,

the beauty and intelligent design of these new mobile classrooms alone would have

seduced me into learning as much as I could to in order to continue to teach in them. All

the classrooms for the mobile initiative had to be set up with the wiring and networking

required by teachers and students with laptops, but a holistic vision of what could be

done pedagogically was also applied. The results are wonderful. (See figure 14, below.)

Following the Thread

The teachers have a podium at the front where we anchor our laptops onto a

dock that links them with electricity, the network, and the DATA projector. Using

materials I have prepared or found, I can project Web pages, PowerPoints, videos, or

other visual, and sometimes aural, materials for my classes. The visual power of the data

projector is a remarkable teaching tool, especially as the students can later access the

same material on their screens at any time and anywhere that is networked. In the

classrooms, we have whiteboards, as chalk dust can damage computers, to complement

the power of the image that the DATA projectors provide.

The students have desks that have been designed according to the suggestions

of the teachers in their programs. As each program entered/enters the mobile initiative

the teachers meet with the designers and discuss the kind of set-up most appropriate

for their subjects and students. The result is many different styles of classrooms from

wired lecture halls to my favourite, the classrooms with “puddle tables” that support and

encourage both group work, and attention to the teacher’s presentations.

Data Projector


Puddle Table

Moveable seats

Figure 14: A Sheridan Mobile Classroom

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Most classrooms have walls that are a soft yellow, the puddle tables, and the

teacher’s podium look like lightwood, and the students’ seats are a muted green and

moveable so they can work facing their table, or turn and watch the teacher and the


Puddle table classrooms are ideal for teaching writing using computers. I usually

give a few mini-lectures paced throughout the three hour weekly class, often with a

PowerPoint, and set group tasks as a way of introducing new writing concepts or

computer skills, or, in the best of lessons, both. The pulsing pace of mini-lecture,

group-work with my visiting each group, allows for learning in a safe, comfortable

environment before individual work is required, but I am getting ahead of my story.

Before I tell you more about the fall of 1999 and my move deeper into the

labyrinth, I want to underline the importance of the inclusion of pedagogical and design

planning in the mobile classrooms, and how engaging it was, as a teacher, to have

choice and input into the classroom design. Part of my learning was a direct result of

feeling valued as a teacher. Seeing my wishes about classroom design respected, and

watching other teachers have their suggestions followed, created a “good-enough”

environment for learning. I learned so quickly about computers because I was allowed to

learn my way, for my purposes.

Ariadne Speaks
Now, far along on the intuitive path of following my bliss, I look around and back
and see my path as a straight line leading me directly here. I had thought that looking
back I would see the meandering wanderings of someone just lost in a labyrinth, but it
is a straight line from discovering the pleasures of using a loom for weaving to here, in
the labyrinth. How could what felt like directionless drifting be such a direct route?
I pause to savour this journey and its surprising outcomes.

Following the Thread

Caught on the Web

The changes in social practices associated with the new technologies

then become extensions of our current selves. As we modify
practices, we reshape both ourselves and the new technologies
(Bruce, 1999, p. 225).

So in the fall of 1999, I became a Web-borne teacher, part of DELTA3’s second

wave. The Interior Design coordinator, with the foresight to see that her students would

need CAD (Computer Assisted Design) and an ability, when working in the future, to use

the Web, had led those of us who taught in the Interior Design program into DELTA3. In

the halls I rushed past students with navy blue, rectangular backpacks with the Sheridan

name and logo on them. (I had managed to get myself a student-style backpack instead

of one of teacher’s more dignified but back-damaging one-shoulder strap carriers.)

Inside these backpacks were IBM ThinkPads loaded with the MS Office suite and any

software required for the courses the students were taking.

My first year Interior Design students were taking Electronic Communications,

which required only MS Office and Netscape, and we were all on the Web. With me, they

were on WebCT, my choice in learning management software, but, with the other

Interior Design teachers, they were on Course-in-a-Box. I do not remember students

complaining about having to use two course platforms as I drove them and myself

through this new teaching and learning environment. However, part way through the

term I realized the students were having to learn and use two different forms of course

software, an outcome I hadn’t thought through when I pushed for WebCT.

Illuminal Voice

Perhaps this was hard on the students, or perhaps they adapted with the

computer expertise that we older ones conveniently assume is innate in those who are

currently young. I did not know then and I do not know now if using two forms of

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Joan Vinall-Cox

learning management software made their learning more difficult. What I do know, and

this is perhaps after-the-fact rationalization, is that my mentor was right in advocating

for WebCT; within a term or two, Course-in-a-Box had disappeared from the school,

and all of us in the mobile initiative were running our courses on WebCT.

Picture a woman with a backpack going into a classroom. She smiles a little

uncertainly at the room full of mostly women and asks if they are Interior Design

students. A few say, “Yes” and all are watching her. Some have laptops in front of them

all plugged in, but some just have their laptop bags sitting beside them. The teacher

moves toward the podium at the front to the right of the screen as she introduces

herself. She twists out of her backpack and unzips it to get at the laptop. Glancing at the

class, she sees that some are not yet setting up their laptops, and she instructs them to.

While they are unzipping and plugging in, she lifts her laptop over to the dock on

the podium and shifts it back and forth, trying to find just where it should be before she

presses down. The tech tutor, a young computer student, had shown her how to dock

her computer, but he did it so fast and she has not done it before and she worries about

breaking something.

Finally she feels the give and presses down. Her computer clicks into place, and

she sighs in release. She turns on the computer and looks anxiously up at the data

projector. Yes, the light is starting to come through and the image of Sheridan’s home

page strengthens on the screen. She clicks on “WebCT” on her personal Tool Bar and

looks out at her class. “Do you know how to get to WebCT?” she asks, and her very first

wired class has begun.

What I remember of that fall was a blur of excitement and effort. I had some

course materials already in my computer — files from having taught the Electronic

Communications previously — and I had to create new ones. I took the advice of my

Following the Thread

mentor and others with a year of experience behind them and limited my expectations

of what aspects of WebCT I should learn in this first term. I decided to learn how to use

the following:

Manage Students where I could store students’ marks, and, with this course-

authoring software, set up an icon where each student could click and see just

their individual marks;

Lessons, where I mounted a Web page a week for each lesson; and

Calendar, where I mounted assignment dates and other important course dates.

Below, in Figure 15, is a screen shot of the first lesson in Electronic


Figure 15: Lesson 1's introduction in Electronic Communications, mounted on WebCT

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Above you see a recent iteration of the top part of the Web page that I mounted

in my WebCT Web site for Electronic Communications for the first week/class. At the top

are the course code, title, and my name, as the teacher, a part of the WebCT shell. Under

that is the “breadcrumb” menu identifying the route I have followed to get to this page

and allowing me to click back to any point. Under that is the Action Menu, which I can

also use to navigate. Every screen in all WebCT courses shows similar frames.

Below, Figure 16 shows a Web page I created in Netscape Composer and

mounted into my course. Making one or more Web pages a week soon gave me

confidence in what I could do on the Web. Uncharacteristically, I didn’t follow my

mentor’s example and advice and use MS FrontPage to create my lesson Web pages. I

stuck to the very user-friendly Netscape Composer, a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What

You Get) Web authoring software that can be downloaded for free. (I will include more

about the ease and usefulness of Composer later.)

Here is the next section of Lesson 1’s Web page; compare Figures 15 and 16 and

you can notice that there are three frames that remain unchanged at the top, while you

can scroll down the rest of the screen.

Figure 16: Electronic Communication, Lesson 1, the middle section

Following the Thread

With the course mounted on the Web, and students doing their work on laptops,

the teaching environment was radically different and, I maintain, as supportive of a

constructivist approach to teaching and learning as the word processor is to composing

and producing text. My constructivist approach as a teacher is clearly evident in the

page above and, I believe, an example of the new “text” for online courses. The heading

“Introduction to Netscape Navigator” is hyperlinked to an online tutorial that I had found

using a search engine. The text under that heading instructs students to work in pairs

with one person’s computer on the lesson and the other’s on the tutorial, which they are

to explore together through discussing it. This is followed by another hyperlinked

heading with another online tutorial I had found and instructions for an exercise using

what they had learned. By teaching them how to use Web browsers I am preparing them

for the rest of Electronic Communications, and for using the online computer as a

learning aid, an increasingly significant life skill.

Illuminal Voice

As I examine this currently inactive course Web site, I am struck by the radically

new writing space I was moving into. Although this is not the very first iteration, it is

based on it. I can see that, through the influence of my mentor and other teachers, I had

learned how to write for both PowerPoint presentations and the Web. (I still use Google

and search for tutorials and information to help me learn about the Web.) I was using

“scannable text” (Neilsen, 1997) several levels of bullets, and hyperlinks. My knowledge

of layout and design is evident, too. I used Arial, which is a sans serif font and easier to

read on the screen than the default font, Times New Roman, which has serifs. I also

used colour to make the text both more attractive and more readable. The headings are

grey or red, and the regular text is grey, with the hyperlinks in red and underlined,

rather than the default of underlined blue.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

My writing of learning materials was becoming multidimensional. Mason (2000a),

in her dissertation defense PowerPoint, lists the “Pedagogical Applications” of hypertext


“forefronts process;

makes visible connections;

extends classroom contact;

promotes active curriculum development;

supports knowledge transforming;

supports collaborative learning

supports learning styles / intelligences;

encourages metacognition; and

opens new writing, thinking space” (Mason, 2000a, "Pedagogical Applications").

Already, early in my use of the Web as a teaching space, I was intuitively using the

teaching space of the Web-enhanced classroom in the manner Mason has described.

Querulous Voice

Yes, but it is not all wonderful progress. There were / are students who

dislike[d] the expensive rental fees for the laptops, despite the software

provided and the tax benefits. There were / are teachers who dislike[d]

teaching with laptops. Students will sometimes distract themselves using the

computer inappropriately in class, and sometimes they use it to cheat. (I

have caught plagiarists who apparently were not aware that copying and

pasting their surprisingly improved prose into a search engine could take

me to the source of their sudden advance in language skills.)

There are other problems too. The year I started on the Web, there

were several network crashes as students overloaded the system, often by

using Napster to download music. Such network crashes are more rare now,

but still happen.

Following the Thread

And there is the problem of the learning curve. I had a two-year lead

in learning to use the online computer as a communication machine when

I joined the Mobile Initiative; many of my fellow teachers were not as well

prepared. Despite my lead, I found just learning to use WebCT to be a

difficult task.

Preparing for the New Classroom

[R]esistance that calls out thought generates curiosity and solicitous

care, and, when it is overcome and utilized, eventuates in elation
(Dewey, 1980, p. 60).

It is my first term using a computer as a teaching tool. I am at home, in my study

and the IBM Thinkpad that the school issued me with is open on my desk. It is late, and I

have an 8:00 AM class tomorrow morning. As an act of personal discipline I had finished

my marking before I allowed myself to create the lesson Web page. Now the screen

glows in front of me, open to Netscape Composer, which looks and operates like a

simple word processor. I think about background, and decide to leave it white. I think

about font and decide on Arial 10 point in a medium dark grey, with Arial Black font for

headings, in 14 point grey for the major one, and 12 point red for the secondary

headings. (Not that straightforwardly, of course. I tried several variations before I found

one that was aesthetically satisfying. These artistic choices are a great part of the

attraction of creating Web pages for me.)

I think up a main heading which includes the week’s number and has an amusing

(for me at least) reference to either the topic for today’s lesson or the situation. I save

the file and place it in the folder for the lessons, nested inside the folder for this course,

nested inside the folder for this program, nested inside my school folder.

I finish creating the Web page for tomorrow’s lesson, and check all the

hyperlinks to make sure they are “active,” that is that they “work” and, when clicked on,

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Joan Vinall-Cox

open the desired Web page. I make sure the URLs (Universal Resource Locators, or “web

addresses”) are correct, that the PowerPoint links and opens properly, as do the two

documents. I am ready to mount the lesson in WebCT.

I go into Netscape and click on the WebCT link. I enter my username and

password. I find the link to Electronic Communications and click on that. I am in my


Next I click on the icon labelled “Lessons” and it opens a Web page with a Table

of Contents. My first two lessons are there; now I will add this week’s. I have to click at

least 12 different times to get one single Web page mounted. I forget steps, get

frustrated, and have to repeat the process. Then I have to upload each separate file, the

PowerPoint and the two Word files. It is late and I am tired, but I go through my lesson

on line. It looks beautiful to me, and I imagine my class finding it clear and easy to

follow. As Dewey says:

Struggle and conflict may be themselves enjoyed, although they are

painful, when they are experienced as means of developing an experience
(Dewey, 1980, p. 41).

That first semester I learned much, including how to endure frustration. This is

what I learn through trial and error”

MS Word documents can be uploaded to WebCT and accessed by being

hyperlinked to one of the Web pages or an icon;

like MS Word, PowerPoints can be uploaded without uploading every single

picture, but they take a long time to upload because the files are so large;

unlike with MS Word, pictures do not get embedded in Web pages, Every

picture in a Web page has to be uploaded individually as well as the Web

page itself;

you cannot upload folders to WebCT, just individual files. (I learned to use

fewer pictures, and more colours in the font and /or backgrounds;) and

Following the Thread

always update Students’ View; it is embarrassing to be teaching a lesson

projected on the screen from your laptop and find out part way through that

the students cannot get access to this lesson on their laptops because you

forgot to update the Student’s View.

Ariadne Speaks
These bits are jewels too, rewards for the trials I survived and prospered from.
You may see these bits of greenish amber as less than beautiful, but they add an
essential aspect to the design of my cord. Without undergoing these trials, I would have
no sense of how sweet success can be, because I would have had no difficulties to
measure accomplishments against.

To give some sense of the learning trials of my first term teaching Web-

enhanced classes, I call again on my Published Voice, this time with excerpts from a

Sheridan in-house publication, published in 2000.

Excerpts from DELTA3, A Story From the that lovely room. When other WebCT
Front Lines users dropped in, I ambushed them with
Although some aspects of WebCT questions. From B***, the most senior
[the learning management software I WebCT user at Sheridan, I learned how
used] are obvious and pretty well to grab class lists off the Sheridan site
intuitive, many are not. Repeatedly I and drop them into the WebCT Student
spent hours trying every variation Management tool. I also learned how to
possible, using what I remembered and grab class email lists for my Address
the notes, - there’s no manual available Book.
and the Help function isn’t always Another ambush in the Greenhouse
helpful, - and failed to get my lessons got me a lesson in how to use Netscape
up on the Net. … Composer to create attractive HTML
I was still stymied at almost every documents easily. As well, D*** helped
turn. me understand a little bit more about
The Greenhouse [a room set up how the WebCT File Manager worked.
for teachers using laptops] was a great Every bit of knowledge helped, and led
help. As I was “between desks” at the to new possibilities to be creative - and
start of classes, I spent a lot of time in to get lost!

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Like our students, I have found that more frustrated, and not at all
having a real project — getting through enthusiastic.
the next class — inspires real work and From B***, too, I got the concept that
learning. However, as sometimes also there is “button knowledge” and there is
happens with our students, I have found “pedagogical knowledge” for using
that I need extra help. It is difficult to WebCT. And that’s where my real
get. There were people whom I knew enthusiasm lays. I love the Delta3
had been using WebCT who I could, rooms with their “puddle” tables and the
(and did,) email and voice mail for help. giant screen connected to my computer.
And I did get help, but people are really The screen and the computer make for a
busy at this time of year, and it wasn’t much richer learning set-up than the
always easy for me to find someone overhead projector does. And the
whose timetable meshed with mine. It puddle tables almost force group work –
was frustrating and unnerving to need they’re so much better than the usual
to mount a lesson, and not know when I long tables with rows of students
would be able to get the help I needed staring at the teacher. As I get faster
right now. I almost gave up trying to and more competent with the buttons,
use anything other than the WebCT I’m finding it exciting to plan exercises
Calendar. that organize the students into working
Luckily, B*** is both enthusiastic in small groups so they can learn co-
about WebCT and generous with his operatively. I’m hoping to get better
time. And we have a time match up in and better at being a “guide on the side”
our timetables. After his third using planned exercises, the laptops,
mentoring session, (Thank you, Thank WebCT, and the puddle tables (Vinall-
you, B***!) he has even agreed that I can Cox, 2000).
have a semi-regular appointment with
him. Without his help I would be much
more limited in my use of WebCT, much

Illuminal Voice

Reading through this article again, long after that first term, I see that I have

forgotten how much help I needed and received. My sense of gratitude to my learning

community is increasing still more. I also see my Querulous Voice publicly displayed as I

describe the trails of my first term of laptop and Web-enhanced teaching.

Following the Thread


The hyperlink creates an entirely new connection over space-time. It

is a new and unique form of rhetorical structuration. In its capacity
to link and connect, the hyperlink is both a physical and semantic
form of metaphor unprecedented in language (Mason, 2001,
"Speculations" para. 14).

I was deeply committed to teaching using laptops, but not all my courses were in

the Mobile Initiative, and the Interior Design courses came in a year at a time so initially

the second and third year classes did not have laptops. I also loved, despite its

difficulties, the advantages of WebCT as a course container and Web-based “textbook.”

Consequently, I began to think of alternate strategies for using the Web to link with

students, even those who weren’t in the Mobile Initiative. My understanding of how to

teach had undergone a profound change. Just as the computer was becoming a

cultural and business necessity, so for me it had become a teaching as well as a

writing necessity.

Living While Writing

Mid-December – I sit in my study facing the laptop screen with my

back to the overflowing piles:

Piles of books dumped beside my reading chair, books to read when I’m

brain-dead from marking and don’t have the energy to think nor the

calm to rest.

Piles of books for my thesis research leaning against the bottom self of

the bookcase under the window.

Piles of files and notes in front of the bookcase against the hall wall.

Piles of unwrapped Christmas presents clustered in one corner.

And piles of various things yet unsorted, simply dumped on the footstool.

It takes energy to write, and I don’t have any. But I will. After a

tumultuous fall term, I have requested my annual holidays be moved from

the summer to the first part of the winter term. A number of things have

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Joan Vinall-Cox

made this convenient within my department and so I have my writing time,

… as soon as I finish this term’s marking.

Previously, when I had taught Media Arts students, some of them talked about

their Web sites. When I asked for more information, some of these students told me that

they had sites on Sheridan’s Web. My interest was piqued. Around the same time I had

become more aware of another teacher, a woman my age with an interesting taste in

clothes that I admired, with great knowledge of, and interest in, pedagogy, and,

although she was not a computer teacher, with more knowledge about using the

computer than anyone else I knew. I was intrigued and began to regard her as my

mentor. She was also very generous with her knowledge. I found out how to navigate to

Sheridan’s faculty and student Web sites, and looked around for myself. My mentor had

a number of linked Web sites with information about various aspects of teaching using

the computer, and using the Web in general. I saw a possibility; perhaps I could create

my own Web site.

Querulous Voice

I want to create a Web site. I want to join that “discourse

community.” I want to set up a site to help my students learn about this new

tool that I love. I want to display my reading interests and my writing. I

want to be an “online teacher.” I want to have an identity on the Web, and

I will!!

In the Greenhouse, the wired room set up for faculty to use when working with

their laptops, I had learned that Netscape included a simple WYSIWYG Web-authoring

application called Composer. Somewhere, maybe in the searching I was beginning to do

more frequently, I found Van Camp’s (1997 - 2003) Web site on how to use Composer

to create Web pages.

Following the Thread

In late 1999, I became determined to mount my own Web site. The WebCT

course sites I had been teaching with were “secure”, that is the URL (the Web address)

started with https:// and only registered students and teachers had passwords that

allowed them to get into the course sites. They were a protected Web space, not

accessible to most people. WebCT course sites had provided a scaffolded learning site,

but I wanted the full experience, a presence on the World Wide Web for myself. Here is a

re-creation of how I thought it through then:

Illuminal Voice: A Re-Created Thought Process

I want to do work that I find meaningful; I want to make my own artful Web site. I

have read sites on how to write for the Web (Neilsen, 1997), much like you write for

PowerPoint. I have studied sites written by teachers for their students. I have a implicit

understanding of how to enmesh my Web within the World Wide Web by hyperlinking

(Mason, 2001) to other documents. I am ready!

I start to develop my very own Web site. I have collected a number of URLs (the

“addresses” of Web sites) that I want my students to be able to access easily. I open

Netscape’s Composer and begin to work. I use colours I like, and find some clipart to

add interesting detail. I structure the page with the text in the middle, an interesting

design on the left at the top, and a “navbar” (links to the other pages of my site) on the


I use “Save As” to save the “index” page under a new name. (I do not know why I

have to call it “’index” but everything I have read is very clear about the first page being

called “index,” so I follow the rules.) When I save “index” under a new name, I can delete

all the material specific to the home page, yet keep the colour and the layout. I create

several pages this way. I have never liked a common pattern of teaching software -

being taken step-by-step through a piece of software using materials created by

someone else. With Netscape’s Composer and van Camp’s (1997 – 2004) Web site,

whenever I feel confused or at a loss, I can learn at my own pace, in my own order. By

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Joan Vinall-Cox

the time I click on van Camp’s section called “User-friendliness” near the end of my task

I trust her and I am a fan.

In the hyperlinked table layout (see Figure 17 below) I found the learning set-up

that worked best for me. Each heading is hyperlinked to instructions and the user can

choose specifically what s/he wants to learn as s/he needs it.

Figure 17: Van Camp's Web site:

Van Camp is one of a host of people posting information and tutorials on the

Web. I used her work to create my own Web site, which in a way, mimics hers in that it is

meant to help people learn. On my Web site, I set up links to relevant instructional sites

that I found, including hers, instead of re-inventing the information myself. Below in

Figure 18 is the first version of my Web site, which has gone through at least two visual

transformations and several expansions and minor alterations of text.

Following the Thread

Figure 18: My First Home Page

I organized my home page by putting the information for my students first, and

my personal interests second, including what I like to read and some of my own writing.

With help from D*** at the Help Desk, I FTPed (File Transfer Protocol) my site folder to

space on the Sheridan server, and I published myself!

Figure 19, below, shows my current (at the time of this writing) Web site. It was

composed with MS FrontPage, using a template provided by FrontPage to create the

visual appearance, while I did some design of the page and wrote all of the text. I have

since learned the basics of two other Web-authoring softwares, Dreamweaver and

GoLive. I continue to be fascinated by the possibilities of Web pages, and to learn more

about Web page design and colour.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Figure 19: My current home page

Living While Writing

I go to my desk to write on this quiet New Year’s Day and discover an

email waiting for me from my father. As I read it I recognize his formal

voice. He has written a highly composed message, a blessing. He notes

something of importance in the past year for each of us, for me, for my

husband and for our daughter. Then he wishes each of us well for the

upcoming year in specific terms. For me, he hopes my work on my doctorate

goes well. He signs it from my mother as well as from him.

The online computer has become my composing tool for two media, text on

paper, and pages on the World Wide Web. For both, my learning has been driven by

my desire to create teaching and learning materials. And on both, I go beyond my

teaching responsibilities and pleasures to my personal pleasure in learning and writing.

Following the Thread

Dessert: Finishing the Meal

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.

I learn by going where I have to go (Roethke, 1958, p. 413).
(Italics added)

I have learned to write using the online computer, and to teach using the online

computer, and I cannot go back to a pre-computer innocence. I have three last tales,

one of using WebCT even with a class that was not in the Mobile Initiative, the second of

the energy core of this teaching and technology initiative, and the third of a great gift.

The Computer Lab Reprise: Shocking Equipment

It begins, it has an end,

this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand (Atwood, 1982, p. 355).

I am pushing a cart up the incline to the second floor, my body slanted forward

as I forge upward. Others flow down the ramp on my left. I have my laptop, in its

knapsack, on the bottom self, along with my purse. On the top of the cart is a data

projector locked to the cart by a plastic coated wire rope. At the beginning of every

month I go into the IT area and sign up for one of the four data projectors, in the same

time slot for every week. I cannot teach this course without a DATA projector.

I open the door and awkwardly push the cart into the computer lab. Some of the

students look up briefly from their computers, and then focus again on whatever is on

their screens. I wheel the cart into the middle row up the only position that works; it is

as far from the screen as the plug and cord from the cart will allow. The image is not

that large, but it is the best I can manage given the length of the networking cord and

the need to link my laptop to the Net.

I lean on the table beside the computer, and twist so I can reach the network

jack. I unplug it and then straighten up and plug it into the laptop. I plug my laptop into

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Joan Vinall-Cox

the outlet on the cart, and plug in my mouse. I turn on the DATA projector, turn on my

laptop, and turn to see who is here as I wait for everything to load.

Querulous Voice

This group is often irritable. We had a poor start. Because I work for

two programs, my schedule is tricky. Someone didn’t pass in the information

about what I was teaching, and I discovered in the late summer that I was

double booked, scheduled to teach two different classes at the same time. By

the time a new schedule was worked out, most of the rooms and labs had

already been booked. This class ended up with an awkward schedule, one

hour in a classroom, then an hour off, then two hours in the computer lab.

So they were irritable.

When I had been assigned to teach Communications to Photography, I had

suggested to the coordinator that I teach a form of Electronic Communications, similar

to what I taught in Interior Design. I believe very strongly that all students should be

introduced to computer basics, because it is now a life skill, required by all. Besides, the

students pay an Information Technology fee in their tuition, so they are entitled to

benefit from it. The co-ordinator accepted my suggestion, so here I was, with the

students in a computer lab, with my laptop and DATA projector set up.

Most of the students are here; I begin by explaining what we will do in this class.

I will show them how to create a PowerPoint slide show, and then, in groups, they will

make a small show, and finish it by next week. I turn to my laptop and begin. The laptop

barely fits beside the data projector on the top of the cart and I move my mouse over a

very small space right at the edge of the cart. I am speaking to the class, glancing at my

laptop screen and occasionally at the large screen. I ask questions, point out elements in

the screen shot of the PowerPoint menu, and go through the steps they need to take,

showing them a screen shot for each step.

Following the Thread

My silver link bracelets clink as I move the mouse. I pause and turn to the class

to make a comment, and I …. stop. On all the computer screens, the images flip and

disappear. I feel weird, shocked. And that is literally what has happened. I have been

shocked and that shock has knocked out the computers. The students murmur; a couple

approach me. We look at the cart. The plug for the laptop is right up at the top, right

under where I had been moving the mouse. The plug is loose, and about a quarter inch

of the tongs can be seen. I look at my bracelets. One has a link with two indentations

slanted across it. My silver bracelet had dropped onto the live plug.

I cancel the rest of the class. A little shakily, and very carefully, I unplug

everything, returning the network jack to the original computer, winding the cart cord

around the storage arms, packing up my laptop, and putting it in the knapsack, and the

knapsack and my purse on the bottom shelf of the cart. Slowly I brace the door open

and wheel the cart through, and take the cart down the ramp, leaning back against its

weight. I take the cart into the IT room, and tell the technicians what happened.

Both examine my bracelet. They begin to discuss how they could re-structure the

cart so that would not happen again. (I am grateful neither blames me for wearing my

bracelets.) The next week, when I arrive to pick up my cart and data projector, all the

plug sockets have been moved to the middle shelf. I do not have to give up my


Living While Writing

The soft “bong” that indicates that email has arrived sounds and I

click on the mail icon; a message has arrived from my computer mentor.

She has sent a link to some research on the time required to teach an

online course: I

respond to her email immediately, and within two minutes she has

responded to that. Even now, sitting alone in my study and writing,

through being online, I am part of my learning community.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

I don’t yet use Chat, but when the person whom I am sending email

messages to and I are both online, the messages can bounce back and forth

almost instantly.

Committees that Work: DELTA3 PD and WebCT Steering

[W]e catch our reflections in others’ understandings of how we frame

and exhibit those qualities and forms that are central to our
individual work (Diamond & Mullen 1999, p. 343).

Part of the renovation for the Mobile Initiative included creating a dual-purpose

space for teachers. We can go to this space to plug in our laptops at the U-shaped table

and work or just to sit in the small grouping of armchairs and relax. It has some more

technology — a networked computer, a computer attached to a scanner and a printer,

and a data projector. The Mobile Initiative committees meet there too. Each of the two

large campuses has its own “Greenhouse,” and each has the soft yellow walls, light wood

tables, and muted green office chairs, like many of the mobile classrooms. The lounge

area armchairs are a gentle yellow, and there is a wall of windows in the Oakville

Greenhouse. I like to work there both for the environment and because I encounter

other teachers there.

I am in the Greenhouse early, plugged in and marking assignments that students

have uploaded to the Assignment Dropbox in WebCT. I sigh in relief as I open the next

one; this student has followed the instructions and put the assignment in Arial, a sans

serif font. Already my eyes are feeling a little itchy from all the on-screen marking. Serif

fonts, I have found through experience, observation, and experimenting, do strain my

eyes more when I am marking a large number of assignments. I read through the

assignment quickly and type a couple of sentences into the response field — one

praising the student’s exploration of the Web, and another suggesting how she could

have been more detailed in her description. Then I type her mark into the mark field,

Following the Thread

which also puts it into Manage Students, where the course marks are held, and where I

can set up a calculation formula and automatically generate the final marks. (My

institution and many of the students insist on having such marks. I see marks as only

peripherally helpful to teaching writing, as simply a big stick to enforce compliance.

Consequently, I welcome any device that allows me to spend less time dealing with

marks.) The students will be able to see their own individual responses and their marks

when I finish marking and release the Assignment Dropbox comments and the marks.

One of the new members of the DELTA3 PD Committee arrives and we chat briefly

while she is unpacking her laptop and plugging in. I mention how I am enjoying not

having to haul bags of papers home because I am using the Assignment Dropbox. She

comes over and looks over my shoulder at what I am doing and I show her what it looks

like and tell her about getting her students to use Arial instead of Times. She goes back

to her laptop and a couple of minutes later asks how to set up the Assignment

Dropbox. I go over and stand behind her as I talk her through the steps. Others are

coming in; the DELTA3 PD Committee meets every week from 12:00 to 1:30pm.

The noise increases as people sit down, some plugging in their laptops, some

not. Most of the seats are taken when the Chair rushes in. S*** has been the lead for the

mobile initiative since it started and she chairs both this, the PD Committee, and the

WebCT Steering Committee, which meets once a month in the late afternoon. She plugs

in her laptop and speaks over the chatter which tails off as she starts asking questions

from the last meeting’s “to do” list, mostly about the upcoming Show and Share PD day

— a day of teacher-led workshops for teachers, mostly aimed at those on laptops, and

held in the non-teaching midterm week in the fall and in the spring. (See examples of

Show and Share posters in Figure 20, below.)

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Yes, I answer, I will get a piece of

glass from the studio for the guest

speaker. S*** compliments B*** on his

“radio voice” for the global voice mail

message announcing the upcoming Show

& Share. She asks what we think of the

poster she has created? (See Figure 20.)

Have we looked at the attachment she

sent out?

L***, cracks a joke about the

clipart S*** has chosen and a gust of

noisy laughs fills the room. B***,

straight-faced, comments on a possible Figure 20: Posters for 4 different Show

double entendre, and more laughter & Share PD Days
erupts. S*** grins and asks for

suggestions. D*** points out a time discrepancy, and adds a line to the building thread

of humour. S*** asks me a question, and I confess that I had been looking at clipart

possibilities and did not catch the question. Someone makes a joke about multitasking,

and without stopping typing L*** does a “teacher-voice” instructing me to close the lid

of my laptop and pay attention. I love this committee; it gets a surprising amount of

work done and it is never boring.

The WebCT Steering Committee is meeting at four; this is a two-committee day.

The Chair is the same and there is some overlap of members, but this is focussed not on

Professional Development but on technical and institutional issues. The level of humour

and playfulness is high here too, but it is later in the day so it is a bit quieter. The

committee includes teachers from different areas, and people from the technical areas.

We provide input and coordination regarding the use of WebCT.

Following the Thread

Teachers bring problems in how the software is working, often after someone

has been on the DELTA3 email Help list. The technical people explain why it is

happening, report what they are trying to do about it, and what else might be done. The

technical people tell the teachers how much time they need to “roll over” the courses,

moving current courses to the inactive server and dropping the next term’s student

names into Manage Students in the fresh iteration of the courses. We discuss end-of-

term dates, and the due dates for marks, the symbols educational institution run on.

The Continuing Education department’s representative speaks up about their slightly

different dates, and we all decide when the rollover should happen. This committee

fascinates me because, through sitting on it, I see some of the behind-the-scenes

complexities. I am also impressed at the mutual respect and civility as we all work

together for the good of the students.

A Sweet Reward

The same kind of spiral underlies the shaping and reshaping of

identity, as gradually we have more to work with and we become
skilled in reconstruction (Bateson, 1990, p.214).

It’s springtime in 2001 and I am in the Sheridan theatre, at a front table on the

right, sitting with my husband who also teaches at Sheridan, our teen-aged daughter,

my mom and dad, and the office-mate and friend who is responsible for starting the

chain-of-events that brought us all here. I have a new dress, special for the occasion, an

unusual combination of gold and mauve, and I am very excited, especially about my

parents being here.

Querulous Voice

In my fifties and still showing off for my parents! I feel childish.

I have won the Annual Teaching Excellence Award for 2000 –2001, the first given

at Sheridan. I had not even dreamed it could happen. I have never been good at school

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Joan Vinall-Cox

politics, and, as I do not belong to any program, I have no real base. The real award, in

many ways, is that L***, my office mate and friend, someone who “does not suffer fools

gladly” and is a very hard-working professional, nominated me for one of the Awards of

Merit, which are given out three times a year. This had made me eligible for the Annual


Between being told I had won the teaching Excellence Award and this ceremony, I

had done a little digging. A committee made of people from the mid-level of the

school’s hierarchy decides who get the award on the basis of interviews with students

and other teachers. I think at least two of the committee are people I have worked with

before, and one a former student; but I am not sure of the exact make-up. At first I feel

guilty, as though knowing some of them had made it easier for me to win, then a friend

points out the two-edgedness of that, and I feel more comfortable. I casually mention

the award to one of my students from the Interior Design Thesis class, and she smiles

self-consciously. I pause, and she tells me she was one of the students who were

interviewed. I thank her, and we both get a bit teary-eyed.

Now I am here, waiting to get my framed award certificate and pose for a

photograph with the new Human Resources Director (whom I have never met before)

who is standing in for the new President. My parents are here, my husband, daughter,

some colleagues, and my nominating friend is here, and people whom I have worked

with and my students have put me here.

I am grateful.

Ariadne’s Voice
I can tell from the angle of the sun and from the sounds of someone moving that
I am almost into the core and close to the Minotaur. I yearn for this exploration to be
complete; yet I fear it ending. Every night to rest, I sit leaning against a wall in the
labyrinth. After eating some of the cheese and fruit I find every day somewhere in my
exploration, I pull out some of the flax fibres, and my comb and spindle. After combing
and spinning the flax into linen thread, I pull out my small loom and begin to weave.

Following the Thread

Every night I fall asleep, weaving, with the cord on my lap. All night I dream, and
in the morning the design of the cord rises in my mind and wakes me. Every morning,
when I wake, I find the cord stretched out and leading me down one of the passageways.
I eat the fresh bread that is always waiting beside me and then rise and follow the cord.
Tonight I rest against a wall so thin a glow from the other side shines through
and so supple it seems to hold me, shaping to my body. I see the movement of light and
hear the whisper of feet; I think I can hear breathing. I am so close to the core and the
This journey has been so rewarding its pleasure is reflected onto the Minotaur.
His labyrinth is difficult yet beautiful and my heart swells with anticipation as I await our

Here, at the climax of this discovery journey, I find myself focussed on the

Minotaur, and what he means to me. I understand that Theseus feared death from the

Minotaur, so he fled him, with my help. However, I will not flee. Here in my thesis-home,

I will confront the Minotaur I have been seeking with persistence and care. In the next,

and penultimate chapter, I will guide you into my study and report what I have learned

from my journey back into the core of the technological labyrinth.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

V — Afters — In My Study
We are still looking for coalescences within the disorder, for organic
unity beneath the superficial disruption, and for disruptive forces
beneath the superficial unity. Such work is less about attempting to
contain aesthetic experience and more about showing what
piecemeal, working examples of it may look like (Diamond = Mullen
2000, "Reformulation: Letting Go of the Original Paper" para. 6).

You are such a good audience; you make it easy to tell you all these stories. That

is most of what has happened as I have followed my fascination with writing and

teaching using the online computer. Now, I have some liqueur and glasses up in my

study: a reward from this inquiry, and for patient listening. Please, come up. It is a

spiral, you know, we will walk from here in the dining room to the front hall and then up

stairs angled toward the back of my home, turn left at the landing, up a few more stairs,

go along the hall, and turn again left into my study. Let me just move this pile of books

— wonderful ones that helped so much. You can look at them later if you like, but now,

sit here in my reading chair, and I will sit over here in front of my desk and laptop so we

can talk.

Ariadne’s Voice
This morning I awake and find myself half way through the wall; that thin
membrane I rested against last night is gone. My feet in one part of the labyrinth and my
head, heart and hands here, in this new place, in the core. Beside me I find the sweet
water and fresh bread that I find every morning, and this time, a small pot of honey as
well. I am almost trembling with eagerness, but I wonder what I am entering, why the
Minotaur stays hidden, and if I should be afraid. Despite my unease, I take time to eat.
The honey melts into my mouth and I feel charged with energy and a sense of wonder.
As I finish this breaking of my fast, I look around and am astounded to see my
linen cord leading me to a strange chair on wheels and a crowded table with a curious
object, part white like a scroll, but part stiff and angled and, like a frescoed wall, filled
with colours. The fresco painted on the “wall” part of the scroll has small black markings
on white against blue surrounded by more colour with small pictures. It draws me and I

Following the Thread

scramble the rest of the way through the labyrinth wall and sit down on the wheeled
chair, staring at the colour.
I have come through a portal into a new world, or maybe been born into a new
state. My linen cord has wrapped itself around this object before me and flows over the
“floor” part of this odd scroll with its strange grid, with a small black marking on each
square. The cord reaches over to a light grey smooth rock that my hand is drawn to. My
hand knows it, and my middle finger rests on a darker bump of the rock and caresses it.
The fresco shifts! The blue line moves up showing more grey markings below it! I stare
in fascination. In a mind that seems co joined to mine, I hear the whisper, “I am online.”


Inquiry and movement play out on dual landscapes: that of action on

which events unfold and that of the consciousness or inner worlds of
the characters (Diamond & Mullen, 1999, p. 458).

In this rewriting of my teaching life, I have reviewed and restated many of my

beliefs about how learning, especially of writing, happens  from my points of view as a

teacher and as a learner. I have read and re-read many books and articles, some of

them ones I have written. I have combed through my memories and spun them together

with the differing threads culled from accounts I have written during earlier times. I have

opened myself and spoken in a variety of voices, all mine and none with the whole story.

In order to research the shift in the technology for writing and communicating

that is occurring as increasing numbers of students and teachers are on computers and

online, I used the artistic possibilities of poetry, and the visual possibilities provided by

the word processor and the Web to explore and represent on paper what I have

experienced. In this, my arts-based auto-ethnographic inquiry, I have used a

hermeneutical, phenomenological approach with a conscious awareness of semiotics to

delve into the details and texture of what it has been like to live through this era of

technological and communicative changes and its impact on education.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

In this inquiry into the impact of the online computer as a writing and a teaching

tool, I have explored some of the semiotic changes occurring in our culture and their

impact on what and how we need to teach in writing classes. I have looked at the impact

of this prosthesis, the online computer, which is gaining such ubiquity in our culture,

and looked at how, as a teacher, I have been learning to work through and with it. I have

playfully attempted to create an atypical thesis, with the academic form present, and

with the postmodern possibilities that the computer incites artfully displayed.

Now, having moved beyond my former sense of never knowing enough, I feel

infused with the strength of knowing what I know, and knowing that my knowledge is

worthwhile. I have travelled far in my quest, from pencil, pen and reluctance to joy and

triumphal skill in this new two-handed composing technology that so deeply impacts

writing and teaching.

(Yet my knowledge of dark possibilities still exists. It can be difficult to get

material uploaded to the web. Computers can crash. Software can fail. Connections with

printers can prove troublesome.)

I have travelled from an implicit sense of the importance of exploring the

meaning of the impact of this new technology to the explicit practice of research to

“investigate the impact of the online computer on composing and teaching, penetrating

to the core of the labyrinth of what it means to be a teacher of writing in a computer-

mediated age” — my research question.

Bruner, (1990) quoting Polonoff, says:

The object of a self-narrative [is] not its fit to some hidden “reality” but
its achievement of “external and internal coherence, livability and
adequacy” (p. 112).

And Dewey (1980) says:

In their physical occurrence, things and events experienced pass and are
gone. But something of their meaning and value is retained as an integral
part of the self. Through habits formed in intercourse with the world, we

Following the Thread

also in-habit the world. It becomes a home, and the home is a part of our
every experience (p. 104).

Having gathered all my threads together into this cord which you have been

following with me, I now share with you what I have learned through my inquiry here in

the core of my home, my study.

Living While Writing

Jim leans against my study door and I stop typing to turn and look

at him. He holds out the purple case containing the current version of my

thesis. He hesitates, clears his throat, and pauses. “Yes?” I say


“There’s not really a, uh, story arc to Ariadne’s voice. Uh, will there be

an ending, you know closure?” he asks gently. I take the case from him,

with his pencilled questions and comments and put it down on the pile

closest to my chair. I am pleased and grateful for his help and tell him so.


Inquiry and development are incorrigibly artistic activities. Finding

ways to articulate and represent them and to provoke new
interpretations is a daunting but inescapable aesthetic challenge
(Diamond = Mullen, 2000, "Reformulation: Letting Go of the Original
Paper" para. 1).

Writing is a way of learning, and an inquiry is a search for understanding. As a

result of writing this thesis, I have developed a number of insights and/or opinions.

First, in this concluding conversation among my voices, each speaks and tells of their

own particular insights.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Querulous Voice

All my voices are ways of thinking, and repressing any one of them

distorts, even cripples my thinking. “[I] think by feeling. What is there to

know? … I learn by going where I have to go” (Roethke, 1958).

I weave this cord shaped in the pattern of a thesis, and made of the

linen I have spun. The lumpy threads of my complaints and distress reveal

insights as surely as my other voices, and are even more necessary because

they show what denial and repressive politeness would hide. Sometimes I

don’t know what I feel and think until I hear what I complain about. Those

complaints carry information that would not surface in my politer, more

socially correct voices, but here, in my Querulous Voice, I hear what I am

saying and thus can contribute it to my learning account.

I was taught that it is not polite to admit to difference or what is

defined as weakness publicly, but I claim strengths from Attention Deficit

Disorder (horrible and incorrect name) because I do not think in straight

lines. I make links intuitively, links growing out of my experiences, not

simply wild thrashings or imaginings. Faster than conventional logic, and

usually as “logical” in outcome, I am like the math intuitive who knows the

answer but finds it difficult to show the path. My ADD contributes to my

teaching and to my writing.

My weakness and struggles as a student have been transmuted into

strengths in my teaching. Because I struggled to recognize cues and clues

as a student, I am expressive and empathetic as a teacher. Some things I

learn more slowly, but I learn them more deeply and in more detail.

I love language and respond strongly to it, but I struggle with

spelling and do not have the patience for a lot of small detail. Many of my

students, as well as I, write more and better with the supports a computer

can provide. And many of the intuitive learners of computer skills that I

encounter have behaviours that resemble ADD. Our impulsiveness makes us

experimenters who are more likely to figure things out by trial-and-error

than by reading manuals.

Following the Thread

Different people are being empowered by the computer. Some who did

have not had language or learning problems struggle to learn how to use

computers. Using a computer is not a simple process, and many people flee

the difficulties or fall victim to them. Yet in our culture now we all need to

learn to use this writing tool because without that skill, a person is limited.

Illuminal Voice

My intuitive, arational connections arrive like cartoon light bulbs above my head,

suddenly illuminating my experiences, uniting them by revealing recognizable patterns

that help me map my future and understand my past. This happens with my teaching,

my writing, and the whole of my life.

These illuminations occur without my employing logic or rationality, yet they are

valid logically and rationally. They have simply come to me in a non-linear way, and

always associated with a passionate interest or need. They come in response to what I

call “worthy tasks,” work that is absorbing, difficult, yet possible. And the connections

often rise into my consciousness in the morning before I am completely awake and/or

through the poetry that I read or write.

I treasure my insights.

Poetic Voice
In a textbook from my undergrad university course in modern poetry, I have
marked a poem by Roethke called “Dolor” (1958) where he writes —
I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper-weight
All the misery of manila folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places (p. 404).
I have felt the possibility of such an emotional state becoming all I knew of
school and teaching. I have mostly avoided such a space by finding vitality with the
students learning in the classroom, excitement through learning for the classroom, and
comfort with my colleagues, and all these were part of the personal renewal that
learning about and with the computer brought me.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

In this writing about my writing and teaching with the computer, I have found, as
the poet Anne Wilkinson (1982) describes,
In my dark room the years
Lie in solution,
Develop film by film.
Slow at first and dim
Their shadows bite
On the fine white pulp of paper (p. 142).
My memories emerge and I retrace my path into the core of the labyrinth where
the Minotaur waits “on the fine white pulp of paper.”

Writing Necessities

All inquiry is a work in progress. The unforeseen has to unfold in

action in order for something new or even startling to be created
(Diamond = Mullen 2000, "Audience Interaction and Response" para.

In my academic voice, I now tell you that a phenomenological arts-based

narrative approach has been essential for me to write my way through to reach explicit

understanding of my experiences. Now I can understand how teaching the Interior

Design Thesis course helped me learn the traditional format of a thesis and what

elements it should contain, which I needed to know before I wrote this thesis. I learned

the deliberately planned structure and the usefulness of outlining, which then allowed

me to write in my favourite approach, writing improvisationally and making artful

choices. I wrote story built on story, with insights emerging from the memories that held

and released meanings for me. And I spontaneously wrote openly in different voices; I

have always written with different voices, though I usually tried to politely smooth them


The combination of the structure of the thesis form and the freedom of the

“outlaw” (Diamond = Mullen, 2000) quality of an arts-based approach gave me the

writing space I needed. Indeed, this thesis, this “Web of meaning” (Emig, 1983) is both

the result of, and an exemplar of, Britton’s (1982) “Expressive Writing” as I shape at the

Following the Thread

point of utterence, and a version of Allen’s (2002) “Expressive Writing” (p. 149) as I write

about my own experiences, in my “True Self.” Writing my story, my way has engendered

the energy I needed to complete this project, and the confidence that has resulted from

gaining a deep understanding of what it means to be a teacher of writing in this

computer-mediated age.

Writing Process Voice

Sometimes it was difficult to observe my writing process voice because it was, of
course, largely tacit. I had only a subsidiary awareness of it as I focussed (Polanyi, 1969)
on my stories and thoughts. To remedy and balance that, I try now to focus on what I
experience as I write using a word processor on an online computer.
First I share information about my technological adventure. This thesis has been
written on five different computers  the first three supplied by Sheridan, a fourth
belonging to my husband, and, finally, one I have purchased for myself. The first was an
IBM ThinkPad and I wrote using MSWord and the Windows Version 6 of EndNote, a
bibliographic software that plugs into Word. The second machine was a Mac PowerBook
where I continued using MSWord and for which I purchased a second version of
EndNote, Version 6 for Mac OS X. The third computer was a Mac iBook, still using
MSWord and the Mac version of EndNote. Next I was on Jim’s PowerBook G4 using
MSWord and struggling with my installation of EndNote. Finally, I have bought myself a
Mac iBook G4 because I am tired of this constant migration from computer to computer.
Now it is time for me to become more technologically independent, with my own laptop.
There have been some complications in moving from computer to computer, but
I had help from school technicians. I repeatedly changed platforms and computers with
a densely formatted document and sometimes my document only needed minor re-
adjustments, while other times it was a bit more complex. Nevertheless this migration of
my thesis document has compelled me to learn more about dealing with computers, and
it is an amazing that it is technological possible.
Second, I report some of the aspects of the computer, specifically of word
processing software, that have impacted on my writing of this thesis. One of my tasks
with this inquiry has been to display some of the many possibilities an online computer
with word processing software provides. Some of those are immediately visible with font
variations, colour, line and images. Some are less obvious, like the use of Styles to
format the headings and the changing text styles, which has made my task much
simpler. (One piece of learning I avoided was how to use the Master Document
function; it is on my list of what to learn next.)

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Third, the phenomenological aspect of the process of writing in an online

computer environment is radically different from writing by hand and so I attempt a
brief description of how I am writing here and now. I woke this morning and, as I lay in
bed, thought of what I needed to be writing about today. This section was partially
planned there. Now I tap the white keys in front of me, looking mostly at the keys and
glancing occasionally at the screen with its display of the letters I tap.
(Writing using a computer requires an integration of knowledge of the software
and the small motor skills of using the keyboard and the mouse. Both the knowledge
and the skills require time and practice and are driven by my intentionality.)
I use Styles to change to this font, Lucida Grande italic.

Figure 21: Styles in the Formatting Toolbar

After I write, I use a screen capture to add the image of the MSWord toolbars so I
can show the Styles field. (See Figure 21 above.) As I continue writing, I bold the word,
“Styles” to display that it is a function I am naming. I double click on “Styles” to highlight
it, then I use the mouse to move to the Word icon bar above and to the “B,” (see Figure
21 above) which is the icon that changes the highlighted text to a bolded appearance, or
removes the bolding. I click on the icon, and the text darkens and thickens. I carefully
click to place the cursor over from the bolded work and move the mouse again till the
arrow rests on the “B” icon and click to remove the extra bolding. It does not take and I
have to repeat the action with small variations twice before I get the text back to an
unbolded italic. Such is the complexity of writing with word processing.
Now I pause for a “meoment,” resting my right hand on the sensually shaped
mouse, and think. The red squiggly underlining leads me to notice that I added and
extra “e” to “moment.”

Following the Thread

Figure 22: A spelling mistake identified

I use the mouse to position the arrow-form of the cursor over the misspelled
word, and use my middle finger to click on the button on the right side of my mouse. A
list, including the correctly spelled word “moment,” appears over the text on the screen;
if I click on the word, it will replace the one on the screen. I decide not to so you, the
reader, can see the error.
Beyond that level of actually “inscribing” the words on the screen and creating a
“document” that might be printed using a printer attached to the computer, there is
another level of writing with the online computer. My email application is open, with its
icon showing in the application “Dock.”

Figure 23: The Mail icon with one message indicated

If “mail” arrives in my “mailbox,” I have set up my “Preferences” so a soft

“boing” sounds. A red circle also appears on the Mail icon containing a white number
telling me how many messages I have waiting for me. (See figure 23, above.) With my
mouse and its familiar on the screen in arrow form, I can “go” down to the mail icon,
click on it, and watch it open. I do this frequently, moving in and out of my writing
Or my phone rings and with my left hand I pick it up. Sometimes I continue
reading the screen and/or moving the mouse as I talk, but if it is important and/or
complex, I look away from my screen and move my hand away from the mouse so I can
Or say I want to find a quote and “copy & paste” it into my document. I open a
browser, Netscape or Explorer. I move the arrow to its icon in the dock and click on the
mouse with my right forefinger. (See figure 23 above) I use the mouse to click on the

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Joan Vinall-Cox

icon for “Google” which I have placed on my personal toolbar, just under the other
toolbars I have chosen to have show.

Figure 24: Google on my Personal Toolbar

I write “I teach to live” in the Google search field and links to 10 “results” appear.
I glance through the descriptions, but chose not to look at any and instead move the
cursor to the icon for MS Word and click on the left mouse button to return to writing
this, here, now.
Such is my writing process.

Learning the Tool

I mean the moment when it seems most plain

is the moment when you must begin again (MacEwen, 1982, p. 388)

There is no end to learning about how to use the computer as a writing and

teaching tool, and there is always more complexity than imagined. I have been able to

focus intensively on learning the tool of the online computer for my own writing and

teaching, and have found it immensely, personally satisfying, as I report using my

Published Voice with these excerpts from an article I wrote in 2001 for the CALL

(College Association for Language and Literacy) Online Magazine


Following the Thread

Going Mobile: A Journey into a New she is planning, drafting, researching,

World presenting, or writing, the computer is
The big story, though, is what part of it. She’s not just skilled in using
happens in the classrooms. While brief the computer; it’s a natural part of how
lectures are part of the class, I’m always she does her work. She’s fully Mobile.
struck with the renewed vigour that (And she will be ready for the
surfaces when I stop talking and get workforce with both her computer
[students] going on a project. Whether skills and her confidence that she can
they are working together on a group learn even more computer skills
assignment, or individually on their own whenever necessary.)
while consulting with their table mates, In Week 11 of the semester, one of
you can see they are highly focussed. the first years was comparing her initial
So they work hard and they learn. attitude toward her computer, when she
The Learning would put it in the corner of her room
They learn the explicit curriculum and ignore it, and her current attitude
and the implicit one. In my course, where she can’t imagine doing her work
Electronic Communications, students without it. The 24/7 availability of the
learn to expand their use of Word Pro, laptop has meant that she has learned a
and basic page layout principles. They lot faster than the students who are
learn to use e-mail effectively and limited in their access to computers.
efficiently with good business The students are learning more
“netiquette,” and they learn some basic than the explicit curriculum; they are
search techniques, and how to evaluate learning a more intense way of
the quality of Web sites. They learn how learning. The almost hypnotic quality
to create effective presentations with of the computer creates a learning
PowerPoint, and how to create and situation where users are, by the very
mount simple Web sites using nature of the medium, highly focussed.
Netscape’s Composer. And they learn The pleasurable state of being “in the
file management using Windows flow” that computer games and
Explorer. Like me, they have become browsing can deliver, can also be
computer junkies. found in using the interactivity of the
Just last week, one of the second computer to accomplish tasks and
years was talking about how she had create objects valued in the school
“bonded” with her computer. She is just environment. By tying schoolwork
one of the many who can’t imagine directly to the computer, we create a
learning without using their greatest different, more involved learner.
learning tool, the computer. Whether

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Joan Vinall-Cox

I won’t deny that sometimes students with teacher involvement and

are “in the flow” with something other direction;
than the class work. Insisting on the with a focus on the future
lids of their laptops being down is professional needs of students;
sometimes necessary when I’m giving a
with a focus on excellence in
brief lecture or other students are
teaching practices, not just a
presenting, and sometimes I notice a
technological change-over;
quick change of what’s on their screens
with classroom-design informed by
as I approach. However, the sheer
practicing teachers;
amount of what they learn is a clear
with support in terms of time
indication that most of the time they are
releases for the transition;
appropriately on task.
Being There with a lot of teacher-planned and

So in about six years I have gone led PD; and

from computer-nervous to computer- with collegiality.

enthusiast. And in four years, Sheridan And, although I haven’t mentioned
has gone from no laptops, to over half this before, an IT Department with a
the students on laptops. This kind of truly helpful and knowledgeable staff.
buy-in … is nothing less than Going Mobile has been a wonderful
remarkable. Sheridan now has more journey, with benefits for both
students on laptops than any other students and teachers, and I’m a
post-secondary institution in Canada. better happier teacher for being part
This massive success is the result of it (Vinall-Cox, 2001a).
of the way the Mobile Initiative was
brought in, teacher and student-

The most surprising and unexpected insight for me as I wrote this thesis has been an

understanding of the importance of the institution and the learning community for my

learning. Again and again in my memories and in my journals and in my published

writings, I declare my love for what the computer allows me to create, for the teaching

power I gain through it, and for how Sheridan and my colleagues have supported my


Following the Thread

Ariadne Speaks
I look at my cord and remember what it was like as I began my quest. I see a
design that I did not see early on, and that I did not plan as I wove. I remember people
who were around me and see them differently now. I review my journey and the oracles
and the trials and the path I have been following. I hold one of the looms that I have
used to create this cord and look back — what I have done is illuminated so I see more
richly and with greater detail and clarity.
This cord ties me to my past and to my future, an umbilical link that is
momentarily severed only with the birth of a finished “piece,” an artfully formed
document, or Web page, or …. whatever artful object waits to be born through this rich
communicative technology.

The Zone of Proximal Development — Revisited

With assistance, every [person] can do more than [s]he can by

him[/her]self (Vygotsky, 1962, p. 103).

Illuminal Voice

This cord, created from my learning to extend my learning, has threads wrapping

around the core knowledge in a kind of coil or spiral that holds and extends my

teaching and computer knowledge. The spiral coil is formed with my ever-moving Zone

of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978), my ZPD, and where I am learning is

spotlighted. Like MacLeish’s (1958) moon revealing and then re-hiding “twig by twig the

night-entangled trees” (p. 379), so the part of the coil is highlighted where I am learning

and where I still need help to accomplish tasks.

With repetition and scaffolding help, I learn, and sections of the coil retreat into

the background and become tacit (Polanyi, 1969). “Tacit knowing now appears as an act

of indwelling by which we gain access to new meaning” (p. 160). The institution I work

within and the others who work with me within that institution have created the

scaffolding, the help that has allowed me to weave my cord.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

My cord would be stunted, perhaps even non-existent without the framework of

my college which created the requirement for my course, Electronic Communications,

and set up the Mobile Initiative. My cord would be distorted and much shorter without

the generosity and understanding of the value of cooperation and a learning community

as displayed in the actions of my co-workers.

Querulous Voice

I hate to admit how much I owe the institution and the learning

culture I am enmeshed within. In solidarity with my colleagues I often

complain. But I have to acknowledge that because of a worthy task and a

learning environment I have been a privileged learner.

The manager who introduced me to writing theory, the coordinator who thrust

me into teaching communications using computers and who led the program into the

Mobile Initiative, the leader of the Mobile Initiative, the teacher who was and is my

computer mentor, all these “specific events and people in the stories of [my school have

left] imprints on [my] professional knowledge landscape” (Craig, 2000, p. 38). And I wish

to point to the DELTA3 PD Committee as central to my school landscape (Craig, 1999, p.

398) not simply as a “knowledge-using and knowledge sharing” (p. 400) place but also

as an active vibrant “knowledge-creating” (p. 400) learning community.


New technologies are creating new writing experiences. This

transformation challenges educators in general and writing
instructors in particular, as technological innovations force us to
reframe our roles and points of reference. (Mason, 2000b)

The online computer is everywhere and our students, in secondary and post

secondary institutions, will spend significant parts of their future professional and

personal lives “wearing” the prosthesis of a computer. Already there is a powerful Web

Following the Thread

culture that is affecting behaviour even in non-computer situations. Those of us who

educate the young need to understand the impact of the changes brought about by the

online computer and help those we teach, and our colleagues, learn how to make use of

the powers available to us with the online computer. We also need to maintain and share

our pre-computer knowledge and expertise. As in this thesis, we need memory and


In several iterations of my Electronic Communications course, up to and

including in 2003, I have seen unevenness in my classes between the students who

already have a depth of computer-based skills and those who can do little more than

email and Web browse and often think this is all they need to know. This unevenness

creates a challenge for the teacher trying to present classes that neither bore the

knowledgeable ones nor overwhelm the computer novices.

A second unevenness can be found in students who are skilled in one aspect of

computer knowledge, say the technical aspects of creating Web sites, but limited in

understanding the language and/or navigational needs of their users. Our institutions

and culture have focussed on technical knowledge and theorizing while often over-

looking communicative skills and knowledge. The communicative skills, linguistic, visual

and navigational, are, in my opinion, at least as relevant as the technical skills.

Living while Writing

We walked through the snow to the coffee shop today and sat and

read the paper. There was an article reporting that more photographs from

the Second World War are being put up on the Web. I wonder briefly if my

father would be interested, then think about history teachers. Is it possible

any longer to teach history, or any subject, without recourse to the resources

found on the Web?

The new possibilities of writing and teaching with the online computer need to

be integrated into educational practices without the technical aspects dominating the

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Joan Vinall-Cox

knowledge and communication aspects. Both the knowledge and skills of how to handle

the computer and software and the ability to shape semiotic creations to successfully

convey meanings to a reading audience are needed for current teaching and learning.

The Teaching Challenge

[The teacher] must survey the capacities and needs of the particular
set of individuals with whom [s]he is dealing and must at the same
time arrange the conditions which provide the subject-matter or
content for experiences that satisfy these needs and develop these
capacities. The planning must be flexible enough to permit free play
for individuality of experience and yet firm enough to give direction
towards continuous development of power (Dewey, 1963, p. 58).

As a postsecondary teacher teaching English to students who have chosen not to

specialize in the study of language, dealing with unevenness in students’ abilities and

interests in writing has been my lot throughout my career. Adding the online computer

into my classroom has not changed that, except that students are more willing to spend

time looking at computer screens (whether or not on the designated task) than most

were to writing by hand.

And writing is, if anything, increasingly important in the age of the online

computer. More people are spending more time writing on the computer for the internet

and Web than ever wrote letters or stories. How much time do you spend reading and

writing emails? One of the greatest incentives for the spread of the online computer is

email. Seniors increasingly use it, and almost all young people spend possibly hours

every day on email and messaging. That is writing. Many people now mount business

and/or personal materials on the Web and that requires multisemiotic authoring and

text. That is writing too. The online computer has made writing easier and more

prevalent. However, there are skills, conventions, and etiquette involved in writing and

Following the Thread

online communication, and the person who wants to look skilled and smart needs to be

educated in them.

The challenge for our educational (and other institutions) in the future, as I see

it, is creating and enhancing learning communities so those who teach (and work) can

continue to learn and develop computer skills and subsidiary language skills to enhance

their teaching (and work.) As an automatic addition to that, teachers need to become

skilled in creating and enhancing learning communities within classes so students will

develop the pattern of sharing their skills and learning from each other as well as from

the established curriculum.

My experiences, as reported in this thesis, have led me to believe that a structure

where teachers have a grassroots and authentic influence on the set-up of classrooms

helps create the sense of community that will support in-house professional

development initiatives. Institutions also need student-and-learning oriented leaders, in

faculty, administrative and support positions.

After teaching in computer labs, and teaching on a platform different from the

one most of my students were familiar with, I can only stress the teaching and learning

efficiencies of having everyone in the class on the same type of computer and the same

software. It is true that once someone has some familiarity with computers, it is possible

to teach and learn without exact matches. However, for those still in the initial stages of

learning how to use computers, the more explicit and exact the computer and software

match-ups, the easier it is to teach and learn.

I believe that learning to write using a word processor is a skill most will need in

their lives, and I have seen that the use of a computer often inspires and extends

students’ writing. Writing teachers need to learn these skills themselves in order to

teach writing using this new and increasingly essential writing tool. And increasingly all

teachers will need to use the resources of the online computer and access to the Web as

part of our teaching tools. We as a profession must gain the knowledge and skills that

allow us access to these tools.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

The Learning Challenge

Traditional education tended to ignore the importance of personal

impulse and desire as moving springs (Dewey, 1963, p. 70).

My own experience has been that I acquired relevant language, layout, and

computer skills when I needed them for a worthy and/or desired objective. When I

required computer skills in order to stay in a position I wanted, and in an environment

that contained resources, I learned what I had to in order to teach my courses. Once I

felt some level of competency, I discovered gaps I wanted to fill. I knew the look of a

document affected how it was read, so my students and I needed to know the basics of

graphic design. As I saw this new space for language opening in email and on the Web, I

found tasks I wanted to perform. Being able to make individual choices about what and

how to learn, plus following my aesthetic pleasure, enhanced both my desire and my

ability to learn.

My students, when offered an open-ended task with the freedom to make it

directly relevant to themselves, and support as they struggle with their first attempts,

appear to learn both how to do the specific task, and how to problem-solve by asking

for help, and, if absolutely necessary, using manuals. In my experience, an arts-based

approach to teaching writing and other computer uses is most effective. Both as a

learner and as a teacher, I start not from the technology but from the task and how to

make it worthy and the end-product beautiful.

I believe the challenge for educational institutions, especially during this time of

great cultural shift, is to offer both technical support and the opportunities for learning

communities to develop for all within them, students, teachers and staff, and thus to

support efficient and effective learning of how to use the ubiquitous tool of our time,

the online computer.

Following the Thread

The Research Challenge

The Web is a written world. The 300 million people on the Web are
its authors (Weinberger, 2002, p. 145).

The research challenge is to actually choose a singular focus from all that needs

to be inquired into in this new semiotic and technical space. The writing tool, the writing

space, and the writing possibilities are all undergoing massive change as is the teaching

tool and space, and educators need to be riding and observing this wave. I see that the

core of one learning labyrinth has paths leading out to other mazes, and although

arrival can be declared and celebrated, there will be further voyages, further


Ariadne’s Voice
Here, in the core of the labyrinth, I hear a throat being cleared behind me and I
swing towards the sound — and almost fall off this strange chair that moves with me.
Someone, both a stranger and yet oddly familiar, is sitting opposite me and smiling
inquiringly. ”Have you found the Minotaur yet?” I am asked. What do I say? I can feel his
presence; I can hear, almost, his breathing; and I rest in the glow that lights the space
around him. I sense something ripe for being born, and I do not know if I am giving
birth or being born into a new world, or a witness at someone else’s birth. I must hold
the space; I must be a vessel, waiting ….

Writing Process
I decide I need to see my thesis on paper, its eventual home, for a final close
edit. I want to have a colour copy and then give colour copies to my committee
members, a total of four copies are needed. I check with local businesses that print up
computer documents. To print this paper in colour would cost over $200.00 each, a
total of$800.00. I decide to use my home printer.
It takes hours to print up even one copy; it takes days to print up four. I persist.
Partway through the printing marathon, I realize I haven’t done the page
numbering correctly; I need to have roman numerals for the front part. I use “Save As” to
save the document under a new name. I now have one copy on a CD, and two on the
hard drive because I am afraid of losing all my work because the computer crashes or
something technical goes wrong. I work on the new copy and finally get the pagination

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Joan Vinall-Cox

correct. I will print the remaining three copies using that and keep the copy with the
incorrectly numbered pages as my copy to edit.
There are printer problems. The black cartridge runs out. The colour cartridge
runs out. The black cartridge runs out again; I get two this time. Each pause is a
I have to move my computer into another room to attach it to the printer and it is
hard to plug in the computer, so I let it use the battery. When the battery gets low, I stop
printing and plug in the computer so it can re-generate. I turn on the computer and put
it into sleep mode. It crashes. I learn later from the IT person who rescued my data that
sleep mode can drain a low battery.
I have to turn in the computer that crashed after it is fixed because the school
only lent it to me for a limited time. I take my CD with my data and borrow my
husband’s computer, but he will need full use of it in a few weeks. I create an account
for myself, and install my copy of EndNote. It doesn’t work. I spend a few hours with the
manual and on the web site and discover that I need an upgrade, available free on the
site. I download the upgrade and now EndNote opens, but the page numbers don’t show
in the citations. I quickly figure out how to deal with this, but the window I need to
access only flashes open and closes immediately. Finally I send a request for help to the
EndNote Support Desk. While I am writing this section, my email notification bongs, and
there is the answer less than one work day after my message I will have to change
almost all of my citations. This is hard labour.

I enter the changes I planned during my close edit, then I enter the citation

changes, and then I enter further edits from my supervisor. What I had thought was a

finished document is caught between the screen and paper as I struggle with the

mindless complexities of finishing then moving what I have created from its electronic

existence to its life on paper. If the computer is my prosthesis, the Minotaur is the

beautiful but difficult (and sometimes destructive) child of mind and machine, the

instantiation of the created vision through its birth on paper.

Ariadne’s Voice
The stranger pours a clear liquid into a small goblet and offers it to me. It smells
like liquor, and I drink it quickly. I feel the pull of the cord as what I have held in this
womb-like labyrinth pulses toward birth.

Following the Thread

I turn back to the fresco and look at it, and now the strange markings make
sense and I see my name. I turn again to the familiar stranger and hear my voice, and

And now a chorus of all the voices that form my cord strikes and holds a chord:

I have journeyed long searching for the Minotaur.

I learned what I had to learn to survive.

I sit at my desk and tap out stories on this laptop.

I live in this thesis, my home and labyrinth.

I teach with the computer how to write (and teach) with the computer.

I write two-handedly to think and remember about teaching and learning.

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Joan Vinall-Cox

What we need, at all levels of the

school system, are teachers who are
skilled at diagnosing how students are
able to learn.

Following the Thread

We learn through artful desire, not technical rote, and we can learn to use the

online computer to shape what we dream of and to build beauty to print out and/or

upload to the Web to be seen on screens.

My voices have sung their final chord together, but my academic and teacher

voice just has to explain a little more. As a teacher/learner or learner/teacher, I continue

on my journey, finding that the core of this labyrinth has paths that lead to further

mazes and explorations — “to make an end is to make a beginning” (Eliot, 1965). Below,

in Figure 22, I show you a screen shot of my current project, my own blog about the

visual aspect of text. I used a template, but went into the HTML code (the technical

foundation needed for Web pages) and changed the colours — because I like purple, and

in order to learn how to make changes in the HTML code.

Figure 25: A Screen Shot of my "Blog" (web log)

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Joan Vinall-Cox

Reaching the Core

The work of art is complete only as it works in the experience of

others than the one who created it. Thus language involves what
logicians call a triadic relationship. There is the speaker, the thing
said, and the one spoken to (Dewey, 1980, p. 106).

I /We sing out this postmodern aharmonic chord.

Picture a woman. She is sitting across from you on an office chair, her body

turned toward you with her right hand on a mouse beside a white laptop. The light

thickens and seems to ripple and you find yourself looking at a wondrous cord in her

left hand and she looks for a moment like an antique Greek princess. You shake your

head and look again, and you see a postmodern middle-aged woman in glasses

glancing at the laptop screen. She speaks.

“Etymologically,” she says, “cord, c-o-r-d,” she spells it out, “and chord, c-h-o-

r-d,” she spells again, “are tangled together. C-o-r-d started in Greek, where it meant

“string” and sometimes “entrails” to be read by soothsayers and sometimes “catgut” as

strings for musical instruments. The light flutters and again the antique Greek princess

stares imperiously at you. You blink and it is the modern scholar who smiles at you. “It

travelled through Latin and French, becoming many strings woven together.” She

gestures with her left hand and the image of a thick woven cord floats into being and

you see it extends out the door of the study and turns toward the stairs.

“C-h-o-r-d sounds the same and may be tied to the strings of musical

instruments. It comes from the Middle English ‘accord’ and is linked to harmony, three

or more pitches being sounded together.” You can hear the excitement rising in her

voice. “So the cord in the labyrinth and the chord of all my voices come together in this

study which is here, this room in my home that I write in, here, the core of my labyrinth,

Following the Thread

and here in this study, inquiry, that I am writing. And,” her voice is infused with a delight

that belies the long gestation and hard labour as she reaches over and taps a button on

the laptop, “the Minotaur, whose father was the god of the sea, earthquakes and horses

and whose mother was a daughter of the sun, and who was conceived through a

machine, is the final thread in this tale.”

Long ago this study started with Ariadne returning to the labyrinth and the

“Monster” she remembered helping Theseus flee from. As she searched through her fate

and explored the labyrinth, she sought the machine-conceived Minotaur (her half-

brother) and found ….” A noise starts in the next room, a regular click and whoosh. The

woman picks up a book from one of the piles on the floor and reads a passage aloud:

“And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god;

where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we
had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own
existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the
world” (Campbell, 1972, p. 25).

And this child of the depths and shining outlaw passion, this Minotaur, comes

into being this time, as he has countless times and places before, from the union of

passion and insight mediated by technology, in this paper marked from the electronic

impulses of the machines that have mediated between me as writer and you as reader,

embodied in this thesis you are reading —

here and now!

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Joan Vinall-Cox

The Last Chapter

This is the end of the book. It is not only a book about writing. It is
also a book about the human soul and how we should cherish it, in
others and ourselves (Andrew Wilkinson, 1986, p. 138).

Following the Thread


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