The Four Big To-Dos of #4C13
Stop Being Afraid of Data
In the panels I attended and presented in, one thing became obvious: there is need for more empirical and qualitative research. While "big data" has become a buzz word, the presentations that I attended that were based on empirical and/or qualitative research were doing important work that managed to speak into the needs of students and other developing writers while still taking into account the concerns administrators and other stakeholders in the education field. Research enabled these presenters to show faults in public rhetoric concerning education/Composition/writing, build cases for effective pedagogical practices, and/or demonstrate institutional value, which might lead to continued or additional funding. Truthfully, I found these to also be some of the most engaging presentations.
What I also began to consider, as a result of these presentations, is that when we allow those outside the field of Composition to do writing assessment and data collection for us, we give them permission to form studies and analyze findings that will help them achieve their own goals. We need to more carefully consider the outcomes we wish to achieve, the questions we need to be asking, and the ways that we go about collecting that data.
Collaborate More Often
Some of the most influential presentations that I attended featured collaborative efforts, whether scholars came together to undertake large research projects that would be impossible to do with just one individual or worked through their ideas for panels together. In the roundtable on Feminist Rhetorical Practices (Next Steps? Responses to Royster’s and Kirsch’s Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies) led by Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford, collaboration also became the center of discussion and a major component of the Q & A session. The big take-away from that session was that we need to be asking "what does scholarly collaboration look like?" and "how can we make sure collaborative work is valued?"
The panelists reminded us that structures can be restructured and that messy isn't necessarily a bad thing. Ironically, I had not intended on going to this session. I accidentally sat in the wrong room and didn't realize until the panelists began to speak. It turned out to be a good thing, though, as I was inspired to think much more deeply about collaborative practices and to consider new perspectives.
Attend Panels that Don't Directly Apply to Your Interests
When you only seek out knowledge you already have a foundation in, it is more difficult to accept new theories. More or less, those types of panels reaffirm what you already know. As I said at the end of the last "to do," going to the wrong panel turned out to be great thing. What I've learned from conference going, and not just at this conference, is that going to panels that don't immediately speak into your research interests can be extremely liberating. You begin to think in more cross- and inter-disciplinary ways, and you are given new sets of questions.
I don't know why, but I had this crazy notion that CCCCs would be filled with stuffy scholars who anxiously awaited the opportunity to rip into others' ideas. I thought it would be a very competitive atmosphere. I thought there would be "camps" according to scholarly followings. Lucky for me, this was not the case. People were very nice, willing to talk and share ideas, and engaged in the process of learning. Some of those scholars whose work I most admire were willing to take a moment to shake my hand or answer my questions. Sidney Dobrin's response to my presentation and my own dissertation advisor Anne Ellen Geller's comments were not only kind, but they made me want to push myself to do more qualitative research and continue to dive into difficult projects. In other words, being friendly not only made me more comfortable, but ensured that future generations of Composition scholars would want to continue to invest in the field. Friendliness, in the case, creates sustainability.
On the flip-side, being friendly myself, even though I was nervous, helped me feel more confident and build connections. Needless to say that because of my interactions with others at the conference, my impression of my field is now a positive one. I think of Comopsition as an interactive network of colleagues in scholarship.