Jacobson Symposium, 2006: the prelude and rethinking the CCCCs again

It’s been a fine day before the Jacobson Conference at Creighton University in Omaha, NE. I’ve been trying to be kind of modest about this, but I’m actually the keynote speaker for it this year. I’m honored to do it– I hope I don’t screw up too bad.

I’m going to be talking about blogs– a slightly different definition of what they might be, about how MySpace is kinda dumb, about “blogs gone bad,” and about how blogs can work to teach writing. I’ll post a link to a web site for my spiel soon.

The conference is pretty small– about 50 or so folks– and it’s organized by Bob Whipple, who is a professor here, the Jacobson Chair in Communication, and a long-time computers and writing kinda guy. In the course of talking this afternoon, I think we figured out that we’ve known each other via the computers and writing conference or mailing lists for about 10 or so years now.

Anyway, it’s been a good time so far. Dr. Whipple showed me around campus, introduced me to many fine folks, we figured out how to make the computer stuff work (I was having some weird problem with a lot of the images in my powerpoint presenation, which I had burned to a CD, showing up on a Windoze computer– makes me glad I brought my monitor adapter so I can just hook up my laptop to the lcd projector), and then back to the hotel. After some afternoon reworking my presentation, catching up on school stuff, and doing a little shopping, Bob took me to dinner at Omaha’s legendary Bohemian Cafe, a Czech family restaurant that’s been around since 1924- great food and good campy fun.

One other thing I’ll mention, and this has been on my mind lately since there has been some discussion on the WPA-L mailing list about the CCCCs being so expensive: maybe they ought to have that conference in a town like Omaha.

Okay, okay, Omaha isn’t quite the tourist destination of Chicago or New York or San Francisco, and I don’t really know how easy it is for most people to fly in (it’s a pretty small airport). But I know there’s a big huge convention center here, plenty of hotels downtown, and a pretty neat little tourist-type area called Old Market.

To top it all off, the hotel I’m staying at is pretty sweet. There’s high speed internet access in the room, and even free printing through a service called PrinterOn. And I am quite sure this is quite a bit cheaper than the Palmer House.

I guess I’m suggesting that maybe the CCCCs organizers ought to rethink some of the future locations of the conference, and I think that perhaps they ought to think of some “mid-sized” and slightly out of the way towns like Omaha. I like going to fancy cities and doing fancy things as much as the next guy, but it’s also nice to have conferences in towns where people in the field (and composition and rhetoric folks are not generally blessed with enormous expense accounts) can actually afford to attend.

Just a thought. And I hear they have good steak here, too.

Unofficial Notes on a trip to Omaha

Technically, I am on a business trip since I’m giving a presentation at a conference here in Omaha, NE at Creighton University– I guess I’ll write about that later on the official blog– but I thought I’d post a few miscellaneous and unofficial notes on the trip out here so far. For what it’s worth.

  • Got to the airport my regular two hours before the flight and I had about 90 minutes to kill. Which is fine– I would much prefer to be way too early than a little late. And which was also good because I sat at the wrong gate for about a half-hour before I realized what was going on.
  • The plane was a fairly small jet, not a “puddle-jumper” prop engine deal, but not exactly plush, either. I think it sat about 40 people. Anyway, things are going fine when all of a sudden, there is a loud “WHHOOOOOSHHH” noise in the cabin. I turned to the woman sitting next to me, who had also turned to me, and we both had a “what the…?” expression on our faces. Turns out there was a “minor” leak with some kind of door, but we weren’t losing cabin pressure, so the problem was determined no big deal. And I guess it wasn’t since we got here, though the rest of the flight was noisy, sorta like leaving the window in the car cracked while on the interstate. It seemed to get colder, too.
  • The woman I was sitting next to was a sociology professor at U of M-Flint. Small world.
  • Inexplicably, I saw a woman getting on and off the plane clutching a box that (according to the box, at least) had a pyrex glass cassarole dish in it. An odd carry-on choice.
  • So far, downtown Omaha, NE is nicer than I would have thought. Here are a few pictures from a brief afternoon walk:

Downtown Omaha park of some sort

This is a park/walkway of some sort right downtown about a block from my hotel.

Cute French restaurant/wine bar

There’s an area here called “Old Market.” It’s not a huge area (but hey, neither is Greektown in Detroit) with a whole bunch of cool little restaurants and stores like this one.

more Old Town

Here’s another shot of the Old Town area.

Computer Access: Is the glass half empty or half full?

Via this week’s NCTE Inbox email comes this article, “And access for all: Schools try to connect unplugged students with the Internet” in South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel. Here’s one passage:

In an age of instant messaging, iPods, and Web journals, about 3 million teenagers nationwide — 13 percent — remain unplugged, according to a 2005 report released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project on Teens and Technology.

That 13 percent (on average– I’m sure that number is higher in some school districts, lower in others) of secondary school students don’t have regular access to computers strikes me as a glass “half -full,” especially when one considers relatively recent history. But I would agree it’s still a problem that access is not universal.

But the article also makes some other problematic claims about technology. At one point in it, a Miami school official describes technology as the “great equalizer.” Well, I dunno about that. I have plenty of students and colleagues who have fine computer access but less than stellar computer literacy….

Lots of del.icio.us links to the CCCs

Via a discussion railing on the CCCCs on the collaborative blog “The Valve” I came across this very useful link to links across the blogosphere having to do with the CCCCs, put together on del.icio.us by George Williams. Thanks, George.

BTW, you can look at the discussion on “The Valve” yourself if you want to; I’m not linking to it because it is simply too stupid for me to engage in.

Restaurant Review: Gratzi (or, Steve’s birthday week: the conclusion)

What and Where:

Gratzi | 326 S. Main Street | Ann Arbor, MI 48104 (734) 663-6387

Ratings (1=terrible, 5=mind-blowingly great)

  • Tastiness: 3.5
  • Service: 4
  • Price (1=super cheap, 5=super expensive): 4
  • Value: 3 to 5 (see below)
  • General vibe: 4
  • Comments (as of 3/25/06)

    • Our visit last night to Gratzi closed out my annual “birthday week,” this one made all the more special by the fact that this is the big 4-o for me.
    • Gratzi is actually part of a quasi-chain of restaurants owned by Main Street Ventures which owns four other restaurants in Ann Arbor. We’re also a big fan of one of their operations in Toldeo, Ciao.
    • One of the reasons we went to Gratzi last night (and I think this is true with the other Main Street Ventures places) is if you go to the place on your birthday– and I mean the actual day, not the day you’re celebrating– they give you a significant amount off of your meal. For us, it amounted to over $20. In short, the “value” factor goes up quite a bit on your birthday.
    • At one point in time, people used to say it was the best restaurant in town. I don’t know about that. But while I’ve had less than great meals at Gratzi, I think it is consistantly one of the better restaurants in Ann Arbor.
    • That was certainly the case last night. I had the porterhouse steak and it was an enormous and darn tasty hunk of meat. We shared the antipasti misti, and that too was a nice start to the meal. I haven’t asked about it, but I think Annette liked her chicken marsala just fine. For desert, we had a freebie cannoli that was very yummy.
    • Will contends that the fettuccini alfredo is the best anywhere.
    • Other winners at Gratzi are the salmon ravioli, the veal, the various specials that crop up on the weekly menu.
    • The only food complaint/critique I had about last night is the vegetables seemed oddly under-cooked, both on the antipasti misti platter and with my steak.
    • I think the wine list is a bit over-priced, though we were recommended a very nice bottle of wine last night.
    • It’s a really pretty restaurant. We were lucky enough to sit on the second level right by the large window that overlooks main street, so there was people watching outside and over the balcony’s edge inside.
    • All in all, a big thumbs up. Gratzi is not exactly a “risky” restaurant, but it almost always is a winner for “occassion” meals like last night.

    A few misc. links on a Sunday morning….

    I think I need to revisit my RSS software because I don’t think Safari is doing it for me. Maybe I’ll shift the whole regular reads blogs to bloglines; maybe I should buy some kinda software. But that’s something I’ll do in May or so (along with updating the look of this blog and about 100 “to do” list items). In the meantime, a few links I came across this morning I need to look at more in the near future:

    On with what promises to be a very busy Sunday….

    CCCCs, Part 2: My 2 cents on it all

    Despite the fact that I had a very busy couple of days and long nights, I ended up getting up this morning at about 5 am. Actually, I had one of those nights where I woke up at 3 and then never really got back to sleep. Well, I guess it makes sense. Today is my 40th birthday, and I hear old people don’t need as much sleep.

    Anyway, I thought I’d write a sort of wrap-up post on my Conference for College Composition and Communication experience in Chicago. It was kind of a “short trip” for me this year; really, I was only at the conference on Thursday and Friday morning. There were a variety of reasons for this, including the fact that I didn’t want to spend the day of my birthday on the interstate. One of my grad students, who was attending the CCCCs for the first time, was trying to give me a good-natured hard time about this, and also the fact that I only went to two other panels (other than my own). “What’s the matter, don’t you want to learn anything new?” she asked. Well, learning something “new” is relative, especially given that I’ve been to this thing about ten times. And besides that, not all (maybe even most) of the learning takes place in the panels.

    Here’s what I remember (with the help of some notes):

    • I went to see a panel called “Writing Program Administration Database-Style: Knowledge Management and the End of Traditional Composition Studies,” which was a panel by the folks at Texas Tech about this database system they use there called either TOPIC or ICON– that seemed to be an interchangable title to me. This has been talked about on things like the WPA mailing list quite a bit already (and there’s a CHE article on this I have yet to read), but basically, this is a system where students submit all of their writing into this database where it is then commented on/graded by different instructors in the program. The Texas Tech folk claim it’s more efficient, it’s a better use of resources, it provides better student feedback, etc.

      I don’t know. I don’t have a problem with “the machine,” at least not in the way that a lot of people in comp/rhet do. And I certainly don’t have a problem with a system where someone other than the instructor gives feedback or even a grade on student work. But I don’t see the system as being all that “efficient.” The answer to that question when I asked was (basically) that it was more efficient because the turn-around on student writing was greatly reduced; still, it seems to me that if you just told the instructors they need to do around an hour’s worth of grading every day (which is what they do with this system), you’d end up with an efficient system as well. I don’t think they had a very good answer to my other question of who “owns” the work in this system, and that’s significant because they claimed to have about 1,000,000 artifacts/writing samples from students. Someone asked where the “proof” was that, at the end of the day, this system provided better instruction, and they didn’t have a very good answer for that, either (though Becky Rickly did say that was coming at the Computers and Writing conference).

      It’s all kind of a moot point for schools like EMU anyway; I mean, I can’t even get the IT people to let me run MySQL/PHP on an “official” server for God’s sake.

      And, as Collin Brooke pointed out to me in the book exhibit area the next day, this probably isn’t the best way to give graduate assistants appropriate “on the job” training/experience, something that is an important part of the Ph.D. schooling process. Sure, TOPC/ICON gives all students experience grading/commenting on student papers and the like, but, as Collin pointed out, there’s more to classroom teaching than that. There is, for example, the important experience of being a teacher who has to himself or herself return papers to students which that teacher gave a bad grade. That’s an important interpersonal/teacherly moment. In TOPIC/ICON, it is taken out of the classroom teacher’s hands since grading comes from “the system.”

    • The other panel I went to included a presentation from Bill Condon (“The Case against Correctness: Fairness, Reality, and World Englishes”) and one by a guy at Wisconsin-Stevens Point named M. Wade Mahon about ellocution (“The Other 18th-Century Elocutionists: Watts, Fordyce, Gentleman, Barrie, and the Role of Elocution in the Development of English Literature”). I don’t know what it says about me, but the elocution stuff was the reason why I went to this panel, and I thought it was very interesting. Other fun facts from this panel: it was held in this room that looked vaguely castle-like, and Peter Elbow found his way into the audience.
    • I ran into Clancy “Culture Cat” Ratliff before my presentation because the stupid CCCC program had us talking about similar topics at the same time. We didn’t chat much, but she seemed nice and it’s always good to put a face with a blogger.
    • I ran into many other miscellaeous colleagues and friends from the past, too many to list here. Hi again to everyone if you’re reading this now!
    • My presentation went well, I think. I don’t want to say much more than that about it, other than to point out that I have already put the audio of my spiel and the PowerPoint slides up on the web. I was able to record it with a microphone I borrowed from Steve Benninghoff (thanks for the offer though, Jeff Ward!).
    • I always like the book exhibit area, and I bought a few things that might come in handy later. Though I have to say I didn’t really spend much time at the textbook booths (and certainly no time at the McGraw-Hill booth!) I guess the thrill is gone for me. Another EMU grad student attending the CCCCs for the first time told Steve B. and I how great it was that she was getting all of these free books. But as I told her, she will reach a point in which she will wish the textbook publishers would just stop sending her all these damn books.
    • Speaking of textbook publishers: one of the highlights of the conference for me was the Bedford/St. Martin’s party, which was in the main hall of the Field Museum. On the one hand, it was really cool for obvious reasons, and the not so obvious reason that they let folks wander through the exhibit areas (sans food and drink, of course). I got a chance to get a sort of shortened version of the Pompeii exhibit, which was beautiful though perhaps a little too sobering for a cocktail party. On the other hand, because it was at such a cool location, the party seemed more crowded than usual, so getting food and/or drink was a challenge.
    • While at the party, I talked a while with John Walter and briefly with Cheryl Ball, and I urged both of them to pitch the idea of a Computers and Writing Conference in Las Vegas sometime soon to the “seven C’s” group. We’ll see if that idea takes hold.
    • I also talked with a colleague who I will leave nameless who is also a textbook author about the sad state of my now dead textbook project. This person (and every other person I’ve talked to about this, frankly) thought it was pretty stupid of McGraw-Hill to not just let me publish what would be an otherwise unpublished book on the web. But it’s also clear to me after talking to this person (and others I know who have had been successful at textbook publishing/writing) that when all is said and done, I didn’t work hard enough on the project and I didn’t really realize how much work I was signing up for in the first place. Hey, live and learn, live and learn….
    • I went to dinner at the Greek Islands with some colleagues from EMU (Linda and Cathy) and some folks from other places that one or all of us knew in some way (Susanmarie and Tom). We all ended up talking to some college kids at another table who were in town to go to a conference on photography and education– or something like that.
    • After that, I met up with Bill Hart-Davidson and Steve B. for some “after hours” conference events at Miller’s Pub and then the bar at the Palmer House (where I actually chatted business with my favorite textbook company guy in the world, Nick Carbone, who is also my new inspiration for dieting), then for a bite to eat, and then home.

    All in all, a good time. I always like the CCCCs, I always like Chicago, and I’m looking forward to next year in New York. But I have a suggestion to anyone on the planning committee, just in case you’re reading this: why not have this conference someplace warm in March for a change of pace? Miami? San Diego? Honolulu? Just a thought…

    Steve’s Birthday Week, Part 3: More Chicago fun (or, Thai-Thai!)

    I would have liked to have had posted this message while I was still in Chicago, but time was short and, even more important, Internet access was shitty. You’d expect different in a big city like Chicago, but I had a hard time getting a free wireless connection, even at a Panera’s that promised it. It worked one day, kind of, the next day fine, and the third day not at all.

    Anyway, in brief, here’s what I did on Wednesday, which was more or less my “day off” before my part of the conference activities began in earnest:

    After spending a fair amount of the morning grading essays for my online class, I hiked down to the Tribune Tower to see my friend Bruce, who works there. He and I have known each other since freshman year in college, which I guess was 22 years ago now. Jeesh, that’s depressing; I was a freshman before most of our current first year students were born.

    Anyway, we had a lovely lunch at a sort of yuppie Thai restaurant in that sort of yuppie/touristy neighborhood near the Trib Tower and the Magnificent Mile. I had a Pad Thai with some kind of fish that was pretty darn tasty. But hey, what do I know about Thai food, other than I like it and, because Annette isn’t so fond of it, I don’t tend to eat it that much. We talked some business, we talked some sports (Bruce is crushing me in the NCAA Basketball tourney as far as picks go), we talked family, etc.

    On my walk back to the hotel, I went through Millenium Park, which is right off of Michigan and just north of the Art Institute. I can’t remember the last time I was in Chicago, but this was new to me, and pretty darn cool. If you follow the link above, you can see the real photographs, but I have two here from the camera phone that turned out pretty good if you ask me.

    This is a picture of Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate,” what the web site describes as a “110-ton elliptical sculpture is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect the city’s famous skyline and the clouds above.” It’s pretty cool, but I was a little disappointed to find that the bottom part of the sculpture, which you are supposed to be able to walk under and such, was closed off– you can kind of see it in this picture, I think. The blue line on “the bean” (as it is popularly known) is tape, and underneath it is a crew polishing the thing.

    This is “The Crown Fountain,” which was designed by Jaume Plensa. Basically, it’s two big glass towers which project these enormous video faces. “Weather permitting,” as they say, water comes spitting out where the mouth is. Also very cool, and it looked even more cool when I ended up taking a cab ride by it at night.

    I went back to the hotel and did some more grading, and then it was time to meet up with my friends Troy and Lisa. I picked Troy up at his downtown office, and let me just say that driving around downtown Chicago (really, any very large city) is a bit like an elaborate video game. Judging by some of the quasi-illegal/questionable things I did, it appears to me you get three lives.

    Anyway, we went out to their house, which is on the Chicago-side of the Chicago/Oak Park line. A really neat neighborhood with lots of “Chicago Bungalows,” a house style I hadn’t heard of before. Troy and Lisa don’t have one of these, but their house is brick and of a similar 1930’s era. We went out for my second Thai meal of the day, one decidedly different from the yuppie-fied lunch. This place was clean and no frills, and while I think you could get Pad Thai, we all ended up with selections quite a bit different from that– crispy omelette (which was shockingly orangish-red), a soup with coconut milk in it– I believe it’s called Tom Ka Gai– spicy chicken and beef, little egg roll-like things, etc. Very very tasty.

    Thanks again for the hospitality, folks.

    As for the rest of my trip: it was conference/work stuff pretty much all day on Thursday (that’s “official blog” stuff), a bit of conference stuff Friday morning, and then back home. Despite the fact that I was out until well after 2 am on Thursday, I am up this early after not being awake off and on for the last couple of hours.

    I have always heard old people need less sleep….

    Anyway, happy birthday to me. To wrap up my birthday week, I’m hanging out with Will today (while Annette gets caught up on school stuff) and then we’re all going out for fancy Italian tonight.

    Slight Update:

    Troy emailed me to let me know the restaurant we went (and that is just down the street from them, too) is Amarind’s and here’s a review.

    "Broadcast Composition : Using Audio Files and Podcasts to Build Community and Connections in Online Writing Classes"

    I made it back home after the CCCCs in one piece– more on my conference adventures tomorrow or so when I get a chance tomorrow or so. But in the mean-time, I thought I’d go ahead and link here to an audio version of my CCCCs presentation about audio files and podcasting in online classes. Be warned! It’s 9.2 MB and about 16 minutes, so use with caution.

    I think it loses something without the PowerPoint presentation. I hope I can get this ProfCast thing to work and I can tie it to the audio to the visual soon enough, but if you want to enjoy the slides right now too, you can see them here.