Category Archives: Conferences

The posts below are reflections on my experiences at different conferences I attended from 2011 to today.

CCCC 2013 Kick-Off

The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) kicked off today in Las Vegas with a fantastic keynote by Chris Anson. He delivered his speech as a third-person narrative following an art history professor discovering the political and social movements around higher education, which of course included the cost of college and the online alternatives being explored.

He pointed out that underlying the debate is the relationship between credit hours and accreditation, which is based on seat-time. What do we lose when we turn to competency-based education, which permits any number of educational experiences so long as the student can pass a standardized competency test? These questions lead to a more fundamental one: What is the purpose of college? Is it job training? Or is there something more that we gain from the overall experience of a liberal arts education?

Anson argued that there are critical capacities gained throughout the two-year or four-year college experience—curiosity, reflection, imagination, appreciating a wide range of ideas and traditions. These capacities are developed by engaging class discussion, co-curriculum experiences with social clubs and study groups, collaboration, and hands-on learning; in short, requiring students to do something. But he also posed an important question: are our institutions really providing students with the transformative experience that leads to these capacities? In most cases, and especially in crowded lecture halls, the answer is no. As Anson put it, “Students are paying for a transformative experience and they are getting a pedagogy that hasn’t changed in years.”

So what do we do? Anson advises us to start by learning more about how students learn and then make our own courses more engaging, more transformative.

DML2012 – Twitter & Remixing

I spent the last three days at the Digital Media and Learning Conference in San Francisco. The nearly 1000 attendees represented myriad fields: computer science academics, programmers, designers, K-12 teachers, librarians, school administrators, and graduate students like me.

Of all the ideas and impressions still buzzing around in my head, there are two things that are really sticking: Twitter & Remixing.

TWITTER. While I have been using twitter via The Wheel, this was only my second foray into twitter as myself – @MaryStewart13. My first was at the academic literacy summit, and it was a bit of bust. I was uncertain of what to tweet, largely because I couldn’t figure out who my audience was, and I found the process incredibly distracting. At the DML conference, it was the complete opposite. I had twitter open at all times, and was constantly reading the incoming tweets as I listened to the speakers – it was like the lecture had turned into a class discussion. People were summarizing and clarifying the speakers’ points, raising questions, and occasionally making jokes.

Reading the tweets helped me understand the group’s general feeling about the presentations, which helped me understand how I felt about them. When I was tweeting, it was like a heightened form of note taking – I was writing notes in a Word doc, and when I found myself particularly enthusiastic about a point, I would tweet it. I was thus contributing to the community’s collective reflection on what we were hearing, and passing a few nuggets of wisdom back to the people at home.


Check out the full DML feed – #dml2012.

My immediate reaction to this was, wow, can this transfer to a 300-student lecture class? Of course, I realize that forced interaction is never the same and it would be difficult to keep students on task, but maybe a compromise would be looking at twitter feeds from a conference, talking with students about the unique community of collaboration twitter can invoke, and then asking them to think about how this can be applied in academic or professional settings.

My second reaction is similar to what my friend Jenae talks about on her blog – there was so much writing going on, but no one was talking about it. Just like we can’t allow technology to be transparent background noise, we can’t let writing fade, either. Let’s talk about technology and how it helps us learn, but let’s also talk about the crucial role writing plays in most technological experiences.

REMIXING. One of the big focuses was the way we “tinker” and learn through exploration (e.g., Tinkering School, Scratch, App Inventor), and how remixing (altering or building off of others’ work) is a crucial part of the tinkering process. Most people who learn to program start by copying-and-pasting others’ code and then playing around with it, changing one thing here or there to see what happens. Eventually, I’m led to understand, programmers start creating their own codes, but they often will still refer to and borrow others’ work. Beyond programming, we see this idea of remixing all over the place, the most obvious example being memes (mom, that’s when people take a popular idea and add something new to it – like A writer is… or A salesperson is… or I can has cheezburger).

This is a meme – they have tons of adorable cats saying different things, always with poor spelling. Google it, mom!

The DML conference was littered with conversations about this, but what I didn’t hear were connections to the writing process. As we develop ideas for a paper, we tinker, and then we remix. We find primary and secondary sources and we meld those ideas together create our argument. New writer’s tend to remix a bit more, using more direct quotes, whereas more advanced writers will paraphrase and nod to their sources rather than directly copy their words. And just as the programming world has to deal with issues of attribution, understanding citation is a huge part of writing a research paper.

Why not draw these parallels in the classroom and simultaneously teach students about academic writing and digital composition?

For more information about the conference check out: Doug’s Conference Blog, Kyle Peck, Learning & Badges, Bud the Teacher, Losing the Luddite (Jenae’s blog). You can also look at the Group Notes in a Google Doc or the #dml2012 Twitter Feed.

2012 Academic Literacy Summit in Review

What a day! I attended the fifth annual Academic Literacy Summit, an all-day event for regional K-12 educators. This year’s theme was, “What’s at the core of academic literacy?”, and discussions revolved around the Common Core Standards. There were far too many interesting moments for me to describe, so if you’d like to hear more, check out my classmates’ blogs: Jenae, Hogan, and Aaron.

The day began with a keynote by Carlston Family Foundation outstanding teacher award winner, Jose Rivas, who essentially taught us a high school physics lesson, but also narrated the process so we understood the reasoning behind his techniques. I was blown away by his use of technology and his emphasis on learning via exploration. In one hour, Rivas showed six video clips (including Action Figure Slow Motion Punches and F = MA music video, which are well worth checking out), assigned two interactive activities (we built a catapult for a marble and tested whether a marble or our neighbor was harder to move), and suggested multiple reflective activities (via journal and mind map).

Our marble catapult
The other team’s catapult

That afternoon, I found myself in a similar situation, only this time it was English class. Breakout session leader Nicole Kukrai led us in an analysis of Anna Quindlen’s “A Quilt of a Country,” simultaneously explaining her classroom “routines.” Because the Common Core standards emphasize collaboration and independence, Kukrai purposefully creates an environment in which students are expected to model “real-world” behaviors and productive adult conversations. There is no hand-raising, she frequently asks students to elaborate on their peers’ ideas, and she requires multiple readings of a text.

UNR writing center director Bill Macauley’s breakout session was more like a graduate seminar, invoking a focused discussion of writing instruction and thus claiming first place in my book. Our group included middle school, high school, and college instructors, as well as librarians, which made for a fantastic conversation about lower- and higher-order writing concerns.

Macauley’s Breakout Session: “Audience Analysis: What Should We Be Asking of Student Writers?”

One woman compared writing to mathematics instruction – if you teach the short-cut for long division before you teach the concept, students struggle to conceptualize division; they just want to do the procedure. The same is true for writing – if you only teach the lower-order concepts (i.e., grammar), students will find it difficult to master the higher-order concepts (i.e., analysis). Several other secondary teachers agreed and cited instances of students focusing on the mechanical aspects of writing even when instructed to consider higher-order elements.

On the other hand, Macauley noted that university writing centers often only focus on higher-order concepts and advertise that they are not “clean up services.” However, since editing is an important part of the writing process, this approach isn’t ideal, either.

Some participants felt technology may be a solution to this issue. One woman explained that her school has an English teacher to teach the higher-order concepts, a teacher/librarian to teach citation and documentation, and a computer program to check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. While I appreciate the idea behind this approach, I hesitate to condone using technology in this way. The way we structure our sentences, our vocabulary selections, and our punctuation choices are an important part of communication, and I do not believe a computer can check for the nuanced way the mechanical aspects of writing convey meaning.

How do we appropriately balance higher- and lower-order writing concerns when we teach? Where do notions of audience fit in? How are these ideas impacted by digital communication?

Clearly, the summit gave me lots to mull over. It was a great day!

When you go to a conference with a bunch of teachers, there’s a lot of hand-raising.