Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 3 / July 1, 1994 / Page 2

"Show Me" a Decade of Computers and Writing: Mizzou '94

by Michael E. Doherty, Jr. (

COLUMBIA, MISSOURI (May 20-23) Well, it's hardly a standard Mecca for professionals in the field of Computers and Writing, but for one weekend in May, Eric Crump and a cast of dozens made Columbia, Missouri home to several hundred techno-rhetoricians, computer nerds and netizens.

The tenth Computers and Writing conference featured, to coin a phrase, all the usual suspects: Cindy Selfe and Gail Hawisher, Fred Kemp, Trent Batson, Nancy Kaplan, Stuart Moulthrop, and most of the other "names" you can name; it had all the right catchwords floating around the various presentations, panels and informal discussions--hypertext and hypermedia, virtual reality and cyberspace, MUD and MOO and even (choke) Electronic Superhighway. The unofficial theme of the conference ("C&W '94: It's Worth the EFfort!") reflected Crump's herculean efforts to organize and maintain an online portion to the conference, the Electronic Forum (EF), which ran from April 29 through early in June; even in the "official" theme, though ("The Global Web of Writing Technologies") the importance of the online aspect of C&W94 echoed strongly.

Online participation aside, however, if you've never been to a C&W conference, then you'll have to take my word for this: it had an atmosphere quite unlike any other conference you can imagine. Try out the CCCC in Washington next March, and you'll feel the rushed tension--people running to the 37 concurrent sessions per day, all wondering whether or not they paid too much for parking and whether they can sneak out of the 2:30 session to see the Smithsonian. Or check out the MLA in San Diego, and look closely at the "Oh-my-god-I-have-four-interviews-today" looks on the job-hunters' faces. Most other conferences (except, of course, whatever your personal favorite happens to be), there's that prevalent attitude, "I did my presentation, it's on my vita forever, can I go now?"

Slightly exaggerated, to be sure. But at C&W conferences, there's a sense of an already-established community coming together in a different realm to re-establish professional relationships with--well, in a way, with people they've never met.

There's still a sense that Computers and Writing is a field all it's own - separate from other areas of Rhetoric and Writing.

In fact, when Gallaudet's Trent Batson asked a room of 50 "How many of you here consider your profession to be Computers and Writing?," distressingly all but four hands went up. Batson, who lit a fire in Nashville at the 4C's last March with a challenge to begin formulating a non-print-based rhetoric, was not pleased at the response, even if the forum--after all, it was a Computers & Writing Conference--would seem to call for that kind of affirmation. Nor should he have been pleased.

If one thing became obvious at this conference, it was the fact that teachers of many different rhetorics were gathering to talk about dissemination of those rhetorics through a common tool and within a common realm. If all this community can be defined as is "Computers & Writing," then as Batson succinctly pointed out, the future of this conference will likely not see another ten years. But the variety of presentation topics, and the often clashing theoretical viewpoints that arose even on some same panels, suggest that the homogeneity of the field is more perceived than actual, and Batson has little to worry about.

The fact that those attending the conference often found themselves getting caught up in putting faces to names from various listservs ("Oh! YOU'RE Steve from H-Rhetor!") at this conference may have obscured the fact that rare was the speaker (formally or otherwise) who didn't strongly disagree with the comments of another speaker or author.

Presenters on the same Saturday panel, for instance, alternately cited and trashed Jay David Bolter's latest foray into hypertext theory, and throughout the weekend there was a sense of productive dissensus, culminating in Monday's closing session, an inevitable decade's-end retrospective.

There was, however, a full weekend of new, forward-looking material before the closing session, "Historical Perspectives in Computers and Composition: The Emergence and Growth of a Field," a panel consisting of Selfe, Hawisher, LeBlanc and Moran.

Friday's preconference workshops included "The First Four Weeks in a Computer-Mediated Composition Classroom: Integrating Computer Skills into the Design and Sequence of Writing Assignments" with Judith Kirkpatrick and Janice Cook; Michael McKean's "A Model for Integrating Online Resources Into a Beginning Journalism or Creative Writing Course" and "Exploring Resistance to Technology: Developing Models for Faculty Involvment in Computer-Supported Communication Pedagogy with Richard Selfe, Karla Kitalong and Allan Heaps.

The positive and far-reaching tone for the weekend was firmly set by Friday evening's Plenary speaker, Amy Bruckman, a Media Researcher at the Massachussets Institute of Technology. Bruckman, whose address entitled "Whole Learning: Three Communities Meet in Cyberspace" was consistently referenced by other speakers throughout the weekend, is co-creator of MediaMOO, a professional community for media researchers.

The most controversial presentation of the weekend was most certainly Dale Spender's Saturday plenary, "On Ladies and Laptops." Spender, an Australian woman writer widely published in the field of feminist studies, spoke for better than 90 minutes about the shifting world of publication hierarchies, and asserted that now that women have finally established themselves in the traditionally male-dominated world of print, it may be due primarily to the fact that men have abandoned print media for the realm of cyberspace. Her presentation sparked a furious debate on the Computers & Writing listserv MBU-L (Megabyte University), which Crump has subsequently collected and anthologized. The conversation, which did at times deteriorate into gender-based name-calling (including a healthy review of what the phrase "Dead White Male" means in virtual environments) is scheduled to be accessible at the Hypertext Hotel shortly, but a copy of the conversation is available from the author of this article until that time.

As you might expect, there were numerous opportunities for those in attendance to explore sessions at virtual locations such as MediaMOO and Hypertext Hotel, and these included Christopher Werry's "Times of the Electronic Sign: The Cultural, Social and Pedagogic Significance of the NREN," Tyanna Lambert's "Computer-Based Pedagogy: An Answer to Postmodern Frenzy," Nancy DuVergne Smith's "Writers' Rights on the Information Highway," and a virtual panel of Heath Rezabek, Scott Cawelti and Scott Moore on "FIXION: Collaborative Prose Within the Internet Environment."

Though there were dozens of concurrent panel and roundtable sessions throughout the weekend, among the most notable were Ron Shook's "Here's Your Pidgin: Emerging Macrostructures in Network Discourse," which examined the "junction" of five areas of scholarship, including psycholinguistics, discourse analysis, pidgin/creole linguistics, sociolinguistics and computers; and a remarkable panel including Fred Kemp, John Slatin and Elizabeth Sommers entitled "The InterClass: Using the Internet to Link Graduate Students into the Global Web." The panel discussed a Spring '93 internet linkage of three graduate classes, at San Francisco State University, the University of Texas-Austin, and Texas Tech University and "the great promise that future InterClass links give in shifting the instructional paradigm and opening graduate instruction ot immediate disciplinary concerns."

If you are intrigued by any of these presentations, or are curious to explore a list of the many others not referenced here, there is an easy way to access the appropriate information. According to Crump, since the closure of the online conference in mid-June, "The contents of CW94:Forum are now available via gopher and ftp from That includes summaries of most presentations at the tenth Computers & Writing Conference, papers and talks by featured speakers, transcripts of realtime online sessions, and logs of the discussions from Electronic Forum." In addition, the primary organizers of the various parts of the MIzzou conference are available for questions at the following addresses:

Information regarding Computers and Writing '95, both the online portion and the face-to-face meeting at the University of Texas-El Paso, will be forthcoming in the next issue of this publication.

Mike Doherty is completing an MA in Rhetoric and Writing at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and will be pursuing doctoral studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute beginning this Fall.

This Issue / Index