Thursday, March 12, 2009

CCCC '09 San Francisco - Day 1

So here I am in San Francisco, attending another CCCC (4Cs, as we like to call it). Today was the first day of the conference, and as usual my best-laid plans have not exactly come to pass, but for a first day things went well enough. I always feel I should go to back-to-back sessions (if for no other reason than to get my money’s worth; these conference registration fees are exorbitant, although the student fees often tend to be much more reasonable), but one can only sit through so many 75-minute sessions without needing a break. By the time I was finally settled and organized, half the first session was already over, so by chance I meandered into a session I had bookmarked – but had already missed all the presentations, so I hung out until the next session: “(Re)Mediating Social Technologies,” which was interesting; the speakers spoke of teaching with Twitter and building community in the classroom vis-à-vis social networking sites. This was interesting, and I was especially glad for the handouts; it gives me ideas of what I could do myself.

Yet the session had started about 20 minutes late (one of the speakers got lost, which isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds; some of the presentations were held in almost an offshoot of the hotel, and scads of folks were wandering around questioning how to get from one section of the hotel to another). I inadvertently discovered wifi access (a bonus, since I had shaky iPhone coverage) and was able to keep myself plugged in. However, because the session started so late, it had the potential of running long, and because I hadn’t eaten since dinner East Coast time the day before I was ready to gnaw off my arm, so I left, wandered down the street, and had a rather tasty panang curry and some spring rolls for lunch. I attempted to arrange a tweetup for lunch, but I suspect between intermittent cell phone coverage, being in sessions, and the lack of wifi people weren’t tweeting as much.

Two more sessions followed after lunch: “(Dis)Connects: Writing Centers, Digital Natives, and Digital Immigrants.” The title should have warned me, but the first speaker immediately started out by getting into a discussion on “digital immigrants” and “digital natives,” two phrases that vex me to a degree that I can’t even begin to describe. These seem to be phrases used by people who are, generally speaking but not always, of a certain age (i.e., older); who don’t understand technology in any form, tend to be afraid of it, and are trying not to be afraid of it, and failing. It also smacks of a lack of understanding, thinking that because a student is of a certain age that she must be completely fluent in technology, be able to use it seamlessly and effortlessly, and from my own experience I know how utterly untrue that is. Knowing how to send e-mail, IM, use word processing software or social networking sites, or know how to download or use cell phones to take pictures, does not make a student a digital “native.” It might make them more comfortable, but that’s about it, in my view. And the people who give talks or write papers about how students under the age of 25 – because clearly anyone over that age can’t be as comfortable using computers – tend to focus on surface issues, and not the actual differences between what it is to be actually computer literate. To me – and I suspect this is because of the circles I run in – a “digital native” is someone who played with computers as a child, took them apart, put them back together, invented their own programming language as a child or teenager, used bulletin boards that required you to use your phone to actually connect; there’s more knowledge there about how computers work than simply having grown up with computers in the background. I’ve been speaking German for more than 20 years, but because I’m not actively speaking it and writing and reading in German, I am not fluent. I can get around, but I have to put in a lot more work to become fluent. I think that classifying students as digital immigrants or digital natives bother me especially because it strikes me as an ageist thing to do, presuming more or less knowledge because of when someone was born, by those who think themselves very far removed from the technology that’s out there. I think that anytime someone appears more comfortable using something else, one assumes a degree or level of literacy or fluency that just might not be there, but which can’t be discerned.

In any case, the rest of the session was interesting; the problems in dealing with integrating technology into a writing center and making an online writing center more integral and user-friendly; and why and how to use multimedia in an online classroom or writing centers. It is interesting to dissect the problems between those who don’t know what a chat room is, and integrating one into a writing center. Second Life really seems to have itself a cult following in the writing center/writing program world.

Next up: ““Blogs: Understanding the Potential and Challenges.” The first speaker I had difficulty following until the very end of her talk, when I understood her to be talking about having her students get involved, or her students who were otherwise involved in local events, use blogs to narrate and critically examine the issues at hand. The second speaker I enjoyed; he spoke of the problems he had, many of which mirrored my own, in implementing blogs for the first time into his classroom, and subsequent revision of strategies. He had shown a PowerPoint presentation, which included images of some student blogs, and had also supplied a handout with some sample student comments, but I thought it would have been really interesting to see a bit of the student blogs. Alas, though, this was not entirely his fault; none of the tech sessions seem to have Internet connections, nor do they all even have all other necessary tech equipment that had been requested. (This is what the kids today would call “epic fail.”)

Sidebar: I can’t quite grok why the Hilton is charging $15.95/day for Internet access. I even question paying $6.95 for an hour of wifi. I can almost – almost – understand having patrons pay a per-visit wifi charge (if I go to DMAC this summer, the place I’m staying at has a fee of XXXXX per visit, if you want the Internet), but the Hilton? Really? And for a conference? Give us a password for those of us who have registered and shelled out our money to come here. And to top it off, their wifi network isn’t even available in the entire hotel, so as I was going from session to session, different networks would be available – all protected.

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