Articles, Blog

Chair’s Address, CCCC 2016

August 14, 2019


And now it’s time for our main event. [Punk music} Knowing I wanted to speak about disruption, I
thought “what’s more disruptive than playing punk music at 9 in the morning?” So we played some punk.
I’ll play some more you after the talk. It’s hard to be complacent
when you listen to that kind of music. And if you want, put that in your head as the soundtrack for today’s talk. Punk and disruption can also produce in your thoughts these images of guys in a garage or the basement slaving away to invent rock and roll, trying new things, and if you want, put that in your head. as the image for today’s talk. because whether you’re talking about
them taking a new approach to rock and roll or inventing Apple Computer,
the garage tinkerer and inventor is our muse today as we reflect on making as disruptive
and innovative action in our discipline and the CCCC. Speaking of the C’s, I’ve been coming to the C’s for a long time, since I was a graduate student in the 80’s. For me (like many of you, I’m sure),
the CCCC is a natural academic home. And it’s easy to see why: a wide range of pedagogical
approaches visible in the program, all our theories on display, varied interests (FYC,
creative non-fiction, creative writing, linguistics, rhetorical theory, history, technical and
professional writing), and a general concern about writing both in the classroom and in
society. The convention has one of the friendliest and most helpful group of members in higher
education. It’s a culture of fun (witness C’s the Day and its Sparkleponies), and
a culture of sharing and learning, where most of us are like Chaucer’s Clerk in that “gladly
would we [all] learn and gladly teach.” We have an acceptance rate that’s stingy—but
not too stingy—so that we can put a lot of people on the program. There are workshops
on Wednesdays, and we serve as a magnet for other organizations such as TYCA, ATTW, and
WPA-GO to meet at the same general time. And during this same span of time that I’ve
been coming to our convention (which is, unbelievably, almost 30 years), I have seen the C’s take
steady and meaningful steps to become more than a guild of writing teachers and researchers,
but also an organization committed to openness, access, inclusivity— CCCC has established travel and research scholarships
that are designed to enable travel to and participation in the convention for both international
and domestic scholars who may not have travel support from their institution. These awards,
along with reduced registration, have benefited a host of traditionally marginalized scholars,
including contingent faculty, graduate students, retired members, Latin American scholars,
tribal fellows, LGBTQ scholars, among others. And the one that started it all, the Scholars
for the Dream in 1993, which includes membership in NCTE/CCCC, travel assistance, and mentoring
to help foster future leaders in our organization. CCCC has an inclusive leadership structure,
where elected positions on the EC, nominating committee, and chair rotation are broadly
representative of the diversity of our organization. And we continue to evolve in this respect.
Did you know, for example, that we have in the last 5 years added elected positions on
the EC for graduate students and contingent faculty? CCCC has created and supported research throughout
our organization, rewarding scholars at all levels, from our undergraduate posters to
graduate students, our book and article awards, and our wildly successful research initiative. CCCC has taken steps to ensure inclusivity
without regard to rank, tenure, job title, or type of institution. We feature undergraduate
research posters, a graduate student on the EC, a thriving XGEN initiative, and SIGs for
grad and retired professors. The program includes papers and roundtables from graduate students,
adjunct and contingent faculty, tenure-track faculty, non-academic or “alt-ac” practitioners—from
private institutions, 2-year, 4-year, regional universities and R1’s. CCCC has committed ourselves to access. In
recent years, we have budgeted for signers, internet for all, AV in all break-out rooms,
and accessibility guides in local cities. Finally, CCCC celebrates and encourages an
incredible diversity and acceptance of being. Not only do we believe in students’ right
to their own language, but to their own identities. This goes for us, their teachers, as well.
We’ve created gender-neutral bathrooms in a time when some try to politicize bathroom
access, lactation rooms in a time when some are squeamish about women’s bodies, quiet
rooms for neurodiversity, a creative disability/ability local group who gets timely information to
you about diet, gender, and accessibility options. We see excellent representation of
women, men, and the gender-nonconforming. It says a lot about the heart of this organization
that you elected me, a transgender person, to a position of leadership. It says a lot
about the CCCC, and believe me, it means a lot to me personally, and I know it means
a lot to all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer members of our profession. [applause] But we’re not done. We still have work to
do to make ourselves more inclusive and more representative. You’ve told us many times (believe me, I
know) that the C’s feels too much like an insider’s club. In this respect, I’m happy
to announce we’ve expanded our research awards to include not just seasoned researchers,
but we have also budgeted money and mentoring for awards to go to emerging researchers and
emerging research topics. And we recognize that it’s not enough for
you to wait a few years until the big convention comes to your corner of our country, so we
also just approved a more micro-level of conference engagement, taking the C’s on the road in
the summers into up to 4 regional conferences [applause] You’ve said that the processes and governance
of the C’s is too opaque, too confusing, its work invisible and hard to find. In the
past, we have written well-researched policy documents that got filed on a website where
they cannot be used. We have surveyed our members on key issues in our field or our
conference, then lost steam after collecting that data. And to that end, we are taking
steps to open up our processes, to make our work more available and usable for you our
members. Not just to our members, but to the outside world, disseminated in multiple-modalities
to multiple-audiences. To that end, I’m also working with the EC to rewrite all our
documents for multiple audiences. Who knows what the right format is: brochures, white
papers, even public service announcements? All I know is that when our hard work gets
filed away in a warehouse, akin the ark of the covenant at the end of Raiders of the
Lost Ark, that’s not good. Outward engagement is critical—because others are making decisions about your curriculum and about your classroom, your work, our shared field. For all of our history and our ongoing efforts at improvement, I’m proud to belong to the CCCC. We’ve done a lot of good and we continue
to do a lot of good. But you’ve got to ask yourself,
“Is it enough?” Of course not, for any number of reasons,
both internal and external. In some respects, these are great days. We’re living in a time of incredible literacy – more people are writing than ever before – using phones and tablets, texting, snapchatting, tweeting, blogging, tools that make it easier
than ever to connect with readers. And more people are reading than ever before – newspaper digests, Reddit, multiple news sources, Facebook feeds, Tumblr, Instagram… I read all day long just to keep with all that. And just look around your campus if you’re not sure. or your public space or even this opening
session – everyone is writing and reading. You could call it a golden age of literacy,
anchored in such communication practices. Whether that’s good literacy or bad, too
populist or not, I don’t know, but that’s for discussion. The fact that we’re reading and writing a lot is not. Employers routinely tell schools, recruiters,
and the press that the skills that are important for making it in their business (and it doesn’t
really matter what business you’re talking about) are critical thinking, problem solving,
and communication. And, as it turns out, these are the very values we espouse and create
in our students and our scholarship. So, to sum up, you’ve got an era of unbelievable
levels of communication, you’ve got a business and non-profit sector dying for communicators
and thinkers. You’d think that in such an age, the disciplines who know how to make
messages, fine-tune them, research them, teach others how to engage in these spaces—us,
in other words—you’d think that we would be in the middle of the action, the heart
of the economy, the very center of society itself.
I think that’s where we should be. But as you know, that’s not the case, and
in fact, the very opposite is true because while these may be great days from a certain
perspective, these are also days of incredible challenges and paradoxes to that literacy
I just spoke about, challenges to our discipline and to this very organization. While our field has matured and grown more
sophisticated, at the same time, economics, politics, and culture seem to drive away our
students and the value we have worked so diligently to create. Our discipline’s core assets
and activities are being eroded in any number of ways, and I’m sure you can think of many
of them. I’d like to highlight three. First, our bread and butter for decades has
been first year composition, the orientation to college writing, the gateway to critical
thinking, preparation for college writing and college life, as well as entrance into
the workforce and even to democracy and citizenship. But because of dual credit, concurrent enrollment,
and advanced placement trends, which have been building for at least 20 years, our core
activities are increasingly being removed from the college classroom and into the high
school space. Current estimates are that fundamental courses like math, history, and writing are
currently operating at perhaps half the level of 20 years ago, and it’s not hard to imagine
a world where FYC no longer takes place in college, and thus, not in this convention. It’s not like it’ll go away from our discipline,
but the ones discussing it will be high school English teachers, and they will talk about
it in our fall convention, the NCTE. And those of us in college who coordinate the best of
those programs, advise high school districts on best principles, and partner with school
districts may discuss these coordination efforts at CCCC, but the work of FYC will most certainly
take place without most of us. And that’s too bad. Because writing isn’t a body of
knowledge that you acquire in 10 or 15 weeks. It’s a habit of mind, a craft, a practice,
and while students and families are rightly concerned with keeping college costs under
control, I fear that what they’re buying is an overstated, under-performing product,
a service that sells them short. Second, the courses that we do teach for subsequent
semesters in college students’ lives are also being cut out of our control, mostly
by paranoid STEM advocates who are worried that their students are wasting their time
in the Core curriculum. It’s not hard to see that effort happening right now, all around
us. In my own university, just this year, the core requirements for STEM majors were
cut from 12 hours of communication, language, and literature, to 6 hours. The initial request
had been to cut to only 3 hours, but all parties compromised at 6 hours, so I guess that made
it all better. The STEM guys got the 2 extra courses they desperately need to be competitive
in math, science, engineering, and so on, not recognizing, of course, that employers
continue to tell us (and them) that problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication are key
values they expect, and unfortunately no additional access to STEM courses is going to change
that need. Third, and this is not anything particularly
unique to our field, as other disciplines experience this syndrome as well, but the
professionals who teach in our courses are increasingly part-time or less-than-part time,
contingent faculty. Estimates are that perhaps only 17% of writing classes are taught by
tenure-track faculty, and many of the rest are taught by instructors who receive no benefits,
low pay, last-minute schedules, and no role in shared governance or decision-making within
their schools. Our discipline depends on an underpaid, overworked, and unappreciated group
of experts, our institutions employing a massive class of part-time specialists, when fulltime
commitment is required. And just like the erosion of FYC and advanced writing courses
in our field, it’s also possible to imagine a future where this group of people simply
says, no more – I’d rather go work 9-to-5 somewhere than be treated like this. And that’s too bad, also. So not only does our field face this complex
paradox, where we have evolved sophisticated research methods, teaching methods, and approaches to compsition that dwarf our field as we understood it at at CCCC’s founding in 1949,
but where our core activities are being undercut by forces well outside of our control. Most of our most pressing problems, then,
are external to this conference and to our classrooms, and these externalities are pressing
on our discipline and our conference hard. For this reason, it’s imperative that we
(the C’s) turn our attention outward – beyond our convention and beyond our classrooms. Of course we will certainly continue the inward work to make our organization and our discipline inclusive, smart, research oriented, teacher-oriented, all of the values we hold dear. But holding those values at the exclusion of outward facing engagement is a dangerous proposition. All the internal improving and moves to open
up leadership opportunities within the C’s will not change the structural and paradoxical
situation in which we find ourselves, caught between offering something of great value
and relevance to society while also losing what little power we have had before. Conservative
tinkering inside the C’s mechanisms is insufficient given the magnitude of external challenges.There’s nothing wrong with conserving. We are the conservators and stewards of a tradition – of letters, rhetoric, deliberation, style, critical thinking, and those rigorous habits
of mind we celebrate and teach. But even as we conserve, we shouldn’t be conservative in promulgating those values. This organization itself can no longer be
just a convention where we give papers. We are more than that, with a shared history, shared values, shared visions, where we’re all related in a mission of literacy, persuasion,
and inclusion. Kent Williamson was fond of saying that you join the C’s not for what
you get (journals, badges, a trip to a convention, a vita item), but for what you get to do,
and that shift from things to actions is what really defines the new turn in our organization.
We believe that we can do more and become better versions of ourselves working together
than we can on our own. So that’s my argument, that because of these
social, economic, and cultural times, it’s not sufficient to simply be good internally,
to teach well, to make our conference better, and to celebrate each others’ hard work
and scholarship. What is required of us is that we disrupt,
or reinvent, our comfortable notions about what we do and explore radical new ideas about
what we should do, what we can do. The current milieu demands outward engagement
and I argue that we engage by making disruption, making solutions, making change. And as we look to engage externally, we should
do so in two modalities, one through advocacy, and the other through making and innovating.
Both paradigms (Advocacy and Making) engage populations outside of the C’s: the public,
the government, the market in different ways. The first is Advocacy, and since it happens
to be the theme of this year’s conference, I won’t spend more than a minute on this
because we’re immersed in the concept for the next three days. Advocacy means looking
at the landscape, identifying the influencers and decision makers in the realm of culture,
economics, and politics, and using our skills of persuasion, communication, and research
to compel them to give us support, money, laws, and cultural capital. Those we engage
with our advocacy are many, not just the government: our deans, presidents, state legislators,
donors, and congress people, the general public, parents, the press, the government, and charitable
foundations. We don’t just advocate TO, we advocate ON BEHALF of others, as well. You each have a highly refined set of skills
and experiences – acquired through grad school, years of teaching, lots of writing
and revising, and life experiences. Advocacy calls on us to be more than teachers or researchers, but to be engaged public intellectuals who use those skills for good in society and for
our discipline, working well beyond our official job descriptions. In the NCTE and the CCCC, we seek to create
advocacy power through the synergy of building our capacity, collective and individual, towards
broader goals around literacy and education via NCTE structure and grassroots boots on
the ground. Capacity building harnesses all those skills as researchers, teachers, speakers,
public intellectuals, and adds media training, and so on, eventually transforming the group
from a collegial trade guild of sorts into something with great agency. This next three days are going to activate
those abilities in you, even if you’re not sure you have those abilities. And I endorse those efforts. And this sort of activity is an important
part of that outward turn you’re seeing beginning to evolve in the past few conventions and in the leadership at the C’s and also NCTE. It’s a good strategy, one we should pursue
within this convention and beyond. But it should not be the only outward-facing
stance – because when you’re doing the asking (asking others for permission, asking
others for money, asking others for legislative rules to change your state and your discipline’s
state, asking or smaller class sizes), when you do that, the power rests in the askee’s
hands, not in the asker’s. The second mode of engagement that’s outward
looking, and the one I’d like to spend the rest of my talk highlighting is making—not
just making in class, which we all know how to do. But innovating, making products and
services, developing apps, reinventing publishing, any number of value-added activities. Taking this step doesn’t require any additional
skills—what’s called for is a different mindset, not a skillset. You already have
the skills—I think that you already have persuasive and building and making and innovation
that you need to do this additional work. So nothing I’m going to suggest requires
a lot of extra training or specialization. What I’m suggesting are ways we can take
our current skills, and leverage those skills, together, looking outward. How would such a reframing change the way
we might see ourselves, as well as how the outside world might see us? Perhaps as designers,
architects, engineers, User Experience specialists, technologists – and if you read the convention
program carefully, you’ll see all of these identities are already at the C’s this very
week. When I talk about making, I’m flipping the
power and flipping the epistemology, and saying that when you make, you dictate what will
happen. You create new things that hopefully challenge the status quo (which is also the
goal of advocacy), and while some, if not most, efforts end in failure, some will be
quite disruptive. For us, this means pushing the bounds of disciplinary
norms, unleashing our creativity without being constrained by norms of propriety and what’s
been done before. In other words, creativity that changes the frame, dictates the terms. And when you hear one of your colleagues say
the words “my startup company,” or “my new app,” you might be tempted to think,
“Oh, that’s a bit unusual for someone at the C’s to talk like this.” I’ll argue that that kind of statement at
the bar, or in a session, should be seen as desirable and normal—as normal as someone
who mentions “my new book,” or “my research” or “my advocacy.” I think that’s my overall and final part
of this argument, that this kind of identification with making and advocating needs to become
central to our identity. Our field’s DNA is in making – you may hear “maker movement”
and think of 3D printing, but think further back to desktop publishing and networked pedagogy
and those things did for writing. And don’t let the word “entrepreneurship”
overwhelm you. It just means trying something, failing, and trying again. Don’t sweat it. [laughter and applause] And if you think about that, it’s precisely what we teach our students in writing—it’s
natural for us—we try, we fail, we revise, we try again, we fail in a different way,
we get feedback, we revise, and so on. Failure is how we learn to write, failure is how we learn to impact society. Failure and experience, hallmarks of Dewey and the maker movement,
is inherent in our practices. I remember taking a class with Jim Berlin
in Austin, and even though I had studied writing theory and had worked in the composition classroom
and the writing lab, for some reason I didn’t think those things applied to me as I struggled
with my own seminar paper, and it was just killing me. I was flailing. We were helping
him on Rhetoric and Reality, doing primary research, and my decade was 1900-1920, and
I focused on English Journal during that period. I’ll never forget, he said your research,
your seminar papers, even my book – they’re all drafts. They’re never finished. That
was powerful permission and powerful medicine to me, and illustrative of this idea of tinkering,
making, never being finished. A moment ago I talked about Capacity Building
as our organization’s project of harnessing and augmenting your inherent skills to turbo
charge our advocacy efforts. In the same way, I would argue that you also have untapped
entrepreneurial energy within you, within your writing program, within your school and
town. For the skills that make you effective teachers, rhetors, researchers, are the same
skills business leaders and professional prognosticators say are critical for the emerging world and
markets of ideas. I believe you can create value for yourselves
and society in ways that are different from current configuration of semester, book, tenure,
students, and committees. And in doing so, I think you can strengthen
your position, you job, and our discipline. I don’t know if we can fix the three thorny
questions I started with, but the dual processes of advocacy and innovation is a start. Let’s look at some examples of makers and
innovators. Let me start with quick story about my own
origins as a rhetorician / maker. Back in the 80’s, at the University of Texas,
fellow graduate students Paul Taylor, Fred Kemp, Wayne Butler, and I founded a lab that’s
still in existence today as the DWRL, and began to write software. And we were encouraged
to make by our rhetoric faculty, no strangers to disruption themselves: Maxine Hairston,
Lester Faigley, Jim Kinneavy, Jerry Bump, John Slatin, and Hugh Burns. Through their help (and a bit of turning a
blind eye), we encoded innovation into our practices, and those practices were writing/rhetoric
based. We coded, knocked out walls, strung cable, invented network pedagogy, updated
William Wresch, Lisa Gerard, Helen Schwarz, Carolyn Handa, and Hugh Burns’ foundational
works in computer-writing and digital rhetorics decades before the MLA was shocked, shocked,
I tell you, to discover that language arts might use digital technologies. My company
Daedalus formed out of that innovative soup, a company that helped our digital rhetorical
practices get off the ground in the 80’s and 90’s. In fact, I think of all my teachers a lot
these days, and not just those from whom I took classes. But those mentors and CCCC leaders
who also encouraged me to be disruptive, including Cindy Selfe and Gail Hawisher, Cheryl Glenn,
and those recent EC and chair elected members with whom I’ve served. As teachers—as well as colleagues and learners—we
need to push our students, we need to push each other, to take such risks and make things. There are many examples of this type of creativity in our field, and I’d like to highlight a few of them, constraining
my examples to members of our own organization, in case you are skeptical about my claims.
Some were participants in last year’s Ignite sessions in Tampa, where I asked our members
to show off their most audacious, most entrepreneurial projects. And they didn’t disappoint. These examples illustrate several different
kinds of innovation, but they all have this in common – a disregard for complacency,
a love of creativity, and a recognition of our field’s problem-solving nature. If they
are unhappy with their out-of-the box course management system, they don’t say, “I’d
like to do X, but software/system Y doesn’t let me do it,” because that is the enfeebled
stance of technological determinism, my friend, giving the power about what you know over
to someone else, a technocrat, not a teacher. Making says the opposite – you know better
because you’re the expert, the one who’s spent years researching language, teaching
students, scheduling classes, inventing and reinventing online education. Let’s look examples from 4 categories of
innovation: Publishing, Coding, Higher Education, and Manufacturing, shall we? Concerned with the slow pace of peer review,
the high cost and markup of for profit presses, the lack of fast bibliographic resources and
archives, and the dwindling number of university presses, we have members right here in the
room who have sought to reframe and reinvent avenues for our research and scholarship. The EServer is a digital humanities venture,
founded in 1990 and based at Iowa State U, where writers, editors and scholars publish
over 35,000 works free of charge. Includes a comprehensive Rhet-Comp section. Run by
Geoff Sauer. Kairos, founded by Mick Doherty and other
graduate students in 1996, all digital, still cutting edge. A refereed open-access online
journal exploring the intersections of rhetoric, technology, and pedagogy. Probably reviewing
this very talk. WAC Clearinghouse, a hybrid digital/print
project founded in 1998 by Mike Palmquist and shepherded over the years by a who’s
who of writing researchers. Part press, part virtual warehouse, part bibliography, part
document archive, with a mission to support scholarly exchange about communication across
the disciplines. David Blakesley’s Parlor Press, an independent
publisher and distributor of scholarly and trade books in high quality print and digital
formats. Founded in 2002. Unencumbered by the bureaucratic machinery of older publishing entities. CompPile, Rich Haswell and Glenn Blalock,
beginning in 2004, it’s the leading bibliographic database in composition studies, providing
listings of work published in composition and rhetoric since 1939. Computers and Composition Digital Press was
founded in 2007 by Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. Committed to publishing innovative,
multimodal digital projects, especially those digital projects that cannot be printed on
paper, but that have the same intellectual heft as a book. Let’s turn to software and coding next The New Yorker asks if English teachers could
learn to code Yes, you can learn and you ought to code.
Maybe like Hugh Burns or myself or Fred Kemp, using C++ or Pascal, creating a full network
pedagogy on a local area network back in the 80’s, or maybe like Karl Stolley or Caitlan
Spronk these days, using ruby on Rails. The language doesn’t matter because coding
is a means to an end, whether you’re making apps, geo-located information displays, relational databases, or implementing some form of digital rhetorics. Yes, I have two thoughts about coding. First, you need to know how to code Ex supreme court justice Sandra Day O’Connor
is writing apps in her retirement, so I know you can do it. iCivics offers 19 apps in total
on topics ranging from international affairs to the US judicial branch. And the one that
everyone ought to be using, including this year’s presidential hopefuls, is called
Win the White House. The starting question is whether you can learn
to code. Of course you can. But the better question is can you recognize the code you
already write? Because if you don’t see what you do as coding, you’re missing out.
You’re already coding the most complicated language there is, natural language that runs with a wet-ware compiler called human cognition. Think about it: Good writing runs, is compiled
on wetware resting in our brains. Natural Language is the markup language Rhetoric is the compiler Cognition is the Computer We compose these symbols into something that
works, that does something. I’m not speaking metaphorically when I say
I see my job as teaching our students to code rhetoric and language. And if you don’t want to code for apps or
application development or database development, code for XML, XSLT, CSS, HTML5, TEI, SGML Here are some great coding projects in our
field: My Reviewers at USF. Joe Moxley, Since 2009,
a suite of tools, including online document markup, peer review, and assessment, and E-Textbooks. ELI Review (or Eli) supports evidence-based
teaching practices and facilitates rich peer learning environments, particularly feedback
and revision cycles. Invented at Michigan State University by Jeff Grabill, Bill Hart-Davidson,
and Mike McLeod. WriteLab. Founded and spearheaded by former
chair of the C’s Donald McQuade. WriteLab combines machine learning and natural language
processing with proven pedagogical principles to identify patterns in language and provide
suggestions specific to your prose. The Game of Writing. Roger Graves’ gamification
of writing classroom, including course management, feedback, and revision. Let’s turn to the world of higher education, shall we? In all the excitement of digital humanities
these days, it’s easy to picture digital humanities and digital rhetorics as primarily
digitized archives of humanities materials, and those are exciting developments, to be
sure. But I think the more transformative nature of digital studies involves the invention
and use of new research methods, as well as the archival use not of primary materials,
but of research materials. Big Data studies undertaken by the likes of
Joe Moxley, Susan Lang, and others, to find meaningful patterns in writing assessment
projects. Rhetoric.IO, a project to share datasets from one researcher to others, programmed by Karl Stolley Michigan State’s Lab, WIDE, run by Liza
Potts, and all its digital rhetoric research methods developing concepts like Rhetorical
Velocity and Rhetorical Modeling Les Perelman’s brilliant BABEL generator
that disproves the effectiveness of machine scoring of essays. You don’t have to code to invent things.
Witness groundbreaking tools and techniques associated with reinventing how we see our profession RhetMap. Since 2012, Jim Ridolfo’s geo-located
maps of both PhD programs and job listings in writing studies. A visual collection of
listsev postings and an alternative to MLA’s Job Information List. Writing Studies Tree. 2012. Founded by a team
of students and faculty at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY):
Ben Miller, Amanda Licastro, Sondra Perl, Jill Belli among others. Visualization of
the complex web of places and people in our field—a great example of visualization techniques
working with relational data. And new ways of seeing the world of higher
education, through reinventing education to inventing alternative pathways of practice. Southern New Hampshire University, transformed
since 2003 by our colleague Paul J. LeBlanc, himself a righteous follower of the idea of
disruption. Paula Chambers’ Versatile PhD. The very
heart of Alt-Ac, is the oldest, largest online community dedicated to non-academic and non-faculty careers for PhDs in humanities, social sciences and STEM. Defend and Publish, Beth Hewett. Seasoned
academic writing professionals who can help with all aspects of writing and researching
a dissertation. And the final category, one that’s close to my heart, manufacturing. Sometimes in following a thread of research in communication and social practices, we follow a thread well outside of rhetoric,
code, and education and into a completely different realm. I’ll highlight 2 such efforts
that began in writing programs with members of our discipline: Shift Labs My friend Beth Kolko and her students at UW
were studying the usability of medical devices, and wondered why certain devices seemed to
be so expensive, cost-prohibitive for developing countries. Starting with a rhetorical question,
they turned to one particular device that is quite expensive—the device that meters
out medicine in an IV tube. Rather than say, oh, that’s why it’s expensive, they asked
if there might be a better way of doing this—why couldn’t you just put a little shadow-light
sensor on the surface of the iv, and program some software that would measure the drops
passing by—if it could be done reliably and validly, it shouldn’t cost too much.
And Shift Labs was born, funded, and maker of low-cost FDA-approved medical device the
Drip Assist, which focuses on the developing world. Instead of spending thousands of dollars
for IV pumps, medical practitioners in the developing world can deliver accurate medicine
to their patients for mere hundreds of dollars. At Texas Tech University’s Usability Research
Lab several years ago, we developed a research question about knowing whether the user saw
something on the screen or not, and we identified eye-tracking as the right method to answer
that question—but the eye-trackers on the market were well outside of our budget. But innovative grad students and faculty Nathan
Jahnke and Brian Still asked, I wonder if we could do the same thing? All we need is
to put a camera close to the user’s eye, and then write some software that would find
and identify the pupil as it moved around. And thus EyeGuide was born, and enabled researchers
to follow an eye around the screen. You’ve all seen heatmaps of patterns of interest
on ads or other images, and that was our initial market. But check this out: Just look at that. It’s beautiful–each
dot is a reader’s eye as it engages the text. Some are slow, some fast, but all of
them play across the text in their own reading. This is my area of research, and we’re observing,
visualizing a biological audience in ways audience theory rarely ventures. Viewing the same data, but in aggregate, we
can see where these eyes have painted the text with their attention—a heatmap. Professors pushing their graduate students to innovate, and those grad students pushing
their teachers to innovate created this device in a writing program. And now we’re turning that knowledge of
the movement of the eye to help parents and coaches recognize concussions in 10 seconds
and manage athletes’ return to play safely and inexpensively. We, like all of these examples, have followed the thread of innovation wherever it has lead us. You may be saying to yourself, most of these
examples don’t have anything to do with writing or composition—but let me remind
you every company, every patent, every invention I’ve highlighted was made by a member of
our profession, colleagues of ours who have sat, and who still sit, right here in this
room. What I argued earlier, and what I’ll argue
here at the close is that these inventions, these patents, these companies should not
be seen as anomalies, pet projects undertaken by writing teachers gone bad. My argument,
rather, is that these inventions have come into being precisely because of the skills
and beliefs that are foundational to our field: curiosity, a willingness to fail and revise,
constructivism and social constructivism, and a commitment to make things out of nothingness. These instances of entrepreneurship or inventive
disruption are more than just blips in our disciplinary history. No, they are the kind
of activity that’s always been at the fringes of our field, one we ought to make more central
in our organization and our discipline. Indeed, I think that they can show us a way forward,
a disruptive and innovative way forward, especially in an era of scarce resources and paradoxes. We (and I mean the C’s and the field) need
to do something more, in between all our other duties—persuade and inform those outside
our convention and our discipline, create value, innovate. You don’t have to start a company or write
an app if you don’t want to (although I think it’s a good idea). No, disrupting
is a stance, a mindset. But at least do this for me, for us: Find other disruptors, other makers, other
innovators right here at this convention. Right in this auditorium. Share your disruptive
ideas in this convention’s action workshops, in the bar, in caucus and SIG meetings, in
the Q&A after session papers, in the hallways. Find these disruptors and find a way to sit
in, to collaborate, to jam with them. Follow the innovative thread wherever it leads: a
new genre, a new theory, a new economics, a new app, a new method. It doesn’t matter where or how you do it,
but it does matter that you make the effort. Ending For my own part, I’m doing my best to disrupt
the C’s, innovate its products, debug its code, reinvent its processes, so that we can
make it more useful and responsive not only for you our members and future members, but also for audiences beyond those convention spaces. For your part, here’s my charge for this
CCCC and beyond. Go forth and innovate. Disrupt. Make. Reframe. To circle back around to how I started this
talk, consider the words of my friend (and punk philosopher) Geoff Sirc: Punk is not a helping discipline; it doesn’t
want to reform, but rather re-form. Yes, Re Form, Re Make. Re Make through your
innovation and your disruption. Take the initiative–Don’t wait for someone
to give you permission. You’ll be waiting a long time. Conserve what’s worth conserving and jettison
the rest in the name of creative destruction. Go learn to code and write an app. Invent or reinvent something Make movies, interviews, podcasts Make connections with your colleagues in STEM
fields. Make new rhetorics, new publications, new
pedagogies, new research methods. Make new companies, new products, new services. Continue to make new writers. In short, for our organization and our discipline, Make. A. Difference. Thank you. [punk music]

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1 Comment

  • Reply Roger Key August 14, 2019 at 3:24 am

    One would think after 1122 views, there would be at least one comment. So, this is it. I've watched this entire vid and i can't agree more. Write, Think, Code, Learn to represent on your own. Do it.

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