Monday, March 21, 2005

Thursday Cont: Doug Hesse's Talk

Doug Hesse gave the chair's keynote address this year at the 4C's. He was preceded by Erika Lindemann, who received a well-deserved Exemplar Award for all her contributions to the CCCC organization of the 32 years she's been attending the Convention and contributing to the field. I've never met Dr. Lindemann, but I've found her contributions invaluable, beginning with my introduction to her work in graduate school.

Doug began acapella, opening with some lines from a spiritual, which opening framed his discussion. Doug sang also at his talk's midpoint and to compose a closing thought. He opened with an apocalyptic image sung rather mournfully -- waking to see stars falling the sky -- and closed with what he termed a "remediation" of that song -- waking to see the sun rising in the morning.

In between, he talked about the ownership of writing. I didn't take notes, but here're the thoughts I took away and what I remember:

Part of the talk was on the politics of writing, who "owns" the issue of writing, with a nod that recognizes that in larger national discussions, composition scholars and teachers are often excluded. Doug talked about recent reports from comissions on writing and asked, even if we suspend any doubts and cynicism about motives and assume the best of intentions, are they asking the right questions.

Ownership also included a discussion of machine scoring of writing. For this, Doug drew on discussions that had occured on the WPA-L discussion list, placing ideas which had emerged there into the context of the larger issue his talk raised.

For example, Doug shared with the C's audience the results of a game he first reported to WPA-L on, where he pasted an essay on "aphasia" created with the essay generator into Knowledge Assessment Technologies Intelligent Essay Assessor. The results were hilarious, but sobering too, considering that this kind of grading technology is being sold not only for placement purposes, but also increasingly to be used in courses as a way to supplement teacher feedback. (More on this issue in a later post on a session about machine scoring.)

Doug tied the connection of machine scorable writing technologies back to the larger issue of "who owns writing," showing the connection between the way the machine scores writing and the narrow, arhetorical nature of writing as described and called for in commission reports and as judged on the new SAT's writing exam.

The connection back to the audience of writing professionals was one that stressed the need --the obvious need-- for writing scholars and instructors to become better advocates for the kinds of understandings we bring about writing and the importance of writing as cultural, rhetorical, political and civic virtue.

It was a call not to be pessimistic or cynical, but to be wary, yet optomistic, engaged, and proactive. Or put another way, to own writing, we need to assert our claims to it.

Thursday at the C's

Thursday was a busy, busy day . . . a day on which I could only get to one session (and that was one better than Friday). The session was Doug Hesse's talk, so it was a good one to get to.

The WPA Breakfast

I got lost walking to this breakfast because I assumed that the breakfast location at the Bank of America Building on California St. and Third Ave. would be near the Moscone Center North. It wasn't all that far, from the Moscone, but when I walked to the breakfast from the Clift Hotel at Taylor and Geary and turned right on Third to get to the Moscone, I should have turned left.

So . . . I took a cab.

I like this breakfast, but don't often get to attend. The WPA attracts a diverse lot, and it's a good place to learn about upcoming conferences and initiatives that members have planned. Among the highlights were seeing people I like to run into, learning that the WAC conference will be hosted at Clemson next year under the leadership of Art Young, and getting a preview of workshops planned for the WPA conference in Anchorage.

One of the highlights of the breakfast was the thanks bestowed -- much to his surprise -- on Chet Pryor for all the work he's done as a WPA member. I hadn't seen Chet in serveral C's, and so it was good to say hello to him again.

I also learned of an important new initiative that Linda Adler Kassner of Eastern Michigan University is playing a leadership role in: A WPA Media Relations Initiative. The idea is for those who sign up to keep track of local stories about writing and writing related issues, and to respond to those stories by writing letters, by writing reporters. The idea also is to be proactive, to write adn talk about writing in the media to help set the agenda. You'll be able to learn more about this soon, when the new WPA WWW site is up.

David Blakesley of Purdue reported that new WPA WWW site, hosted in Drupal, will be live soon. David described a dynamic site, rich in content, but more importanly providing a method for interactivity and site personalization. I can't wait to see it.

Next Post: Doug Hesse's Talk . . .