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Of Pollen, Conferences, and Boundary-Crossing
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Spring in North Georgia is lovely—the azaleas and ornamental pear trees are blooming, and the green of new leaves creates contrast against the deeper hues of magnolia leaves and our ubiquitous pines. Those pines are also a primary source of the layer of yellow pollen now coating porches, cars, benches, and sidewalks (no need for sidewalk chalk these days—we can just inscribe a quick note in the pollen).
This spring has also marked my return to in-person conferences. On March 18 and 19, I was in Atlanta for the NOSS conference—the National Organization for Student Success; I left from there for Pittsburgh and the American Association of Applied Linguistics annual event. I had hopes of attending the CCCC virtual event and TESOL—but I found myself on information overload. I returned from Pittsburgh to the final third of our spring semester, and I realized I could not divert any further time away from my classes. I did make space for a plenary and a couple of sessions this past weekend from the Southeastern Conference on Linguistics (SECOL) virtual event, but even then, I found my head spinning as I processed a wealth of information.
I am acutely aware of limited resources at my university; no one faculty member can expect to receive funding for more than one or (at most) two conference presentations. Making the most of those limited funds means we need to target proposals to attend just the conferences most relevant to our research and pedagogy interests.
And therein lies the challenge: My primary area of interest is metalinguistic development and writing pedagogy with multilingual and corequisite writers. That area—and the questions it raises—crosses several disciplinary boundaries, including basic writing, composition/rhetoric, applied linguistics, educational linguistics, translingual studies, and L2/Lx writing. Conferences in these disciplines abound—along with journals and edited collections and webinars—at the international, national, regional, and state levels. This year, I chose NOSS (close to home) and AAAL (a good fit for a current project analyzing student work in online discussions); within those two events, I could only visit a fraction of the sessions offered: research on embodied and multimodal representations of grammatical concepts, discourse analysis of online misinformation, a thematic corpus analysis related to mental health, research into speaking aloud to process feedback on writing, tough questions about corequisite success data, a program to jump-start corequisite success with a boot camp, multimodality and standard concepts of academic writing for ESL students, virtual reality to teach pragmatics, a personal ethnography of code-switching choices. I collected as many resources as I could, and I began to build a reading list for the summer.
Another challenge: Each conference session represents both theoretical and empirical research traditions that I may not be familiar with. Some terms (stance, metalinguistic, agency, translingual) are used across disciplines, but not always with the same definitions or foundational texts. At times differences between the disciplines can be contentious (see Hall and Atkins et al.) As much as I can, I want to appreciate and understand the disciplinary histories informing the work I do, even if I cannot be as fully immersed in those histories as others are.
Over the past month, the return to conferences—and the resulting flood of new reading—has felt both energizing and overwhelming. How do I process all the concepts, the data, the possibilities presented at these conferences? Where do I begin? And that takes me back to pollen. For right now, those of who live in Georgia know we are just going to have to sit in the pollen for a while; it cannot be tamed. But in a few weeks, the pollen will dissipate, and we’ll be left with the blossoms, the greens of summer, fresh vegetables, and vaulting shade.
And maybe that’s what I will do with my return to conferences—just sit in the information this while—and see what grows this summer.
Have you been back to conferences this year? How do you process what you are learning?
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