CCCC 2008

The Conference on College Composition and Communication is the big annual meeting of college writing instructors. One often encounters technical writing instructors, social scientists, ethnographers, and new media innovators (we had Larry Lessig give a featured address a few years ago), as well as traditional essayists and grammar mavens. It’s the kind of place where someone can say, “That reminds me of Aristotle’s five canons of rhetoric… inventio, dispositio, elocutio, actio, and… uh.. .what’s the other one?”  and it’s likely that the others will get the joke.

While walking around the city after the conference was over, I had a
vision of a future 4Cs conference that made me giddy. I’ll tell you
about it in a little bit. First, let me talk about the conference.

Some 3,400 attendees came to New Orleans. In the past I have brought my
laptop, taken furious notes all day long, and blogged them at night.  I
didn’t do that this time, in part because I was lazy and I didn’t want
to carry my laptop on the one-mile walk from my hotel (on the site of
an old opera house, in Bourbon Street, in the heart of the French
Quarter).  Also, the battery on my laptop is dying, so that I’m getting
less than an hour from each chge, and I didn’t want to have to be
sitting in the back near where the plugs are.

This year, there were not as many panels on weblogs, and more on
video games and 3D shared spaces such as Second Life.  As much as I
love games and 3D spaces, I’ve yet to find a good articulation of why
and/or how games can make students write better paragraphs.  Yes,
students can write paragraphs about games, or they can use games as
inspirations to write traditional genres such as character studies or
travel literature, and yes games can be useful to simulate experiences
such as conflicts or emergencies that students might write about.  I
use games to introduce English majors to programming (in two different
courses, one at a very basic and another at a more advanced level), and
the different audiences for a new media artifact (that is, they must
write text and design an interface for the end user; code for the
computer; and comments for other programmers). 

There were
many panels on new media, or multimedia, or multimodality (all of which
mean pretty much the same thing, and I won’t bore you with the shades
of meaning).

I’ve got stacks of papers to mark and there is
usually a huge pile of dishes for me to wash when I get home. (I’ve
been married 14 years and my wife does not know how to use the
dishwasher… I’m actually kind of proud of that.) So I’m not sure how
many panels I’ll actually write about.

But I will note that the
town meeting (at 8 this morning) was very enjoyable.  The very small
number of members (as I understand it, out of the 3400 at the
conference, 75 is considered a quorum at the business meeting)
immediately passed a resolution in favor of supporting open-source
software. (Charlie Lowe, who was a
driving force behind that resolution, already had reason to feel happy
because he spent $5 at a casino and ended up winning $1200.)

we did small group discussions, choosing one of five questions.  I
picked a question about how the 4Cs experience might change in the next
5 or 15 years, given changes in the students we teach and the
technology we use. The first comments at my table were about the
digital divide; while most of us seemed to feel the divide was getting
less serious, others reminded us that they teach in schools where they
still can’t expect students to have access to computers, and where the
schools don’t provide enough computer lab spaces.

In way, most
of the 4Cs members got a taste of the digital divide, since the Hilton
does not offer free Wi-Fi.  Some individuals sprang for something like
$15 for wireless access, but I went to numerous sessions where
presenters just assumed they’d be able to show websites or YouTube
clips during their presentations.  It was extremely frustrating to be
cut off from or students while we were at the conference, but even more
frustrating to me was the fact that we were cut off from each other.

asked why the 4Cs wasn’t encouraging liveblogging. We have some
featured sessions with hundreds of attendees. If we webcasted at least
the featured presentations, and encouraged liveblogging by setting up
WiFi hotspots, and set up a system to encourage individual panels to
upload audio from their sessions, just think of all the peer-to-peer
knowledge we could be constructing, all the feedback we could be
providing to presenters, and all the information we could be
communicating to our colleagues who could not attend, and to teachers
of English around the world.

Janice Walker and Michael Day
were the executive committee members who were doing the note-taking.
They were both all for WiFi. Janice said the contracts with the hotels
are negotiated years in advance, but that the Hilton contract would be
up for re-negotiation soon. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.  I said I’d
be willing to check a box to pay a little extra money to have WiFi
access throughout the conference. So let’s keep our fingers crossed.

I was walking around the French Quarter and the Riverwalk, I suddenly
had a vision of a log-in screen that would deliver a stream of updates
from those who are blogging (or Twittering) the conference. 

if we set up a system where bloggers could claim various sessions, and
register their blogs with a central RSS feed.  The bloggers would tag
their blog entries with the session ID (D16 or L24 or whatever) and
each time CCCC members log into the CCCC-provided WiFi account, they
see a welcome screen that says what session is currently under way, and
an aggregator showing who is blogging about the current session. Each
session could have its own bulletin board, so that if you realize
you’re in one of those depressing sessions where the speakers fill up
the entire time so that there’s no time left over for questions, the
audience members can still have their say.  After the session,
presenters could post links to their slideshows, websites, or the text
of their papers.

It’s not at all uncommon for the best things to
come out of a conference to be the “aha!” moments that happen in the
hallways, between sessions, when we discuss with our colleagues what
we’ve just seen.  As a profession, we’re aware that our teaching
methods need to change in order to account for the hypercognition that
characterizes the way our students experience the world — through
social networking, digital multitasking, and and endless process of
self-creation through remixing.  We can learn about their world by
experiencing it for ourselves.