CCCC Wrapup

A 4Cs wrapup post is long overdue. I saw just about everyone I wanted to see, plus met some great new people, including Madeleine, Tyra, jo(e), Deb, timna, Steve, Bradley, Brendan, and Sharon.

I attended some sessions, but I didn't always take notes. I know there are many defenders of the "read a paper" presentation model, but I have less and less patience for it with each passing year. It does sometimes work okay, but only rarely, and only if there are enough extemporaneously spoken asides to keep the audience's attention. The cadence of reading is so very different from extemporaneous speaking -- so much less animated and more monotonous -- that, for me, it's almost impossible to follow. I'm in agreement with William Major that we should do conference presentations more like how we teach.

My paper follows below the fold (and my slides are attached to this post). It looks disjointed, but I spoke extemporaneously a lot of the material. That's what I usually do at conferences: I have either no paper at all and just some notecards, or a paper with cues like this one. I hope you get something out of it. NB: Links to the original article and all the posts I cite are here.

Clancy Ratliff
CCCC 2006
Coalition-Building on Weblogs: Negotiating Innovation and Access

In this presentation, I will examine an illustrative case of academic exchange on weblogs that shows 1.) how the scholarly review process on weblogs works (p2p review) [Here I did an aside about this term, how it's a play on peer-to-peer networks like Napster and LimeWire, and that I'm not sure who coined the term, but I believe it might have been John Holbo, a professor of philosophy at the National University of Singapore and an avid blogger]; and 2.) the ways p2p review is different from traditional scholarly peer review. I will start off by reviewing the "Hypertext 101" case. Then, I will describe its transition from criticism of an article that appeared in Inside Higher Ed to a larger discussion about a central problematic lurking in the field of computers and composition: access v. innovation.

Description of the case: On April 4, 2005, Will Hochman and Chris Dean published an article titled “Hypertext 101” in Inside Higher Ed. The article is a general prolegomenon about literacy and technology. Hochman and Dean maintain that

it is beyond doubt that our students’ learning and literacies have changed because of the use of computers. We must understand and adapt to computers, hypertext, and ultimately learn as much as possible about our disciplines’ experiences in cyberspace because our students demand it of us, and because language is always changing. Essentially, we must move to the point where we focus on ways to fuse academic discourse with our students' "netspeak."

They point out the need to teach students how to do find credible sources online. Hochman and Dean argue that

A more sophisticated approach to teaching students how to do Internet research involves showing students some of the ways online searches use Boolean logic, and this is simply accomplished by visiting the Google Guide.

They also argue for the use of checklists and guides, like the ones we encounter in most writing handbooks, to help students evaluate critically sources they find online. [Somewhere around here I did an aside that this approach is, to some extent, needed; I still have students who sometimes turn in papers with a Works Cited list that consists of and Wikipedia only.] They conclude with the recommendation that “Professors and students both need to think critically about technology.”

That same day, Collin Brooke responded on his weblog with a thorough critique of the article. The main points of the critique are that this could have been (and was being) written 7 or 8 years ago. He also criticized the idea that Boolean operators and checklists and guidelines for evaluating web sources are "magic bullets" that will automatically result in good research. He claims that "This is the 5-paragraph theme of net research, an outmoded formula for gathering information that lacks any sort of nuance and actually discourages critical thought."

Finally, he took issue with the call to "think critically about technology." The following paragraph is what spurred a flurry of reactions in the rhetoric and composition blogosphere:

Bottom line: it's not time to start thinking about technology. If you haven't started yet, it's time to catch up. If you don't know how to put together a QuickTime movie, you're behind. If you haven't futzed around with sound tools, you're behind. If you're still thinking about how to do web pages, you're behind. If you don't "get" blogs and wikis, you're behind. If you don't think that the Grokster case has anything to do with you, you're behind. And I could keep on going. There is nothing wrong with writing an essay, a view, a site, whatever, addressing those who are (by now) late adopters, but why in the world would exhortations to think critically about technology have any effect on those people when they've been hearing the same song for years now? The net is changing education, journalism, politics, science, culture, etc etc etc. If you're not keeping track of those changes, you're behind. Pure and simple.

Brooke concluded by asserting the need to stop assuming that other people don’t get the technology and assume that they DO. Especially students. Brooke’s post got comments from several others in rhetoric and composition, including Donna Strickland, Nels Highberg, Laura Blankenship, Rebecca Moore Howard, Marcia Hansen, Bradley Dilger, Steven Krause, Jeff Rice, Jonathan Goodwin, and myself. Others who participated in this discussion via comments were John Lovas, Joanna Howard, Will Hochman, Michelle Palmer, Carolyn Ostrander, Susan Sinclair, Mary Godwin, clc of Community College English, and Scott Rogers. That's 22 people total (counting the people who posted: Collin Brooke, Sharon Gerald, Mike Edwards).

Jeff Rice responded on his own weblog as well. He took issue with the refrain to "think critically about technology" on the grounds that the phrase has been repeated so often without an actual concomitant critical gesture that it has become a mantra without meaning. The original spirit of the call to think critically about technology was to look at the sociohistorical context in which computing emerged and think about technology in a socially responsible way. We’re basically applying the methodological approach of our discipline to the tools: look at the conditions that produced the text/tool. [Here I did an aside about the Internet's origins as a military tool, the economic/labor conditions under which digital technological tools are assembled, and the problem of e-waste in China.]

Sharon Gerald: "The computer in my office is running Windows 98. That's the year I got it. It will not be replaced this year or next year or the year after that. My school and my state are experiencing massive budget cuts. There just aren't the resources to keep the technology on campus up to date." She goes on to say: "The everyday reality is that many of our teachers have neither the equipment nor the training to keep up. There is very little motivation to get on board new innovations if you don't even have a computer that will run the software, and if you know that no one will be available to provide technical support for you or your students should you decide to embark on a techno-adventure."

Mike Edwards: Took a step back to question whether or not computers make writing better, or easier, even. Claimed that computers DO make a difference in the distribution of writing, and that they make economic inequality visible.

what do we make of Charles Moran’s assertion that "if as writing teachers we believe that writers are in any sense advantaged by technology, then access is the issue that drives all others before it" (A Guide 220), and what do we do to act on such an assertion? Because to leave behind those who one declares behind is economic gatekeeping.

This is the point at which the discussion ceased to center on critiquing the article in Inside Higher Ed and became something more: a productive discussion of a problematic in computers and composition. How do we balance our responsibility to study innovation with our ethical qualms about the system of social and economic injustice that does not allow everyone to have equal access to digital technology?

Brooke responded again, arguing against this common rhetorical move: access's being used as a "trump card" to shut down discussions of technology, its extension being that "until everyone has access to the same technologies, any kind of innovation is elitist."

Then came a building of consensus:

  • Often [especially when we're talking about college students in the U.S.], access isn't really a problem, but it's treated like one (Lovas, Brooke)
  • Many of the most innovative tools are free, like, Audacity, Blogger, etc. (Brooke)
  • "Think critically about technology" has lost a lot of its meaning (Rice)
  • Although access continues to be a problem, we still have a responsibility to study innovation because these tools shape culture and writing practices whether we use them or not (Rice, Brooke, Gerald)

[I then talked through this table.]

Traditional Scholarly Peer Review
P2P Review
One-way accept/reject/
revise and resubmit
Multi-way feedback process
Gatekeeping Knowledge making and consensus building
Designated reviewers (usually two of them) Open participation, benefit of both expert and nonexpert perspectives (in this case, 22 reviewers)
Blind review Identities of everyone are usually known
Comments intended for the author only Comments public for the benefit of all

[I then showed a diagram I made of all the posts and the linking, in an attempt to show the networked nature of these conversations:]

P2P Review on Weblogs: A Diagram

I'd like to conclude with some questions this case in particular and P2P review in general raises:

  • Couldn't this same discussion have taken place on a listserv? [I did an aside about how I don't want to make the error of technological essentialism and say that this discussion could ONLY have taken place on weblogs, but I do want to raise the question about the technology]
  • How could P2P review be implemented in scholarly journals?
  • Can P2P review be used in a deliberate and systematic way in the classroom? If so, how?

I hope we can discuss these during the question-and-answer period.

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How not to present

Before I get to the presentation itself, I wanted to comment on this part of your post:

I'm in agreement with William Major that we should do conference presentations more like how we teach.

I remember discussing this issue with Nancy Mack of Wright State University right after seeing her give a highly dynamic presentation at the 1992 CCCC in Cincinnati (why does it seem that the 4Cs is so often in a city that makes it the 5Cs?). She commented on the irony of people presenting papers about audience analysis--using techniques that completely disregarded every recommendation in their own papers.

More later ... I wish I'd been there for your presentation, but I'm glad I at least have this.

Two Cultures

Complement or replacement?

Do you envisage some form of the p2p model replacing standard peer review, or the two systems running in parallel / tandem?

I wonder what you see as the essential features of a p2p review model - which elements of that process you described could be modified?

The weblog process you're talking about is familiar but it never occurred to me to see it as a peer review type activity. I wonder why.

How can a shy person get over her dependence on scripts? The unfortunates who have to listen to my lectures want to know.

Essential features of p2p review

That came up obliquely during the session, and I should have been more clear about it. Right now I can only think of two features that seem to me to be essential:

1. It has to be public (publically accessible).
2. The review process has to be open to nonexperts as well as experts on the topic (which is really a justification of #1). I didn't say this in the presentation because I didn't want to sound all blissed-out, but I was thinking of the Buddhist term "beginner's mind" here. A beginner's mind is more open to new possibilities and methods than a mind that, due to rigorous education in the given topic, might suffer from trained incapacity (third paragraph from the bottom).

Other than that, I can't think of anything. The participants can be anonymous/pseudonymous, like traditional peer review. The discussion could conceivably take place using a number of technologies, provided they're publically accessible and they don't foster communities that are too insular and exclusive (e.g., listservs devoted to sub-sub-disciplines), because that would tend to discourage nonexpert participation.

The only problem I'm seeing

The only problem I'm seeing at first is that you have made the series of responses nice and neat. They weren't. They were angry and mean.

My initial response to the article, for instance, mocked the scholarship and InsideHigherEd. I didn't name Hochman or the piece, however. But I did link to it. My not naming him was deliberate - I didn't want to name call, but I obviously wanted to be harsh in the critique. I started this exchange in a very specific manner, one of satire, not of "nice, but..."

Hochman's response to me - one which actually continues to this day - was first hurt for the critique I leveled, but then it turned into name calling.

In the comments section of my blog, this review process - which now includes the author being reviewed's participation - got ugly. Hochman was not addressing the critiques (now also including Collin's on his blog - which were actually harsher than mine, but in a nicer tone), and started attacking my personality. Hochman then tried to mock me on the WPA-L list, but when I responded that he take it off list, he shut up. Recently, he tried to get "revenge" on me by critiquing my own short piece in InsideHigherEd, but I didn't give it attention.

So the rhetorical circulation here is not neat at all. It's bumpy and rough. It's ful of tension - as McLuhan might say - and it got ugly. It streteched out way beyond the initial piece. It continues in your talk and on your blog. It continues in my comment here. This is a complex rhetorical situation of starts and stops. One you won't get in a peer review process, but one which is still interesting for other reasons.

Is this all bad? Does this name calling and angery make the online process worse? Not sure. But it needs to be included in order to not romanticize this process and in order to see how complicated these exchanges can be.

The worst thing we can do when we speak to new possibilities is paint them as flawless or perfect. Even in their faults and gaps, there is much to think about.

Yellow Dog

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