This weekend I’m in Clarion, Pennsylvania for the East Central Writing Centers Association’s 2013 conference. This isn’t my first time at the rodeo, although it is my first time at a writing center conference. Earlier today I gave a presentation about using writing center techniques to build better history classes, but that’s not what I want to write about today.
I want to write a bit about one of the presentations I saw, which was by the MSU writing center’s website team. I’ll get this out of the way right now: we have a great team and a great website. So with that in mind the presentation was great too; it focused on how we use the website, and how we use social media, to help do the work of the writing center.
A couple things really stood out to me, and got me thinking about this blog and what I’d like to do with it in the future. The first is the idea that our website reflects the physical space of the writing center, a space that is intentionally casual and focused on experimentation and play. We want our clients to be comfortable and to feel free to play with their writing and try new things in a low stakes environment. Our website team reflects this in the way they build the site, with the freedom to try new things and, if they work, stick with them.
The other idea pertains to our use of social media. Namely, one of our social media coordinators made the point that social media (which could easily include blogging) is a conversation. Good use if social media isn’t just tweeting or posting to Facebook a lot. It uses the opportunity to share things that others are saying, and to directly interact with followers, fans, and customers.
I see these two ideas as essential to what I want to do with this site. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have issues with the way academic history tends to function, but the short version is this: history isn’t presented as an intellectual space conducive to play, nor do academic historians have much in the way if conversations with the general public (although we have some great conversations with each other).
I want to address both of these things with this blog. Let’s start with the conversation idea. The point of this blog is to engage in a conversation with people who are interested in my research or the way research is done. To talk about history as a tool to understand the past, and how we use that tool. I’m not a fan of gate keeping language, by which I mean the intentional use of words not found in everyday speech in order to keep people without that vocabulary from gaining access to certain knowledge. Now, there are a lot of terms that academics use that are helpful or even necessary in talking about our subjects and ideas. But using these terms without any explanation is gate keeping, and I’m not interested in doing that. Nor do I want to “dumb things down,” because I want to have a conversation, and a true conversation requires that the speakers (or writers) have enough respect for each other that they actually interact, and don’t just talk past each other. Assuming that your audience is too dumb to talk too isn’t very respectful.
But I also want readers to have the opportunity to talk to me, by posting comments here or tweeting them at me, or posting their own blogs inspired by or in response to my own posts. So that’s the other definition of conversation that’s on my mind.
The idea of this site providing a space for playing with history is a lot harder to talk about at this point. While this blog does have a comment feature, and people can play with ideas in those comments, and I certainly won’t judge those comments (although it should be clear that I reserve the right to delete posts that are too tangential or are racist or sexist, for example), I’m not sure that’s really the sense if play I’m looking for. My hope is that this blog will eventually outgrow the idea of a blog, and eventually incorporate other features that do allow readers to interact with both the site and the history it concerns. To express ideas that maybe they hadn’t thought to express before, or elsewhere; to play with history and our conceptions of what is included in that field. This is something I’d like to talk about more as ideas come to me.
That’s it for now, but here are a couple of links!
MSU Writing Center: I may be biased, but the writing center is great and the website reflects that. If you’re an MSU student, it’s an indispensable resource that you should consider using. If not, you can find all kinds of useful and interesting things on the site. You can also find us on Twitter @wcmsu
ECWCA: The website for the East Central Writing Centers Association. Writing centers provide a valuable service to students, and from my short time working in one, they seem to be on the cutting edge of pedagogy and practice. If you’re interested in education or writing, you could do worse than to check out this website for information and ideas.