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The View from a Rear View Mirror: Kathleen Blake Yancey's Lecture at DU

by Angela Sowa

In an October 12 lecture on campus sponsored by the Writing Program, Kathleen Blake Yancey, Kellogg W. Hunt Professor of English and Distinguished Research Professor at Florida State University, imagined how composition might look in the year 2030. Speaking from this future vantage point, Yancey reflected on changes nascent in 2012 that will grow to be influential in 18 years. Among other topics, Yancey discussed major demographic and cultural shifts, assessment practices, and the role of new media.

Kathleen Blake Yancey is the current editor of College Composition and Communication and is a past president of The NCTE, CCCC, and the Council of Writing Program Administrators. One of her recent articles, "Notes Toward a Theory of Prior Knowledge and its Role in College Composers' Transfer of Knowledge and Practice," was co-written with DU Writing Lecturer Kara Taczak.

Yancey began by discussing how early 20th century writing practices were transformed by advent of the screen. Drawing on the work of Lester Faigley and Diana George, Yancey explained that by 2030, compositionists will have fully embraced the transition from page to screen, bringing a fundamental shift away from consumption and toward participation. She also noted the roles of antecedent genres (Charles Bazerman) and document literacy (Deborah Brandt) in our 2030 understanding of everyday writing practices.

New media will continue to transform how writers produce and readers encounter texts. Ascending in importance will be versioning, layering, and circulating. Writers will engage with academic, general, and avant-garde texts through the use of blogs, wikis, social media, emphasizing recursivity and connection across multiple media.

One consequence will be the continued rise but eventual fall of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Compositionists, scholarly institutions, and society at large will realize the significant difference between self-improvement and self-formation, and will understand that the experience of classroom learning goes beyond knowledge acquisition. Hence, by 2030, the MOOC will be a failed fad, an experiment in learning that, we quickly realized, did not fulfill the needs of student composers.

What will meet the needs of student composers, Yancey concludes, are projects that center around five foci: analysis, creation, curation, participation, and circulation. These foci will reflect the values of compositionists and suggest the types of writing that writers will engage. Yancey argues that future composition courses will emphasize meta-cognition through portfolios that highlight the connections between producing and consuming texts.

In her 2004 address to The Conference on College Composition and Communication, Yancey cited "tremors" to describe changes within the field of rhetoric and composition. Her "View from a Rear View Mirror" continues that metaphor by giving us a vision of the possible landscape after such tremors have subsided. Of course, any prediction about the future of rhetoric and composition is a statement of its current values, but Yancey's breadth of view helps us see our field both as it should be and as it can be.