Thursday, 1 July 2010

Writing Development in Higher Education conference

The 13th WDHE conference was hosted by what used to be called the WriteNow CETL (when we still had 'settles').

I've been to the last five of these conferences and as usual I quite enjoyed this one, although I was a bit less engaged this time because of competing commitments (like the SCONUL meeting), the need to travel down to London from Milton Keynes each day, and most pertinently because I felt that many of the same discussions were being had over again. It's significant that the issue of how to get writing more centrally onto the agendas of disciplinary teaching and student support never seems to get any less pressing. From my own point of view, as well, the continuing marginality of new media issues in the context of student writing is a bit depressing. I've had a personal agenda for a few years now of trying to get writing in online contexts recognised as a central part of the student writing experience at university, but I still found only a handful of presentations at this conference that had a digital dimension.

The ones I attended included Trevor Day's presentation about designing an online writing support resource at the University of Bath, Maria Jersky from LaGuardia U. on promoting multilingual writers self-efficacy using Web 2.0, Florence Dujardin on student voice and social bookmarking at Sheffield Hallam, and the keynote by Andrea Lunsford from Stanford U. who was ostensibly talking about a longitudinal study of student writing practices, but in fact spent most of her time eulogising three of her favourites who were doing remarkable things with websites, as well as probably getting A's in their essays.

My own presentation was about a little project that I'm involved in at the OU and AUT University in Auckland, trying to create an open access resource for academic writing support online that can be contextualised by teachers and students to their own tasks in hand. The project is called Contextualising Online Writing Support which means that I could use little cartoons of cows on my slides.

The high point of the conference for me was, as last time in Glasgow, catching up with Claire Aitchison from the University of Western Australia who is doing some very interesting work into the writing practices of postgraduate students, and is, as I found out, a fellow Dragon user ...

... Claire is actually much more experienced with this beast than me having been at it for two years but she still jumped up and down in gleeful recognition of my problems -- trying to get it to learn that 'Hi’ at the beginning of an e-mail should never be spelt 'high'; trying to correct its default assumption that everything I'm writing is at heart a business letter, so that its knee-jerk interpretation of a name like 'Annette Byrne' is 'net earnings'; getting over all the glitches it seems to cause with other programs including stopping the computer from shutting down by refusing to end its recording function. We agreed that the goal of speak-writing was a worthy one and much better for our eventual fluency, but that there should be a dragon users anonymous group giving each other support and therapy while we were trying to get there.

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