Volume 22, Number 2, Summer 2005

Commentary on "Wrap Up Discussion," Inkshed XXII White Point Beach

Nan Johnson

The Ohio State University


My plan in outlining the ”Deepening the Questions” chart and offering it as a point of departure for collaborative revision and re-composing was to engage us in what struck me as the questions that we keep coming back to when we gather together. I realized by Saturday afternoon at Inkshed XXII, that every speaker, and every Inkshedding, presented an opportunity and a challenge to engage with central questions. Charged with the “wrap up” session, I decided to make a chart that tried to represent both the “Questions” and the “Verbs" that had emerged in our research and conversations. Hardy souls gathered with the coffee cups (some already regretfully on the road that Sunday morning) and responded to the chart as a starting point. Through dialogue and collaborative effort, we made a different chart altogether, one that exceeded the scope and implications of the first one. [Additions to the chart are in bold italics in the word-processed version at the end of the essay.]


I thought the whole session embodied Inkshed energy at its best. We revised, added to, recontextualized, and by the end we had recomposed as a visual record of where the discussion seemed to have reached by that Sunday morning. We changed the questions and the verbs, and finally the whole map itself. In the final chart, we added Expanding and Dialogue<-> Community to the original verb “Deepening.” We added an important question: What is writing? to the list of Questions. We expanded the territory of the chart by drawing lines in a square around the questions and verbs to represent the importance of the Bigger Stuff that contextualizing the Big Stuff: Medium (technology-orange line), Context and the Outside World : politics, culture, class, and gender- blue line, and Teaching and Experience- green line. As I look at the evolved chart on the wall here (I have it taped to my wall right above me), I note that we also added arrows to add further motion and complication to how the Questions and the Big Stuff interact.

As the our discussion moved along, Context and the importance of the header verb Expanding the questions, required starting a second chart indicating the importance of further exploring and grappling with the implications of the Outside World. The group seemed to feel engaging with that question could yield a chart all its own.

As I compare the original chart of the Inkshed conversation with the one we finally came up with, I think it is significant that Medium or Technology is simply not on the chart at all initially and is so prominent in the final version. Similarly, Context or the Outside World seems a very important addition. Both these issues really change the tenor and implications of all the Questions and the Verbs. For example, we talked about whether we can really ask a question like “ What writing skills students need” without first rethinking how technology has changed how we can define writing itself. I might ask you to notice that in the final chart, question marks have been added to all the process claims such as “Writing as a Process” becomes a Question in the final chart —Writing as a Process? —and appears more like a claim in the first version. Here we really see how “fundamental” assumptions in a disciplinary map can be destabilized by major revisionary moves such as adding Medium is the Message to the Big Stuff. This is not the only example of how the final chart shows us how additions of major Questions and Verbs challenge us to do some rethinking (Inkshed at its best) but it is a good illustration of how the collaborative exercise we engaged in shifted the ground beneath our feet.

The “Wrap up session” ( always an optimistic title) left me thinking about questions directly prompted by our revision of the “Deepening the Questions” chart:

  1. If we can’t define writing without dealing with the social, cultural, and cognitive dynamics of technology, the materiality of technology, or the impact of the digital world on how our students learn, do research, and conceive of ideas, what does that mean?
  2. If we think about political context, cultural backgrounds, class, and gender, how would that change how we define the Questions: Who? What? Skills? Where? How? Why? or the Big Stuff? Writing? Learning, Reading, Technology.

When we meet again, I am going to have thoughts to share. I look forward to yours. Bring your colored magic markers!

Ed. note: A somewhat more legible, though changed, revision appears below.

Table of Contents Russ Hunt, Conundrum