Monday, July 28, 2008

Link to information about the film Writing Across Borders

Hi there,
I just sent out an email with a link to the website for the film Writing Across Borders, but I thought I'd also post it on our website as well. This is a really terrific film that grew out of several staff meetings we had several years ago in our writing center. We invited a group of international students who frequently conference in our center to come to a meeting to tell us about their experiences. What they had to say to us was so powerful that we felt that others needed to hear these students' stories.

Originally we imagined a low tech, low production value "talking heads" video that we'd use solely for in-house staff training. But my colleague Wayne Robertson, who now teaches and works in the writing center at Whatcom Community College (Bellingham, WA) had a vision of something much more powerful. Thanks to years of work and countless hours of labor, Wayne brought that vision to fruition.

Here's a link to the video:

I'm so sorry that I neglected to get copies to the SI--somehow that just fell through the cracks. But it is available at cost via the website.

Post SI Reflections

Hi everyone,
It's hard to believe that the Summer Institute has come and gone! What an incredible, enriching, thought-provoking, friendship-forming and networking week it was!

As in the past two SI's, I came away from the Institute feeling that I had learned more than I had given. All of the sessions were (literally) both productive and powerful for me, but some highlights do stand out: the session on diversity, on online tutoring, the webcast, the tutor education session, the breakout on student leadership positions in the writing center, the discussion of assessment.

Hmmm. I seem to be on my way to listing all the plenaries and breakouts, don't I? I guess that's just the nature of the SI.

I want to thank everyone who made the SI so successful--and that is literally everyone, leaders and participants. What an honor and privilege it was to be part of this wonderful week!

Please do keep in touch, and as various leaders said in our closing lunch, if there's any way I can be helpful don't hesitate to write or call.

All best,

PS Paula, I'm very impressed that you know how to post a photo. I still don't know how to do that (and, yes, I know it's supposed to be easy).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Post-Summer-Institute reflection

Hi. Today is such a quiet day. As I unpack, I've been reflecting on an intense week and I feel such gratitude to all the participants and other leaders. I knew I would learn from you all, and I have, I have.

A new feature of the Summer Institute (and a new tradition?) is the open mic. We held this in the lounge of the SI hotel. They clearly understood open mic events and provided us with high stools and a microphone. Some participants and leaders read original poems and short stories. Others read favorites of theirs. Neal Lerner played an original bluesy piano compostion, and Zach recited O Captain, My Captain while standing on a table. We had poems from Namibian women fighting domestic abuse and AIDS and poems celebrating ceremonies of life and death for Lakotas and for Minnesota Finns, celebrating the traditions of the sauna. We were taken to these places. Jeff ended the evening reading the poem "What Teachers Make," and I believe we were all moved by both the poem and Jeff's renditon of it. We had a very good audience, and as nervous-making as it is to stand up and perform, I think that everyone enjoyed it.

I also want to reflect on Writing as Hard Labor. It's not easy to work intensely all day long and then write something. But it's what our students do, and part of the purpose of the exercise was to help us put ourselves in the shoes of the writers and tutors who make our work so meaningful and enjoyable. Lots of groups produced important short documents for their centers. Others worked on dissertation proposals. I brainstormed a note to the dean of residence life that I will finish this week. I got some great advice on it, even though I didn't actually write it.

Nancy Grimm's writing group reported at the end (a session called Labor and Delivery), commenting on how exciting it was to be working with Nancy and how they had advanced their projects. We knew that we weren't alloting enough time to writing and consulting/coaching/tutoring sessions, but we had packed the schedule with so many exciting (and some really new) sessions, we didn't want to sacrifice any of them. Our question was always "What would we cut?" We didn't want to cut a thing.

We had exciting breakout sessions of podcasting and on computer simulations, on community writing assistance, on student leadership positions, and on writing fellows programs. And we had a demonstration (an optional session) on a program called Transana developed locally that offers exciting possiblilities for coding and anayzing videotaped conferences. I hope that others will describe these sessions. Leaders had to miss some of them because other breakout obligations made it impossible for us to attend them.

My conference notebook is full to the brim with useful documents. I'm not quite ready to shelve it with my 2003 and 2004 notebooks yet. Not yet.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Transana at the Institute

Another special session at this year's institute is coming up on Tuesday afternoon. We're very lucky to have David Woods, from the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research, joining us to demonstrate a wonderful program that has great potential for writing center researchers and tutor educators. He'll introduce us to Transana, software for analyzing digital video and audio data. Widely used by educational researchers around the world, Transana is inexpensive and open source.

It's relatively easy to collect audio and video from writing center sessions, but much harder to figure out what those data mean. David will demonstrate how this powerful program can help us organize and analyze audio and video data in ways that are invaluable for both writing center research *and* tutor education. For more information, see the Transana website.

More later . . .


Smile! You're on Web 2.0!

Welcome to Madison, WI, the Writing Center Summer Institute, and the World Wide Web! As you may have noticed, we're trying out some new technologies for the institute this year, including this blog, the forum, and a flickr photo-sharing site. To the right, you can see a slideshow running photos from the institute. You may meet one of our friendly UW-Madison-based volunteers taking photos during the day. We'll be uploading photos from the institute every night, and then showing new photos the next day, both on the blog slideshow and during the morning announcements at the institute. If you'd like to see all the photos from the institute, you can go directly to our flickr site: , or just click on the slideshow to the right.

Thanks so much to our volunteer photographers: Andrea Benton (who took photographs from Sunday--now playing in a blog near you!), Rob Emmett (scheduled for Monday, and a special thanks to Rob for coordinating the photographers, directions and flickr site!); Maria Bibbs (Tuesday); Rik Hunter (Wednesday); Erica Van Steen (Thursday); Callie Hansen (Friday).

Oh! And I should introduce myself: I'm Annette Vee, a Ph.D. candidate in the Composition and Rhetoric program at the UW-Madison. I'm the Coordinator of the Online Writing Center, and with Brad Hughes, I'll be talking about OWCs on Thursday. I'm also maintaining the institute website and doing general tech support for the institute this week. I'll be lurking around for many of the sessions, so please let me know how I can help you! You can also contact me via email at

And I should note: If you'd rather not have your photo taken, please let our photographer know! We can delete it from the camera, or if you contact me directly ( or let Brad know, we're happy to pull the picture offline and out of the slideshows.

One more note: If you're taking pictures and want to include them in the slideshows or the flickr site, you can follow the directions Rob, our illustrious photographer-coordinator, gives out on Monday morning. We'd love to include your photos, too!

Smile big for the camera! :D

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Please Don't Call It a Conference

Thought it might be useful to clarify what an "institute" is and how that differs from a "conference." The Writing Center Summer Institute is actually more like a short-term course than a conference. It's a shared, collaborative-learning experience over a sustained period of time. We'll have discussions that last beyond any single session; we'll have a chance to initiate follow-up discussions over lunch or in the evening; we'll draw connections across sessions; we'll have some writing homework; we'll have readings of work in progress by participants; participants will be able to have consultations with leaders over breakfast or coffee or dinner or a favorite beverage on the terrace; participants will be able to initiate special-interest groups to share their own passions; we'll have shared outings; we'll have lots of fun; and we'll have a reunion at a future IWCA conference. Don't get me wrong--I love conferences. It's just that an institute is a deliberately different kind of learning experience, with some different goals.

Months ago, based on all the information that the participants provided about their backgrounds and interests, the institute's leaders created a lineup of plenary sessions that match the participants' interests and varying degrees of experience. The leaders then teamed up in different groups of co-leaders to plan lively, interactive sessions (mostly plenary, with some concurrent breakout sessions on more particular topics). These interactive sessions are designed to value and draw from the "collective wisdom" of everyone in the room--participants as well as leaders.

"Collective wisdom" is a powerful phrase from my friend and colleague Frank Christ, whose work with Martha Maxwell designing and leading fabulous learning-center institutes at Berkeley, at Cal State-Long Beach, and then at the University of Arizona is legendary. I had the honor and privilege of being a leader at many of the Tucson and Phoenix-area institutes in the 1990s, and Frank's philosophy of what an institute is has deeply influenced my thinking. I'm deeply grateful to both Frank and Martha for so much, but especially for teaching me about shaping such a special learning experience. You really should read Frank's description of the philosophy of such a professional institute.

More later . . .


Friday, July 18, 2008

A Webcast from the Summer Institute, July 23, 2008, 10:30 AM US Central Time

Those of us organizing the 2008 IWCA Summer Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are eager to share a small part of this year's institute with the wider writing center community. We're delighted to announce that we'll be webcasting one of the plenary sessions, so you can sample the summer institute from the comfort or your office or home. You are all invited to join us--

Wednesday, July 23, 2008
10:30 AM to Noon (US Central Daylight Time--the same time zone as Chicago)
Webcast live from the University of Wisconsin-Madison

"How Did We Get Here? Finding and Mapping Writing Center Literature"
Led by Neal Lerner (MIT) and Elisabeth Piedmont-Marton (Southwestern University)

Description: In this interactive webcast session, we'll survey the field of writing center literature, identifying and discussing key texts and ideas that helped define and continue to shape the field. We'll do this, in part, with game playing to examine participants' knowledge of writing center literature. Next, we'll move beyond surveys and games to take a critical look at writing center literature and consider such questions as these: have some of our founding texts become codifying and limiting, and how can our scholarship reach wider audiences? Finally, we'll walk through the process of using search engines to locate relevant literature that you'll need either to support the claims you make to colleagues about your work or to pursue your own research.

Here's the URL just for this webcast--

The webcast is available free to anyone who's interested and who has a computer with an Internet connection and a standard media player installed, as well as a sound card and speakers or headphones. It will be webcast using Mediasite software from Sonic Foundry, software widely used by universities to broadcast interactive video on the Internet. It's very easy to view, on a Mac or Windows computer, even if you've never watched a webcast before.

Well in advance of the webcast (so you have time to get some local help to connect or so can try a different computer), you should try out your connection. Go to the URL listed above (click on it, or copy or paste that URL into your web browser). You should then see a screen from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a title and description for Neal's and Elisabeth's institute session. Click on the title ("How Did We Get Here?"), which will open up a new window for this webcast, announcing (unless you're viewing during the live webcast) "waiting for presentation to begin." You should definitely check the technical requirements for viewing the webcast--to do that, click on the "help" button on the upper right. Then click on "viewer requirements" from the menu on the left. You'll find requirements for viewing on a Mac as well as a Windows computer. Be sure to read the important information about configuring pop-up blockers so that your browser allows site pop-ups; otherwise, you won't be able to view this presentation.

This webcast is interactive, and we hope to hear from you! During the actual live webcast, you'll be able to send in a question or comment (in text) just by clicking on the "Ask?" icon on the upper left, which will be active during the live webcast. Please send something to us in Madison, Wisconsin! We'll read some of the questions and comments during the webcast itself.

We hope that you’ll try to have your local IT support help you if you run into any problems. We’d love to be able to help with those problems, but we’ll be tied up with the broadcast, so we urge you to check it out beforehand and make sure all systems are go.

The institute wants to thank the RiCH Company for their generous support which is making this webcast possible.

Please join us on the 23rd! It would be great to know that you're watching. And if you can't watch at that time, the webcast will be archived and available for later viewing. Thanks so much for your interest in the 2008 IWCA Summer Institute!

More later . . .