The Dangerous Blog for Grad Students

A How-To Tale

Conference November 19, 2008


Great Plains Alliance for Computers & Writing 















This was the 12th Annual Great Plains Alliance for Computers & Writing, a conference all about the use of multimodality in the classroom. Each session that I attended either demonstrated or discussed the use of technology in the classroom, whether it was an animated world, a slide-show project or a full-blown video essay.  It was the first conference that I’d ever been to and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  But I found the parking garage easily enough, got to the room and sat awkwardly by myself and quickly scanned my agenda to find an amazing first session to go there.  And on it went from there, not unhappily!



And Now For the Sessions

Session 1A:  Across Disciplines: Establishing a Center for New Media Studies at a “Normal” University

In their presentation, Kevin Moberly, Matt Barton and Judy Kilborn (all of St. Cloud State University) discussed the timeline of their school, from when it began based on a Wilhelm von Humboldt model to today when studies need to be more interdisciplinary than compartmentalized.  Moberly started off the topic, craftily using a CG world to walk us through signposts of Humboldt and disciplinary boundaries.  Then Kilborn continued, talking about the curriculum process and how an idea must work through the different stages of the university before becoming solidified.  Barton finished off with an amusing personal perspective – “Am I a new media guy?” – and effectively pinpointed that the time has come to move on and it must be an interdisciplinary (even college) collaborative to truly set up New Media Studies in the university.


Session 2C: Engaging the Multimodal Student:  Composing Multimedia

John Nelson, of Dakota State University, demonstrated a project that he uses in his freshman and sophomore classes.  On display was one project, a student video about lawnmower racing in Pukwani, SD.  It was made up of photographic and audio components and fulfilled the requirement of profiling something, whether it be a person, place or event.  Students in Dr. Nelson’s classes use software that is free and available to everyone and begin their project in several drafts of scripts.  From there, they go on to make the video, all of which must be merely enhancement of the text/script.  

Keynote:  Kathleen Blake Yancey

Dr. Yancy began her talk with a reminder that, slowly but surely, our writings and our composing processes have become a mixture of print-based media and that of the internet and computer screen.  If it is true for us, it is even more true for our students, who probably rely even more heavily on computers and typing in their own writing.  As such, we need to make sure that you are able to offer our students visual as well as verbal instruction and new ways of creating texts that are relevant for this 21st century.  She went on to talk about new composing spaces, such as YouTube, blogs and Wordles and how people are still as driven to write as ever, except it happens in newer ways.  She ended by exhorting such models of teaching as her own and that of Iowa State, as well as Catherine Hobb’s, Jeff Rice’s and Colling Brooke’s as examples to follow in our own teaching.

Session 3D:  McLuhan’s Global Village

Kevin Brooks, of North Dakota State University, brought several of his graduate students to come and present the multimodal texts that they were working on for his class.  They had read works by Marshal McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard and used this as a basis for their essays and anti-essays. Jennifer Roos created a text and played with format and style to make her point.  Robert Becker, Aaron Quanbeck, Landon  Kafka and Niles Haich used pictures, audio, video clips and text in compilation for longer videos.  Each text that was made allowed the students to think deeper about their reading and apply to it their view of life after 9/11.

You can visit for more information on Brooks’ class.


Session 4A:  Strategies and Resources

This session was supposed to consist of three parts, but unfortunately Anish Mukundbhai Dave, of Iowa State University, was not able to make it.  Teresa Henning, from Southwest Minnesota State University, began with a talk on “Going Multimodal on the Cheap:  Strategies for the Technologically Impoverished.”  She talked about very simple ways to weave multimodal composition into the classroom, ranging from an advertisement analysis to creating graphs and charts for research papers.  These things were not quite stand-alone projects, but were able to easily integrated with other writing and were relatively cheap (or even free) to use.  She stressed that she could only really count on her students knowing Word and maybe PowerPoint, so that it was hard to take it any further in her classroom, but she believed that being authentic when instructing students would help them to effectively use and recycle technology and multimodality.  Karin Klicker, of St. Cloud State University, then presented “Need Any Available Means to Take the Edge Off?” which addressed the gap between students expecting to use more technology and the teachers that have it but don’t use it in the classroom.  She encourages training for all professors to keep up and be able to (at least somewhat) use the technology available to them and be comfortable enough to let their students use it as well.  



Social Events

There was a luncheon provided the first day of the conference and we needed to be sitting in groups of four people.  Since I didn’t know anyone, though I had talked randomly to several people throughout the day, I just waited to see what would happen.  Soon, three people from Minnesota State University offered to let me sit with them to make up their table.  They were very friendly and one lady complimented my necklace.  As it turned out, we were placed at an 8-person table, so there were a couple ladies from Grand View University and some people on the end that I didn’t get to meet, but who discovered that they had graduated in the same class from the same high school.  Conversation mostly revolved around where everyone was from and what they taught.  Sitting next to me was another graduate student, so we could chat about how our class load was and assistantships (he was working on getting one).  Instead of being really awkward, it turned into a nice lunch!

After the first day was over, there was a reception at the Reiman Gardens.  I had just gotten out of the Global Village session and so had started chatting with some of the grad students who presented.  We took the shuttle over together and were in time to tour the Butterfly Gardens, which were beautiful!  There were so many butterflies to look at.  When the tour was over, I pulled up a chair for myself at the North Dakota State University table and they said that I could be one of them for the night.  So, I commiserated about their 8-hour drive each way and then were nice to me about being the only person from Illinois State.  It was great to meet some people that could tell me about what another grad school is like (since I only applied to one) and that I could see again the next day at the conference.



Conclusion – Wrap-Up Facts

The keynote speaker was Kathleen Blake Yancy, who is currently at Florida State University, was a chair of CCCC and helped found and directs the International Coalition on Electronic Portfolio Research.  Obviously, then, she would have been the major player at the conference, but I believe a lot of the other important people who attended were the ones participating in a roundtable discussion during the workshop time:  Kevin Brooks (North Dakota State University), Teresa Henning (Southwest Minnesota State University), Dan Weinstein (Dakota State University), Mike McCord (Minnesota State University – Moorehead), Lee Tesdell (Minnesota State University – Mandato), Robert Whipple (Creighton University), Barb Blakely (Iowa State University), Michael Mendelson (Iowa State University) and Donna Niday (Iowa State University).  Of all of these professors, I had only ever heard of Dr. Blakely, as I had come across her name as one of the authors published in the Journal of Visual Literacy.  All in all, there were probably about 80 people attending the conference from all over the midwest region.

As you can see from my introduction and the descriptions of the sessions that I attended, all the different sessions dealt with technology and multimodality in the classroom, at different levels.  There were some on pedagogy, such as ‘Communicating Multimodal Pedagogies:  The Discourse of Programmatic Initiatives.”  Others focused on the practice, like “Engaging the Multimodal Student: Composing Multimedia” and “Teaching the Researched Photo Story.”  Still others, such as “Strategies and Resources” and “Theory, Technology, and Change,” gave tips on how to incorporate technology, even if it is hard to understand or hard to access because of budget issues.

The conference went really well and seemed pretty laid back.  We were shuttled around to buildings all over campus and it was snowing and/or raining most of the time, so walking outside wasn’t the greatest.  But that is campus life, isn’t it?  Anyways, I dressed up a bit, which was alright – I didn’t quite ever feel overdressed or underdressed, but maybe it was because of the weather.   I didn’t really know what to expect from a conference, but I was encouraged with finding everyone so friendly and willing to talk and enjoyed visiting a different (very pretty) campus.  

All in all, I learned a lot at the conference and was glad that it was a good first experience. There was really no good reason to be too nervous (and I wasn’t!) and I ended up meeting some great people and hearing some good ideas for teaching a class next semester – especially with the possibility of tying in something slide show or video related.  The conference seemed really in-step with this class actually, especially when I saw the video presentations – it was like a kind of foreshadowing of what we would be doing (ok, not exactly, but it made me less worried).  And all of these people seemed to have the same opinion as Dr. Ball (and me, I’m learning) that students nowadays are inundated with multimodal elements and are comfortable with seeing them.  Now it is just up to us to push them to actually examine them and maybe even make their own.  Enlightening, isn’t it?



One Response to “Conference”

  1. Jason Says:

    Sounds like this was a great conference, and all of the multimodality discussions would have been fantastic, but I am particularly interested in the presentation from John Nelson. The student work that he presented sounds like a great project, and one that the student became truly engaged in.

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