A #cwcon 2014 in Pullman recap

I had an educational/fun time at the Computers and Writing Conference last week in Pullman, and I promise I’ll get to that after the jump. But let me get some complaining out of the way first.

I still wish that there was something more of an “organization” behind the annual Computers and Writing Conference, something more akin to the ATTW or RSA or CPTSC or whatever– not necessarily as structured and rigid as giant organizations like NCTE or the CCCC, but something more than the current non-structured affiliation (sorta/kinda) with a standing committee of the CCCCs which lacks an electing process, term limits, and (IMO) transparency. I’ve already voiced these complaints on mailing lists like tech-rhet– and by the way, my complaining a few months ago surfaced at this conference in the form of a few people saying to me stuff like “I’m glad someone finally said something” and a few others obviously avoided me. But maybe more organization isn’t necessary since there are other more organized groups out there. Anyway, got that off my chest. Again.

I still wish C&W would be held in an accessible location more than once every four or five years. Last year it was Frostburg, Maryland; this year, Pullman; next year (and of course we didn’t know the conference was going to happen at all until a few weeks ago), it’s going to be at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, which is just over an hour’s drive away from Minneapolis.  Not so distant past locations for the conference include Muncie, Indiana; Lubbock, Texas; and Normal, Illinois. Maybe for 2016, we need to go really remote, like Guam. (Actually, that might be kinda cool, Guam….)

I am still feeling a little “conferenced out” in general, and I only went to two this year– this one and the CCCCs in March. This complaint is not about Computers and Writing; it’s about the place where I am personally and professionally with academic conferences. Sure, I can and do learn a lot from attending conference sessions (see below) and a conference presentation does count on my C.V. for something, even if only five or so people come to my session (also see below). But with my meager travel budget (this jaunt to Pullman was completely out of pocket for me since I spent my money going to the CCCCs) and with other scholarly venues to present my scholarship (e.g., here, journals, more local events, etc.), I think I really need to rethink and to cut way back on the whole conference thing.

(Of course, I say that and then I do something different. There’s a pretty decent chance that I’ll go to at least three conferences next year, though two of them would be in Michigan).

Alright, enough whining. C&W 2014 in Pullman was pretty cool.


Observations/recaps more or less in the order I remember them:

  • Pullman, like Frostburg last year, is one of those “can’t get there from here” places– specifically, Eastern Washington about a 90 minute drive south of Spokane.  It’s a region called the Palouse, which are rolling and mostly treeless hills stretching as far as you can see. It sort of looks like the start screen on Microsoft Windows, however, as this documentary makes clear, that image was actually taken someplace in northern California. The geography does look a lot like the header logo for the conference website though. They grow a lot of wheat and lentils, though I have no idea what a lentil field looks like– maybe I drove by one and didn’t even know it. Oh, and Moscow, Idaho (home to the University of Idaho) is only about 10 miles away, so between these two college towns in the middle of nowhere (albeit a scenic nowhere) there’s around 50-60K residents and almost as many college students. Benninghoff and Doug Walls and I went over to Moscow to a nice pizza place Thursday night which reminded me of a couple of places in Ann Arbor. Anyway, the Pullman metroplex was scenic, especially from the golf course (see below), but a little isolated for my tastes.
  • Friday started with a keynote talk, which I initially thought it was odd to have something like that at 8:30 am but I was up and at ’em, thanks to the time zone differences.  This first talk from Melanie Yergeau was called “Disable All the Things.” There’s a video of the talk here and the whole text and such are on the conference site.  Yergeau made the connection between “trigger warnings” and accommodations for students with disabilities and it was one of these super-smart talks that makes me rethink a previous position. Basically, I entered into this talk with the perspective of most of the popular media, that trigger warnings about potentially upsetting class content were ridiculous. I’m not sure I left the talk reversing my position and agreeing completely with Yergeau, but I definitely thought her take on this was compelling.
  • In my ongoing effort to restart MOOC work, I went to a session called “From E-mail Exchanges to MOOCs: Evolutions and Convolutions in Peer-to-Peer Online Interaction.” Here’s a link to a web space/wordpress install with the materials from that talk. My favorite parts were Michael Day’s on email exchanges and MUDs from the ancient history days of the 1990s and this video put together by Kaitlin Clinnin about the OSU comp/rhet MOOC. 
  • Then it was already time for the second keynote, this one a talk by Kimberly Christen Withey’s  “Centers and Margins: Access and the Ethics of Openness in the Digital Humanities.” Here’s a link on the cwcon site; here’s a link to her web site,  http://www.kimchristen.com Christen isn’t coming out of the computers and writing world and that has in the past led to some major disconnects with the audience in these kinds of talks, but not this time– great talk. Christen’s talk was about her work with the Australian Warumungu people, who are one of the native/Aboriginal groups in that country, and specifically about the complexities of archiving the group. I think most useful for me was Christen’s cautionary tale about “openness” and the fuzzy line between sharing and frankly just appropriating/colonizing. Bill Hart-Davidson was following the Twitter feed on this and he suggested this reading, “Does Information Really Want to be Free? Indigenous Knowledge Systems and the Question of Openness,” which I suspect is the basis of most of Christen’s talk.
  • The one afternoon session I went to on Friday was “‘Google Apps for Education’ in the Composition Classroom,” which was about just that. To be honest, I didn’t learn a whole lot new here, other than there are lots of other folks (at least at this conference) interested in making using of Google Apps for Education in writing courses and it seems common for GAE to be introduced on campuses in some screwy ways. For example, lots of different places have set up more or less two different email services, one for students and one for faculty and staff. I thought that was EMU’s uniquely bad idea. 
  • Then it was time to golf at Washington State’s golf course, Palouse Ridge. Benninghoff and I were joined by only occasional golfer but long-time conference friend Nick Carbone who more than held his own on this challenging and beautiful course. We ended up missing the last session, the banquet, and the awards, but it was all worth it.

  • Saturday’s sessions started late– 10 am!– and I attended “Collaboration, Curation, and the Digital Humanities.”  Pretty good, though three talks that didn’t necessarily quite fit together with each other. I was there to hear Doug Walls’ talk mostly, “In/Between Programs: Forging a Curriculum Between Rhetoric and Digital Humanities” mainly because that’s kind of what I’m sort if interested in trying to do, forge a relationship/nose myself into some of this DH stuff.
  • Samantha Blackmon’s keynote over lunch was Your Code Ain’t Like Mine: On Being a Woman in Technology Intensive Fields.”  That’s pretty much what her talk was about, though the “technology intensive field” she spent the most time with was the gaming industry and she also did talk a fair amount about the recent #YesAllWomen discussion. An important and good talk, though I did have a hard time hearing it because Sam clearly doesn’t like microphones that much.
  • After that, I went to “F12: Sound, Video, New Media, and Re-Forming Learning.” I especially liked Crystal VanKooten’s talk about using audio and video production to promote meta-awareness in writing classes, something I guess I already knew about but it was nice to see someone doing some smart research on what I presumed was happening. But by then, I was pretty conferenced out and I spent the next session hanging around and not really doing much of anything.
  • And then, at the last session of a long afternoon on a very beautiful day (we had perfect weather that weekend) in a lovely part of the the country, at a time where I personally would have prefered to have been someplace else besides in yet another conference session and yet also during a session time where there were lots of other “big names” presenting, then and only then it was time for the session where I was presenting, “Re-Shaping/Re-Designing Web Applications for 21st Century Writing Classrooms: A Roundtable.” There were five of us presenting (Mike Palmquist couldn’t make it this year) about a book that George Pullman and Baotong Gu edited called Designing Web-Based Applications for 21st Century Writing Classrooms, and there were about five or so attendees. The idea was to talk about what’s happened since this book was published, which was quite a bit after most of us had finished the manuscripts.  Here’s a link to my talk/script. But mostly, we chatted about academic publishing, what can (or can’t) count for tenure and promotion, and for me it was a chance to meet up with one of the editors and to meet some other contributors, including Ashley Hall who apparently had a lot to do with the web site hosting the conference. Imagine if she and Dan Anderson and the other people behind the drupal-driven siteslab.org site were to try to work with the people not doing things with computersandwriting.org….
  • The conference for me wrapped up with some bar food and bowling– probably the most popular bowling night I can recall at C&W. I’d love to post a video of Walls lipsyncing to “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night,” but it’s stuck behind something on Facebook. Got on a plane Sunday morning, came home.
  • And that’s that. I am pretty sure I won’t be going next year for a variety of reasons (see above about cutting down on conferences) and maybe not again until it’s an easier commute. But Pullman was a pretty cool last C&W to attend for a while.
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