An Open Letter: Why There are Three Conferences

by Theresa Hyland, Huron University College

 [Intro note by Margaret Procter, Inkshed Newsletter moderator]

In early June, after a full week of writing-studies conferences, an attendee at the Canadian Writing Centres Association emailed the past CWCA chairs with thanks for an excellent conference–but also asking why there had to be three in a row each year and not just one.

I’m wondering whether you two have any insight into the nature of the relationship between the CWCA, CASDW, and Inkshed. It strikes me that a single Canadian association of writing research, teaching, and practice would be beneficial for a number of reasons, including a consolidated membership and website, and a single annual conference with SIGs for individual interest groups. A consolidated organization might have more potential for international recognition. I’m thinking of American examples like the CCC or the NCTE….

That’s a question that comes up periodically, perhaps most often with Inkshed, the oldest organization but now the smallest of the conferences. The outgoing CWCA chair Theresa Hyland offered to share her response with Inkshed newsletter readers—which in itself makes the point that Inkshed is a good place to think about hard questions.

Here is Theresa’s answer. Would you give a different one, or would you continue to wonder? Please use the Comment box at the end of the piece to add your perspective. [MP]


June 6, 2014

Hi! I think your idea is not an unreasonable one, but let me take a minute to explain why and how the three conferences developed, and, possibly, why they should continue to be separate. Please forgive me if I have some of the facts wrong.

The grandmother of the three organizations is Inkshed. It was the brainchild of Russ Hunt and Jim Reither, who wanted more of a retreat than a standard conference–a place where Canadian writing teachers could reflect on their practices by hearing what others were doing and getting and giving input on those practices and theories through inkshedding as a reflective tool. However, so many people began to attend that having whole-group sessions became difficult. Inkshedding for such a large group was also less reflective, and more of an exercise in speed and agility of thought. Moreover, it became evident that two groups were not always happy with that format: researchers and writing-centre people.

The conferences of CASDW developed because the organizers realized that many writing researchers and teachers of writing needed a forum for their diverse curriculum interests and a format that included contiguous papers, keynote speakers, and streams for different areas of interest. Many writing teachers (myself included) began attending both Inkshed and CASDW, to satisfy the two different needs–reflection on practice, and presentation and discussion of research.

The Canadian Writing Centres Association (CWCA) was formed when some writing-centre administrators realised that there was no specific forum to address the needs of writing-centre administrators and tutors. However, it did not thrive in its first home as a Special Interest Group in the Society for the Study of Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) for several reasons. STLHE is really a forum for administrators. Hence, the conference fees were prohibitive for many, and the only payoff was time for an annual general meeting as a SIG. No papers–just a couple of hours for discussion. When CWCA broke away from STLHE in 2012, Brian Hotson thought that it was time to try for a conference of its own–one that would specifically address the needs of a writing-centre community, and that would not be prohibitively expensive. The results were phenomenal: we had over 100 participants for the first conference in 2013 and 85 for our second conference this year. We found that writing-centre people appreciated the one-day format, which kept costs to a minimum, and also having a forum where they could discuss both practical matters and action research within the Writing Centre community–and make connections within that group.

The second conference introduced SIGs, for specific interests within that community. One of those SIGs was concerned with the need for regional organizations that would be easier for some writing tutors (and student peers) to attend. Consequently, this year there will be a set of regional one-day conferences as well as the big 2015 conference in Ottawa, where CASDW and Inkshed will also meet. Will these regional conferences take away from our attendance in Ottawa? That remains to be seen. The main point here is that there is a need being met by the CWCA Conference and that need is growing.

So, to summarize: we have Inkshed (which, in my opinion should remain as a reflective retreat for those who wish to discuss writing issues: reflections on research and writing program practice); CASDW (which is thriving as a true conference with papers on research, panel discussions, keynotes and workshops on all aspects of writing–curriculum, genre studies, technical writing, and some writing-centre practice); and CWCA (the home for practical discussions of writing-centre administration, practice, tutor training and networking).

I would think that none of us has the time or energy to go to all three in any one year. However, none of us has the same needs from year to year either.  Some years, I need to have the reflection that Inkshed offers; some years, I need to present the research that I’m doing to an audience that can bring an expertise in genre studies, or action research, or technical writing to the table. Other years, I need to stay close to my Writing Centre roots, and just hang out with others who have the same needs as I do and have met those practical needs in interesting and creative ways.

To collapse these three different mandates into one, or to make  each into a carbon copy of the others, would be to deny the richness of writing scholarship, the variety of writing practitioners, and the many-faceted ways that we approach writing in Canada today.

I hope this answers your question, or at least gives you a way of looking at the three organizations with the respect they all deserve.


Next Article: Minutes of CASLL AGM, 29 May 2014 »

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