CMC Magazine July 1, 1995 / Page 6
by Mick Doherty (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Evelyn Posey of the University of Texas at El Paso served as the conference chair of the 11th 1995 Computers and Writing Conference, held in El Paso this past May. The theme for the conference, Atravesando Fronteras, Spanish for "crossing borders," represented both El Paso's twin city proximity to Juarez, Mexico, and the conference theme. Posey explained that the conference gave the attendees the "opportunity to cross many borders, both real and virtual; [we were] challenged by researchers and practitioners who are using cutting edge technology in their writing classrooms . . . [working] face to face with friends . . . met surfing the Internet and . . . sitting next to you at past conferences."
In fact, one of the strong "selling points" of the C&W Conference each year is the opportunity for professional colleagues who interact daily from behind their screens to come together in "real life." As Judi Kirkpatrick of Kapiolani Community College (Honolulu) noted, "The C&W Conference provides a venue for like-minded colleagues from around the world to meet face to face -- it's my favorite conference because of its specialization and its participants. I have been an enthusiastic supporter of the conference and also the Alliance for Computers & Writing since its inception, though I never expected to become the first Chair."
Indeed, in a close, multiple-ballot election, Kirkpatrick was elected to be the first Chair of the Board of Directors of the ACW, one of the sponsors of the C&W conference.
The primary business conducted in El Paso was Kirkpatrick's election, and recognition of outstanding contributions to C&W scholarship in the last year: Peg Syverson won the Hugh Burns Best Dissertation Award, while Cindy and Dickie Selfe shared the "Best Article" Award for their collaborative effort, "The politics of the interface: Power and its exercise in electronic contact zones" in College Composition and Communication 45:4. But the Eleventh C&W conference, as its decade of predecessors, was most notable for the personal interactivity, online and off.
Karen Schwalm and Eric Crump, chair of last year's conference, ran the concurrent Computers and Writing '95 Online portion of C&W 11.
According to Schwalm, who is at Glendale Community College in Tempe, "This year, we tried to weave an online conference out of 'worldware,' Internet tools people already knew (email, WWW, etc.), and I think we were relatively successful. Of course, it is difficult to schedule an 'event' for folks who are already comfortable in online environments -- to many, it's just more of the same." The online conference had its largest group of participants ever, but as Schwalm quickly pointed out, "this was the first year we haven't charged for it!"
The online conference has several key functions within the C+W community; first, according to Schwalm, is to expand the group by drawing in those who can't get travel money to the face-to-face conference, and second, to expand the group by providing active roles for newcomers both online and face-to-face. She also mentioned two secondary goals: to define (ironically, given the conference theme) the boundaries and concerns of the group through large-group discussion and to destabilize rank and hierarchy in the field as a whole. "That last doesn't work at all!," she noted with a laugh.
Schwalm is cautiously optimistic about the future of the online conference: "What we've tried to do -- merging the online and face-to-face conferences -- may be impossible. What we may eventually discover is how to stage a dynamite online conference, or that may have to be a transitional period we have to go through before we can merge the two environments successfully."
While it is no great surprise that 78 of the nearly 300 participants in C&W 11 came from universities, educational institutions and private businesses in Texas (the largest numbers from UT-Austin and, of course, the El Paso area), the most impressive impact at the conference certainly came from Lubbock.
The group of thirteen Texas Tech faculty and students, including longtime C&W proponent Fred Kemp, probably seemed more like 130 to fellow conference-goers due to their notable contributions to the presented scholarship. For just one instance, the Friday afternoon panel featuring Tech's Joanna Castner, TyAnna Herrington and Dean Fontenot examined the use of interactive network pedagogy in the composition, technical communication, and literature classrooms, respectively. This sort of cross-disciplinary collaboration has long been one of the implicit goals of the C&W community.
According to Amy Hanson, another Texas Tech graduate student, the emphasis on collaboration is one of the primary reasons Tech is quickly becoming a leader in the field of Computers & Writing: "The Rhetoric and Technical Communication faculty [at Tech] are very interested in the professional development of the grad students . . . [this] has created an open, collaborative atmosphere among the grad students because they are so open with us. The grad students collaborate with one another instead of compete with one another."
Of course, conference participants came to El Paso from all over the United States, and from several foreign homes as well. And the theme of collaboration-over-competition espoused by Hanson was evident throughout the conference.
Every conference has "plenary" speakers, or some such, and C&W 11 was no different. The featured speakers at the conference were:
With all due respect to these speakers, however, the most provoking presentations at this conference came in the give-and-take panels, presentations and workshops.
Some of the most recognizable names in the field(s) of Computers & Writing presented at the El Paso conference, including Kemp, Gail Hawisher, Lisa Gerrard, Myron Tuman, Tharon Howard, John Slatin and Michael Joyce; so, too, did a host of "young CMC scholars" (as Kemp termed them), including Crump, Becky Rickly, Greg Siering, Pam Takayoshi, and Johndan Johnson-Eilola, among many others.
But the exciting scholarship was not limited to the journal editors, listproc managers and anthologists. Just one example of the marvelous collaborative spirit of the conference came from a Saturday morning panel entitled simply "Individual Presentations." Within the allotted 80 minutes, the three "panelists" -- Nancy Tucker of Michigan State, Jennifer Bay of Virginia Tech, and Maureen St. Laurent of Oxford College of Emory University -- had woven their diverse topics (computer metaphors, gendered network dialogue and basic writers in literature classes, respectively) into a coherent presentation that promised much potential collaboration and (in the spirit of the conference theme) crossed many borders.
Kay Butler-Nalin waxed poetic about the practical and theoretical challenges that hallmark the C+W conference: "C & W becomes both more robust in theory and application and more fluid in style as the years pass. More of us have the same 'touchstones' and the same 'commonplaces.' We meet new people we may have never seen and establish rapport in a couple of minutes. Instead of playing the intellectual fencing game of thrust and parry, we immerse ourselves in a synchronized swim of exchanging ideas."
Susan Lang, however, noted that this metaphorical rapport can represent a very real practical problem, as she pointed out that "the learning curve for C&W seems to have become so much steeper in the last few years. Those of us who have been involved at some level with C&W need to keep that in mind . . . the conference is exciting because of this difference in levels of experience, but conference organizers are going to have a harder and harder job ahead to ensure that people with all levels of experience continue to attend."
The task of keeping everyone -- especially the "newbies"--up-to-task in the various conference events fell to Alexandra Babione of Southern Illinois and Mike Salvo of SUNY-Binghamton, who were "Newcomer Guides" for the duration of the conference. Salvo claimed, however, that the "job" of welcoming conference participants was shared equally by everyone there: "The C&W conference has taken steps to welcome those who are interested in constructive educational change but need a little support tobe able to excel. Every C&W'er I have spoken to welcomes questions, even the most basic questions, from those interested in C&W."
This inclusive approach to face-to-face interaction was evident, too, in the various conference workshops, most of which were held the day before and the afternoon following the actual conference schedule.
Lang, for instance, who helped facilitate a workshop called "Crossing Borders with the World Wide Web: Innovation in Writing Instruction and Administration," claimed the experience "only reinforced the notion that those of us who are somewhat to extremely active on-line make up such a tiny fraction of those interested in C&W."
Kirkpatrick, who co-facilitated a workshop dedicated to curriculum design in CMC Composition classrooms, added, "The appearance of new teachers at the Computers and Writing Conferences over the years tells me that there is a growing need to provide contact and basic training in computer mediated teaching in a workshop, hands-on sort of way."
Further, she said, "The kind of contact and confidence these personalized workshops make on people isn't measurable in an afternoon's intensive session, but it is measurable in the emerging voices and faces I see moving into the foreground in Computers & Writing. John Barber from NW Louisiana, Al Krahn from Milwaukee and many others are finding themselves the experts in their venues, much as I have in Honolulu. It's networking at its best.
Dickie Selfe, who both helped lead a workshop called "Surviving the Journey" and participated in a writer's workshop led by the editorial board of Computers and Composition, echoed both the collaborative and networking themes in saying, "I was very impressed by the commitment of accomplished writers as they gave extensive feedback and advice to others in the C & W community. The help has [not only] given me a new sense of the research and writing I have been developing but has encouraged me continue with the difficult process of revision at this level. This workshop seemed to touch young scholars (professionally speaking) at the point where they are vulnerable: moving from conference presentations to published pieces. It showed me again how this discipline is interested in developing and renewing the community."
Even while Posey was keeping a careful eye on the proceedings in El Paso, Utah State's Christina Hult was keeping a careful eye on Posey; Hult will be filling the role of conference chair in 1996 when C&W moves to Logan, Utah for its twelfth meeting.
According to Hult, "My program committee and I are gearing up for what we think will be a fabulous conference held in a Rocky Mountain setting that is unmatched." Further, she says, "USU, and the state of Utah, are leaders in technology by virtue of a state administration, especially a governor, who has been very active in funding technology in education. By the end of the year, every public school and institution of higher education in the state will be connected to the Internet."
Allan Heaps at Michigan Tech is handling the 1996 on-line conference and has already started an online discussion list, CWC96-L. You can contact Allan at email@example.com.
And, believe it or not, it's probably not too early to start making plans for C&W 13. That's according to Kirkpatrick, who's hosting the '97 event--in Honolulu, Hawaii. She left El Paso claiming, tongue only partly in cheek, "Mark your calendars June 4-9, 1997, Honolulu, Hawaii. [One person] suggested I collect ten dollars a weeks from everyone who wants to attend, and give it back when you're ready to get on the plane. Instead, I urge you to put that ten dollars a week in a jar! See you in two years. . . ."
Mick Doherty is a doctoral student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. He writes regularly for Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine.
Copyright © 1995 by Michael E. Doherty, Jr. All Rights Reserved.
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