Monday, March 14, 2011

NEWCA 2011: Not Your Garden Variety Conference

This weekend, I spent time in lovely New Hampshire at the Northeast Writing Center Association Conference at Southern New Hampshire University. The theme of the conference was writing centers as community gardens, a metaphor that inspired a great deal of thoughtful discussion and insight.

It was a great experience! As a first time conference goer, the relaxed atmosphere and the friendly conference attendees took off much of the pressure I was feeling. It was a mix of writing center directors, faculty, tutors, and graduate and undergraduate students. I met up with some old friends from the Montclair State University Center for Writing Excellence, forged stronger bonds with my current St. John's University Writing Center community, and met some interesting new folks along the way. Throughout the day, conference goers were tweeting about the panels they were participating.

The day kicked off with a keynote by Harry Denny, our own St. John's University Writing Center Director and all around rockstar educator. He spoke about the need to be conscious of the ways in which we interact with others, to remember that what we say does affect others. His biggest concern was for those who become marginalized by what he calls "clubhouse" behavior in our writing centers and elsewhere. As writing centers, it is our job to set the standard and treat each other in ways that encourage growth rather than force exclusion.

With the keynote said, we were off to our first sessions. The panel I chose bridged a broad span of topics. It started with Patrick Ryan who spoke about encouraging creativity and showing students that creativity is part of expository writing. His tutors couldn't find funding to make it to the conference, but did but together a great video about the ways in which they encourage creativity. Underneath all of their different methods, one idea seemed to ring out: helping students write is often about enabling them to discover interest in their writing and removing their fears.

Janet Dengel and Jennifer Ferreira, my pals from Montclair State University, talked next about ways to encourage outreach with other departments. It sparked some discussion about WAC and how we can form relationships with other departments that are mutually beneficial.

At the end, we also came to a discussion about the gap between spoken and written language. One audience member said that she believed the gap was widening and asked the rest of the audience whether or not we believed it was true. It lead to some discussion about the rapidly changing nature of the spoken word, but the static nature of academic writing, which tends to lead towards a conventional middle class ideal. There was no real consensus made, but certainly food for thought.

Can you tell that we were the digital literacy group?
During lunch, we watched a video about community made by some of my fellow tutors from the St. John's University Writing Center. I was really proud of what they produced, though I can claim no part in its creation. I would definitely recommend that everyone watches it!

After lunch, there were two more sessions. The first one I attended was about online tutoring and online discussion forums. A tutor from Long Island's Aldephi University talked about their new online tutoring program. There was discussion as to whether writing centers should be using submission forms for their synchronous and asynchronous tutoring sessions. Do these questions stop students from using online services or weed out lazy students?

A second tutor from University of Connecticutt talked about students' experiences with online postings (such as Blackboard). He reminded us that not all attempts at creating a community through online discussions are successful. Directed questioning seemed to help students find value in online posting. Students found things most valuable that were not simple added work, but that were incorporated into their class. Students from the audience expressed a distaste for anything that felt separate, purposeless, or extra. Community building really seemed to be about finding a shared passion, something a professor couldn't necessarily make happen.

our opening slide
For the last session of the day, it was my turn to present, along with fellow tutors from the St. John's University Writing Center, both from the Queens and Staten Island campuses. Our presentation was called Branching Out: Digital Literacy and Writing Centers. As usual, I was super nervous, but I think the panel was successful. We tried to cram a lot of information into a 75 minute panel, ranging from what defines digital literacy to how our composing process are affected by technology to the politics of digital literacy to using digital literacy to enhance our writing centers. Our audience really picked up on issues of access and social justice. There was also great conversation about how to address the challenges of tutoring students who are participating in digital writing. Harry left us of with a reminder that, though many of us take for granted how digitally literate we are, we should recognize that it's not universal and that in the moments where we come across someone who is not digitally literate, we must use it as a teachable moment, not one for ridicule. (At some point this week, I will post more about our panel.)

I heard a rumor that next year the NEWCA Conference will be held at our very own St. John's University. Whether it's true or not, I do hope to attend next year. It was obvious that the participants all had a passion for what they do and desire to learn more.


Tara said...

hooray! that would be so cool if next year's conference is at st john's. :)

NP said...

My apologies, blog followers, that the StJ community video link does not work. Only individuals accepted for viewing by the author can see it.