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CCCC 2006 in Review

CCCC Distancing Itself from Distance Ed?

The marvelously garish Palmer House Red Lacquer Room was packed to capacity Friday afternoon for Featured Session H. The topic was the Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education. Introducing the session, Dennis Baron grimly noted that the commission "includes representatives from the corporate sector, including two leading advocates of online higher education." While online learning was not a central concern of this session, Baron's opening comment does suggest that, for many, 'online learning' has become a kind of shorthand for the corporatization and degradation of higher education.

The placement of the Computer Connection meeting space in the Exhibit Hall seemed in some ways to make a similar point. Indeed, the space itself-curtained, cramped, uncomfortable-felt a bit punitive. I attended two CC sessions that addressed distance education-both excellent. In the first (CC.1), Donna Reiss reported on bringing her students together with a Swedish cohort for cross-cultural textual analysis (http://crossculturalcollab06spring.blogspot.com/). In the other CC seesion (CC.6), Terra Williams and Kathy Ashman described methods for fostering critical reflection in online discussion forums. On each occasion, more people were prevented from attending than were accommodated by the tiny meeting space. A few tried to nudge aside the dark curtain and listen from the periphery, but this was nearly impossible given the loud, steady, commercial din of the Exhibit Hall.

So is the above evidence that the CCCC seeks to marginalize or disclaim distance education? Perhaps not. There are apparently a variety of explanations for why the Computer Connection would be located in the Exhibit Hall, most of them having to do with the CC's separateness from the main conference program, and the limited number of available meeting rooms. It's also worth noting that most of the CC presentations were on technology issues relevant beyond the online course, and that the CCCC afforded the CC a prominent place in the printed program.

Still, at a time of rapid growth in online learning (according to the most recent Sloan Consortium report on online courses in U.S. higher education, "sixty-three percent of schools offering undergraduate face-to-face courses also offer undergraduate courses online"), it seems odd that there was not more discussion of the growing phenomenon of the fully online composition class. There was some, of course, including session ES.7 on "Collaborative Teaching in Cyberspace," which took place Wednesday, 7-8:15 p.m. This time slot has always struck me as the CCCC equivalent of Friday-night television: the program is on, but the audience is, for the most part, out. The same might be said about the final Saturday 2pm-5:30pm workshop slot, which is where SW.03 on "Making the Transition into Online Teaching" was scheduled. I found only a handful of individual presentations on the subject of online learning. Are such panels and presentations not being proposed, or are they being rejected for inclusion in the program? It's possible that the CCCC is uncomfortable with the migration online of composition classes and therefore does not wish to further it or implicitly endorse it, but even a David Noble-style challenge to the entire enterprise would provide a welcome forum for discussion.

— Christine Photinos

CCCC ConventionFor more information on the CCCC 2006 conference,
visit the NCTE Web site at http://www.ncte.org/profdev/conv/cccc/.