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If I ruled the world...

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Wrote this a few days ago, as some of the posts I link to below were just breaking--there are good conversations circulating about them at each site...cgb


There's a little extra transparency afforded to us by the Interwebs, such that when panels like those of Chris, Debbie, and Becky are rejected by our flagship conference, it doesn't simply happen behind the scenes, as it used to. I'm sure that there are lots of other good proposals that didn't make it; I'm likewise confident that there are a number of proposals that were accepted for papers that will be written days (if not hours) before their actual presentation. I've attended some of those panels, and complained bitterly about them to anyone who will listen. Many of us are lucky enough to receive travel support from our schools to attend CCCC, but it took me a year where I footed the bill on my own to realize that I owed it to my audience to put together the best presentation that I could.

Let me be clear, however, and say that there are also certainly numerous proposals that both were accepted and worthy of acceptance. That's not a question for me. But there are also a lot of good proposals that are annually rejected. Here are a couple of reasons why.

First, our conference leadership has in recent years been preoccupied with making the event more inclusive. By this I don't mean making presentations accessible (which is good), providing child care (which is good), subsidizing under-represented populations (which is good), or any other attempt to meet the needs of conference-goers. I'm talking about the measures that have been taken to bring in first-timers, and in particular, the flattening out of the proposal process to such a degree that one need barely know anything about the field to write a successful proposal.

And perhaps I will be accused of being less than democratic here. So be it. I've never seen the longitudinal demographics on conference attendees, nor do I even know if such data exist, but I do know that the conference is about as big as it can get. (I've heard a lot of people complain in recent years about it being too big--anyone who's ever had to present or attend a talk in a curtained off corner of the exhibit hall would probably agree.) I'd be interested in hearing if our push to "grow" the conference has resulted in increased subscription rates for the journal, memberships in the organization, or any such long-term benefit for those of us who are already committed to the organization and the conference. Perhaps it has, but that data would be have to be qualified with information about the growth of tenure-track positions and programs in the field. I'd be surprised if that information has been gathered in a systematic way, but I'm prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

As the number of proposals has increased, the amount of space devoted to describing the actual projects has shrunk, and that is a trend that privileges the pithy, speculative kind of prose that is its own genre, and which requires far less disciplinary expertise than one might imagine. Again, this makes the process more inclusive, but it does so at the expense of thoughtful research that actually exists. It privileges light, buzzwordy, trendy proposal writing, the kind of writing that gets more difficult to produce once one actually undertakes research and gets into the nuances and complications involved. As Becky notes, "I could have taken a half hour to write a snappy little proposal for an opinion piece about plagiarism, with a little media analysis folded in, and it would have been on the program in a heartbeat." The fact is that our current proposal system privileges this, partly in the interests of making the program as inclusive as possible.

Second, our program is done by percentage, meaning that if technology proposals are 10% of the total, then 10% of the program will be technology panels. The number of proposals in a given area determine the percentage of panels on the program. Democratic, yes? Well, the problem here is that not all areas are created equally. It's no accident that two of the rejections above are for data-driven studies, and another is for historical work. Those are areas where (a) pithy, trendy accounts are not as possible, but more importantly, they are areas where (b) you can't simply read a couple of articles and be prepared to present research. Both historical and qualitative work require a great deal of experience and research, and are likely to have higher percentages of more experienced researchers among their proposals. The Area Clusters are not "equal" so asserting equality among them will often have the opposite effect when it comes to quality.

This would be one way of testing this. Take one year's proposals, and have them rated without reference to Area Cluster (an individual AC reader is going to feel pressure to produce a range of scores--I know because I did when I read one year). Then separate them into Area Clusters and see what the mean scores are. My guess is that we would find that more specialized areas have a higher percentage of strong scores, and that our current system actually penalizes researchers doing more specialized (and potentially more advanced) work. My guess is that there's a much broader range of quality in the catch-all areas.

But that has to be a guess, because we're not allowed to use proposals for research purposes (as of the mid80s, I think). It's why I still hand out that chapter from Berkenkotter and Huckin on CCCC proposals--it's the most recent study possible of this stuff.

I do know that recent attempts to study the field by reference to CCCC Programs (and there are several) are deeply flawed, because they don't allow for the vagaries of the process. We persist in the belief that the annual convention somehow represents our field in a given year, but the fact is that nothing could be further from the truth. It represents the version of our field represented by a flawed process, a version that discourages many who do and prefer certain kinds of work, and the result of a process that I continue to be critical of. That process has seeped deep into the bureaucratic structure of our field, such that we can make small changes around the edges, but I honestly doubt that any sort of sweeping change is possible. And honestly, I don't know that there are that many people who would agree with me--I've believed for some time that our conference is much less than it could be, that it's broken in important ways.

Like Debbie suggests may happen for her this year, I hesitate every year before I send in my membership dues, wary of the degree to which my membership constitutes a vote, however small, for a status quo I find deeply problematic.

Three final notes. As bitter as this may sound, it's not anywhere close to the bitterest version of this entry. Believe me. I still believe that it would be possible to have a better conference, one that I could look forward to attending for more than the opportunity to see my friends.

And second, I have no axe to grind this year, as I didn't send in a proposal. Like Becky, I've been accepted almost every year I've proposed, because I learned early to write pithy, acceptable proposals. I like to think that I use this power for the forces of good, but it took me a few years longer than it should have to arrive at that point.

Three: again, I'm not criticizing those who do get accepted. I myself have had great luck proposing to CCCC, and I don't doubt that the conference will always be a mixed bag. My point, though, is that different areas of the field have different thresholds for entry, and the process itself ignores that fact.

I'm fully willing to admit that I may be wrong about some of this, but I've tried to be fairly careful here. The fact of the matter is that there's way too much of this process that's hidden behind bureaucratic opacity, and I have my suspicions about why that is. Even the tiny amount that's visible, though, is enough to persuade me that it would be worth our collective time to think about why our conference is alienating to its core audience and about what we might do to change that.

That's all.

No C's for you!

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As most people who expected to see me in New Orleans have learned by now, I'm not there. It's not as dramatic as some may think. I've been struggling a little health-wise this semester--nothing big, but a lot of small things, and it's taken me longer to recover than it did when I was, say, 20. Or 30 even. I was sick again last weekend, when otherwise I would have been leaving on the road trip that took me to NO and to CCCC, and I thought to myself that it would be sooo much easier on me physically if I simply bailed on it this year. And so I did.

I feel sad not to see everyone, and a little guilty about bailing on my co-panelists, but I feel really good today, and it took a few days of sleep that I wouldn't otherwise have gotten to feel that way. So I think it was the right choice.

I have a couple of QuickTime versions of my talk, which I used to test out Keynote's recording and exporting functions. It's a pared down version of the talk I would have done, and the visuals are done up a little as well. It's not great, but it's there. I've got two versions that you can either watch on screen or download: a smaller 10MB version and the monster 44MB version. You may need to right-click the links to download. The larger version is more faithful to the smart builds in the original presentation, but still a little choppy. It would have looked and probably sounded much better in person. Deal.

And have a good time in NO, everyone. That's all.

Update:It occurred to me that it might be nice if, prior to downloading a 40+ MB file, you had some idea of what it is you were downloading. Here's the abstract that I submitted:

Speaker X: Visualizing the Invisible Collage of Research

In 2006, Brad DeLong likened the academic blogosphere to an invisible college, a metaphor familiar to those of us who use email, discussion lists, and blogs to maintain our social networks of friends and colleagues. Speaker 5 argues that Web 2.0 represents an opportunity to make public other disciplinary networks as well. These technologies allow us to conduct practices like annotation, referencing, and collection collaboratively; in doing so, they permit a different model for knowledge production to emerge. If the blogosphere makes visible the invisible college, our journal web sites may help us reveal the "invisible collage" of texts and ideas that each of us now assembles in isolation.

Ahhh, prognostication. My talk ends up being less about "journal websites" and more about the college/collage play on words, I think. And my examples are drawn more from my own experimenting than from anything happening right now in the field, I fear. But the talk's true to the spirit of the abstract if not the letter. My favorite moment is a slide with Robert Boyle (17th C originator of the phrase "invisible college") and "Ye Olde Webbe 2.0" in an old English font. Cracks me up every time. Anyways. That's what all you're in for if you take a peek. The panel's in a matter of hours, and I have it on fairly good authority that they're going to screen my cast. So you'll sort of see me there. 'Night.

4 Cs, 4 days, 16 panels

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Inspired in part by Donna's theme review of CCCC:

CCCC 07 summed up in 16 panels

There was more to it than that, to be sure, but as far as my presentation went, at the risk of sounding like I'm fishing for sympathy, having a featured presentation on Saturday afternoon was a lot like being called up to the big leagues the day after one's team is knocked out of competing for the playoffs. Hard to know when or if I'll be back.

I continue to be grateful to Cheryl Glenn for the opportunity, grateful to those good people who did come, and grateful to Derek and Deb, whose presentations were excellent. And I'll go ahead and screencast my talk this week, for all of those who couldn't make it.

I may post a little more about the conference over the next couple of days as well. What won't I post about? The squawking that Alex references that's going on right now over whether or not it's better to read or speak.

That's all, except to note that I did this with Stripgenerator 1.0.1)

Update: You can find both my slides and Derek's at We'll both have screencasts soon as well.

All aboard!

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Today finds me headed to NYC for the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). Originally, I'd planned on participating either in the Research Network Forum or the ATTW conference, two of the all-day Wednesday events, which goes some distance to explaining why I'm going down there on Tuesday when my presentation is on Saturday.

Maybe it's just a matter of who I'm aggregating, but it's felt awfully quiet this year leading up to CCCC. I haven't seen much complaining about reading (don't do it!), the program (where's the X?), and actually very little about the costs (which are disproportionately high this year, it feels like). It just seems like there hasn't been much posting, period.

In the last year or two, the conference has changed the way it handles the program, which is a softcover, 400-500 page document. This year, unless you want to pay extra, you have to wait until the conference to pick up the program, and even though it was only postage, I just figured I'd wait. I've looked through the program, thanks to Derek, but I haven't really had it handy for mulling over. I wonder if that hasn't had an effect on folks' ability to marshall their annual indignation (and I'm not exempting myself here) for the relative absence of their favorite topics and the relative fetishization of the conference theme.

So you'll have to wait until afterwards to hear those complaints out of me. It'll give me something to do on the train ride home.

That is all. Next stop, NYC.

Another CCCC Cloud

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You may recall that, last fall, I put together a couple of tagclouds based upon the abstracts from different cluster areas found in the searchable program for CCCC.

Unfortunately, no one took me up on the process I developed (along with the pre-fab redlist that I built for it). I still believe that it would be interesting to compare tagclouds of various area clusters, not only from area to area in a single conference, but for the same area from year to year. Right now, the searchable program doesn't exactly make it easy, but if that data's still around, it is probably our single best source of evidence for what actually goes on at our annual conference.

Not that I have the time to take it up myself. But I did go ahead and put together a cloud for Cluster Area 103, aka "Theory." Click on it to go to the much more legible version I've stored at Flickr:

What's this year's theme again?

Then I could tell you that those letters stand for "crushing seasonal headache." The news round these parts is that the temperature reached into the low 60s today, which has been good for The Melt, but bad for My Head. When seasons change, the corresponding shift in pressure typically renders me unable to focus for 2-3 days at a time, bringing with it dull, throbbing headaches of the sort that quite literally make my eyeballs sore. Needless to say, sleep becomes something of a chore, rivaled only by the effort that goes into being awake. Not the happiest of times.

I've been giving some thought to the presentation I'll be giving at CCCC this year. Inspired in part by last week's snarky little entry, which itself prompted me to add "snark alert" to my categories, I've been dialing back my expectations for what I'll accomplish in this presentation. It's hard, having been working on CCCOA for two-plus years now, to imagine that there aren't folks in our field who remain unfamiliar with it, and yet, my guess is that this is actually a fair description of most folks in our field. The speed of change in the 'sphere--and on the net more generally--outpaces that of the run-of-the-mill discipline, perhaps exponentially. And so, what I think I need to do in my talk is to actually introduce the site and what it contributes.

Right now, I'm thinking of an unofficial subtitle for my talk that would be something like "13 Ways of Looking at a Journal." Mostly it would be an introduction to the site, running from the most basic and obvious features to some of the trickier stuff we've built into it, and finally to a couple of disciplinary questions that a site like this can provide us the evidence to work on.

I've been thinking about this a little harder after seeing Tim Burke's post about what he describes as "search as alchemy." To wit,

But there are other times where I want search to be alchemy, to turn the lead of an inquiry into unexpected gold. I’m hoping that the rush to simplify, speed up, demystify and digitize search doesn’t leave that alchemy behind.

It seems like such an obvious point to me, that academic search functions in much different ways than "regular" search, but what's come clear to us over the past couple of years is that we need to figure out better ways of getting the word out, to make the case that CCCOA is a site for search, yes, but also a site of invention. I think that message is both clear and obvious to many of you, my fair readers, but to the field-at-large, it still needs saying.

So I think that's part of what I'll be saying next week.


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Came into the office today to find a promotional flier for this year's CCCC:

front page of CCCC flier
back page of CCCC flier

Wait a second. Scroll down the right hand column there for me on the back. What's that?

who's a featured speaker?

That's right. For one brief, shining moment, I'm a rockstar. We're far enough in advance of the event that I don't feel any nervousness at all. And I can't have messed up or anything. Our featured session exists in a state of pure, perfect potentiality and as long as it stays that way, who's to say I'm not a star?

Well, okay. Lots of people. But I'd appreciate it if you didn't ask them, at least until after March.

That's all.

Here's a cloud for the abstracts in Area Cluster 105, which is Research. I did go ahead and redlist the terms that I said I would yesterday...

Tagcloud for Area Cluster 105 (Research)

CCCC Categories and Counts

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I'm going to throw this information below the fold, but in the process of messing around with the CCCC Searchable program, I thought I'd go ahead and see how the various categories worked out. Including workshops, there are 54 panels tagged with Area Cluster 106 - Information Technologies, for example. But there are also a bunch of categories gathered under Focus, Interest Emphasis, and Level Emphasis. I've commented before on the Borgesian feel of our proposal system, so I'll restrain myself here. Each of the categories should add up to the same number, but I haven't checked--it's more likely that I made an error than they did, though...

Speaking of CCCC, or of the CCCCCCCCC referenced in my title (8 Cs!), Derek and I were yappin tonight about how we might go about indexing the CCCC Program using TagCrowd, a tool I came across via Jill and recommended to Jenny. It overlaps a fair bit with what we're doing over at CCCOA, but one difference is that TagCrowd allows you to upload a file, whereupon it generates a cloud of frequent terms.

So here's what I did:

1. I went to the searchable program for the 2007 CCCC, and searched for all panels under the 106 Area Cluster (Information Technologies).

2. I added each of the 50 or so panels to my "Convention Schedule," and then hit the button to email it to myself. The result is a window with all of the panels & descriptions in a text file. Copy and paste into TextEdit.

3. I stripped out all of the speaker information, including titles. I could have left the titles in, but it would have taken longer (and been a little more debatable in terms of focus).

4. Find/Replace on 2-word phrases (new media, social software, et al.), variants (online and on-line), making them a single word in the case of the former and standardizing in the latter. (I thought, too, about just deleting "speaker," which appears in the prose with some frequency.)

5. TagCrowd the file, and voila!

Tagcloud for Area Cluster 106 (Information Technologies)

You can look at the bigger graphic over at FlickR, but here's a cloud of the 100 most frequently used terms in CCCC proposals for the 106 cluster. "Speaker" and "presentation" are throwaways, and you could argue the same for "discuss" ("In this presentation, Speaker X will discuss...."). Looks pretty sensible to me--I'd say that blogging and Facebook are the flavors of the year. I may have caused the word "remix" to drop out of the cloud by not including titles--I'm not sure.

One caveat is that not all the panels included prose descriptions--that may just be a matter of time, though. Again, I'm not certain.

One thing I do know, though, and that's that this whole process took me less than an hour, and it would be child's play to go back in, and do it for each cluster, as well as all of the "focuses" and "emphases." Not that I have the time, energy, or schedule to allow me to do so. But it's a fun little experiment, nonetheless.

(I should mention, if anyone sees fit to do some of these, that TagCrowd allows one to create a blackredlist of terms that won't be included. In addition to speaker, presentation, and discuss, I'd probably (were I to redo this one) add become, consider, examine, important, include, and panel. They function here as mostly empty proposal jargon.)

That's all.



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