CCCC 2006 Proposal: Feedback, Please!

UPDATE: If anyone is doing anything on technology, especially weblogs, and you're looking at submitting something individually but would like to get in on a panel, email me; I have one interested party but we need a third!

I know the deadline for CCCC is tomorrow at midnight, but I'm wondering if anyone doing technology in the classroom would like to invite me to be on their panel, or if any of you would like to give me some feedback on this at the moment half-baked idea I have, which I'll be submitting as close to the deadline as possible, when it will be fully baked, or at least sound like it.

In the conference theme statement, Akua Duku Anokye writes:

[W]e find ourselves in a quandary, a middle space battling against the polarities of everyday life. We work between theory and praxis, object and subject, reading and writing, black and white, literature and composition, native and non-native, oral and visual, cognitive and affective, product and process, academic and personal, individual and group. Now we need to ask, "How does composition reconcile the binaries to build coalitions, culture and community in the rich way that Chicago has built its identity?" How do we meet the challenges of this middle ground by embracing our diversity, forging new alliances, and joining with others that care about America’s literacy needs?

The whole conference is about middle spaces and coalitions between polarities. I plan to submit a proposal about the rhetoric of innovation and access, the need to work within and respond to technological innovations and the sense of social responsibility associated with issues of access. A couple of questions keep buzzing around in my mind: Assuming coalitions could and should be built, how would we as a field go about it? If the call to "think critically about technology" has become an empty gesture, how can the original idea, which, as I understand it, is to keep socioeconomic context of technological tools in the foreground and to refrain from being technological determinists (in other words, let the pedagogy drive the technology, not vice versa -- but wouldn't some people argue that this aphorism is misguided?), be reframed in a more vital way? This is one of those times I'd like to be able to propose a completely different format, a discussion rather than a presentation, but oh well. I was inspired by, and will be citing, the discussions spurred by Will Hochman and Chris Dean's article, Hypertext 101. Collin responded, then Jeff, Sharon, Mike, Jeff, Collin, Collin, and Sharon. I'm probably forgetting some posts, but that's a good start. It was, for me, an extremely thought-provoking conversation, and I of course like the idea that the idea for this presentation grew out of blogging -- open access scholarly discussion. I have (a lot) more to say, obviously, but must pause for now and ruminate about it.


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Sounds like fun...

I thought the responses to that article were interesting because they highlighted the question of what it means to be "behind." If you don't have a working knowledge of blogs and wikis and RSS and opensource, you're behind. No question. But relative to 99.5% of writing teachers, you might still be ahead. On my campus I'm practically the tech guru, the go-to guy for "web stuff," just because I know how to use something other than the Announcements function on Blackboard. Blogging? Shit, that's still on planet Mars.

So behindness is in the eye of the beholder. Or maybe the behinder. Depends on what you're measuring against.

Ideally, whenever a new teacher or TA goes through training, they should be learning about all of this stuff. They should have it under their belts before they set foot in a classroom. In reality, most barely make it out of the practicum/orientation with a viable syllabus and a basic idea of what comp theory is. It all comes back to the low priority the teaching of writing gets in our universities, despite all of the conferences, publications, grad programs and such.

It gets embarrassing. Often teachers are well behind their students.

BTW, three years in a row, my 4Cs "presentations" have been conversations and nobody has griped. In San Fran I had no paper to read, just some basic ideas and questions for the "audience." Of course, it's kind of a pain not to be able to call 'em conversations in the program. :-)


Mike, some folks -- like Chris Warnick -- see teachers being "behind" their students as an opportunity to learn. Assuming that the teacher must always know more about everything than the student can lead to a deficit model of education, or what Freire called the "banking" model.

Clancy, I'm sure you're likely already familiar with them, but C. Paul Olson's "Who Computes?" is pretty much the seminal essay on access, and still holds much of its relevance, while Andrew Feenberg has a lot of smart stuff to say about technological determinism.


Oh yeah,

I totally agree with you, Mike, but I not sure that Freirean idea[l]s are enacted in yer typical FYC classroom as often as we'd like to believe. It's more likely that students will find themselves sitting through class after class with their heads in their hands as the teacher tries to fill their heads with information, a lot of which (in regards to 'puters and the web) they don't need to hear. It's the banking model, extra-mindnumbing style.

Of course classrooms should be adaptable enough to enable and encourage student-centered learning. But I think this often fails to happen when it should, and instead teachers spend a lot of time embarrassing themselves whilst pretending to be experts. How many loud sighs must a teacher hear before getting the message, I wonder?

Freirean Ideals

Totally agree with you there, Mike G., and in the past, I've had a lot of impatient things to say about folks who like to style themselves "critical pedagogues" (who largely seem to want to do Freire without Marx and class without economics). I didn't agree with the conclusions Sharon O'Dair drew recently in CE, but man, her critique was right on the mark. Fooling ourselves that we're following Freire is, for the most part, silly. But! I think there's a whole lot of merit to the aphorism Dennis Jerz recently used to describe his role in the classroom: "the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage."

I agree that there's got to be awareness of the technologies with which students are working -- but if a student asks you how to do a ColdFusion query, that doesn't mean you should rend your clothes, beat your breast, tear your hair, and wail "I don't know ColdFusion -- O God, I'm a terrible, wretched teacher!" I think it's perfectly fine to say, "I don't know. How do you see that fitting into your project, and who else might you be able to ask for help?" And I think it's even better to say, "There might be simpler ready-made tools -- maybe something in PHP -- that you can freely download that'll serve your purpose, as long as you make the acknowledgement in your project that you're using them. Why not figure out exactly what you need, and get your partner to help you search for something like that?"

I find myself arguing this over and over again: knowing about blogs and wikis and RSS and open source does not render composition pedagogy, or its attendant concerns, obsolete. In The Future of the Book, Paul Duguid, Geoffrey Nunberg, and Umberto Eco all cited the scene from Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame where the Bishop Frollo points to a book and then to a cathedral, saying "ceci tuera cela": this will kill that. It hasn't happened; nor has video killed the radio star. Do we read and write differently than we did in Hugo's time? Certainly. But we all know this -- none of us live outside of culture -- and we carry this knowledge into our classrooms, whether or not we carry it along with the knowledge of how to write a Perl script or a regex.

One last point: Collin recently wondered why compositionists have chosen to take the burden of access to technology upon our discipline's shoulders and bear it like a cross. It's an excellent question, and one I don't really have an easy answer to other than stuff I've already said about how computers do their neat computer stuff via the very same means by which they make economic inequality visible: i.e., substituting capital-intensive processes for labor-intensive processes. But I'd ask in turn: if you're thinking about University departments, and you want students to learn how to do a podcast, or put together a Quicktime video, or create a Web page, which course in which department would you send them to? For most folks I know, the first answer definitely would not be "first year composition." So I wonder: why are we so eager to bear the tech education cross for the rest of the university? Is this sort of our own form of an academic turf grab?

Mike @ Vitia

My address

2 Board Alley

Clancy my school email has been acting up all day, so here's my contact information for the SIG:

[got it, Joanna -- deleted it here to protect your privacy.]

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