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 . . .