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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Reflections on Cs 2013

Post-Vegas, my brain is a little fuzzy.  I’m now 3 hours off, and I didn’t sleep much last night because I took the red eye into Detroit.  Before I am swallowed whole by the coming week, which will involve continuing to draft my dissertation, driving to campus for class, and showing around the new class of recruits, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect over my favorite moments from this year’s Cs conference.

Awesome moment 1: making myself compose with objects in the half day workshop “Evocative Objects.”  We brought objects into the workshop, we traded with other participants, and we picked one object out of a bag.  Then we had an hour to “compose” with the objects in front of us.  I found myself sitting there with an organic paper stationary set, 2 notepads, chalk, and a cloth doll, rolling the paper and unrolling it, situating and re-situating the doll with the other objects before me.  I kept thinking to myself what’s my purpose?  What am I trying to say with this composition?  I tried new combinations and new juxtapositions; I cut up letters and started to spell.  Check out my composition here.  But the the coolest part of the workshop was having others “read” our compositions to us once they were finished.  Being able to see where my own piece was unclear or not as directive as I’d hoped was fascinating.  And I also was a little shocked at my own ability to analyze and pick out the messages in the work of others.  The entire experience left me with much to ponder about how composing with objects is different from and the same as composing with words.

Awesome moment 2:  Yancey’s talk on Wednesday at the end of the QRN: “Navigating the Currents of Research Activity on Transfer of Knowledge and Practice in Writing.”  It was the end of the day and I was exhausted, but Yancey’s concise summary of the transfer research in the field was so useful.  She pointed me to several recently published texts, and made me think deeply about concepts such as the role of metalanguage in our courses.

Awesome moment 3:  Kevin Roozen talked about transfer of writing knowledge across media in his Thursday morning session with Wardle and Nowacek.  He called it “remediation,” drawing from Bolter and Grusin.  I was just excited that someone else was actually going there.

Awesome moment 4:  Saying hi, ever so briefly, to my wonderful mentor Lisa Ede after her feminist rhetorical practices panel on Thursday.  She is so wonderful!

Awesome moment 5:  My favorite panel of the conference was “Compositional Expansion: De- and Re-Composing Materialities” with Jody Shipka, Erin Anderson, and Trisha Campbell.  Dr. Shipka showed her latest video, which was layered and complex in exciting ways.  She layered together found home-video footage and sound material, along with a ghostly image of herself on the side – reminding me that there she was, underneath it all, mixing and remixing the materials.  Some of the sound she used came from her classroom and some from interviews with others, and she layered multiple sound tracks at various points in the movie.  The video we watched isn’t up on her website yet, but she has posted many of her other projects there.  Erin Anderson then showed us her “Coerced Confessions” remix videos– she uses digital video editing to remix the words of actors into confessional statements.  The videos are jarring and bizarre, but suggest much about what can (or should) be done with digital voice as a compositional medium.  Finally, Trisha Campbell finished the panel by showing her “Composing Murder” project, where she maps and composes a network for the murders that take place in Pittsburgh each year.  She also collects evidence of the victims’ digital imprint, archiving Facebook pages and images.  I was emotionally moved by Campbell’s project and think it could have an important impact as a tool for the community, but it also challenges my notions of composing new media.  Is her archive a composed text?

Awesome moment 6: Presenting with Chris Dickman and Ben Gunsberg during the last session to a much larger audience than expected!  People hung in there for us, and we had a great showing.  I talked about my dissertation research, and Ben and Chris showed really interesting work relating to making video resources for students and having students compose screencasts.

And there were other awesome moments, too – hanging out with others in my program, seeing graduates and catching up on their lives, seeing the fountain show at the Bellagio, and realizing that writing teachers, well, we just rock!  But I already knew that before.

Thanks, Cs 2013 and everyone involved, for a great conference!

Unproductivity

Well, I lined up some ducks today, but didn’t actually work on my prospectus much.  I emailed both of my co-chairs and set up a meeting with one and sent the other my materials.  I also found several articles on the transfer of learning in the writing classroom that I need to read: “Pedagogical Memory” 09 by Jarrett et al and “Steps Beyond the First Year” 2010 by Frazier.  Both articles speak to meta-awareness about writing and how students take what they’ve learned in the writing course beyond to other writing contexts.  So first up, I need to read these and incorporate them into my Lit review.  I also saw on a friend’s Facebook post that Jody Shipka has a new book I need to read: Toward a Composition Made Whole, so I’m excited to get that and look at it.   

The rest of my day was taken up with teaching and conferencing with my new students.  I like to have them come by my office near the beginning of the term so I can get to know them a bit more one on one.  So I met with students all afternoon – not a waste of time by any means, but I didn’t do much in between meetings except check email and Facebook. 

Here’s hoping tomorrow will be a bit more productive in the prospectus dept.