#cwcon 2013

It’s been almost a month now, and that seems like a useful distance from which to reflect on my first conference experience.IMG_1599 Also, like everyone I know, I have been juggling multiple roles and responsibilities and feel like I am just now getting “caught up” – whatever that means – with my academic life after giving it a ridiculous amount of attention in late May/early June and then having to ignore it while I got all my other ducks in a row. So now I’ve had some time to think over what I saw and heard and see what has stuck with me. It probably won’t have the accuracy that an immediate response would have had, but here goes.

I attended the Graduate Research Network, 8 sessions, all three keynotes, and the welcome dinner (with roller coaster!)


I had the incomparable Cindy Selfe at my table and might have said something like “I don’t believe in multimodal assessment! Students make things and share them with the class, and they don’t need me to put a letter on it for them to know whether it worked!” She -and everyone at my table – was very patient with me until my hysteria died down, and then they helped me think about some readings and approaches that might help me get at a better articulation of my concerns. I’m… still articulating them. Watch this space!


I’d like to highlight three of the sessions I attended, and some of them will surely be reviewed over at the Sweetland DRC, so I’ll add those links as they post

a sign that reads "no games or cell phones" in a computer lab where the presenters were planning to demo a twitter game.

I squeezed in just a few minutes late to the packed presentation room for B5 – PLZ RT: Networks, Performances, and Games on Twitter with John Jones, Cate Blouke and Michael Widner. I only caught the end of Jones’ presentation but was intrigued by his argument about how people use hashtags on twitter to communicate subtle messages and how even though the alliances through twitter hashtags may be temporary (perhaps even contentious), that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have failed. Cate’s presentation in five acts with the live twitter stream behind her was entertaining and thought provoking: asking us to consider how we might perform our academic identities with instead of  for, blurring that line between writer, text, performer and audience, creating a “theater without spectators.” Widner had planned a twitter zombie game, but his repeated testing of the program earlier that morning ended up locking him out by the time the conference started. Instead he walked us through the code, explaining the few categories necessary to create a social game and the beauty of writing code for both machines and humans to read. Coding as creative writing.

In session C6, Jason Palmeri and Ben McCorkle presented their preliminary data for Multimedia and the Teaching of English, 1912-1970: A Distant Reading of English Journal which I was very excited about because I’m doing something similar for my first year exam. They were absolutely delightful to watch and the various ways that they coded and represented data were really helpful to see. I left the presentation with a dozen ideas for my own project, but I wish I was working with a partner because I’m a little discouraged by the sheer amount of work that coding all the articles can be. They were investigating the representations of multimedia assignments in English Journal prior to the digital age, identifying trends that closely link historical events and technological advances with classroom practice.

Kyle Stedman, Bill Wolff, and  Tekla Hawkins dove into remix, twitter, fanfiction and theories of composition and community in K1, which was well attended and heavily tweeted even though it was in the last time slot of the conference. You can watch video of it here. Stedman’s presentation was especially novel. He played short audio clips and explained the phenomenological contributions of sound to composition (and confounded the room by pointing out that lasers don’t make the expected swishing or pinging sound that science fiction movies have led us to expect). Bill Wolff examined the twitter community of Bruce Springsteen fans and asked “What are tweeters doing?” He identified practices that historicize, notify, and perpetuate community norms and information as well instances that build intertextual communications. Tekla Hawkins suggested that the increasing popularity of fanfiction demands the need for closer attention from academics and that fan compositions work as a remix practice, drawing from the canon as a database and creating something new.


James Paul Gee: Writing in the Age of the Maker Movement (#kn1)

I liked several things about Gee’s keynote, specifically that he pointed out that while we are talking out of one side of our mouths about the importance of education for employment, we are ignoring the realities of employment and income inequity in America. The sorting function of the American education system is made to level children, and as students’ skills increase, the leveling mechanisms adapt. There will always be a top 10%. There will always be a bottom quartile. We measure people and imply that if they aren’t measuring up, they are at fault, which is disingenuous when we routinely change the measures to make sure that there is a distribution. I think he’s right that we seriously need to rethink the structure, purpose, and promises of education.

I take a tiny bit of issue with his notion that “games talk back” in ways that texts don’t. There is, of course, an interactive element to games, but they are still scripted and limited, with edges defined by the “text’ of the game, the imagination of the game-maker. Still, I suppose they give you a more embodied experience than traditional text.

Karl Stolley: In Search of Troublesome Digital Writing: A Meditation on Difficulty (#kn3)

I’m revising my review for Sweetland, and I’ll link to it once it’s posted. Remembering that everything we do online is supported by commands written in text seems like an important starting place for people who want to think about what it means to be a digital writer. I bought a Unix guide for OS X. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

General awesomeness:

I thought the quality and variety of presentations was impressive. I appreciated the opportunity to talk with people whose work I had read and admired and found the faculty in attendance really committed to mentoring new people in. I had great conversations with people at every turn, especially about pop culture and fan culture communities online. I’ve had no formal training in digital publishing or coding, but I’ve been participating in fan communities and trying to make blogs on various platforms do what I want for ten years now, so I’m fairly well-situated to follow those conversations, and I really, really want to know more. I feel like #cwcon was a place for me to watch other people think through the digital marvels of everyday life, and I hope I have something ready in time to submit for next year.

The teaching and learning affordances of string


I’m currently working on a First Year Exam (FYE) about representations of multimodal and multimedia assignments in NCTE journals, and I haven’t quite nailed down the “question” yet. I’ve met with my two readers to set up goals and timelines, and so, in twelve days, I have to have SOMETHING to give them.

My cohort is meeting once a week to check in and support each other through this (kind of confusing) process, and as I was explaining what I thought I was going to do and how I was trying to document it, Aubrey suggested that I just write about the affordances of teaching with string. She was teasing. I think. But now I’m beginning to take it seriously. Here’s why:


My FYE Map

You see, I’m trying to map my progress and make the connections manifest in a way that will help me structure my final draft. I’m illustrating the parts with images, the connections with string, and the categories, or meta with text on index cards. I’m taking photographs when I make changes and filming the process in hopes of creating a time-lapse video representation of my thought process. For my own entertainment.

I am hoping to get some use out of the process though. I’m hoping that the physical/visual representation of my work will improve the clarity of my prose when it comes time to articulate the connections between the different parts. I’m planning to make a webtext in Dreamweaver alongside my FYE text, and I’m hoping that this large-scale concept map will help me understand the best way to link the parts and convey my ideas about the connectedness of terms like “multimodal” and “multimedia” to each other and to classroom practices.

My biggest problem (always) is narrowing, and I’m expecting this process to be useful for that as well. Maybe with a large-scale reminder that I have left some interesting pieces for another time, I can actually let myself let go of them and focus on something more appropriate to the task demands of the FYE.

So, I don’t know whether string is going to help me do all these things or not, but I like the experience of engaging with my thinking in this way, so I’m going to lean on it for a bit longer and see what comes of it.

I’m also keeping track of articles in my mind palace (which is under construction – always). I need to rework the annotations for the 16 English Journal articles I’ve read before they can go up, and I plan to revisit readings from last semester’s Computers and Writing class to add to the record. I had originally envisioned the repository as a spreadsheet, but I like the idea of using tags and making the information more broadly available – even if I’m the only one using it.

This issue of Kairos is all about multimodality, so no doubt sharper (and quicker) minds have already published what I had in mind. It’s exasperating when reading around unearths work that got to your ideas first, but also very necessary to acknowledge it (and maybe also to acknowledge that being first doesn’t have to be the most important thing about your work). So, I’ll be reading (and annotating for the mind palace) articles from the most recent Kairos and a webtext that they published in the fall by Claire Lauer about the terms multimedia/multimodal/digital/new media. Hopefully the pieces will help me narrow.

Lenticular lenses

I was recently reminded of a chapter by Tara McPherson in The New Media Book called “Self, Other, and Electronic Media” by an ad campaign targeted at children who are suffering from abuse at the hands of adults. McPherson describes the complexities of race representation in new media by comparing it to an older visual technology: lenticular lenses. Lenticular technology interlaced two images in such a way that when viewed through a special lens, only one image could be viewed at a time, depending on the physical position of the viewer and the image surface. The two images coexisted, but their relationship to each other was obscured. McPherson argues that this repression of relationality between the two images exemplifies the problem of constituting the self and the other as if they were not related and reflects similar difficulties in new media spaces where people may work with fragments of representation or code which obscure relationships with the larger social world.

This ad attempts to use lenticular lens technology to send different messages to adults and children, based on calculations of average height:

People in the comments have raised the predictable concerns: short parents, tall children, children of the expected size being unable to read or without access to a phone, the psychological constraints that prevent children from reporting, the problem of parents and children seeing different messages.

This last issue seems to most nearly echo the concerns that McPherson raises in her chapter. The conversation (or lack of conversation) that the ad might provoke between adult and child will rest on the premise that they observe different realities and take away different messages from them. The repressed relationship here is not so much between the two images, which can coexist, but not co-appear, but between the two viewers, the adult and the child, who coexist and co-appear in a reality that relays different messages and attempts to obscure the mechanism by which it does so. What happens when what an adult sees and what a child sees differ? How is the difference accounted for? How is the (child) self constituted in relation to the (adult) other, and vice versa? Do children and adults live in different worlds? How do we deal with lenticular realities?

The visual drama of the advertisement highlights the social drama of situations where children and the adults responsible for them are not necessarily on the same team.  McPherson concludes that “[her] argument builds to a warning, a cautionary tale about the multiple modes of meaning a coded fragmentation can create” (191). Will coded messages improve the lives of children in desperate situations? Whether the ad accomplishes its stated goal or not, it has certainly brought attention to the possibilities and problems of constituting adults and children as inhabitants of unrelated realities.

Reflections on multimodal assignments: part 1

Note to readers: Apologies for the way wordpress may warp the text to accommodate pictures. I’m working on it. (In full screen it’s okay, still not great.) Please comment or message me if you have suggestions!

We’ve been thinking together about multimodal composition in a “Computers and Writing” class that I’m taking this semester, especially about how digital composing might be similar to and separate from other kinds of multimodal projects. It seems especially important to think about in terms of what we mean when we say that we integrate technology (use) in the classroom. I think true integration includes some aspect of creation/production on the part of the student.

Over the years, I’ve tried multiple strategies for drawing students into participation with literature, multimodal composing, and technology with mixed success. I’ve had class blogs and wikis, used learning management systems (like moodle and ctools), made comments and held conferences (both synchronously and asynchronously) through google docs, assigned multi-genre projects, designed displays of student work at varying levels of publicity, and encouraged the production of comix and video. It’s been messy and fun and frustrating. It’s a lot of work, and I kind of love it.

I thought I’d share a bit of my students’ work here and think through what these multimodal assignments offered.

Mythology unit

P1050517For this assignment, students worked in groups to “translate” a myth (the myths were chosen from various cultures) into comix format. They identified the major plot points, divided dialogue and description, modernized the language, and balanced image and text to convey the story. Willie Houston (10th grade) was the lead artist for this group and worked several hours after school and during lunch to complete this project. I especially like the”thinking” backgrounds behind Promethius and Epimethius.

After this project, students wrote their own originary myths – explaining how the world or something in it came to be. Playing on Promethius’s sacrifice, Willie wrote “The Origin of the Fro,” in which the protagonist suffers his hair being snipped away every night so that mankind might enjoy glorious hair.


You can see his rough draft, peer comments, plans for revision (in the starburst), final copy, and illustration.


Around Dia de los Muertos, students wrote a short memorial and copied it onto yellow, orange, or red paper for a class offrenda. iphone%2520350The memorials were about cousins killed in Iraq, grandparents left behind in Mexico, beloved pets, or if someone was lucky enough not to have lost anyone yet, celebrities. Some of my students worked harder and more thoughtfully on these pieces than anything else they did, and it prepared them to read or reflect on (depending on whether we read it before or after) Antigone and her struggle to honor her brother. We lit candles, read Aztec myths about monarchs carrying the souls of the dead, and had cocoa and pan de muertes on the final day of the unit.

Antigone unit

I’m so sad that I don’t have anything to share from Antigone. My husband and I acted out a scene between Creon and Antigone in the courtyard at school for an audience of our combined classes. I can’t believe no one took pictures! We did the scene twice for each set of classes – once with Antigone seeming reasonable and Creon inflexible, and once with Antigone seeming proud and Creon struggling to understand. Administration and students from other classes came to the edges of the courtyard to watch William chase me through the crowd with a baseball bat. It was intense and provoked some thoughtful discussion and writing. I also cut the play into scenes and groups filmed adaptations that we then watched in sequence. I particularly remember one group that spun the play as a gunslinger western. (I’m in communication with my co-teacher at the time to see if she has video.)

Night unit

In this project, I asked students to choose one memorable moment from Night by Elie Wiesel, choose one color, and illustrate it. When they were finished, I put the illustrations in order as a kind of review for the events of the novel. A few moments have only one illustration, but some of the more traumatic/emotional got multiple illustrations, reflecting their importance in the memoir.





I read Night aloud every Spring for six years to multiple classes. These lessons were part of my TAKS preparation unit.

I also did a one-day workshop in test-taking strategies. Sara Simmons (10th grade) created this “paragraph” response for the notes page:


used with permission from Sara Simmons

Shakespeare unit


used with permission from Stephanie Perez

After testing, we typically did a Shakespeare unit, and students had the option of making a poster/comic or adapting and filming a scene. By this time they had done both and had a better feel for where their talents could be best put to use.
I love this final page in Stephanie Perez’s Othello. The silhouette of Desdemona waiting, the image of the candle put out (that’s a reference to the source material), the broken and bleeding heart, and the joined hands at the end capture very well the mix of sorrow, finality, and forgiveness at the end of the play.

In Traci Partida’s work, the damning evidence comes from Desdemona’s cell phone record, though the handkerchief, and Desdemona’s inability to account for it, is still the final straw.


used with permission from Traci Partida

So I have plenty of “composing” going on, great thinking, interesting conversations, but a legitimate question remains: where’s the writing? I believe this kind of work promotes deep engagement and familiarity with texts, community in the classroom, and appreciation of the varied experiences and talents of the students, but can it count as writing? These activities were not the only things we did in class, but I gave them a great deal of time, and I insisted that we read these works aloud together to model my own comprehension strategies and to be sure we all had the opportunity to contribute. By the end of the year, students were fluent in the two page personal reflection essay required for the state exam and well-prepared to tackle the open-ended response questions that required using evidence from the text to make a point. Though I felt pressure to prepare them for those tasks, I also believed that these multimodal projects had the power to get them there. Students had an opportunity to see their thinking embodied in the classroom. They looked at each others’ work with a critical eye and commented on what worked and why. Did these skills transfer to their later reading and writing tasks?

It occurs to me that a great deal of what I was aiming for with these assignments was building “common” knowledge. The potential for display and quick uptake of these projects meant that students often walked around the classroom before and after (and sometimes during) class, taking in what their peers had made of the works we were reading together. So as I revise and research to adapt this piece for my scholarly webtext, maybe I should be looking for the ways in which multimodal projects contribute to community and classroom knowledge.

Confessions of a Conference Lurker

I couldn’t afford to go to 4Cs this year – or, any year for that matter. I’ve never been. To any conference. Anyway, that’s a conversation for another time. Because I knew about the conference this year, and I wanted to go, and I couldn’t, I stalked the conference on twitter.

I’m not sure what to make of what I found there, so I’ll just share what I observed.

First order of business was to figure out the right hashtag. I was not the only person wondering.

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It occurs to me that I don’t know the citation etiquette here. Do I black out people’s names? Get their permission? Everybody who tweeted about Cs is (surely) over 18, so at least there’s that. Will I have to delete this post later to be safe?

None of the hashtags proposed here were quite right. (You can learn quite a bit about diamonds following #4Cs.) A quick visit to the Cs site solved the problem:

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So I loaded it up in TweetDeck, and cruised the #4C13 column whenever I had 30 minutes or 4 hours to spare.

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I am interested in language learning, digital/online reading and writing, coding, and social justice, so I naturally paid closer attention to tweets around those topics,

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but I think it’s fair to say that there were more tweets about the role of digital spaces/platforms/uses for writing instruction than other Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 3.52.10 PMsubjects.

Perhaps people who were predisposed to tweet were likely to attend sessions about digital composing.

Obviously, this method of eavesdropping only afforded me a tiny slice of the convention, and didn’t stretch to cover even the digital sessions that it might have been expected to.

Some tweets were cryptic:

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Some were logistical – targeted at people who were there and (often)tagged with room numbers:

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There was some meta-commentary on presentation:

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And Henry Giroux’s address got people fired up. It was a highly tweeted event.

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Tweets with twitter handles and presenter names were helpful when I wanted to search the web for more info. I often followed people whose presentations looked interesting and visited their websites (if they had them) for more of their research.

Tweets with links to webpages, presentation slides and videos were few and far between, but much appreciated. They gave me an opportunity to think and say something in a way that tweeted observations and quotes did not.

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If twitter is a Burkean parlor, then linking to source material is a serious hand up in helping someone on the outside “join the conversation.” Because of people’s tweeted links, I watched @annetv’s video on the movement for coding literacy, I went through @trentmkays’s prezi on using twitter in his FYC course, and watched @betajames’s remotely presented video (with transcript) about learning management systems (LMS). Several presenters tweeted links to their handouts or transcripts of their talks, and the Cs site had a place where presenters could upload materials, though it didn’t seem much utilized. The “Creative Writing” folder had no uploads and the “Teaching Writing and Rhetoric” had 18, with most of the others having 3 or 4. The links go back to the landing page for the session, and occasionally there are no materials there.

And though I don’t think I really got a feel for the conference experience, I concur with @ahhitt. I was happy to “attend” and attend to what I could find and sad to miss presentations by so many great people.

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Of course, people who were there in person had similar difficulties:

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And now I’m wondering:

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I’m thinking about how we tweet to “converse” with people who are experiencing (or at least are familiar with) what we are tweeting about and how we craft tweets to try to include people who are not. I’m also interested in the tension between the idea that “all the little sips” add up to a “big gulp of conversation” and the worry that Sherry Turkle expressed in her TED talk – that they might leave us “connected, but alone.”


So here’s a video I made in case you are using WordPress Reader to follow the class blogs. It is less than a minute and a half, and it will show you how to add non-wordpress RSS feeds to your WordPress Reader.

It was easy and fun to make. Let me know if it actually helps. I’m interested in how people make these kinds of videos for “flipped” classrooms, and what that might look like in ELA classrooms. I like the idea of being on hand to help students work through their practice/implementation of what they learn in class, but I spent a good deal of time altering what I did in class in response to what students did/did not understand about the literary texts that we read, and I’m not sure that we wouldn’t lose something important by relegating instruction to a pre-recorded lecture. Something about the immediacy of ideas, maybe? Or maybe all that time I spent reading aloud to my classes could simply be podcasted or posted to youtube, and we could have class discussions that went beyond getting through the text together.

Caption Fail Experiment

Here is a simple youtube video recording (made in my Computers and Writing class) of a blog post that I wrote two years ago. Turn on the caption feature (click the [cc] box) and behold the bizarre effect.

Some of my favorite bits:

“jeans occupancy mexican for us”

“still not added to his malcontents”

“I can have two ideas in the house isn’t going to let the sun together danish”

“the foundation making chicken temple”

“slightly less likely to write to kill each other in ring”

“also there’s flooding in opera”

and finally,

“the catholic up this morning

edges okay.”

I was planning to take the entry and run it through voiceover for Mac to see what the youtube caption feature spit out from a computer-generated voice, but I’ve been incredibly frustrated in getting voiceover to work smoothly.

ETA: Here is the VoiceOver version. The captions are not available yet. Not sure how long that might take.

Copyright and Intellectual Property

Sometimes I think: “I don’t believe in Intellectual Property!” but that’s not really true. For example, I think JoCo was burned by Glee’s appropriation of his arrangement of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” I get tetchy when I think someone else has the rights to use my pictures or blog posts because they own the site that hosts them. (And I’m not even planning to use them to make anything artistic or profitable!)

Also, the person who thought he could take credit for work done by The Oatmeal was a moron.

I want artists to make a living off their work and to get credit for having come up with something awesome. But I love transformative  and derivative works, and I think they tend to boost (or extend, recirculate) the profile of the art rather than compete with it – unless they are running around leaving scars, collecting a jar of…no, no, I mean, unless they are trying to take credit for or make money off of someone else’s brilliance without their consent. The way the internet works can make giving credit difficult (but also important), as John Green explains:

Copyright is still a relatively new notion and the beneficiaries are often corporations rather than creators. (This may or may not bother you, depending on how you feel about the status of corporations as people.) Hank Green explains:

If you wonder why people keep performing Shakespeare (apart from the awesomeness of Shakespeare) or why the best use they can find for Jeremy Renner right now is Hansel and Gretel (which I am totally going to see… at some point), part of the reason is that those stories are public domain. What I wonder is whether commercially copyrighted stories today will have the 300+ year staying-power without letting people use them to make art that will pull in a new generation of fans.



As I was making this, I couldn’t help thinking about the expression – “to compose oneself,” and about how we are always putting our identities together for performance – in person, in print, in traditional and in digital media. The composing process both reveals and conceals identity. Elements are chosen for their ability to reveal or convey a message or a feeling or an impression, so that a composer goes through Burke’s “selection, reflection, deflection” process to arrive at a final product that says something specific about the maker.