Ah, Peter, you've identified the Perennial Inkshed Problem: How to balance
people's need to present with the need of the conference to have a more
leisurely schedule than most conferences allow. I think you're right about
>From my limited experience, it is at THIS point (after inkshedding and
immediate sharing) that discussion is most >fruitful. That is, even though
discussion lets only one mouth speak at a time--there is an increased
dialogic quality >to discussion when everyone has written and then read at
least 5 to 10 inksheds. I found that the publication of >bits of inkshed
the next morning--while terrific--was not a substitute for the more
immediately interactive process I >just described. The published bits are
such tiny snippets--and there's little processing of them after they are
>distributed. I heard some people saying that the inkshedding felt boring.
I think this is a function of it's not being >processed more.
It really does change the dynamic of the discussion if the discussion
begins *after* inkshedding, when everyone has read half a dozen inksheds
(and therefore knows what six other people thought). The questions tend to
be more well-formulated, to operate on many levels, to provoke better, more
exploring-of-issues kinds of discussion and less "here's what *I* think"
kinds of comments (the kind I'm really guilty of!). There is indeed
something profound about reading the inksheds while the ink is still wet --
before they've been distilled into the "printable" bits. There's something
wonderful about reading your session inksheds afterwards, too, when they've
been marked by several people, and you can clearly see that yes, several
people responded to one bit or another.
> I fear this sounds ungrateful or not understanding. For of course I
> understand perfectly well the cause of this situation. I often saw Doug
> TRYING for more inkshedding--and apologizing and being uncomfortable at
> not having more time for it and for sharing. And of course the lack of
> time came from what might be called a deeply "inksheddish" and "dialogic"
> tradition at your conferences: the tradition (I gather) of accepting ALL
> proposals and avoiding concurrent sessions. Doug (and the agenda
> planners) had no choice but to push us relentlessly from presentation to
I think there are many elements that go into making inkshedding dialogic in
the ways that you've described it. And as you so rightly perceive, this
kind of inkshedding has to be orchestrated very carefully. Time enough to
do it is one factor, to be sure . . . and there are ways to organize the
conference, as you suggest, so that enough time can be built in.
There are others factors as well. I'm thinking out loud here, and I'm
writing this partly for Linda, who has the task of organizing this
conference after having only attended once -- I think our shared
observations could really help her out!
One really important factor is the physical layout of the room. It should
be easy for people to pass the inksheds around after they've been written;
tables where people sit on more than one side tend to focus the group's
attention to the other participants and make it easier to see when people
are done writing and to exchange papers. At Canmore it was hard to share
Inksheds because you could really only be attentive to what the people
sitting next to you were doing; I, at least, didn't feel part of a group of
people inkshedding together the way I have at other conferences. Also, I
think it's absolutely crucial that the people who want to talk after a
session be provided with immediate and convenient egress, so that the
conversations don't interrupt people who are trying to write. Not
everybody wants to write after every session, and that's okay . . . we've
all had the experience of feeling completely brain-dead at some points in
the conference, and sometimes catching up with that person you haven't seen
in years takes precedence. But those activities ought not to disrupt the
conference program agenda.
Another important factor is the editorial process. I think there's value
in turning the inksheds around quickly -- ie, having the morning session's
inksheds available by the end of the day, at least (sooner if possible),
and having the afternoon inksheds available the following morning. The
sooner people have the inksheds the sooner they, too, become part of the
ongoing dialogue of the conference and the more seriously people attend to
the reading and writing (which gets harder and harder to do as the
conference goes on and people get tired).
In past years we've had groups of conferees volunteer to transcribe each
session's inksheds, and I'm kind of ambivalent about not doing that this
year; on the one hand, it was nice not to have that responsibility, but on
the other, I kind of missed getting my hands dirty, so to speak . . . and I
missed the camaraderie of sitting with others trying to decipher
handwriting, and of reading each other bits that seemed significant but
that *didn't* get marked . . .
Well, that's all I can think of . . . I'm sure others will have more ideas.
Peter, you've unwittingly tapped into another Inkshed tradtion, which is
the annual post-conference "what worked/what didn't" discussion . . . and
let me say while I'm at it that one of the things that *really* worked for
me this year was the quality of the presentations -- many were not the
traditional readings of papers, and many were works-in-progess where we as
the audience were invited, through inkshedding, to help people think
through a problem or otherwise add our perspective. Also, many of the
presentations resonated particularly loudly with the others in their
session. I think the call for participation must have been especially
welcoming of alternative formats, and the conference committee did a
terrific job of organizing the presentations into sessions.
College of Pharmacy
University of Michigan
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