If these automated responses mixed with faculty comments are rhetorical, what is the ethos of the procedural and algorithmic rhetoric? This comment suggests it’s in part an ethos of compliance, even servility, to the demands of policymakers and politicians. When students receive these email messages, what do they perceive the ethos of the rhetoric to be? And when policymakers and politicians receive reports on the effectiveness of such interventions, what will they perceive the ethos of the interventions to be? Will each group recognize the ethos of compliance? Will they perceive an ethos of care for student well-being?
I agree with your sentiments that AI cannot respond with warmth, compassion, or care, only a cheap semblance of it. However, I would argue that these responses are rhetorical. The system uses a procedural and algorithmic rhetoric that has a purpose, an audience, and a subject. Unfortunately, these are only tangentially related to the student in crisis. The student is the exigence that drives the rhetoric. The purpose is to prove the institution made attempts to assist the student, to justify other data points regarding retention and degree completion to the audience: policymakers, boards, politicians.
Interesting question! I never thought about the offering of the options to the faculty members as the initial post. I think I see that as more of the "action potential," the opportunity for a communication chain to begin, much like in neuroscience when the nerve impulse starts off cell to cell communication. To me, the canned statements in the software represent constraints to the procedural rhetoric that restrict user agency, and, I would argue, rhetorical effectiveness.
I agree with you that students know these are canned responses and that ultimately they undermine meaningful relationships. We are not to that point yet, since the system is new, and not very many students have received multiple messages so that they know they are repetitive. When I was in K-12, we implemented a system for comments on report cards. Again, there were canned options to choose from, and again, faculty were required to leave comments each quarter for students. It became a joke for the students: "Hey, John, which one did you get? Shows improvement?" and "Hey, Mrs. Brown, all I got was 'Works hard?' When will I get 'A joy to teach?'" It is a gross underestimation of students' rhetorical savviness to assume that they will believe these efforts are ingenuous on the part of the institution. But then, that isn't quite the point of the system is it? The activity generated is an end of itself. This posting/reposting gains credibility as it travels, as proof not of its authenticity or its value, but as an aggregation of data. These data aren't a measure of influence or interest, like a viral blog post, but instead a measure of rote, machine-driven actions attempting to masquerade as them.
I wish to re-perform my previous response. Peter Jackson called and excommunicated me from the Fellowship, and he even said I probably can’t visit New Zealand, either. But what interests me about the comment on curating re-performance is the embodiment of the performance. Because the performance occurs in different material conditions — whether a new post on Tumblr, a different institutional page on Facebook, a canned email message reposting authentic faculty comments — the material conditions join the curator/author/performer to create a different identity.
This post touches on the question of whether machines can act as rhetors.
Once a flag is raised, the automated system sends an email to the student – attributed to and ostensibly from the faculty member who raised the flag – without human intervention.
I attended a panel session earlier this week titled Robots Everywhere! Is It Good For Us? The panelists were scholars and artists researching and exploring ways that humans and robots can and will interact. One researcher, PhD student Heather Knight (a.k.a. Marilyn Monrobot) at The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon, is working to help robots learn human social behaviors and interact verbally and mechanically in humorous, socially-appropriate ways. Specifically, Knight is using comedy and acting to help robots learn social cues and program appropriate responses.
When her robot told a joke during the panel, we in the audience laughed. The robot was not able to respond to the audience with a related joke; such a response would require an understanding of the complex social situation and a way of acting appropriately. Knight is working to make such reactions a reality — she’s teaching the robot “charisma.” Until that learning occurs, however, surely we would do better to remove automated messaging that is intended to represent a warm, caring response — a response that neither complex robots nor simple machines is capable of providing — to a student in crisis. Beyond the issue of authorship is the obvious message students receive, as noted by Rodrigo above: I am important enough to warrant an automatically generated email message from my school.
That’s hardly meaningful intervention, nor is it rhetorical. It’s surely among the worst possible kinds of reblogging in use.
I love the idea of talking about early alert/retention programs as a form of reblogging. First, the fact that many of those systems even have formulaic input options as well (aka, a faculty can only "alert" based on pre-set options). Is that the initial post? Or is the system's offering of that option the initial post?
Second, the idea that these are used to help with retention when there is TONS of scholarship that discusses that it is a student's connections/relationships to the school and individuals at the school that help with retention. Our students know these are machine generated messages; these impersonal emails do not foster relationships or connections. At least many reblogged materials get the little 1-3 phrases/sentences of context of what/how/why the reblogger shared the content. That personalized touch shows the person behind/vetting the replication. And unless a faculty member does use that space to provide personalized feedback (which would still be funky w/in the context/tone of the machine generated email environment) the message will probably fail its purpose. And if I'm taking the time to write that contextualizing message, why not write the email myself (unless, of course, the institution requires the early alert process…a whole other issue).
Your response got me thinking about how we are both hinting at further ways to "complicate authorship" with the idea of reperforming/remixing/rebloging the self. If we agree that this adopting/adapting of another text is a new performance then the author would be slightly different each time, even if it is the same person.
Also, and I'm chuckling I get to say this, it's Sean Bean as Boromir. :-)
I love the concept (and phrase) “performing another’s pedagogy.” That Viggo Mortensen “says” it clearly illustrates the networked author. Viggo Mortenson as Aragorn as depicted in two-dimensional motion picture as captured in a still photo as depicted as speaker of the words “One does not simply steal an assignment—One performs another’s pedagogy” as visualized embodiment of your own ideas demonstrates your own networked identity. And you’re right: what a rich object of study this networked identity offers.
I also appreciate the expectation that assignments and pedagogy should be repurposed as new performance. I’m currently teaching a class whose content is cribbed from previous classes I’ve taken, and I consider it an entirely new performance of the pedagogy because of the context, the audience of students, the experiences we all (teacher and students) bring to the class, the culture of the institution itself, and the myriad other variables that make each instructional experience a unique networked phenomenon.
Thanks for the question about the negotiations that must certainly occur as I allow an institutional identity to “take precedence” over my own identities in the public space. There are other administrators who know I am the poster and sharer of content on our institutional Facebook page, and I often introduce myself in new student orientations as “the voice of the school’s Facebook page.” I carefully curate my own personal and professional identities on my own Facebook profile in order to represent the school and its values — along with my own personal and professional interests and concerns. Because I am a professional communicator, I seek to create an ethos of carefully crafted trustworthiness among all of my social media profiles and identities. Because I am a parent of pre-teens, I seek to create an ethos of limited transparency that my kids can emulate in crafting, curating, and protecting their own identities in social media spaces. Because I’m a person of faith, I seek to use sharing and posting as opportunities to reflect my values in subtle, thoughtful ways. Because I’m a doctoral student, I seek to create an ethos of academic integrity and (relative) seriousness in my posts and shares. And because I am in a committed relationship, I seek to create an ethos that reflects my love and appreciation for that relationship. Allowing the institutional identity to take precedence over my own identities is probably better stated as a negotiated process that uses the institutional identity as primary driver for posting and sharing decisions, but encourages other identities to contribute their ethos and values to each decision.
This is really interesting because of the way you consider your institutional identity as taking precedence over your own identity in the public space. You talk about that concern over making sure the posts you make fit in with the rules set in places for the way to school wants to present itself. At the same time though how does your concern for your own identity still play a role in that performance? As you said there are people, other administrators, of the page that can see who made the post and presumably they would be people you are connected to. Are you concerned with your identity as the person who manages the school's identity and how your management of that identity shapes your own identity to those who know it is you behind it?