I started Cs 2014 with a pre-conference workshop “Sonic Pedagogies for the Composition Classroom.” The workshop focused on using sound in the writing classroom, but it also emphasized for me, right away, the importance of listening, of taking time to hear, think, pay close attention, and take in, all of this in preparation for composing, producing, teaching. My Cs experience as a whole can be usefully framed by such a listening experience, I think – listening to sound and its rhetoric, but also to words, visuals, and to the diverse community of scholars and teachers at the conference.
I first was given the opportunity to listen in the Wednesday workshop led by Kati Fargo Ahern, Steph Ceraso, Jordan Frith, and Jonathan Stone. We had a small but interested group, and the small size made it easy to participate and to really listen to each other. What I appreciated from the presenters was that they had us do activities like those we might ask our students to do when focusing on sound in the writing classroom, and then we talked about what we did, we reflected. We listened to music and described it, in our own words, and then shared, working toward developing terminologies to discuss sound together. We remediated a newspaper article into a plan for a sonic essay, considering what we might highlight or omit using sound as the medium. We designed a sonic product in pairs – Kati and I came up with a “sound palette” for essay grading that would prompt the instructor with comforting and encouraging noises. We looked at some social sound-mapping websites, and we talked about how and why we might ask students to develop rhetorical soundscapes. I walked away with ideas upon ideas for the new media classroom. More of Kati’s, Steph’s, Jordan’s, and Jon’s work can be accessed online in the Sonic Rhetorics issue of Harlot.
Wednesday night, one of my mentors, Lisa Ede, along with her writing partner Andrea Lunsford, was honored for her retirement at the Norton party. It was special for me to be there and hear about the power and reach of Lisa’s work. Lisa introduced me to Rhetoric and Composition as a field back when I was a Masters student at Oregon State in 2002. Of all the scholars I know, Lisa is so good at listening, and at responding – to her students, to her collaborators, to the field.
My Thursday was filled with panels of different sorts where I listened, took it all in, mulled it all over. Notable was session C10: “Opening Up: How Information Technologies Alter Composition Research Methodologies” with Timothy Laquintano, Quinn Warnick, Benjamin Miller, Amanda Licastro, and Brian McNely. The presenters discussed how different technologies and online spaces altered their methods for research, whether that be use of pseudonyms (or not), data collection in online forums, obtaining permissions, or publication of data. My big takeaway from the panel was that technologies in research highlight the complexity and context-specific nature of methodological decisions. As digital writing researchers, we can’t afford to adhere to blanket, one-size-fits-all methodological approaches that will always work in every research situation. We must be flexible, careful, and ethical, and this may require more work – and again, more listening to participants and to the research contexts we are in.
I started Friday morning by earning my sparkle pony and some trading cards for Cs the Day, the conference game – wahoo! And then it was on to F24, “Mindfulness and Contemplation: Open Minds/Bodies/Writing in Classrooms” where I heard another mentor, Vicki Tolar Burton, along with Kurt Stavenhagen, talk about using mindfulness practices, meditation, and contemplative strategies to teach distracted students. Kurt led us through a few minutes of meditation, as well – what a calm, embodied, and collaborative start to the day. I was also making connections between Vicki and Kurt’s work with mindfulness and asking students to reflect more specifically in the classroom. Next, I attended G14, where the panelists presented revisions to the WPA Outcomes Statement (OS) to better include multimodal work. The revisions are extensive, and they involve language in the OS that is now more “verby,” less “nouny.” That is, it seemed to me that the revisions were concerned with how students learn to enact and talk about their writing and composition. In previous iterations, the OS focused more on product. The desire to include multimodal composition and digital writing throughout the OS, it seems, has taken some of the emphasis off of product for all kinds of writing, a change that I see as a great improvement.
I presented in H37, “Remixing Scholarship, Remixing the Classroom: Opening New Spaces for Teaching and Learning through Video.” With me was Ben Gunsberg, who talked about asking his students to make instructional videos to teach sentence writing, “remixing” the sentence. He showed some student work that used voice, gesture, and facial expressions in effective and hilarious ways. Steve Engel then presented a digital literacy narrative on plagiarism, the story of finding out a student copied from Wikipedia. Our audience was engaged with discussing what we might do in such a situation. Then I presented my video “Singer, Writer: A Remix Exploration of Sound and Writing.” Making the video was an experiment, as its title implies. In an effort to make a multimodal literature review, I put together footage from Mary Hocks and Jody Shipka’s 2013 Computers and Writing panel with my own footage of writing and singing. The video became a poetic comparison of choral singing and writing more broadly, and making it was very generative for my own learning about sound, remix, and process vs. product. Having students do a similar comparative exercise seems to me a good idea! It was also really fun to put sounds and images together in new ways and explore juxtaposition and repetition as compositional strategies.
On Saturday, I attended M22, “Videocy in the Age of Open Access: The Challenges for Scholarship.” Geoffrey Carter, Robert Leston, Sarah Arroyo, and Bahareh Alaei made arguments for “doing more” with video, for composing as a listener, for moving beyond the voice over – issuing calls to attend to sounds and juxtapositions. The presenters also gave us in the audience ample opportunity to see and listen right there: they showed some pretty dynamite videos, filled with magnificent visual juxtapositions. More of their work can be found in the Kairos piece MoMLA: From Gallery to Webtext.
The last panel I attended was perhaps the most memorable: Cynthia Haynes, Victor Vitanza, Jenny Rice, Byron Hawk, Thomas Rickert, and Jeff Rice razzing and celebrating the work of Geoffrey Sirc in N36: “Never Mind Geoffrey Sirc: A Tribute Panel.” Surprisingly (for me, knowing the names of the presenters but not knowing them personally), the panel was emotional. I’ve heard others describe it as loving and beautiful. One of the coolest aspects was experiencing the presentations in a room full of excited, interested, and emotionally invested scholars. There was laughter, murmuring, constant tweeting, shared photos, video recording, even tears. Some people knew Sirc; some people knew other people who knew Sirc. Some people knew Sirc’s work; others knew of it and jotted down notes to go home and read some of it. The presentations were lyrical, metaphoric, juxtaposed, associational, hilarious. Geoff Sirc’s work was lauded and his theories of box logic and serial composition were simultaneously enacted. When Sirc finished his response, the audience sat in stunned silence, almost reluctant to break the spell of the panel with a question. It was 1:55 on Saturday afternoon. The conference was over, but no one was leaving. We were still listening.