by | Posted November 20th, 2012

On a Saturday in October, scholars from all across the region assembled in East Lansing to attend the second annual WIDE-EMU ’12 (un)conference, an institutionally collaborative gathering sponsored by MSU’s Writing in Digital Environments Research Center (WIDE) and Eastern Michigan University’s Written Communication Program.

WIDE-EMU came to be on a car ride home from CCCC Atlanta in 2011. Bill Hart-Davidson, Steven Krause, and Derek Mueller took note of the cluster of smart people in the region, as well as a lack of informal opportunities to gather and share ideas. The creators challenged themselves to use the available resources at their institutions (EMU and MSU) to hold this gathering to foster the relationships and ideas of the rhetoric and writing scholars in the region.

From this emerged the foundational DIY ethic of the unconference, which is manifested as a conference with no registration free (*jaw on floor*); rather, attendees are asked to print their own schedule and program or download it to their laptops, tablets, or smartphones, as well as printing or making their own name tags, or reusing one from a previous conference. Another cool manifestation of this DIY ethic is as simple and attentive as providing a space on the conference website for attendees to communicate about room and couch sharing.

The entirety of WIDE-EMU is organized in three phases: Phase 1 is to propose; Phase 2 to respond, or to share an expansion of the proposal in the form of a blog post, slidedeck, video, podcast, etc.; and Phase 3 is the conference.

This year, in addition to folks from Michigan State and Eastern Michigan, participants came from the University of Michigan, Purdue, Bowling Green, Wayne State, Illinois Institute of Technology, Oakland University, Southern Illinois University – Carbondale, Illinois State, Eastern Kentucky, University of Detroit Mercy, and Saginaw Valley. The #wideemu hashtag was ablaze that Saturday. Check out this Storify slideshow of the 250+ tweets from the day of the conference.

Participation revolves around a framing question; this year’s question was “What is composing today? How do people learn (and teach) it?”  From this, participants propose one of three types of sessions – Talk, Make, or Do. Talk sessions are typical conference-style presentations, while Make and Do sessions are more hands-on, participants learn by trying something out. Additionally, organizers reserve space on the schedule for Open sessions that may happen spontaneously on the day of the unconference.

In addition to these sessions, a plenary speaker is also invited. This year’s speaker was MSU’s own Bump Halbritter, whose presentation, “Teaching/Learning/Knowing Writing as Symbolic Action,” connected multimodal composition to the essential learning goals of writing instruction. According to Hart-Davidson, “What encouraged me most was the crowd of faculty from other institutions that came up to Bump after the talk saying, in essence, “thank you for giving us the language and evidence we need to make this case to our Dean/Provost!””

Hart-Davidson noticed a couple of resounding themes this year – video as related to composition and creating infrastructure for open source academic publishing, from articles to code. He noted, “Karl Stolley lead a very well-attended session on GitHub, for instance. Naomi Silver talked with some of her Sweetland Center colleagues about wikis. And Cheryl Ball collaborated with some students at EMU to talk about open access publishing. Fantastic stuff!” For a complete schedule of sessions check out the WIDE-EMU ’12 website.

There are many telling bits of data – 13 universities represented and all those tweets! – that indicate WIDE-EMU is a needed and valuable gathering for scholars across the region. Stay tuned to WRAC for information on WIDE-EMU ’13!