I attended my first large virtual conference recently at Northeast MLA where I chaired a panel and presented a paper. Even though I didn’t get to attend all the sessions and meetups that I had ambitiously added to my conference agenda, I was able to make it to a good number of excellent panels. The recordings are now posted, so I might add a couple–especially some of the workshops–that I missed to my professional development time each week (more on that to come).
A few observations about attending a conference this way: I really liked the chat features of most panels – some were really robust during the presentations themselves which was a fun exercise. I liked being able to listen while being muted/camera off as I was taking care of my mother at the time, so I could effectively “carry” the listening (via my bluetooth headphones) with me as I tended to her. I love having access to the recordings even if the auto-generated transcripts leave a lot to be desired. The conference app (Whova) was actually pretty cool. The thing I missed the most, of course, was the happy hours and such – even though I made some new friends (hello new Twitter /Instagram friends!), it isn’t quite the same as you all know. One piece of advice I have for everyone facing virtual conferences this year is to pretend (to the extent possible given our home-bound states) that you are in fact away from your other work obligations. Do whatever you would normally do if you were at a conference whether that’s canceling a class or minimally checking email. If you don’t at least make some time to attend sessions, you’ll feel cheated. And recordings just aren’t the same.
This post is partly a process exercise for me to remember what I heard in these presentations and (hopefully) a resource for those of you who were as interested as I was in the sessions on digital culture. Below is a cleaned-up version of the notes that I took in each session. NOTE: There may be some misattribution here and there because sometimes I jotted down notes of comments made in the chat during a given session. I will happily make any corrections that are pointed out to me!
Session Title: Imaginative Texts Assignments in the Composition Classroom
Joelle Mann mentioned that she has students use audible to record their manifestos to explore the role of sound in composition. Because I love all things multimodal, I am interested in research that explores sound as composition. She has an article that I might read on this topic: “Sonic Reading and Intersectional Knowledges,” Pedagogy & American Literary Studies, August 2019.
Session Title: Rethinking Innovation: Practices of Care and Maintenance in DH Scholarship and Pedagogy
Gabriel Sessions noted that a study of readers reading in print and on a kindle saw no difference in reading comprehension; however the kindle readers had more trouble remembering when events happened in the sequence, they cannot turn pages the same way, no haptic feedback in digital annotations like there are in print.
Someone (possibly in the chat) asked about hyperlinks: would that engagement with a text be considered as a kind of embodied activity? Someone noted that in digital there’s an emphasis on fewer clicks, going against the haptic experience. Again, likely someone in the chat said: I’d say that hyperlinks/interactive texts can be an embodied activity. I’m even thinking about the questions that we post on chats on zoom-conferences or when tweeting during a live conference. I feel more attuned to the readers and readers’ ideas when I’m engaging technologically. Whoever was discussing this (Sessions or the attendees in the chat), I agreed that the chat acts as a kind of annotation of the virtual session. This is, for example, how my students and I use a chat record of our synchronous classes sometimes.
For: Undisciplining the Victorian Classroom: A Project of Care w Speakers: Sophia Hsu, Pearl Chaozon Bauer, Ryan Fong, Adrian Wisnicki there was the following comment in the chat by Adams: Classroom as community fridge! I’m not even joking, really. How do we think about teaching/learning as a mechanism for nourishing our communities and expanding access to the things we need? This group offered this really cool example of website designed to be accessible to as many users as possible (for those w/ low bandwidth and various disabilities): https://undiscipliningvc.org/index.html#upcoming They ended with the following: Keeping care and community at the forefront, we hope to expand sustainably and ethically.
Digital Rhetoric Panel (Session 1 and 2)
Kevin Artiga in “Moral Maintenance and Empire: The Rhetoric of Surveillance” examined how algorithms operate as rhetorical agents. Digital designers want users to forget their bodies and the fact that digital interactions are constantly surveilled. “Social interactions public or private have become records that are and can be utilized to make decisions about the users.” He ended by demonstrating how this ties in with contemporary colonial practices, notably to police immigrants.
Paul Cook’ presentation “Future People: Digital Literacy as the Cornerstone of Post-COVID-19 Higher Education” really aligned with my own thinking about the place of digital literacy in composition classrooms. He argues that we do not need more computer scientists, but rather humanists who interrogate how the digital world functions (although, I might suggest some cross-disciplinary knowledge might be handy here). He uses the term “post-digital” age to suggest that we are already in the midst of a digitally-mediated world, and, as such, should prioritize digital literacy in a way that we haven’t been. He focused a bit more on how this shows up in how people are able to (or not) identify fake information. He also argued that our institutions are not built (or being built) for the post-digital era.
A question I asked Paul was: What are your thoughts on how this applies in institutional contexts like the composition department/program? Not necessarily what individual teachers do in their classes, but how departments/programs are or are not structured to meet the demands of the post-digital. <There was some discussion, but I feel like this question needs more scrutiny in the future>
Chelsea Horne’s presentation “All Classes Are Tech Classes: The Ethics of Information Sharing Online” explores how the pivot to online has changed all classes, esp. concerning uses of data and surveillance. She argues that all classes should consider how communication flows, internet infrastructure, platform architecture, and technical design. She outlined the following New Challenges to include: 1) Cybersecurity-Zoom bombing, encryption, 2) Privacy and Surveillance, meta-data and platform policies, 3) Intellectual Property, 4) Digital Classroom Expectations, 5) Disinformation and Misinformation, 6) Digital Divide. She noted that most students/people (which I agree with entirely!) don’t know what cookies are, basic security protocols online, or how copyright works on digital content. She concluded with my favorite topic: the digital divide and how it impacts college students in particular.
My session was titled: Digital Pedagogy in the Composition Classroom and included Irene Oujo and Megan Kane. Oujo described a digital storytelling project and one of the most interesting things I recorded from her talk was how this type of project very often doesn’t fit into our existing institutional contexts. This reminded me of Paul Cook’s talk about how we are not building infrastructure for the digital age. Kane described a research project she did with Docuscope – a program that computationally analyzes writing for rhetoric specifically. She argued it helped with the complicated assessment we face as comp instructors. I suggested she might also scaffold an interrogation of this technology as part of her use of it – to examine how it makes its determinations about rhetoric in writing.
My paper “Hashtags, Algorithms, and Ctrl F: Digital Literacy in Rhetoric and Composition Pedagogy” argued, similarly to Paul Cook and Chelsea Horne, that all composition is digital now and that we need to think critically about how digital literacies underpin all of the composition tasks we set for students (and not just the ones that require a new-to-us technology). This is a work-in-progress, and my plans for it include more research of student attitudes and faculty conceptions of digital literacies in the writing classroom. To me it seems both obvious and radical – that we not only ignore significant ways in which digital technology impacts writing studies (like the role of google in information literacy practices) but also in more fundamental ways (like how to use CtrlF to word-search a PDF). I welcome your thoughts on this topic!
Thanks for reading my NeMLA roundup of all things digital. Of course, there was even more great panels on this subject than I was able to attend. Use the comments below to join this fascinating discussion.