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CCCC 2006 in Review

G20 The History and the Future of Writing

Helen J. Burgess, "Whatever Happened to My Moo?"

Burgess began the Appalachia Moo and admitted she loved the programming much more than the interaction on it to explain where she is coming from. She expressed nostalgia about moo's disappearing because ten years ago they seemed like the cutting edge of virtual reality. Burgess noted that usability and geek factors of moos have slowed down moo progress and that moo's have been surpassed by blogs and wikis. "The truth is, moo's freaked us out," she said. Objects with detached descriptions and actions are part of the "object recognition" that makes moo's uncomfortable, whereas blogging yourself is more of a traditional biography and less of a way to be objects in cyberspace. Where moving from textual subject to textual object, but she argued that this is a misrecognition of blog text, and sees blog texts more like "textual entities." Burgess described blogs as "chunks" of text and then went "under the hood" to show us how blogs have ID numbers and claims this tagging system adds to the history of the narrative. "If we've retreated into narrative text, what will happen to our moo's?", she asked. Burgess concluded that moo's will be seen as the "ancestors" not of writing but of object coding.

Michael Day, "The History and the Future of Machine Logic"

Day began by stating that the ideas he will discuss are not so new and drawn mostly from others. He then made it clear that the nature of writing is changing and that he and the field of compositon are struggling to keep up with the changing writing spaces online. Day referred to Kathi Yancey's 2004 keynote speech to support his point that we need to keep up with computer technologies. He mentioned examples of new writing and technologies like Youtube (as an example of how students are creatively "mashing" texts), the Texas Tech ICON system, grading software like Intelligent Essay Assessor (whose vendors claim almost 100% agreement with human graders). Day still questions to what degree we can allow machines to set the standards. He used a wonderfully satiric voice to describe how computer grading leads to formulaic visions of writing. "Smoozing and swaying are what rhetoric is all about," Day claimed, but machine grading is oriented toward impersonal approaches. He thinks this situation will create three classes of students; privileged students who get human readers and teachers, students who write to smart programs, and students who write to programs that only scan, count and score. Day argues for a hybrid approach based on how we use technology and cites Carl Whithaus' idea of using tech to help students think more critically in early stages of writing. "What about the possibility that computers can help us find new relations to text?" Day asked. He mentioned poetry generators as a "just for fun" way to interact with text and in composition. Day cited Lawrence Lessig's presentation at the 2005 CCCC and how Lessig described our students as "the remix generation." Day thinks we can use computers to understand what we really mean. Even "the microsoftening and wordperfecting" of text present teachable moments, he claimed. Day sees the computer as a "collaborator or collaboventor" and concluded with the janus-like idea that we pay attention to the ways computer evaluation can be destructive while remaining alert to the ways computers open new learning opportunities in composition.

Laura Gurak, "Writing as a Code, Code as Writing"

Gurak began on reflecting her past as a printer to get us to the point where she believes that "Codes are us," and that literacy today is "not computers and writing but computers are writing." Gurak got a big laugh by saying "not all humans are meant to write" and supported that with typing skills and the point that speaking is more human in many ways. She started out in printing in the 1970s and then became an early unix programmer which made her aware of the "under the skin" code of writing. Then she jumped to the present where our students are born with the internet in their lives and don't mind being told what to do. She moved on to "templature and literacy" and pointed out that "no technical writer really writes anything from scratch." Real world writing for Gurak in the example of evaluating a chunk of text about pacemakers that then triggers a chain of events that involve lawyers, translations, and localization. Despite the fact that her presentation was more of a casual stream of consciousness talk, she made the audience question how well we are preparing students for applied writing settings and how well we are teaching students to look further under the hood and write with open source software instead of using Word.

— Will Hochman

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