Saturday, May 20, 2006

Decompress: Minnowbrook

The three-day conference in the Adirondacks ended yesterday; in the afternoon, several of us caravanned back to campus in the rides provided by the University. More background: The event convenes each year in the spring. Put on by the Graduate School staff whose work involves professional development for graduate students, the conference draws together PhD students and faculty from a variety of disciplines (journalism, anthropology, geography, and so on) and institutions (SU, Onondaga CC, and several SUNY schools). Attendees pop in and out throughout the three days, but altogether there were 40-50 people present on any given day. Our program sent two faculty members and three students, all of us involved with the Future Professoriate Program at SU. The program, as I noted the other day, was a mix of general sessions and concurrent sessions. On the final day (yesterday), there were a few roundtables, but with just 30-45 minutes, they felt too brief to get into much substantive discussion. Still, the conversations across disciplines linger as the most compelling aspect of the conference. It's unusual to locate avenues for cross-disciplinary contact, much less opportunities for the convergence of multiple disciplinary vantages rather than the perspectival 1:1 of rhet/comp and geography, let's say, or rhet/comp and IST. This oversimplifies, of course, glossing that any individual might be a nomadic collocation--a knot of multiple influences--unto themselves. But I'm getting at primary affiliations and recognized roles: the label on a name tag, for instance.

Here are the sessions I attended (with session type in parentheses):

Influencing Classroom Culture (general)
Integrating Research into Teaching (concurrent)
Insights on Publishing (concurrent)
Electronic Portfolios and Portfolio Critique (general)

Learning from Experiences - The 'Un-Vita' (general)
Using Technology to Extend the Classroom (concurrent)
Tenure, Unionization and other Facets of Faculty Life at Different Institutions (concurrent)
Academic Job Interviewing Simulations (general)

Beyond the Lecture: Bringing the Classroom Alive (general)
Experiential Learning (concurrent)
Setting and Fulfilling your Independent Research Agenda (roundtable)
Building Connections--Professional Networking (roundtable)

The first night's session on electronic portfolios was surprising in part, at least, because I was the only one in the room with an electronic portfolio of sorts, even if "portfolio" never really comes to mind explicitly when I think about the assorted self-representations I'm assembling here. The session was split between a general overview of professional portfolios and breakouts where six of us introduced our stuff and talked through the ideas driving whatever we'd brought. But the lead-up discussion kept breaking down, split along an event-modeled framing of portfolios as a particular response to a particular exigency (answering a committee's request, for example, related to a job app or T&P) and, on the other hand, portfolios as a habit of collecting and presenting that which is in progress throughout a doctoral program of study. I sensed that the breakouts, perhaps because they were more focused on tangible portfolios, were more satisfying for everyone. As I talked, I tried to get at the idea of fashioning a digital ethos and being in the network underscored by habits of writing activity.

The session on "Using Technology to Extend the Classroom" involved an overview of the many technology-oriented expectations imposed on the faculty at Onondaga Community College. Problems: so many sites! so many passwords! poor design! I suppose I'm being flippant, but what started out reasonably strong ended with examples of eBay bids (our professional technologies blend with our personal technologies!) and finally--the centerpiece of the really interesting conversation that capped the talk--an ameil from a desparate student that included, Gasp!, typos, no capitalization and informal address. Interesting about the Q&A and related discussion was that it primed us into us to cross-talk about writing in a roundabout sort of way without those of us from the writing program needing to defend or assert any particular view. Responses ranged from "danged unconscientious students!" to "big deal."

I suppose I'll sound like I'm complaining if I write that I left the professional networking session wishing for something slightly different. It's not that the advice was bad. That's not it at all. It's just that "Building Connections" fell neatly into the business-modeled domain of shaking hands and being a good muckety-muck (flip again?). My bias against the "market yourself" gloss grows out of experiences here in the blogstream, coming to know others and in turn to be known by interactions that blur the faux-division between professional networks and social networks. How can the logics of social networks and social networking apps overhaul the efforted versions of professional networking (as pandering)? Maybe it can't. But I really like the question, and even though change along this front moves at a glacial pace, I think we must continue to ask: why not look to social networking models? why not ponder the connections denied because of too hastily relegating social networking models to the trivial, to the inconsequential? I brought it up briefly, but then somebody suggested I was an extrovert. Oh, maybe. But I'd resist self-identifying with anything -vert. Versions, rather. A rinse of extro- and introversions: Yeah, well, and I did have a business card on hand.

There's much much much more, but this is 'nough for today. Eventually I want to get down a few thoughts about 1.) Sounds of... projects, 2.) the halo effect--an advisor's reputation as perceived network influence, 3.) the claim that "scale is dead" (and resurrected!) over dinner on Wednesday and the related argument discussion that nearly had me breaking a sweat (what happens when PhD students across disciplines disagree?), 4.) job interview simulations (play-acting a search committee with folks from other disciplines--me, a geographer and an info science technologist--interviewing an anthropologist and then a comp/rhet candidate), and 5.) chatting with the editor of Names: The Journal of Onomastics and related ideas about toponyms and place-tagging.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at May 20, 2006 3:10 PM to Orange