Introduction

In January 2015, Cheryl Ball issued an invitation to winners of Kairos Best Webtext awards to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Kairos. Responding to the call, we met at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in Tampa to brainstorm an historical, technological, multimodal exploration of these texts. Our process? We would conduct ten interviews of ten Best Webtext winners or finalists, each person (or persons) interviewed by another of the ten, based on the following questions:

  1. How was your webtext innovative in the historical and/or material technological context(s) within which it was created?
  2. How do you see your webtext as having influenced the trajectory of the field? How might it continue to have influence?
  3. What is your position on curation? What concerns do you have about the degradation of digital texts?
  4. What are you working on now?
  5. Question(s) specific to individual’s work
  6. Question(s) that emerge from the interview itself

drawing of a rainbow pinwheelOur product? Initially we planned to discuss and analyze the interviews with a view toward presenting our varied insights in a series of audio, visual, and/or textual modules. We soon discovered, however, that given the richness and sometimes radical diversity of our material, it would be presumptuous of us to try to synthesize the content and interpretation of these interviews into our own neat baskets. Instead, as you will see in our invitation, we have opened up and extended this webtext to include participation over the coming 12 months by Kairos readers and makers.

Toward that end, we identified 31 keywords, from accessibility to writing, which resonated strongly throughout the interviews, and we have tagged segments of interviews that contain conversations about each word.

Things We Noticed

Several topics arose during our project that, while they emerged variously in many interviews, also seemed to invite a more metadiscursive approach. We point to them here as alternative prompts for reflection and response.

I. The Technology Question

Kairos, of course, is "A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy," and technology provides the connective tissue between rhetoric and pedagogy. This became obvious from the beginning of our project, as technology both facilitated and obstructed our intentions.

Our original objective called for interviews to be conducted and recorded via Skype, Google Hangout, or a similar program. However, difficulties with scheduling, availability of resources, and editing decisions resulted in a surprising diversity of texts. One interviewer (E. Anderson > Dan Anderson | mp4) removed her questions from the video and another (Delagrange > Madeleine Sorapure | mp4) lightly edited long pauses and verbal stumbles. Others, unable to arrange a synchronous connection, created their own. Victor Vitanza and Anne Wysocki agreed early on to “interview” themselves, sending audio (Vitanza | mp4) or video (Wysocki | mp4) files responding to the written questions. The most arduous technological tangle arose when David Rieder, Thomas Rickert and Michael Salvo (mp4) initially used a proprietary conferencing software for their interviews that not only produced low-quality audio and video, but was also not exportable from its software context. Rethink. Reboot. Rerecord.

As we viewed webtexts and conducted interviews, questions about technology were always in the foreground, and it seems many technological concerns remain as present and pertinent today as they were 20 years ago. We will always have "How do I . . .?" questions as our means and methods of exposition and argument evolve. But the rhetorical questions "Why?" and "When?" are ever-present in our discussions of ethics, pedagogy, scholarship, design, interactivity, and more in the midst of technological change.

II. Interview as Genre

As writers and rhetoricians, we are familiar with the interview as a qualitative method of inquiry, and some of the Best Webtext award winners have included extensive interviewing in their work (e.g. Arola & Ball, 2007; Purdy & Walker, 2008). “Interviews” first appeared as a section title in the Spring 1997 Kairos. A comparison of those mostly textual transcripts and analyses to our both-more-and-less-mediated interviews would be interesting.

Although using a Q&A format to gain information is an ancient practice, its first notable modern use was journalistic (OED 1869, 1897). Many sources suggest that the first such interviews were conducted by crime reporters seeking prurient details from criminals, victims, and witnesses. The interview was legitimized by mainstream journalists in the early twentieth century: a naïve questioner asks for information, and an informed respondent provides it in factual narrative form. Scholarly variations in the humanities and social sciences include closed-end or multiple choice responses as well as narrative, and the information gleaned is used in reports, rhetorical and discourse analysis, case studies, storytelling, and others. Only rarely are such interviews published in their entirety.

But interview as method is not interview as genre, and the advent of the public technologies of radio, television, and the Internet produced an era of political and literary interviews qualitatively different from their methodological partners. We find our interviews most closely resemble the literary interview: energetic but non-combative, in which both interviewer and respondent are well-informed and notable in their field, and their mutual goal is to delight and surprise as well as to inform. Not much scholarship exists on the interview as genre, so our interviews might serve for such an inquiry.

III. Change

Early Best Webtext authors overwhelmingly emphasized technology itself as their subject, not uncommon in a new field like digital media studies. Think of the exhaustive (but necessary) discussion of navigation in Keith Dorwick’s 1997 “Rethinking the Academy.” But soon, in an extended déjà vu moment, the technology itself became less interesting, and the medium became the message. From the metaphorical dorm room of Yergeau et al to the family album of Erin Anderson to Delagrange’s Wunderkammer, webtexts became less technologically self-referential and more immersive and interactive. These interviews with authors of best webtexts from 1997 through 2013 chronicle the ongoing changes in interface design, composing process, collaboration, and more. At the ends of some of the interviews authors are asked to talk about their current projects, and so we see some new directions and avenues for change in future multimodal scholarship.

IV. Pedagogy

Through the history and into the future of technological change—its uses and its abuses, its transformative power and its seductive misdirection—we will continue to be provoked and enchanted by the social and cultural meanings of our texts. But one subject, pedagogy, remains consistently either all or part of many (most?) Kairos webtexts. While not unexpected in a journal with pedagogy in its title, the commitment of the authors and users of Kairos to the teaching and learning of our students (and our selves) is formidable, and emerges as a subtext in several of our interviews. We are reminded of our call to teach, and Cynthia Selfe's (2009) call to action in her College Composition and Communication article, "Movement of Air":

[We must] respect and encourage students to deploy multiple modalities in skillful ways—written, aural, visual—and that they model a respect for and understanding of the various roles each modality can play in human expression, the formation of individual and group identity, and meaning making. (p. 626)

References

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Anderson, Dan. (2012). Watch the bubble. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 16(2). Retrieved January 1, 2016 from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/16.2/inventio/anderson

Anderson, Dan. (2015). Professing. [Web portfolio]. Retrieved January 1, 2016 from http://iamdananderson.net/professing/

Anderson, Erin. (2011). The Olive Project: An oral history project in multiple modes. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 15(2). Retrieved January 1, 2016, from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/15.2/topoi/anderson

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Arola, Kristin L., & Ball, Cheryl. (2007). A conversation: From 'they call me doctor?' to tenure. Computers and Composition Online. Retrieved January 1, 2016 from http://www2.bgsu.edu/departments/english/cconline/doctor/

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Dorwick, Keith. (1996). Rethinking the academy: Problems and possibilities of teaching, scholarship, authority, and power in electronic environments. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 1(3). Retrieved January 1, 2016 from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/1.3/binder.html?features/dorwick/toc.htm

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Purdy, James P., & Walker, Joyce R. (2007). Digital breadcrumbs: Case studies of online research. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 11(2). Retrieved January 1, 2016 from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.2/topoi/purdy-walker

Rickert, Thomas, & Salvo, Michael. (2006). '... And they had Pro Tools.' Computers and Composition Online. Retrieved January 1, 2016 from http://www2.bgsu.edu/departments/english/cconline/rickert_salvo

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Rieder, David M. (2011). From Street to Software: How a Lettered Flaneur Invented a Hybrid Rhetoric. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 14(2). Retrieved January 1, 2016 from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/14.2/topoi/rieder

Selfe, Cynthia L. (2009). The movement of air, the breath of meaning: Aurality and multimodal composing. College Composition and Communication, 60(4), 616-663.

Sorapure, Madeleine. (2006). Between modes: Assessing student new media compositions. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 10(2). Retrieved January 1, 2016 from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/10.2/coverweb/sorapure

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