This year was my third time attending the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCCs) annual convention. The conference’s mission is to support and promote the teaching and study of college composition and communication. The theme this year was Open, Source(s), Access, and Futures. Dr. Adam Banks, this year’s program chair, invited us to reflect on our disciplinary histories and practices which he argued have always aimed at pushing towards values like “greater freedom, possibility, transparency, and equality” within the academy. He thus invited us to imagine a new future for our discipline particularly in the digital age, as we critically consider issues of open access scholarship, open source philosoph(ies) and politics. In his call, he hoped that scholars and teachers in our field would consider and share ways in which we can imagine a future that will not only transform our discipline, but also the academy and higher education in general.
What seemed to stand out for me this year were the numerous sessions on the use of mobile phone and social media pedagogies in the teaching of writing. In one of the panels I attended titled “Out in the Open: Exploring Mobile Phone Pedagogies and Everyday Composing Practices,” the panelists shared how phones and mobile apps can be integrated into writing courses. One of the panelists, Robert Carlton from Southern Illinois University, argued for the value and need for writing teachers to embrace mobile apps in the teaching of writing. He showed an example of the free application Suzuki Write developed for iOS and Android devices which provides a “mobile writing resource” to assist writers with simple quick references and simple composition tasks. Carton demonstrated the design features of the app, and how writing teachers can customize the modular code of the app to fit their individualized needs. Here is example of the how the app is being used in building Mobile Writing Labs (MWLs). Carlton imagined future trajectory of the Mobile Writing Labs arguing that apps designed for writing instruction need to consider issues of access particularly when it comes to catering for individualized circumstances of individual users and writers. He also urged writing teachers to not only use the apps but also to gather data about devices, users, and developers as a way of contributing to assessing the effectiveness of such tools. Such an assessment, he argued, can contribute to giving app developers ideas to improve the app and user experience. Finally, he asked teachers to be getting involved in building the apps and working with developers. For more, here is his Presentation.
Randall Monty from the University of Texas, another panelist, demonstrated the how mobile technologies and social media platforms like twitter are helping transnational students from Mexico attending college in the U.S to navigate their professional and academic identities. Monty, “drawing from a multi-institutional study that tracked the lived writing practices of self identified transnational students,” as well on current scholarship on technology and access, demonstrated how students were exploiting the affordances of mobile phone technologies and social media in their learning. Some of the examples he shared with us were how teachers can use twitter to share teaching content with their students, keep track of students attendance, engagement and participation. He also noted that since many authors the students read participate in the twitter culture, social media allows students to be in direct contact with the authors and can ask them question or clarification on issues about readings. Monty also noted that social media allows for democratization and agency in the use of these technologies as students learn/practice the use of these tools not just as students but as professionals. He also shared how the transnational ESL students were using the dragon app’s transcription service to facilitate their composing processes. However, in sharing the affordances of mobile phone and social media pedagogies, he also highlighted particular dissafordances like access noting that some students may not have smart phones, which have capabilities of performing some of the complex or intricate tasks. Other issues he raised are cyber aggression, unpredictable and expensive mobile services across the border (Mexico), privacy issues in relation to social media and mobile service, among others.
Ehren Pflugfelder from Oregon State University presentation “Our Phones, Ourselves: Questioning our Mobile Lives” presentation explored the emerging scholarship in our field on the role of mobile phones in literate lives of students. At the same time he noted the growing scholarship (in other disciplines) which raises concerns on how the use of phones negatively impacts on its users, for example, “psychological over attachment”, “distracted walking,” “self absorption” among others. His presentation was on how phones can be used as data gathering tools. He showed a methodology he developed in a media literacy course where students were asked to use their phones to create a collaborative, creative-commons –licensed documentary about the role of cell phones in their lives. Here is the Documentary, where students reveal “complex opinions, biases, and desires, as well as surprising inconsistencies” about the role of phones in their lives.”
This panel is just one example of the how our field is embracing digital tools and particularly apps to perform numerous tasks. For example, many attendees in this year’s conference had easy time getting information about the conference through a CCCCs app developed by TripBuilder Media. The app allowed attendees to get updates or reminders of featured sessions and speakers, create a personalized schedule of the sessions one wanted to attend, view the entire searchable program schedule on the phone, take notes during sessions etc. This saved many attendees the burden of carrying around the 400-page book length program schedule.
As our field moves forward, it will be interesting to see how it continues to embrace new digital tools, and to imagine new ways of teaching writing. In this year’s conference, there were many sessions on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as presenters shared challenges, successes and pedagogical possibilities of these new learning online platforms. Our own department Rhetoric and Writing here at MSU has also been thinking and piloting teaching writing using MOOCs. It is clear that our field is imagining a future that will make the learning of writing accessible to everyone interested, not just here but around the world.