CCCC 2006 in Review
How can weblogs be used in first-year classes to encourage conversation, particularly classroom-based? Warnick assumed that the audience is familiar with blogging, and skipped past the "what is a weblog" bit, which I appreciate. I imagine that most of us are relatively familiar with the idea of blogs at this point-but I could be wrong, and if I am, let me know. But as Warnick was speaking to, presumably, an audience already interested in and somewhat familiar with blogs, I appreciate that he skipped past the basic points of blogging to get to pedagogical issues. Beginning with the question, do weblogs belong in the first-year classroom?, Warnick cited Sean D. Williams, the CCC position statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments of 2004, and Into the Blogosphere, noting that blogging is "gaining academic legitimacy." He moved to question whether human communication can in fact be remediated, and if blogs help us do so? After offering the three types of academic blogs (journal, notebook, and filter), he said that the terms did not accurately label the type of blog he wanted to have his students use, where they could interact with their peers, and what he calls a "forum blog." His assumptions about blogs were perhaps a bit faulty-assuming students would like to write in blogs, that they'd already be familiar with the writing space, and that blogs would encourage conversation. He gravitated towards Drupal for various reasons-which reminds me once again that I want to set up my own Drupal site. It does look nice, very easily accessible, and Drupal does offer a simple, easy-to-understand blogging interface. Interestingly, Warnick did ask his students to post a picture to their blog (which was password-protected) so as to encourage community-building, and did ask them to use their first name and last initial only, warning them of the public nature of blogs. "With my experiment well underway," Warnick offered a square of "four conversational styles" to his student bloggers, likely belying his scientific background, which he obliquely referred to in his presentation. I am not sure that I agree with the scientific nature of the language Warnick occasionally used, such as "my hypotheses" and "my experiment." However, he did balance out his categories with interesting discussions of the students who fit the categories-the "alpha student," the "technophobe," the technophile," and the "taciturn conversationalist" (a bit wordy in comparison to the other blithe categories?), yet I do also see these types of students in my own classrooms. However, I would point out that the types are not static and that students often flip back and forth between categories. Warnick noted that his students were not familiar with blogs, threaded discussions that sometimes created a disconnect between class conversations and blog conversations. Verbal conversation in Warnick's class did not increase. Of course, there are so many factors-says I-that could have caused this. Warnick finally noted that the students found blogging to be an assignment, not as a fun, MySpace or Facebook-like forums. MySpace and Facebook are retreats for students, and by bringing blogs into the classroom, we are reinforcing the differences between the students' spaces online and the classroom/teacher space they inhabit in class.
"Blogs are both intimate and anonymous," said Ervin. She likened the blog to the space of Western drama, with its fourth wall-they know they're being watched, but they still feel they are speaking to themselves. Ervin went over blogs about CCCC that appeared on Technorati over the last few days which brings up another interesting tangent-is it all right for Ervin to quote these people's blogs (without their knowledge) in her conference presentation? I am, of course, assuming she did not mention their use ahead of time to bloggers like "Joe E.," quoted only somewhat mockingly in her speech, and Clancy Ratliff's "Culture Cat." My immediate sense, born from my experience in qualitative research methodology and particularly feminist pedagogy, (which argues for a high sense of ethics in dealing with others' voices), is to argue that the speaker should have mentioned to the bloggers that their sites would be quoted. But again, I don't know for sure that she did not, so I can't recoil too much at the prospect of their not knowing. Ervin quoted Steve Krause in his Kairos article on his blogging experience and cited Fernheimer and Nelson to make connections between the social constructivist and expressivist aspects of blogs in the classroom. Ervin moved into a discussion of her 2003 blog experiment and claimed that blogs "are not a labor-saving device…but a genre with which students feel a measure of control." She moves her students to look at how the genre of blogging affects writing after abandoning a sort of 'sermonic' stance of "Look what blogs could be! Look at the power of good blogs like Boing Boing." She finally moved into an account of how a student blogger in her class had a comment from a blogger outside of their classroom community, which helped advance the idea of an audience beyond the classroom and the instructor in particular.
Johnson wanted his students to utilize blogs for research, and wanted to examine our attitudes towards very bad sources available on the web. He began with the example of Wikipedia and said "there is no denying that Wikipedia is a problem," noting that his friend replaced the Wikipedia entry for "cat" with a short prank sentence, and tying this to the problem of students using this inaccurate and "pure rubbish"-filled site. He also cited Technorati as a compendium of blogs filled with "terrible rubbish to cite." Moving to Chris Anderson's Wired article, "The Long Tail," Johnson described how the internet makes everything-even information-so much more available to us; unfortunately, we have a lot more junk available to us along with the good. (Though Johnson's PowerPoint was-as he even admitted-not that advanced, I had a moment of lust for his tablet PC when he was able to draw a quick "heads and tails" graph about what sells and what doesn't. Although I appreciate moments of levity as much as the next person, I often wonder how the rest of the academic audience of CCCC feels about a PowerPoint slide with Gizmo the gremlin-don't feed him after midnight-as a joke before the real slide about the "long tail effect." To me, at least, it felt a bit…inappropriate for an academic conference like this.) Johnson did touch on the differences between older library searches and newer search engine research, i.e., students used to pick books up and hopefully notice the year, etc. after looking at the paper catalog card. He moved back to Anderson's third rule, "help me find it," noting that even in the age of easier searches and more sources available, not being able to find good, valuable information is not a new research problem; it's more like "the research problem," Johnson said. I still don't agree that sites like Gale Research Database are complete rubbish-and nor is Gwen Stefani, to a point-but I do agree with Johnson's point that we can use these, and pose these examples to our students, as a good start, a good beginning-from which, I suppose, we can go find those sources that are no longer rubbish.
— Stephanie Vie
For more information on the CCCC 2006 conference,
visit the NCTE Web site at http://www.ncte.org/profdev/conv/cccc/.