CCCC 14 in Indianapolis Recap

A recap of (for me) a very MOOC-centric CCCCs, more or less in this order and/or with some recall help from my Twitter feed as notes:

  • Indianapolis is about a four hour drive from Ypsilanti, so even though I wasn’t all that excited about going there specifically (or unexcited– Indianapolis strikes me as being the quintessentially average midwestern city), it’s nice being close enough to drive. That won’t be the case for a few more years– Pittsburgh will be in 2019.
  • I wasn’t very diligent about making hotel arrangements early because I sort of figured I could find a cheaper hotel near the conference hotel a month or so in advance.  No dice– nothing was available Tuesday night and all of the downtown hotels were about the same price, I guess because of other conventions/events going on, including an enormous middle school/high school girls volleyball tournament. Luckily, my friend, colleague and much better planner Derek Mueller made a reservation at the conference hotel and I was able to room with him.
  • Unlucky for me though, I had to leave early Wednesday morning to be on a roundtable discussion about MOOCs that was part of the Council of Basic Writing Pre-Conference Workshop.  Made it with about 40 minutes to spare. A good chat and I got a chance to reconnect with MOOC book contributors Jeff Grabill and Ben McCorkle, and I also got a chance to briefly participate with an interest group at the CCCCs that is largely foreign to me.
  • Spent some time playing with the Twitter stream #4C14 and posted this picture of a tweet of a previous tweet of me taking a picture of the Twitter stream screen. Perhaps its best not to think about that too much.
  • The JW Marriott was a pretty swanky-nice place and one of what seemed like 5 Marriott hotel products within a five block radius, but wifi in the room was $15 extra, so I spent a fair amount of time Wednesday afternoon (before going off to functions like the Purdue party) in the lobby with the laptop, catching up– always catching up….
  • Thursday was my main busy day. I started off by doing something I haven’t done in a while: I attended one of these publisher focus group things where they are simultaneously seeking advice and trying to sell you a product. I don’t want to be too specific least I violate some clause in my agreement to participate (though I don’t remember signing anything like that), but it was about an online/portal product. What I was more struck by than anything else was the variety of different kinds of institutions and approaches to things like first year writing represented. It’s a problem for publishers for sure. I mean, courses like “Biology 101″ are pretty much taught the same way everywhere, so it’s relatively easily for publishers to produce textbooks that satisfy a broad audience. On the other hand, the dozen (or so) people at this focus group thing represented a dozen or so different approaches to “freshmen comp,” and some of the differences were pretty striking.
  • Jim Ridolfo and I had a nice moment in the Parlor Press booth. Here’s a picture I took of him taking a picture of his book The Available Means of Persuasion; here’s a picture he took of me doing the same with Invasion of the MOOCs.
  • I went to a session called “Composition MOOCs and Pedagogy by the Thousands:  Reflections on Four Open Education Innovations” that featured Joe Moxley and Rebecca Burnett, and also comp/rhet teachers and MOOC book contributors Karen Head, Kay Halasek, and Denise Comer.  A good talk, and some of the takeaways for me:
    • Running MOOCs is very labor-intensive, involving lots and lots of people who all have to be involved in changes/revisions (“it takes a team”), lots of hours of time developing them, etc., etc. Kay described the model as “not sustainable” in terms of labor and time (this seemed to be the sentiment of others too), which seems to me to be obviously at odds with those who see MOOCs as part of the “solution” to the cost problems of higher education.
    • There were a lot of interesting questions/discussion coming out of this group about why students sign up for MOOCs in the first place and just what exactly MOOCs are for.  Everyone on the panel was quick to say they didn’t think their MOOCs should be for credit at their institutions and they implied they shouldn’t be for credit anywhere else. Of course, that’s not what a lot of administrators and legislators are thinking.
    • On the up-side, these folks all had good things to say about the interactions with students from around the world. On the downside, lots and lots and lots of problems with Coursera; stalkers; unintended consequences for students in other countries (Karen told an interesting story about some of the problems female students in Iran faced through these assignments and peer review); FERPA.
    • I tried to ask a question but it didn’t come out very well, but basically, a lot of what they were all talking about to me just suggested a further disconnect between some of the intentions of MOOCs and what has actually resulted. What I mean is I think the ideal audience for all of these writing MOOCs has been introductory college students around the world– a fairly broad audience that isn’t just made up of American 18-year-olds, but that assumes students who are just beginning higher education. Instead, what we’ve generally seen that a high percentage of MOOC students already have a degree, have no interest in the course for credit, and are taking the course for “edutainment.” Anyway, I don’t think I asked my question that well, but I also don’t think the answer was as clear as it could have been.
  • Then it was time for the session I organized, “MOOCing Back to School: A Roundtable of Professors as Students in Massive Online Open Courses.” I thought it went okay; unfortunately, Alex Reid couldn’t make it, but he did blog about what he would have said here. I thought Liz Losh’s opening statement was pretty interesting because I think it was a preview of her forthcoming book The War on Learning. For what it’s worth, here’s a link to my opener. I think the real value of the discussion was during the Q&A, and I guess the thing I remember now was it occurred to me during the session how our reactions as MOOC students was a lot more mixed than the reactions/presentations about MOOCs from teachers in the previous session. It makes me wonder: what would it be like to bring a group of actual first year composition students to the CCCCs and have them talk about their experiences in the class? Where would there be overlap and discrepancies from the teachers’ experiences?
  • After that, it was a book signing/meet-n-greet sort of thing in the Parlor Press booth for Invasion of the MOOCs. It was cool, though kind of weird too.  I actually did sign two books, one for a friend and one for a very nervous grad student, which was both kind of flattering and a little strange. But it was nice meeting some of the contributors and just generally kind of hanging around and getting some good vibes about the book project.
  • Then I went to a session organized by Derek, “Polymorphic Frames of Pre-Tenure WPAs.” I missed the first couple of speakers, but they all did these short “ignite” styled presentations and put them on YouTube, so follow that link and you can get a pretty good flavor.  I thought it was a pretty good and spirited discussion, though it also made me feel old because I interviewed at least four of the people on that panel. Thursday night was the annual Bedford-St.Martin’s party (always a hit, especially with the grad students looking for free food and drink) and then some dinner with Benninghoff, Bill, and one of Bill’s old grad students.
  • Friday was quite a bit more low-key. I spent a fair amount of time working in the lobby bar (always catching up and online teaching never sleeps), which was actually a kind of good way to socialize– folks would come by and chat with me, I’d work some more, etc. I went to the Committee on Computers in Composition and Communication (or the “7Cs”) which I kind of had to go to after stirring the pot about the conference on the tech-rhet mailing list. And I had a fantastic night out with my friends Karen and John Mauk. We went to a place called Harry and Izzy’s Steakhouse, which is the “sister restaurant” of St. Elmo’s Steakhouse. Besides steak (obviously), both of these places are known for some pretty dramatically sinus-clearing cocktail sauce with their shrimp cocktail. Great stuff.

So a good conference for me, one of the best CCCCs I’ve had in memory. I guess a lot of it has to do with the book– I got a lot of positive vibes/shout-outs for it and it’s kind of cool to have people coming up to you and saying they’re going to buy it or they’ve downloaded it or are looking forward to it or what-have-you. And I also got a lot to think about in terms of the sabbatical project on MOOCs– or potential project. More on that later.

Addendum: As I mentioned originally, I went to the 7Cs meeting on Friday afternoon at the conference, mostly because I kind of felt like I had to after “stirring the pot” a bit on the tech-rhet mailing list. Someone on Facebook wondered why I didn’t talk more about that 7Cs experience, so I thought I’d add more– a slightly edited version of my email response on tech-rhet.

I did attend the open meeting part of the 7Cs (or 8Cs– whose counting?) and I’m glad I did for a number of reasons. First, I think the last time I went to something like this was when there was C&W-type SIG event way back when. I can’t recall ever going to one of these meetings nor reading any sort of minutes/results/communication from this group, and I have to blame myself for that. Granted, I think that the information about the committee is a little opaque and hard to find (more on that in a second), but it’s my own fault that I didn’t know how this committee works. After going, I realize that there is more of a structure there than I thought.

Second, it didn’t take me long at this meeting to see the point of this arrangement.  Now, a big part of me still would like to see some entity/organization/association/whatever completely independent of NCTE or the CCCCs. I think there lots of good reasons why it would be a good thing to create some distance between this community and NCTE/CCCC and I think there is some “street cred” that comes with being an independent group. But I also see why doing that would be challenging (just getting something like that off the ground would take a tremendous amount of work and I sure as heck am not volunteering to do *that*), and it probably isn’t necessary if the primary charge of such a group would be limited to running the C&W conference. I think Dickie Selfe put it really well in the open part of the meaning (to paraphrase, I hope accurately): the advantage of the current arrangement with this 7Cs committee is the board/oversight organization for the C&W conference can remain light, nimble, and comparatively informal, while simultaneously having the backing and official affiliation with a giant, stationary, formal, and
well-recognized group like the NCTE/CCCCs.

Having said that, I have two gentle observations/gentle suggestions for improving communication and transparency (and I made these at the meeting on Friday, too):

*  I think there needs to be a 7Cs meeting/report/presence at the C&W conference– even if such an open meeting might be only sparsely attended– for a number of reasons. For starters, that would make the connection between the 7Cs committee and C&W explicit. A closely related point is the overlap between the CCCCs and C&W is perhaps not quite as clear as it once was: that is, lots of people go to C&W and not the CCCCs and vice-versa. I assume if someone wants to be a member of an official CCCC committee (like the 7Cs), one has to be a member of NCTE/CCCC; so that means under the current structure that if someone wanted to get involved in the group that oversees the C&W conference (and that would include hosting the conference), they’d have to get involved in the CCCCs too. So I guess what I’m getting at is if the 7Cs is going to continue to be the “organizing structure” of the C&W conference, then it ought to be physically present at the conference to make the connection more clear and to give folks who aren’t going to get involved in NCTE/CCCC a chance to be a part of the organizational structure of C&W.

*  I think there needs to be some more robust communication about what the committee is doing, both in terms of getting the word out on future conference sites (and how to propose for future sites) and also in terms of the other activities this group has been involved in over the years. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the entire NCTE site sucks, and so the presence at http://www.ncte.org/cccc/committees/7cs is not enough and it isn’t completely up to date. The other web site associated with the group– http://computersandwriting.org/ –seems like a good idea to me, but I don’t think it’s that well utilized and is probably ripe for a re-haul/refresh/re-visioning for the group. Simply put, the best way to break down that “insider/outsider” dichotomy is to make more information about what’s going on on the inside to outsiders. The web is good for that.

By the way, while I am certainly not volunteering to start a whole new organization, I have indicated to Doug Eyman that I’d be willing to serve on the 7Cs committee and let me also publicly volunteer to take on a revamping/restarting of computersandwriting.org I’m willing to get that going, assuming that there are others out there who would be willing to pitch in a bit too.

As for the non-profit status: as far as I can tell from my modest search of legalzoom.com, it’d cost about a $1K, which is a lot more than I thought but which also doesn’t seem completely out of the question. Of course, I also wonder now if we aren’t already in this category vis a vis NCTE: that is, since we’re already associated with a big huge organization that has already established itself as an official 501(c)(3), why couldn’t people make donations to C&W and then deposit it into some kind of account at NCTE specifically earmarked for the 7Cs? And it also strikes me that filing the paperwork for becoming a 501(c)(3) is the sort of thing that a university or a lawyery friend of the group might be able to do pro-bono, maybe? And really, maybe it’s unnecessary if all the group needs is some kind of bank account that can serve as “seed money” for the next conference, as a place for donations, etc. We’re not talking about tens of thousands of dollars here.

Anyway, an interesting and informative meeting and I feel better about the extent to which the annual conference actually is “organized.” Looking forward to C&W in Pullman and also to what could be an interesting announcement about C&W in 2015.

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