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CCCC 2006 in Review

K33 Writing More or Less: New Directions in Mass Literacy

Deborah Brandt, "Writing More at Work"

Brandt began by describing workplace writing and using the example of Howard Pine doing narrative police report writing. Brandt has been researching workplace writing (mostly among government workers) to learn what is happening to these writers in process, and to study what we can learn from workplace literacy. She made it clear that workplace literacy is always first and foremost about communication. For Howard Pine, "opportunities for authorship materialize in complex tasks." Brandt emphasized workplace, technology, and situations that create sites of "authorship opportunities" that she calls "workaday writing." She also noted the literal awareness that other people are writing beyond our classes. Brandt explained that when writing precipitates other peoples' writing, it creates work and advances consciousness about literacy. The example of police officer Howard Pine illustrated his awareness of stenographers as well as legal audience awareness. Brandt noted and analyzed common references to other peoples' writing and reading of workplace reports, as well as awareness of other people's writing effectiveness and boundaries. For example, she made the point that publicity and mass media influence workplace writing. In Pine's example, he devised statements "that shut doors" so his reports won't be taken out of context by news media. Brandt offered other examples of workplace writing that attempt to do the opposite of Pine's door shutting and try to stimulate publicity and media attention. Brandt concluded with the example of Marvin Clark to show how organizational workplace writing is changed by website writing. She presented Clark's example as that of workplace writing moving from an ad agency and promoting the web to acting as an underwriter and software company. She found that as his website writing expanded, Clark's control over content decreased. Brandt noted the large effects of technology and asserted that the implications are complex. There is a striving for improved literacy, and yet she also sees workplace writing opportunities shifting in ways that are less secure and in need of continued study and analysis.

Matthew Pearson, "Writing Lessons from Basketball Fans: The Regulation of Writing in an Online Community"

Pearson began by citing Kathleen Yancy's keynote address which emphasized exploding, public, non-academic, mass writing and focused on a fan group of a The University of Illinois basketball fan organization called "The Hoops Fan Forum." He focused on the founder of the group (called "Hoopster" by the researcher) and the powerful control of what can be written about on the forum by Hoopster. Pearson studied six dates (3 primary and 3 non-primary) of discussion and then sent questionnaires to more than two thousand participants on the discussion days selected for his study. He noted that the forum's growth brought on increased regulation, and used Brunsson and Jacobsson to point out that "more explicit forms of regulation and standardization" emerge. Then Pearson cited Lawrence Lessig on modalities of regulation (laws, social norms, market pressures and architecture) to help analyze Hoopster's example in more detail.

The sports forum has no affiliation with the University of Illinois, nor is it the only website for fans to discuss the team, but it is the largest. It gets approximately five thousand posts and as many as thirty five visitors per day. This forum is totally free and public. Pearson noted effects of the forum on the college basketball by focusing on recruitment and publicity about team troubles. The owner of the site (Scout.com) frequently gets calls from the University of Illinois over concerns about rumors and negative discourse. The moderator has total power to remove threads and ban posters and even to prohibit anyone from offering "disparaging comments about current members of the coating staff, former players, and recruits" to the point were the word, "SUCKS" is simply not allowed. Pearson studied the ways people write and his subjects noted the FAQ which is a set of rules of what people can and cannot write about. He notes Hoopster is open about the controls and that teachers in message boards are sometimes less open. Pearson concluded by summarizing the writing insights and rules that Hoopster posts and noted Hoopster emphasis on how forum users should read first, be aware of their audience, be direct, use evidence, focus on content, and that the number of posts do not determine one's credibility.

Geoffrey Sirc, "Notes on Writing as Sculpture"

Sirc described the emergence of minimalist sculptors clustering on the tools, methods of making, and nature of material. Composition itself became an investigation of means and shape (not forms) became the compositional goal of "the simplest ordering of part to whole." Sirc read at a breakneck speed to link these principles to first year composition. He's one of the few presenters I know who writes so well that hearing him read his ideas is enjoyable. Sirc highlighted the need for more writing in more varied genres in composition and linked this point to the way minimalist sculptors wrote about their work. Sirc explained that he thinks "student resistance to be the engine of student writing." He used minimalist sculptor Karl Andre who argues for the unit's potential so the relationship of composition is whole-to-part, not part-to-whole. Amazement, not persuasion is Andre's communication goal and by implication, Sirc was teaching us to teach writers to bring in elements of their lives and minds that do more than support a point.

Next, Sirc showed how mix tape further illustrates our academic compositional reversal of mind. He noted how the mix tape became the mix CD and iPod mixing and criticized critics who were nostalgic about cassette tapes because they were not clearly seeing the mix tape/CD/disk as a genre. He pointed out that blogs support minimalist ideas (as opposed to thesis, support, notation, and other aspects of academic discourse elements) with "cuts" or snippets of writing and linking them to other media. Sirc believes the minimalist aesthetic can inform composition today with elements of symmetry, avoiding hierarchies, using directness and immediacy, offering text not glued together for easy selection, and using alternate assemblage, and writing toward "low boredom" effects.

— Will Hochman

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