CWS graduate students Maria Carvajal, Bruce Kovanen, Evin Groundwater, and Logan Middleton sat down to reflect on their experiences at the 2016 Conference on College Composition and Communication in Houston, TX.
Please click the link at the bottom of this post to download the m4A file of their conversation. Below is a transcript of the roundtable.
CCCC ‘16 Audio Roundtable Discussion
Friday, April 9, 2016
Participants: María Carvajal, Bruce Kovanen, Evin Groundwater, Logan Middleton
LM: This is an audio roundtable discussion from the Center for Writing Studies. We’re here to reflect upon our initial experiences at 4Cs 2016 in Houston, Texas. My name is Logan Middleton. I’m a first-year master’s student in Writing Studies at the University of Illinois.
BK: And I’m Bruce Kovanen. I’m also a first-year master’s student at the University of Illinois.
EG: I’m Evin Groundwater. I’m a second-year PhD student at the University of Illinois in Writing Studies.
MC: And my name is María Carvajal. I’m a second year MA also at U of I in Writing Studies.
LM: So we thought we would start by reflecting on our initial experiences. For myself and Evin, and María, this was our first time at Cs, so we thought we would start there and just let this conversation unfold organically. So, what were you all’s initial impressions of the conference?
MC: I think, for me, it was how big it was. It was just incredibly big and busy and everyone was sort of running around. Which was to be expected. I knew how big it was, but even when we got the conference program—you know, it’s like a book. So everything from the beginning to the experience all the way to the end. But it was also really nice because it meant there was a lot of variety in what we were doing.
EG: Yeah. I think for me, so this was something that definitely struck me, just trying to navigate what you were going to do and when and how. Figuring out when you were going to eat was a big deal for me. But yeah, I think, just prioritizing, “Am I going to a panel now? A workshop? You know, if there are multiple panels, which one am I going to go see?” Stuff like that.
LM: Mmmhmm. Yeah. And I think to that point, right, how do you decide how you want to engage with this genre of the mega-conference. Do you want to see scholars that you—whose work you’re familiar with? Do you want to see people in your program? Do you want see people who you might try to collaborate with? So the different strategies for engaging are, I think, really complex and multifaceted. It’s not something I thought about when I went, right? It’s just like, “I’m going to see some stuff.” It’s like, “What kind of stuff?” I don’t know. Bruce, you’ve been before. You know what’s up.
BK: Yeah, so it was my third Cs. Just as big as it’s always been. It really is overwhelming. And I’ve always kind of thought of it as this time where it’s both, like, exhilarating to be there among all these different scholars, all these people from different programs, doing all really exciting stuff. But at the same time, it’s also exhausting, where you have to just decide, “How many panels do I want to go to? Am I going to take a break for lunch? Or am I just going to have granola bars? What am I going to do for dinner? Where am I going? What sort of plans do I want to make?” And then having to make decisions about them. Like, “Out of these 35 panels, which one am I going to go to?” Which is always a really tough choice.
MC: Yeah, I guess we should clarify. So I guess Bruce and Logan were both there observing. And Evin and I both presented in different panels as individual presenters. So that also might change how we sort of experienced all of it.
LM: Right, right.
MC: I was on a panel called “We’re Not Colorblind,” and mine was a Friday morning panel. There were three of us presenting, and we mostly talked about—a couple of us talked about Spanglish, language diversity generally. And then things that came out of it were Standard English and what we’re doing as instructors to make sure that our classes are as diverse and accommodating to that language diversity as possible.
EG: Yeah, so the title of my panel was “Mass Education and Unbundled Access: MOOCs and the New B.A.” That panel had David Fleming from UMass Amherst and Brian Henderson from Southern Illinois University—Edwardsville.
LM: Oh, I didn’t know he was so close. I didn’t know he was an in-state guy.
EG: Yeah, he’s at SIU. I mean, he was talking about the Arizona State Global Freshman Program. So his positionality—I don’t think it really came into the talk that much. I guess it was kind of weird. We were all talking about things happening elsewhere rather than local, which is probably an interesting element of that panel. But David Fleming was talking specifically about unbundled programs, which are programs moving away from the credit hour as a sort of standardization of time to graduate and mastery and completion. Brian Henderson talked about specifically about the Global Freshman Academy. And then I spoke to the egalitarian rhetoric of MOOCs that gets used in a variety of contexts, but especially by MOOC platforms like edX, Udacity, and Coursera.
LM: Mmmhmm. Shifting gears a bit, I’m just wondering if there were any particularly influential panels or things that you heard or saw that particularly made an impression? I mean, I guess we’re now almost a month out from Cs. Things that maybe stuck with you?
BK: The first few panels I went to on Thursday were really good. And I really enjoyed them. I went to—So, the A session, Developing Scholarly Momentum: Action Plans for Faculty, Graduate Students, and their Mentors—which I thought would be sort of a strategic choice starting graduate school, to attend a panel that talks about “How do you write? How do you keep writing? And then, how do you publish?” And it was various students and professors talking about a few different qualitative research studies they’d done with, sort of like, full professors in Writing Studies. And how do they publish, and different strategies they use to write, even when they might have, you know, five, ten, fifteen minutes in between things to do. How do you turn that on and just write for five minutes at a time. Which is something I can’t do. So it was really kind of impressive to watch people talk about how they do that all the time. And then the session after that was sort of a roundtable about Cultural-Historical Activity Theory in Writing Studies research, which was particularly interesting being in that seminar right now with Paul Prior, to think through how other people are approaching CHAT and what the combination about CHAT is.
EG: First, I think I did Cs kind of wrong in that I had a weird, sort of network of panels I felt obligated to go to: sometimes for colleagues, sometimes for mentors, sometimes for former associates or something. Which is a bad way to do it, because I just assumed people would be hurt if they didn’t see me in the audience. There’s a lot of hubris in that.
EG: So don’t be like me in that regard. Also, there were panels I should have gone to, just that the panel itself was appealing and the topic—it was a potential site for networking. And so I worried that people would need me in their audience. And I just, I mean I think for very close colleagues, I would do that again. So like my cohort, the dualhort if you will. But I think for other people—I went to Peter Mortensen’s panel on Friday at 11 am, which was “Revisiting, Recovering, and Revising Literacy.” And Peter Mortensen’s talk was really good. It was a clinic on how to give a presentation without any sort of visual component. So he just straight-up read. But it was really well-organized. Now it just sounds like I’m kind of gushing about Peter Mortensen, but.
LM: What about you, María?
MC: Yeah, I was trying to think, and I think I was sort of with Evin on the whole, like, the whole panel where I was like, “Yeah! Everything that came out of it!” And I think that’s just the nature of it, right? So you’re interested in different things. And not everybody in that panel is necessarily talking about the thing that you’re interested in. But Paul and I had the opportunity to go to “The Purposes of Required Writing,” which was on Friday. And that one had a lot of big people in it. So Kathleen Yancey was in it, Bazerman was in it.
LM: Oh wow.
MC: Douglas Hesse was in it. And that was kind of a cool panel just because there are people who are really big scholars who are really well known. And they were all talking about a topic that was pretty interesting that I hadn’t heard anybody else at the conference talk about. But more than anything it was a panel where there were a lot of people. And so, all the tables in the room were filled, and then people were sitting on the ground, and people were coming and going throughout the entire panel, which I found really interesting. So that was kind of unexpected for me. I was sitting on the ground, so I couldn’t really see peoples’ Powerpoints.
MC: So, you know, things that you don’t normally think about. But they were awesome. They tried to get more chairs in there, and the hotel was also really accommodating. And it was just really cool to put some faces to those names that are really big within the field.
LM: Mmmhmm. I think for me, what stuck out most, was the workshop I went to on Wednesday, which was “Critical Soundplay: An Audio Composing Workshop.” And just to have the opportunity to—I’m not saying all panels are like this—but to engage a bit more and have a space that’s set up for play and to be kind of just work through ideas with people who are super smart and know what they’re doing. So, Steven Hammer had some cool stuff about file formats and the ethics and the politics of MP3s and how they encode or don’t really account for certain sounds. Trisha Campbell did some cool stuff with voice and embodiment. But just to be able to play around with audio as a means of writing and as a means of inquiry, I thought, was really cool.
MC: So we were thinking, since we all sort of had different experiences and some overlap, maybe we could finish up with some sort of advice for future activities and presenters.
EG: Mmmhmm. I think we kind of got at, like, not feeling really obligated—like, nobody’s feelings were hurt when I didn’t go to their panel. And some of the panels I went to—people were appreciative, but I sort of had a moment where it was like, “I didn’t really need to be here.” There were plenty of other people who engaged with it because they were there for the topic more than for the presenter. So while all of the panels, all of the speakers I went to see were great…Right, so my advice is to look for panels where, it looks like more of a whole panel, and you’re kind of interested in what people are doing and/or consist of people you don’t already know and would maybe like to try and make a connection to and network with or draw from. Because I think I just didn’t do that that much this year, and that was part of the learning experience for me.
MC: Yeah, I think sort of along those lines, also is—look at the program ahead of time.
MC: There are only, I think, fifteen minutes? Ten minutes? Fifteen minutes between panels? And that’s not very much time for you to be able to grab a drink, go to the bathroom, and figure out where you’re going next. So if you know ahead of time if there’s a panel you really want to go—and even if you can even check out the rooms or sort of have a general idea of where the rooms are ahead of time—that really helps that you have a little bit of time to take care of yourself. And whatever else needs to happen between sessions rather than try to figure out where to go next.
LM: My takeaway would be to go to the things that are just kind of not—how do I say it? Go to things that aren’t super relevant to what you’re doing. And that seems counterintuitive. But I think you never really know what sorts of overlaps or continuities or points of intersections you might find. Like I went to a panel on posthumanist rhetoric. And it’s like, “I’ve read nothing about posthumanism.” But it got me thinking about certain ways that we communicate, right? At least it’s jogging my thinking in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise known.
BK: Yeah, and my advice would be to find ways to make the conference small. So, for me, that’s always been going to workshops where you get to have hands-on—working with people for an extended period of time. Going to things like the SIGs, the special interest groups, during the evenings have always been really good. Signing up for the CWPA mentorship—getting a mentor, meeting your mentor. Doing things like—when I first went to Cs in Indianapolis, taking advantage of the Newcomers’ status, and going to the Newcomers’ events and meeting fellow newcomers. And learning strategies, like how to navigate it. So for me, I think it’s really important. Cs is huge, and it’s really nice to find ways to actually speak with people and less listening to a panel—like Q&A and then you have to rush off to the next one. Yeah.
LM: I think that’s a good note to end on, Bruce. So I just wanted to say thanks for listening to our Cs recap. Thanks for listening!
All: Thanks! Bye!
 The “dualhort” is the self-described name for the two newest cohorts of CWS’s Writing Studies program.
 Reference to Paul Beilstein, another second-year MA student in the Center for Writing Studies at UIUC.