An Unpacked Suitcase


As I listen to my cat scratch my still-unpacked suitcase, I want to share a few general impressions from 4C’s and a little more on one session in particular.

1) The sheer number of sessions that took digital pedagogy in the college writing classroom as a topic was surprising. Crystal made a good point, I think, that the attitude around these was more skeptical than celebratory / certain. But I was still surprised.

2) One thing that was underconsidered in the sessions I went to was concepts around design like universal and participatory. For example, I heard Peter Elbow talk about trusting the mouth, ear, and body for using vernaculars in classrooms but no complication / consideration about who this ideal body came from. AND. Jessica Enoch was a respondent on a panel about spatial rhetoric. Without going into too much detail, it seemed like considering participatory design could have at least helped with the language on unequal rhetorical spaces (a firehouse and a submarine) that 2 of the presenters considered.

3) Okay. I went to a session called: 14 Original Heuristics for Solving Writing Problems: A Roundtable in Tweets. The names! Selber, Selfe, Porter, Spinuzzi (among others I have at least heard of). I mostly just wanted to see what they all looked / sounded like. The idea was that with 1 slide (using only the Twitter allowed number of characters) and about 4 minutes each they could present all 14 sections in an edited collection about new media and technical writing. I’m going to try and explain the three reasons it didn’t quite work for me: a) the topic; b) the speed; c) the genre. To the quick on topic A, I know so little about technical writing that a lot of what was said was meaningless (outside of some computers and writing familiar conversations). That is not their fault and neither is (B) the speed with which they did it. 4 minutes is not exactly enough time to get situated in a field. Just to gripe a bit, however, I will say that in order to hit their 4 minutes, there was quite a bit of nose to the paper reading. And the Twitter-inspired slide often seemed to have a doubtful (or at least unexplained) relationship to that reading. I kept wondering as I tried to choose from 30 + sessions per time slot if some sort of notification system might be helpful for potential audience members. For example, a rating system on what level of topic familiarity is probably necessary for a given session? Is this experts talking to experts? Or will background / orienting information be given? Lastly, C: Twitter, a conference presentation, an edited collection of technical writing. These are three distinct genres not only in form / organization but also in the kinds of information that might be best presented / accessed within them. Trying to mix the three together makes me think about the care that needs to be taken when using media like Twitter to grapple with new / complex ideas. It’s not that I think Twitter can’t do it, but that pithy, speedy ethos, I would argue, needs a reconsideration of exactly what you can do in terms of the information presented. Stuart Selber told the audience that the beginning that this might turn into a mess. He was right, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an interesting mess.

Okay. I’m hoping to keep thinking about 4C’s after I get back to normal sleep levels and wash some of my dirty clothes (the Riviera smells BAD). Anyhow, please read this post with the kind of permanent hedge that I wore around my neck for 3 days:



11 thoughts on “An Unpacked Suitcase

  1. I love the cat picture and the metaphor of an unpacked suitcase! I’m also interested in the ways new platforms “genrify” ( I just made up that word, there’s probably a better one.) and how these (new?) genres support/fail to support effective communication. I think there is a lot of excitement about making them cross over, but I’m not sure it always works. So what do we learn from the “interesting mess”?

  2. As to Twitter’s uses . . . As a person who doesn’t use Twitter, I guess I’ll throw out a question: I know people are using Twitter as a professional networking tool (people at C’s were doing this all the time). Does that change how you use it? What are the characteristics of a professional – Tweet genre? I don’t know that this is a question for you, Chris — but I think it kind of relates to what you’re saying about the (unhappy?) mixing of genres above.

  3. Your three reasons for why the session on heuristics for solving writing problems was a “mess” are interesting – I’m most convinced that the last reason probably mucked up things most. You are right that trying to fit what started in a edited collection into a 4 minute pres accompanied by a tweet seems insane. As for your other reasons, technical writers should know that their audience isn’t going to be just other tech writers, so perhaps they should know to make their points understandable for a more general writing audience. And the 4 mins., well, make one point only and quickly. I don’t think the problem with reading a paper to the audience was confined here only – people did this in other sessions with 20 mins. It’s sad to me that they had such wonderful speakers but that they were limited in so many ways by the required format of the panel. These “roundtable in tweets” sessions are a bit in vogue – but maybe the tweets are best left where they are supposed to be, on Twitter.

    Your comment on wearing the “First-Time Attendee” tag all week also makes me think about the reasons that they do that. Maybe they want to make first timers feel welcomed and give some sort of conversation starter to people who see your tag? But for me it would probably make me feel more conspicuous and that I didn’t belong. I can’t even remember if I had a tag last year when it was my first time – I think I forgot to check the box or something. I’ll be interested to hear how you reacted to it.

    • The tag is optional! The yellow ribbon has a sticky back that fits on the badge. I decided to do it because: a) I really am very down for guidance; b) There was some rumor of free drinks.

  4. It’s interesting what you note about expertise/topic levels here — because a number of social science-type workshops (and even more strictly education-oriented conferences/institutes) use those sort of designators. Really, it’s an access issue — especially when presenters read aloud from densely theoretical papers. (Do you mind if I mention this to the CDICC, aka the disability committee? It’s a good idea.)

    I didn’t attend the suite of 4-minute talks, but wow! Talk about “lightning” talks. Was there anything that stood out to you from that session, food for thought, etc.? (Or was is too quick for comprehension?)

    • Yeah — definitely feel free to mention it!

      As for standing out, James Porter had an acronym (Product, Process, Ethos, Scene, Effect) that provided some focus. Maybe a helpful device for the length of time.

  5. Great post, Chris!

    I love the insertion of some critique in your reaction to these panels, and the questions you brought up in response to assumptions both ableist and design-oriented. It seems like there is a panel in here for you to be presenting! I particularly like the critique of the Roundtable model. These kinds of presentations seem to be quite the rage right now, where a group will have one photograph/slide and 2-4 minutes to create a work of meaning or outline a project from it. For some disciplines this quickness works well–the photographic and artistic seem to benefit from some exercise in brevity–but for others it is an attempt to map a trend to a landscape which calls for a globe. While these technical disciplines might really benefit from being called upon the write in a more popular or accessible style, and to begin to explain themselves to a wider audience (one that, indirectly, ends up funding much of their discipline and would be a good ally if reached out to).

    Side note: I love that they brand you on your badge as a first-timer. FRESH MEAT, COME AND GET HIM, GREEN AS THE WHIPPOORWILL

    Side note 2: Any post with a cat in it doing something adorable gets an automatic five star rating.

  6. Since this was your first time to CCCC (I’ve never been), I wonder how the conference either surprised or met your expectations, and what advice (beyond that interesting one of rating the sessions re: prior knowledge) you might give to a first-time attendee now that your are a C-soned conference goer!

  7. I may have already shared this video at some point (I’m obsessed with it). But one of the things they debate is the usefulness of Twitter to academic type arguments. I love that you are out and out critiquing sessions here. Quite brave and insightful. PS: you forgot to say that your session was awesome 🙂

  8. Chris, that is a great point about the care needed for a successful mash-up. In this case you are speaking on Twitter/New media put into a conference setting (with what, a million parameters?) but I think this idea can go across the board into composition as well. Just because we have certain tools available, doesn’t necessarily mean that they should Actually go together, unless of course a bit of care and thought has been put into it. I think there could have been a successful outcome if the presenters handled the situation differently… I’m curious how Twitter was actually used? Were there multiple Tweets used? Could they have done a pseudo slide presentation? Hmm…

    PS. I now have not one, but two (two!) unpacked suitcases in my living room… I hadn’t quite gotten around to unpacking from spring break before leaving on Wednesday morning. Ugh.

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