Computers and Writing Reflections
A major focus of the conference for me and my colleagues from UNC, Erin Branch and Stephanie Morgan, was the podcast workshop we ran on Thursday. We got lots of positive feedback from participants and will likely try to develop the Web site for the workshop into something more substantial. I think it is fair to say that parts of the computers and writing community are beginning to emphasize and study the uses of sound in composition. I wouldn’t say this was the buzz theme of the conference, but I did get a sense that the recent heavy focus on visual rhetoric was now being supplemented by aural concerns as well. I have to wonder about the perennial question about the purview of writing—what gets (de)emphasized when we move into writing programs film, images, sounds, etc?
Thursday evening’s @getinfo session was a lot of fun. I should observe that the number of people now using multimedia for their presentations in the community is growing. There were lots of short videos and I got the sense that our practitioners are more and more comfortable as new media composers—something we often hear called for in our students, but may not have time for in our own work. Let me also digress to say that as far as I can tell every one of these media versions in the session was done with iMovie or iDVD. I hate to think that the people really cranking out new media in their presentations are for the most part the Mac users, but that’s what I think. My teaser is online. I should also observe that the best teasers were not necessarily those that used media. Nothing was better than Will Hochman, Andrea Beaudin, Lois Lake Church, Chris Dean, and Andy Piscitelle strolling into the theater and doing their a cappella version of “Hit the Road Tech.” Sound, again, but no technology and highly engaging.
Friday morning I had to stay in the hotel and do homework beta testing a CD so I missed the town hall and early sessions. I enjoyed the lunch address by Locke Carter—liked the call for more variety in what counts as research—no doubt there were concerns about the ahistorical rendition of the frontier metaphor, but it did illustrate his points.
Friday afternoon I did my presentation on new media instructional materials. I just played my video and Cheryl, Dickie, and Tony talked about our survey. Cindy did a wrap up. My sense is that the information we have gathered is a helpful snapshot of what new media practitioners are doing, but that we need to be thinking more about those who are not doing new media and why?
I also went to the Kairos 10th Anniversary Celebration session. The best thing about this session was just the overwhelming sense of gratitude we need to have for the early Kairos leaders, Mick, Greg, Mike and others; for those who have carried the journal forward, Doug and James; and for those now picking up the baton. I also really thought it laudable that Jim Kalmbach had undertaken a reading of all of the articles from the last ten years in order to create a taxonomy of hypertexts. To me, the range of composing modes laid out by Jim is key to helping us not merely say we are moving from print to digital, but to explain how we are making that move.
Saturday morning I met with Ray and others as a follow up to our Future of the Book meeting last month in L.A. We talked about what would be involved in a community-created, next generation textbook. (I spoke with Cindy Selfe about this the night before, discussing the difficulty involved in investing the large amounts of time required.) From our Saturday morning conversation I took away the sense that such a project will hinge less on technology and more on motivating and mobilizing people.
The rest of Saturday was spent in sessions. I went to New Media + Rhetoric with Dene Grigar, John Barber, and many of their students. They did a nice job of contextualizing the definitions of new media over the last decade or so. It was also great to see so many newcomers to the field presenting their work. The lunch session with Kelli Cargile Cook did a great job of illustrating the need for grants resulting from the cuts in state funding—no new information here, but good to have it put up on the radar screen of the conference. After lunch, the session with Jody Shipka, Madeline Sorapure, and John Zuern did a nice job of detailing issues in new media composition. Jody and John talked about new media in the classroom and Madeline problematized the notion of interactivity by exploring several new media projects.
Next I went to see the demonstration of Sophie and hear from Vicki Callahan and Virginia Kuhn about their new media composing experiences. I’m enthused to use Sophie when it comes out but have to say that the buzz about the as yet unreleased product may be overshadowing its eventual impact. I think I heard the software mentioned at least a dozen times at the conference, usually in the context of solving our current dilemmas in technology-assisted writing. I don’t think it will be the silver bullet. Vicki’s presentation was eye-opening in that she comes from film studies and spoke about the sharp divide in the discipline between theory and practice. I had no idea that film studies students never actually got to make anything with video, but I can see it makes sense. We had a nice discussion of how literature and composition might be mapped over a similar theory/practice split. Virginia’s tale about her publication of the first non-print dissertation was informative as well—lots of issues related to academic culture and intellectual property.
My assessment of the conference as a whole suggests that the field has a good deal of momentum in its engagement with new media. The visual is now being supplemented with the aural and many panelists now have a set of texts they refer to regularly—Manovich, Ascott, Bolter. Most of the discussions of new media, though, still seem somewhat focused on definitional arguments. People are still talking about what new media is and how it might fit into our field and that seemed a bit uninspiring at times. I think, though, this sense may just be a function of my having picked out the sessions on new media almost exclusively. I probably should have attended some blogging stuff as well for a bit more diversity.
Overall the conference affirmed my sense that this group of scholars is the most helpful I have met. There is no better environment for first time conference goers or people new to a field. Janice and Michael again oversaw the mentor program, but it is worth mentioning that the whole affair is one big mentoring tent. Rich said there were something like eighty first time attendees and each felt welcomed not only at the sessions but also into the field.