#cw09 and when I saw the point/power/danger of Twitter

I haven’t seen much about Computers and Writing 2009 from the usual academic/computers and writing blogs I read, I suppose because a lot of that crowd wasn’t there. There’s this Computers and Writing post at a blog called “NWP Walkabout;” there’s this post at “Amber’s UIWP Blog;” and Dennis Jerz has lots and lots of great stuff on his blog too. So, in an effort to procrastinate from wrapping up for the spring term and preparing for summer term, I thought I’d ramble on about my thoughts from this year in Davis (to build on my previous posts here and here).

I think the thing that I am most likely to remember from this year is where keynote speaker Barbara Ganley met up with the back-channel on Twitter. Before this conference, I was struggling to see the point of Twitter. Right before this conference, everything was hitting the fan with the Iranian election and Twitter, and while that was/is obviously very important, it’s still kind of abstract for me, more than half a world away. But Ganley’s talk made me see the good and the bad of Twitter, and it she did so by giving what I thought was kind of a bad talk.

Ganley’s talk was basically about how it was important move beyond traditional writing to take advantage of new technologies to teach writing/literacy, how these things are changing, how we need to break down institutional boundaries, blah-blah-blah. I wasn’t impressed, and I guess I had three basic problems. First and most important, I do not think she understood the audience. I mean, this is a talk that might have gone over great at NCTE or a NWP conference, but at a conference where people take it as a given that teaching writing with technology is a “good idea” and where the “cutting edge” is quite a bit beyond that. Second, there was something about her delivery that made it seem like she was scolding us, which was weird because she was scolding us for stuff most of people already do. She would say stuff like “How come we’re not using blogger to teach writing?!” and people like me were thinking “Um, I kinda do that in a way already” or “because I’ve thought about Twitter and I’ve decided it isn’t a good tool for my teaching.” And third, she didn’t seem that well prepared to me. I don’t want to be petty here, but it seems to me that if you are getting paid to do a keynote address, you ought to be a little more polished.

But here’s the thing: while I was sitting there during this presentation being frustrated and not that impressed, I logged into #cw09 on Twitter and was able to see that there was a whole back-channel discussion going on about the presentation, and I was not alone in my frustration. (I should point out that Ganley began her presentation by suggesting people login to Twitter, which was probably a mistake on her part in hindsight. As I heard one person put it to me in an aside later in the day, you’ve got to be careful what you ask for. Also, I think if you look at the Twitter feed for #cw09 during Ganley’s talk you automatically can tell much of anything about the mood of the audience from the talk).

If you were there and you were following #cw09 on Twitter, a whole new dimension to that talk opened up– not the one Ganley intended for sure, but a new dimension of resistance and reaction and occasional snarkiness nonetheless. This was new, at least new to me and most of the folks I talked to at the conference. Sure, Twitter is pretty much a cross between IRC and Facebook, and I don’t think the conversation in and of itself means much– I mean, I don’t think you can read that Twitter feed and independently figure out what was going on during that speech and at the conference in general. It simply does not have the same kind depth and breadth of something like a blog entry (and when was the last time someone suggested a blog entry had these features?) And Twitter, as I think was demonstrated a couple of times during the conference (besides the Ganley speech), unfortunately does a very good job of facilitating snarky and pithy little comments, which tends to beget more snarky and pithy little comments.

Anyway, easily the most fascinating and “I was there” moments I’ve had at C&W in a long, long time.

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