Reflections on Computers & Writing 2013, or, Why C&W Rules

I am home after a busy weekend in Frostburg, MD for the Computers and Writing conference.  I come away energized by the work of others in the field, excited to continue to share my own research, and grateful for such a wonderful community of friendly and accepting scholars which I get to be a part of!  Here are some highlights from the weekend:

Thursday: Thanks to Shelley Rodrigo and Kyle Stedman who volunteered their time to facilitate my table’s discussion at the Graduate Research Network.  While 20ish minutes isn’t much to share your research or to explain your entire project to a table of (mostly) strangers, I always find it a useful and relatively low stakes space to ask questions and learn to talk about what you’re doing in a concise and understandable way.  In the afternoon, I enjoyed the job workshop and gleaned some information from bouncing from table to table and listening to faculty talk about various topics: campus visits, job talks, publishing, negotiating a job offer.  My favorite piece of advice from the afternoon was this:  if you get a question you don’t know in a Q & A session after a job talk, it’s ok to say “wow, that’s a great question.  I need to think some more about that,” and then you can talk about something that the question reminds you of – “that reminds me of so-and-so’s work on…”  Then you have bought yourself some time to think through a further answer, or the questioner can pick up from there and talk about their work, which apparently is what some questioners want to do when something in your talk reminds them of their work!  I will definitely be using this advice.  Thank you to Janice Walker, Angela Haas, Quinn Warnick, and Patrick Berry as well for helping to organize the GRN for all of us grad students.

Friday:  Gee’s keynote blew me away.  He used a metaphor that’s stayed with me for the typical work that we are asking students to do in schools: it’s like reading a videogame manual without actually playing the game.  We need to work toward getting students to “play the game”; that is, they need to write for purposes and audiences that are important to them and that have meaning.   I also had a great time presenting on Friday with Anne Ruggles Gere and Liz Homan about research methods.  For more on our pres, check out my conference presentations page.

Saturday:  Sessions, sessions, sessions!  I went to sessions all day!  The highlights included listening to Jody Shipka and Mary Hocks talk about sound and the ways they use it in their own scholarship and teaching, being persuaded (again) by Karl Stolley that I need to learn to build more things, and thinking about some topics that I don’t often consider in relation to computers and writing, such as e-waste and preservation or opening up questions of gender and the computer more explicitly in the classroom.  It was also my birthday on Saturday, so I celebrated in style with some friends that evening for dinner.

Sunday:  I attended the accessibility panel on Sunday morning before heading home.  The panelists pointed to the complexities of making texts accessible when we deal with the multimodal, and also how software and interfaces can screen attention away from accessibility if we’re not careful how we use them.  Good, important lessons and reminders.

All in all, I had a wonderful conference!  Fueled by all these ideas, I now return to diss writing.  As I spend mornings and afternoons typing away in my office, it sometimes seems like I’m writing in a vacuum, but conferences like C&W remind me that the work matters, and there are many others who think it matters too, and collectively, we are doing great things!

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Caption Fail?

This activity, from my Computers and Writing class this week and the guru-of-accessibility, professor Melanie Yergeau, was designed to see how accessible the caption feature on youtube really is for video material.  We recorded ourselves reading a paragraph of text (mine is me reading my blog response to the readings from the other day), and then we uploaded the audio to youtube, turned on the captions, and looked to see what would come out.  You can listen to and watch mine below, just click on the CC captioning icon when you press play to see the captions.

Overall, though, I’m surprised at how good of a job the youtube captioner does.  Ok, ok, so the captioner has no idea how to use a comma, and authors Bowie and Zdenek became “slowly and senate,” but who even knows how to say Zdenek’s name anyway?  And digi-rhetors became “digi-renters,” but I’m not even sure digi-rhetors is a word some of my colleagues would recognize if I said it to them face to face.  In class, Melanie mentioned that the youtube captioner does better with a man’s voice – maybe my voice is manly?!?  I am an alto, after all.

All in all, an interesting experiment in accessibility for digital video.  Maybe the youtube captioner technology is getting better, for which those of us who care (or should care) about accessibility can rejoice.

Words to Ponder re: Digital Delivery & Accessibility

Porter argues that we need a robust theoretical framework for digital delivery – a framework that will “help you write,” aid your productive action if you will.  His framework calls attention to bodies, distribution and circulation, access, interaction, and the economics of composing and delivering digital texts.  Bowie and Zdenek also call digi-rhetors to pay attention to the accessiblity of our 21-st century texts:  how can we take a “universe of users” into account as we design and research?  If and when we caption, what do we caption, and why?

These articles have important implications for my own (and my students’) rhetorical action as digital video composers, and I’m left with much to ponder.  I’ll represent the questions and ideas rolling around in my brain with some key words and phrases relevant to video composing:

remix; licensing; keywords and tagging; the posthuman?; to caption or not to caption; “soundtrack”; representing music in words; visual design; WHERE TO PUBLISH??…