Last week I joined my former colleagues at Kennesaw State University (KSU) to present at the 2012 Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA) conference, entitled “Next-Gen WC: Composing Spaces, Exploring Ideas,” at Eastern Kentucky University. It was a very good conference, with many interesting and thought-provoking presentations on myriad topics, from effective writing center management in tough economic times rife with budget slashes, to designing effective learning space, to encouraging students to think in new and divergent ways.
One topic I found very interesting was the adaptation of existing writing center practice to prepare students for an ever-changing and all but predictable future. Thursday afternoon, in a roundtable presentation entitled “Next-Gen Writing Center Strategies for a Next-Gen Economy, Mary Lou Odom, Rachel Greil, Milya Delahaye, and Vickie A. discussed the importance of doing just that. Parts of their presentation touched on ideas mirrored by Sir Ken Robinson in his book The Element, and indeed Milya played a small section of Robinson’s 2006 TED Talk about how schools kill creativity in which he discusses the same issue.
The encouragement (or, alternatively, stifling) of students’ creativity is a very important topic, and sometimes a controversial one. I used to play sections of Robinson’s TED talks for my students when I taught composition at KSU, and they always generated energetic discussion and sometimes heated debate. This was the case at the conference as well, and many people shared anecdotes and insightful comments on the topic.
My group presented on Friday. Mike Ruther , Robert Rockett, and I gave a presentation entitled “The Next-Gen Writing Center: An Invaluable Resource for ESOL Students.” I should probably note here, as we did at the beginning of our presentation, our use of the acronym “ESOL,” as opposed to one of the various other acronyms that are often used to describe students whose first or primary language is not English. “ESOL” can stand for either of two things: “English as a Second or Other Language,” or “English for Speakers of Other Languages” (I prefer the former). While the acronym “ESL” (for “English as a Second Language”) is probably the most commonly used in the States, I don’t like to use it since for many international students in the United States, English is their third, fourth, etcetera language.
The presentation went very well. We discussed the current situation of writing centers and proposed ways the tutors and administrators can reach out to and help international students in a time when colleges and universities are seeking out and enrolling more and more students from all over the world. Writing centers must work hard to develop tools to talk about writing in English with ESOL students in a meaningful way, and this is no easy feat (particularly in the aforementioned trying economic times).Looking around the room I noticed that several people were taking notes, which I took to be a very good sign, and several people stayed back with us to discuss some of the ideas put forth in the presentation, which was encouraging as well. This is a topic of great interest to me, and I plan to build on it in the future.
After Friday’s presentations, we all headed out to the Regal Beagle (of Three’s Company fame) for dinner and drinks. It was a very nice evening; it was nice to have the chance to catch up with my KSU friends, and I also enjoyed meeting interesting people from other school.
For me, the conference was inspiring, and the trip was great on several levels. I had missed talking with everyone from the KSU Writing Center, and when we arrived home Saturday evening and said goodbye, I was struck all over again by how wonderful everyone there really is. I’m very glad I had the opportunity to reconnect with them… it felt like the good old days.
To wrap up, here are a few pictures from the trip:
SWCA Conference Program 2012 — *link*