Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation
Main content start

September Sessions Preview: 2019

By Christine Alfano

This year's September Sessions will be held Thursday, September 12, Friday, September 13, Monday, September 16, and Tuesday, September 17. Wondering what's in store? Read on ...

Right now, campus has a feel of imminence -- of excited anticipation of the new academic year: construction crews are busy finishing their summer projects; grounds crews are cleaning up the lawns, plants, and shrubs; faculty are starting to reemerge, meeting in conversation with colleagues in outdoor cafés and starting to prepare class materials; residential staff are organizing and decorating dorms spaces; students are starting to trickle back for Arts Intensive, Sophomore College, and Bing Honors College; across the Stanford networks, webmail inboxes are being opened for the first time in months, old emails are being read and answered; even the squirrels and rabbits seem extra busy across campus, storing up on their treats before all the undergraduates return to the Farm.  In two weeks, classes will start, and the academic year will officially begin.

Here in Sweet Hall, we're also busy preparing for the new year, but our timeline is a bit accelerated: in a few days -- on Thursday to be exact -- we officially kick off our year with September Sessions, our annual all-hands sessions devoted to professional development, pedagogical planning, and community building.  For the Septembrists, in particular, this is a very busy time: our valiant band (Cassie, Chris, Hayden, Jenae, Lisa, Meg, Shay, Tesla, and Valerie) has been meeting through Zoom, email, phone, and in person all summer to help design an exciting set of sessions for you.

"But what makes this September Sessions different from any other?" you might be wondering.  "We do this every year ... isn't it going to be the same old thing?" (asks the cynical you, the one who has very much enjoyed the summer months).

Certainly there are constants to September Sessions: the opportunities for rich intellectual conversation, the time catching up with your colleagues and strengthening our community ties, the scurrying between floors of CERAS and Hume, the intermittent Star Trek references, and -- not to put her on the spot -- decadent last-day donuts courtesy of Shannon Hervey.

But there are some new features to SeptSess this year ...

The Theme: Over the past few years, we've focused September Sessions on Cultural Rhetorics, as part of a massive, evolving conversation that has spanned academic years, September Sessions, Program Meetings, guest speakers, newsletter articles, course design, and new Notation development.  That conversation remains one we are committed to, but we're adjusting our focus a bit for this September Sessions to "Writing Present, Writing Futures."

In June, Adam posed the following questions to the Septembrists:

  • What should a comprehensive program in writing and rhetoric look like 20 years from now?
  • What does that mean on a curriculum level, in and beyond the requirement?
  • What kinds of pedagogical abilities should we develop on our way there?
  • What are the most important issues in imagining futures for writing and futures for rhetorical education?

While Cultural Rhetorics clearly factors into the ways we might answer these questions, that's just part of the answer -- and, clearly, these are not questions that we can answer in four days, or even three quarters. We are starting work that will extend across several years -- challenging us to continue to grow and develop as a program and as professionals. 

For this September Sessions, we're focusing on a subset of questions that Adam presented to us and that I anticipate he'll share in some form in his keynote: How do we deal with the intense ongoing changes that digital technologies networks, tools, practices, processes are bringing to bear on what it means to write, what it means to communicate?  In a world of information overload, how do we best prepare students to be writers, researchers, and presenters?

The Readings: Our common readings speak directly to these questions, engaging with digital rhetoric theoretically (Eyman), literally (Parham), and professionally (Cs statement).  The Septembrists recognize these readings might challenge you in different ways:

  • How can we conceptualize a theoretical model to provide a foundation for re-imagining the way writing is practiced, studied, delivered, and taught?
  • What does it look like to compose in new, mediated forms, and what does that mean for PWR, with the constraints of our assignment sequences?
  • How can a professional organization take a position on writing futures that is imaginative enough to embrace all the innovative possibilities yet capacious enough to account for variations in access and institutional structures? 

The Septembrists know that these might not always be the easiest questions to answer -- and, correspondingly, that the common texts might not be the easiest reads -- so they've supplied prefaces and discussion questions, all linked through Canvas, to guide your engagement with these texts.  The key is to do that -- engage -- to think, to be open to ideas, and to imagine ways that these questions of Writing Futures intersect with our PWR Present.

The Reading Groups: In the spirit of exploration (which is our philosophical orientation this year), we've transformed the Working Group model from previous years into Reading Groups devoted exclusively to inviting us as a community to start having conversations about subtopics with direct relevance to our community.  Our groups include:

  • Accessibility, Accommodation, and the Teaching of Writing and Speaking
  • Composing Technologies, Writing Platforms, and the Circulation of Writing
  • Ethics, Privacy, and Information
  • Information Literacy: Understanding Algorithms and Contemporary Research Environments
  • Rhetorics, Networked Publics, and Activism
  • Sonic Rhetoric: The Cultural Politics of Listening
  • Visual Rhetoric: From Theory to Practice
  • Writing Program Futures

Be sure to check which group you've been assigned to and to prepare the readings for the group (available on Canvas) in advance. These small learning communities will provide us all with the opportunity to be in loco studentis (I know -- not real Latin), reading, talking, and exploring new ideas in an area of interest.  There are no "deliverables" from this group beyond an invitation to gather thoughts and insights about what was most meaningful about your reading group conversations and where you think we should take them next.

The Sessions: This year's sessions embrace the charges above to think about how writing, speaking, and communicating are evolving and what that means for us as teachers in the here and now.  Some sessions are more focused on digital rhetoric, such as the Pedagogies and Platforms sessions on Friday that will ask you to innovate on your current practices (teaching annotation, source management, peer review, reflection, etc.) through experimenting with different platforms and technologies.  Other sessions speak to the challenges of helping our students become effective writers and researchers in our evolving communication landscape, such as our sessions on Teaching Research Methodologies and on Providing Effective Feedback on Student Drafts.  Lastly, we've incorporated time for you to work on your own materials, including writing time on Monday and a writing workshop (including a peer feedback session with a colleague) on Tuesday.  You'll receive more information via email about this soon, but in the meantime, start thinking about what you'd like to work on -- and receive feedback on -- during September Sessions.

The People: Last, but not least, one of the ever-new elements of September Sessions are our new colleagues!  You can read about there here, but you can meet them in person and learn about them in more depth during our sessions and meals together in the upcoming week.

To wrap up ...

So that's your snapshot of what's to come.  We, the Septembrists, are really excited to share these sessions with you.  For all the work we've done in developing them over the past three months, we ask only one thing of you in return: embrace our spirit of inquiry, of curiosity, of exploration, and invention. 

Summer might be hard to leave behind, but the Fall -- and our work together -- holds a lot of promise.

More News Topics