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Jennifer Sano-Franchini

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May 6, 2011

Digital Rhetorics at CCCC 2011

In early April, I took a trip down to Atlanta, Georgia, for this year’s Conference on College Composition and Communication (more commonly known as CCCC, Cs, or 4Cs). CCCC is the largest professional conference for the field of Rhetoric and Composition. For this post, I’d like to give a picture of the current state of digital rhetoric in the field of Rhetoric and Composition by discussing how people were talking and thinking about digital technologies at CCCC 2011.

To begin, this year’s theme, “All Our Relations: Contested Space, Contested Knowledge,” was a clear call for more listening across disciplinary subjectivities, between “digital rhetorician and second-language writing instructor, historian and 2-year college teacher, theorist and workplace studies scholar, methodologist and tech writing teacher, administrator and graduate student.” Program Chair/CCCC Associate Chair Malea Powell’s call for proposals encouraged better inclusivity as it did the work of staking space for those whose work might not fit squarely into any one traditional disciplinary category, and it suggested that we “craft proposals that see connections instead of boundaries.” She explained that the theme “should remind us that only in our connections to others–even those profoundly and uncomfortably different than ourselves–can we find the key to our own survival,” and among the key questions Powell asks us to consider include: “How might creative writing (all genres) and/or digital writing help us to explore ways we can attain a more vital and vibrant conversation about all kinds of writing?”

With a quick skim of the program, one is able to find a wide range of panels and presentations relevant to various aspects of digital rhetoric, including teaching with technology (“Service Learning & Web 2.0: Contested Spaces, New Literacies, and Pedagogy for the Digital Age”), teaching in digital environments (“Click Here to Connect: Teaching Civic Engagement in Digital Environments”), serious games (“‘Always High Prices’ at the Hordemart: Ethos, Cyberethos, and Procedural Rhetoric in Multiplayer Games”), digital design (“Designing Education: What Video Game Designers and Rhetoricians Can Learn from Each Other”), rhetorical practices that take place in online spaces like Facebook, twitter, youtube, and the Human Flesh Search Engine (“Linking Arms (and Facebook) Together: What Does Decolonial Visual Activism Look Like?”), issues of intellectual property (“Contesting Copyright on Campus”), the rhetorics of digital archives (“Archive 2.0 as a Rhetorical Model for Balancing Stakeholder Needs), and digital epistemologies (“Are Digital Media Changing Formal Scientific Arguments?”).

Beyond this, there was a half-day workshop called “Making a Case for Tenure & Promotion within/outside Rhetoric and Composition,” which focused on making arguments for “non-traditional” forms of academic work, including those that are collaborative, administrative, and digital. The CCCC Committee on Computers and Composition (7Cs!) hosted digital poster sessions that presented “new software and technologies for teaching composition and literature, computer-facilitated classroom practices, best practices for teaching online, new technology resources, and electronic journals,” including “A Face in the Crowd and Words in the Clouds: Online Visualization Tools for Writing Revision” and “Google Buzz as Content Management System,” to name just a couple.

One particularly memorable panel on digital rhetoric that I attended was “All of Our Literacies? Contesting the Theories and Pedagogies of Multi-Modality.” Since Gunther Kress’ and the New London Group’s arguments for multimodality and multiliteracies some 10-15 years ago, the field of Rhetoric and Composition, and Computers and Writing more specifically, has largely embraced the idea that writing is not just alphabetic, print text and that we need to help students develop multiple literacies in the age of new media (rather than just traditional academic essays). This panel, however, interrogated the widespread acceptance of multimodal pedagogies, asking the question: Who is at a disadvantage when we teach multimodal-ly?

The panelists Jay Dolmage, Bre Garrett, and Melanie Yergeau drew largely from disabilities studies to form a series of arguments about how multimodal pedagogies, which was supposed to be more inclusive, actually leaves people out. In “All of Our Literacies, As Much as Possible, All of the Time?” Dolmage suggested that multimodality puts some people with disabilities at a further disadvantage, as with increased modes, there are increased skills to learn. Garrett presented “Accessing Embodied Delivery through Multimodal Composing and Teaching,” wherein she argued that the body is a source of delivery and suggested that it should be taken into account in discussions of multimodality. And in “Shiny, Happy Multimodal Compositionists,” Yergeau raised the problems of naturalizing multimodal discourse, especially when we consider those who are autistic, some of whom have difficulties engaging multiple modalities at once.

What does the digital landscape look like at other professional conferences? What are your discipline’s concerns with regards to digital technologies? And what things can we learn from each other?

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