Big Conference, Big Data, Big Questions

Last week the Research Team, along with the Outreach Team, Megan P,  Maya S, and Molly R. attended the East Central Writing Centers Association’s conference at the University of Notre Dame. The theme of the conference was ethics in writing centers and, from the many presentations we collectively attended, we explored and learned a lot!

Something in particular that stuck with us was what Sue Mendelsohn, the director of the writing center at Columbia University, said towards the end of her keynote speech:

“Research is a form of mediation and reflection.”

We felt this idea embodied our core value of reflection and resonated with our work as the Research Team.

Earlier in her presentation, leading up to her remark about research, Mendolsohn detailed her work with big data—data that breaks the spreadsheet, data that can’t be understood and interpreted all at once—and big questions, questions that grapple with the ambiguous and enormous, requiring us to think in new ways. She explained that by working with big data, we can become more aware of the possibilities for ourselves as writing centers, and, by asking big questions, we can become more aware of the opportunities for making those possibilities a reality.

We, as the Research Team, are currently working with data to assess the effectiveness of Writing Fellows, but concerning bigger data, we aren’t at a place where we can pinpoint exactly what we want to know or how we want to use it. We thought asking ourselves some big questions would be helpful for figuring that out, for giving ourselves a point to start exploring! Here are some of our big questions:

  • How do we engage with and productively use big data?
  • What else can/should we be assessing/researching?
  • How are other writing centers assessing themselves?
  • How can we be careful not to use sweeping generalizations from big data to make assumptions about the individuals that we’re working with?
  • Are there patterns of usage from students who come to us from schools with writing centers?
  • What are we doing right–how is DePaul experiencing higher than normal graduation rates with a more at-risk population? Is the UCWbL playing a role in that success?
  • What are the trends in international student enrollment overall and at DePaul/ELA and are they affecting the number of Conversation Partner Appointments and CMWR event attendance at the UCWbL?

Asking ourselves these questions has been an experience of “meditation and reflection” for us, and we’d like to extend an invitation to everyone to do the same!

So, what are your big questions?

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Ryan M says:

    I found this really interesting because I don’t have much knowledge about the Research and Outreach teams. I have a general idea of what they do, but I hadn’t heard this type of “mission statement” if you will. While I understand that this conference was specifically about writing centers, I wonder how these questions can be applied to more general research.

  • Elizabeth Coughlin says:

    It was a great presentation, Research Team — you did the UCWbL proud! Congratulations and Thanks,

  • Kayla D. says:

    I really like this question of what else we need to be researching or analyzing that you brought up during this post. I think that there is an infinite amount of things that you can look at during your research, and so this question should be re-visited often. In addition, there are many times when people start to see certain patterns or a certain correlation within their head, and so it is hard for them to think outside the box.

    So maybe we should not be asking what else we need to research or look at, but what are different ways that we can expand our minds and our understanding of our subject?