Reviewed by Randall Pinder (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gina M. Merys, Creighton University, Omaha, NE
Risa P. Gorelick, College of St. Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ
In March 2009, I had the pleasure of participating in the Qualitative Research Network in San Francisco. I was in the middle of designing my dissertation project on adult literacy while studying at the University of Michigan, and I felt too busy to draft a proposal on a new topic for the main CCCCs program. Someone suggested submitting my research proposal to QRN, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made because the experience helped me to complete a successful study and dissertation.
I had a very similar and yet wonderfully different experience this year with the Research Network Forum, held on Wednesday, March 19, 2014, from 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. at the JW Marriott Hotel in Indianapolis as part of the CCCC annual convention. Again, I found myself outside of the main CCCC program, but I was in the throes of developing a research project at the College of The Bahamas on digital literacy and writing. The RNF offered the perfect opportunity for me to advance my ideas and strategies, and I wish to describe my experience in the hope of encouraging fledgling and veteran researchers to participate in this worthy exercise.
The Research Network Forum was founded in 1987 and provides those involved in research a forum to share their projects and to give and receive feedback from experienced researchers in the discipline. Participants are assigned to small groups and share their works-in-progress in short presentations with others who have similar interests. After each person shares, the other members of the group offer feedback and encouragement. Additionally, presenters with some research experience may serve as discussion leaders to help advance the conversation and provide valuable insight into the research process. It is also important to note that there is no charge for participation in this workshop.
The RNF experience begins with your proposal, submitted the year before. The window for this year’s conference was August 15-October 31, 2013, after the acceptance notices have been given for the main CCCC program. I submitted “College Writing and Technology: Student Writers’ Digital Literacy, Access, and Engagement at the College of The Bahamas.” I wished to determine if assumptions of proficient digital literacy, access and engagement necessary for successful completion of ENGW 119 and ENGW 120 might be misleading or inaccurate, resulting in potential interference, confusion, and frustration in both students and instructors when expectations do not align with performances. After my proposal was accepted, I had to devise an 8-minute presentation that I would share with 6-8 participants in both a morning and an afternoon session. I was not to read a paper, but could provide a handout with some basic contact information, an abstract, and a few key questions.
I arrived at the Ballroom, excited and nervous about the event, and I enjoyed the thoughtfulness and the thoroughness that the co-chairs, Risa P. Gorelick and Gina M. Merys, injected into the workshop. It began with a welcome, introductions, and instructions for the day. We each received printed programs indicating our groups and roles, and we had a few moments to socialize with those at the tables before the plenary presentation by Asao B. Inoue, of California State University, Fresno. He shared “Accessing Race in Our Research Journeys: Racial Methodologies and Researching Racial Formations.” He offered two “modest” ideas to attendees:
- Make your research process a RE-SEARCHING process.
- Consider how your racialized educational history has shaped your academic interests.
He encouraged participants to re-visit research already completed with fresh eyes, to see what else might be learned. He also pushed researchers to critically reflect on their own choices. His presentation effectively engaged the audience and prepared us for the work-in-progress presentations.
After a short break, we were ready for the workshopping. The RNF asks participants to share in both morning and afternoon sessions. At first, I thought this was an odd duplication and wondered if this format was very useful. I discovered that the double presentation format was indeed productive and in no way redundant. In my morning session, I shared with just two other presenters, so we were able to give extensive feedback to each other about our projects. It felt like an intimate writing group, and I received useful critiques and suggestions. While I was listed as a discussion leader, I did not need to motivate any discussion. The afternoon session was larger, and I found myself giving more advice than in the morning session. I also felt more confident about how to share my own work, having had extended conversation just a few hours before. By attending both sessions I learned of research projects on a variety of topics, including The Use and Usefulness of Shared Screens in FYW Classes, MOOCs, Digital and Social Media, Second Language Writing, and Working in Academia.
A great bonus of this workshop was the Editors Roundtable. After lunch, before the second set of work-in-progress presentations, participants had the opportunity to sit and talk with a number of editors of journals and publications in the discipline. Participants “browsed” the tables, eavesdropping on conversations, gathering tips and guidelines, sitting for one-on-one conversations, shopping their research projects, and collecting contact information and materials. I quickly learned what publications were good possibilities for my current research and those that were not right for me.
The program for the RNF stated, “Upon finishing the day at the RNF, participants take with them new ideas and understanding that can materially benefit the many stakeholders at the participants’ institutions and beyond through participants’ possible future publications.” That was certainly my experience. The Research Network Forum is a must for anyone with a research idea in the field of composition. I am excited about future workshops, and I look forward to completing my research, perhaps publishing with one of the editors I met in the workshop.