Popsicle Pockets: A Reflection on the 2015 SWCA Conference

On a Thursday morning, after much much much deliberation and the purchase of some quality local coffee grounds, seven individuals from the Warren Wilson Writing Center Crew departed campus and took to the icy roads connecting Swannanoa, North Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee. You’ll never believe what happened next (is what I would write if I were a BuzzFeed author).

The Sessions

Because of the unfortunately inclement weather, many of the original presenters were not able to attend and many sessions were cancelled. This meant that many of the presentations that members of the Wilson crew had highlighted as ones they wanted to attend went unseen and that the selection for sessions was much narrower. I’m going to look at this as a positive thing for two reasons: 1) Instead of selecting sessions to attend that directly related to interests that we already had or thought processes that had already begun on a certain topic, we were pushed to hear from speakers that we may otherwise have overlooked. And 2) This means that I can write a more focused and intensive reflection on each of the four sessions I was able to attend, and therefore I will begin to garner the most possible learning from each of them!

The abstract for the first session I (and most of the crew) attended.

Emory

As stated in this abstract, we, as participants, were able to engage in dialogue about code-meshing within our own centers in addition to hearing three different talks by those from Emory University. I talked to the director of (I apologize for not remembering his institution) another writing center and learned that they had already begun to push against the standards of academic writing at his university. He told me that this had mostly taken place within the English department, which was an awesome first step. This sparked an idea related to a conversation that a few of us had been having during the drive from Asheville: how could code-meshing ever appear in science-specific writing? We’d been talking about the degradation of creativity in science writing, and since this presentation was working to challenge the idea that code-meshing should only appear in creative writing, I began to wonder whether code-meshing could ever have a place in science writing. Although I don’t want to reinforce the idea that code-meshing=creativity, the fact that the possibility of code-meshing in science writing seems impossible does seem tied to the fact that there is so little room for creativity (read, voice) within that discipline. For reference, here is a really freaking awesome essay by last year’s keynote speaker, Vershawn Ashanti Young.

The abstract from the second presentation I attended.

Multimodal

The second listed presentation, by the Assistant Director of Writing at Auburn University, was particularly enticing to me because I am interested in the ways in which tutors from other writing centers are using ePortfolios in their development. However, I was a little disappointed because the speaker seemed mostly concerned with addressing “Technology Anxiety” and with helping tutors to become able facilitators for visual and technological literacy. This didn’t seem all that relevant to the work we in the Wilson writing center are doing, simply because that cannot be our function. What I mean is that with the proportion of students we see and the number of tutors we have, it wouldn’t be possible to also function as a visual literacy center. In my opinion and experience, anyway.

What did end up being interesting was the first presentation, a paper-reading by the director of the writing studio at Coker College. She read her thoughts about using art history scholarship practices– that is, the slow observing, close-detail viewing of art– as a metaphor for writing composition. She spoke about the tendency of writers– especially first-year writers– to jump to the first conclusion that seems arguable. That is, rather than allowing any amount of uncertainty and to sink into that uncertainty in the name of learning, writers would rather rush through the to end and get to the grade. While this speaker seemed more focused on revision rather than on composition, I was thinking pretty specifically about the questions I ask students during brainstorming sessions, How am I getting them to slow down in their thinking processes? How can I foster this slower development in the name of cultivating better observation within their learning?

And the third abstract:

Research

The first of these was just a fantastic presentation. While I didn’t get anything directly applicable (simply because we already have an established undergraduate research journal at Warren Wilson College), their methods were inspiring and their findings were fascinating. They showed, through a process of surveying faculty members and students alike, different perceptions of what an undergraduate journal is. Most interesting to me is that many administrators and faculty members really didn’t have an understanding of what that sort of journal entailed, but they did support its launch.

On a different note, the Agnes-Scott writing center is actually the Center for Writing and Speaking. Isn’t that a cool combination? Those tutors happened to be really great speakers.

The second speakers, from Lake Land College, had a lot of information for so short a time period, but I collected a reading list from them that I think will be fascinating. What interesting connections to draw: writing to geographical location to academia to learning to retention rates.

And the final presentation, by a speaker from UNC-Chapel Hill, was interesting in a scary sort of way for me because the speaker talked about the wild difference between undergraduate and graduate writing. Ah! Just when I started to figure it out!

And the final session I was able to attend, by our own Julie Wilson:

Julie

Julie’s so awesome. Because of all the shifts in scheduling, she wasn’t able to practice her presentation beforehand, and she killed it. I was surprised at how little I knew about the practices of institutions to place students into sections of composition. I especially was unaware of the eugenic origins of SAT and ACT scores! It is amazing how often our work (in the writing center) coincides with issues of social justice!

The Presentations

Our abstracts:

WWC Pres

I was so glad to be able to present despite the crazy freezing, icy weather. Although last year’s presentation was awesome, I think that this year’s braid of Becca, Savannah, and I’s presentations was amazing. It’s hard for me to evaluate how the presentation went from an objective standpoint, so I’m not going to do that. What I will do is reflect on how comfortable I felt in front of people! Those of you who haven’t known me for all that long may not realize this, but I was once extremely, painfully shy. Like, crippling. Like, tongue rolled into weird, untalkable shapes. Like, shaking at the knees in front of more than two people. Anytime that I am able to communicate effectively in front of a crowd, I am amazed and I am stupefied. When in the world did such shyness subside? And, more honestly, why did it subside in specific contexts and not in others?

A link to my Prezi:

Prezi

The Cornbread

Something that I wanted to reflect on and that won’t take all that long to illustrate: the Warren Wilson Writing Center Crew is so awesome. Each person on the crew, whether they’ve been on for three years or just a few weeks, has such an awesome perspective on the work that we do. It just does not get stale! Part of why I believe so extremely in sharing our reflective practices is this very reason, because everyone’s got a different lens, and sometimes it’s helpful and healthy to look through another one to be able to see your own in a new way.

And I am so grateful to be a part of a crew in which so many members would give up their cornbread from Jack’s barbecue just because I loved it so much.

Crew

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