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CCCC 2004: Review

Review: I 18 Tied to the Mast? The Alluring Sights and Sounds of Technology
Reviewed by: Will Hochman, hochmanw1@southernct.edu
Posted on: April 10, 2004

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Chair Joanna Gibson

Nick Carbone began by presenting “Technology Matters, But Teaching Matters More.”
Carbone discussed pedagogical implications of the interface and is concerned that teachers are being forced into technologies that they don’t have time to think about. He encouraged teachers to “think outside the interfaces they’re boxed into.” Problems with interfaces offer answers that may be innovative. Carbone explained the parallels between human interfaces in traditional classrooms and online class space are all about adapting. The biggest mistake teachers make is thinking that they have to know everything about online technologies to use them. (We don’t always know how boilers work, for instance, to heat our classrooms.) Carbone wants us to focus on basics of the technology needed to use online interfaces. Essentially, he advises us to learn what we need of technology and leave the rest behind. Carbone demonstrated some screens from Comment, Beford St. Martin’s software to facilitate peer review. (He generously noted that his competitors are producing similar products.) According to Carbone, Comment helps teachers collect peer review and demonstrated how teachers can connect their pedagogies of response with the software. He ended his talk by stressing that the invention and use of software pedagogy is fun when teachers may reflect on and discover their human pedagogies being applied online. Carbone is becoming an important voice in our field because he combines his technological acumen with common and uncommon senses of teaching. He sees creative and practical ways to employ technology more clearly than most, and his ability to explain technology in the contexts of our writing classes and cyberspace continues to demonstrate some of the best discourse emerging from the research and practices of our field.

Scott Warnock discussed software that can facilitate assessment and evaluation of student papers. He began by showing Waypoint and then explained the history of software tools to assess writing and argued that our profession had mostly been silent on computerized essay reading in the l980s. He detailed a number of citations from the 1990s that began to focus on computer essay scoring and by the time he got to the twenty first century, Warnock focused on ways to “trick” software like E-Rater. Warnock wondered about the excitement such software creates among CCCC attendees because AI systems go against the grain of most of the advances in our field. He divided the software issue into rubric software, template comments, and AI based readers that surplant the human reader. Warnock went on to explain the ways Waypoint works. First, he demonstrated how Waypoint helps teachers to create a rubric, to create and explain assignments, how to evaluate assignments, and how the software enabled him to email the results to the student. Warnock was thrown by technology failures in his presentation. He ran short on time and apologized to the point of irritation. Nonetheless, Warnock made it clear that he adapted the software to his individual (seemingly traditional) teaching approaches. Warnock also explained that the software enabled him to compare students and see their work holistically.

Rich Rice started by “making a simple idea complicated which is what I do best.” Rich said he was working on “unremdiated schmooze” but then went into a “beware” spiel stressing “we must remediate the student use of new media.”  Rice reviewed McLuhan and Ong to set up understanding about a form heavy balance between form and content. He then went on to explain schmooze as student discourse that emerges when instruction isn’t clear or when they think they know what teachers want to hear. Does schmoozing push out the room for the “real stuff”? Rice used a wonderful prop—maybe the coolest one in the entire conference and it wasn’t online. Instead, Rice used writing on rabbit skins to illustrate the effects of different writing contexts as he transitioned into discussing the ways Topic infuses his teaching. Rice explained that Topic encourages “selectable identities” for students which are achieved through good writing. Rice explained that schmooze works in a portfolio when it remains content centered. He concluded by cautioning us that both learning and play must be the result of new media  tools but they must be used very specifically.  Like Carbone, Rice has wisdom in the way he discusses and uses technology. His use of the beautifully illustrated writing on rabbit skins and his transition from ancient hypertext modes to those we employ now was intelligent and effective.

Carol Rossini presented “Technology’s Siren Song vs. the Writing Center’s Ballad” to analyze grammar checking and writing checking software and stress the “humanware” (my term) in Writing Centers. Rossini seemed to be repeating much of the critical thinking (lead by Cynthia Selfe) that appeared in the l980s but she used more recent citations. She discussed the timeliness of computerized feedback but noted the fact that the writer is unable to discuss evaluation with Holt Online Essay Scoring. Rossini went on to explain that Intelligent Essay Assessor (IEA) does not understand nuances of language despite its claims to be “objective,” timely, and helpful whereas her Writing Center is objective, timely, helpful and even cost effective. She explained how expenses for one computer’s maintenance may total as much as $13,000 when all factors of use are considered. She concluded that computerized tutoring is a more costly, less effective “second choice” to Writing Center tutoring. Rossini’s ideas and presentation were simple and obvious. Audience response (including Fred Kemp) echoed my doubts that this last presentation was very useful. It’s easy to doubt software and computers when we discuss writing but thanks to the hard work of folks like Kemp, Carbone and Rich, we’re learning to follow their paths toward more enlightened uses of technology in the teaching and learning of writing.


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