Reviewed by Maury Elizabeth Brown, Germanna Community College, Fredericksburg, VA and Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Daniel L. Hocutt, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA and Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA (email@example.com)
The CCCC convention is exhilarating and exhausting. So many ideas are bouncing off the walls that one simply can’t help but be struck by an idea or two. We attended the session D.33, “Process, Plagiarism, and Pedagogy: Exploring the Benefits of Sampling for Composition Studies,” featuring presentations by Chvonne Parker, Sherie Mungo, and Gabriel Green, and were struck by an idea. This review is about being struck by an idea. It is framed as a collaborative review because it is about a shared experience.
As our Old Dominion University colleague, Chvonne Parker, concluded her presentation, “Free Samples: Redefining Plagiarism and Originality through Digital Culture and Sampling,” I leaned over to Maury and whispered, “Google Drive as digital cypher.” She nodded her head, knowingly. She may have even touched her nose in the style of The Sting, but I may have imagined that.
Understanding Maury’s reaction requires a little context. Chvonne had presented a couple of times about the cypher, a collaborative African American improvisational and participatory musical performance genre that has been all but subsumed by the mainstreaming of hip-hop music and culture. Chvonne’s approach to the cypher is grounded in part by network theory; she applies the theory to contextualize the organic, participatory, and improvisational nature of cyphers in which both the audience and rappers engage in creating the networked rhetorical experience of the performance.
We study and use Google Apps, specifically Google Drive and Google Docs, for social and collaborative composing in first-year composition classes. Our study is also grounded, in part, in network theory as we seek to explain the way a discourse community gets created around the collaborative affordances of Google Docs and the remediated pedagogy of cloud-stored, Web-based collaborative composing. Our studies seek to encourage composition teachers to consider using Google Drive or other tools that enable collaborative synchronous digital composing.
Old Dominion University’s English PhD program combines online and face-to-face learning environments, and accepts distance students in addition to local students in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. We are both distance students in the program, which means that we normally see each other only during our two-week Summer Doctoral Institutes and at conferences. Because our program includes distance students, some who (like us) attend part time, we tend to stress the importance of camaraderie and collaboration among PhD students, rather than creating an ethos of competition. As a result, we generally seek to understand and embrace the research and critical analysis of our fellow students in the program.
When I leaned over and whispered to Maury about Google Drive in relation to the cypher, she immediately knew what I was talking about and understood the potential implications of the sentence. This understanding comes from collaborating and sharing ideas and theories with each other through Google Drive for the past year and a half.
What followed a few hours later over drinks was the extra-sessionary discourse that we’re reviewing. Or, perhaps, simply relating. We recognized that there were distinct connections between the classroom experiences of our students collaborating synchronously in Google Docs and the cypher genre that Chvonne narrated and theorized about. The cypher is performed network improvisation following specific genre conventions. This definition of the cypher also goes far toward describing the collaborative synchronous composing, especially the invention and drafting work, that our students complete in Google Docs. It also, not accidentally, describes our own composing practices as distance students collaborating with classmates, faculty, and each other. That’s when it struck us: We needed to talk with Chvonne about using the collaborative synchronous composing aspects of Google Docs as a framework for theorizing the cypher and for using the cypher to theorize about how Google Docs should be used.
Later that evening in the Embassy Suites, we talked with Chvonne about our revelation and invited her to collaborate on a paper that uses networking as a theoretical framework to analyze the rhetorical performativity of the cypher and collaborative composing in Google Drive. During the conversation, all three of us found new ways to think about our own fields of study.
This experience is one that repeats over and over again at CCCC and other conferences where colleagues get together and throw ideas around. Ideas have power, and that power doesn’t always emerge during the sessions, but rather in the conversations, insights, and networked collaboration of colleagues sitting down to dinner and drinks. The power of ideas can seem latent during the session, where the ideas are thrown up, down, and all around among the participants. It’s when discourse begins, when smaller conversations begin, when dialogues and trialogues begin, when we put into words the way ideas have affected us, that we find ourselves affected and moved by an idea.