5 Reasons Why Alt-Acs Need Campus Writing Retreats

Career paths, time, community, costs, and academic freedom.

August 5, 2018

Last week a handful of digital learning alternative academics (alt-acs) from around the country gathered on my campus for a writing retreat.

The format was radically unstructured.

We kicked-off with a dinner (burgers and hot dogs on the grill), and closed the retreat with another dinner (tacos). The wine came out of a box.

Sessions consisted of a couple of informal discussions (by Zoom) with an editor of an academic press, an editor of a higher ed publication that solicits opinion pieces , and one lunchtime discussion.  Otherwise, folks were on their own to talk, collaborate, debate, and write.

We worked on book proposals, articles, calls for proposal, blog posts and book chapters.

Costs were kept down by making home-cooked meals and by offering extra bedroom for attendees to stay.

The small-group campus writing retreat may just be the type of event that alt-acs need most. Here’s why:

Reason #1 - Career Paths:

Writing is one way that alternative academics construct their academic careers. We build our expertise, networks, and reputations by writing for our academic communities of practice.

Alt-acs write for the same reason that traditional academics write. Knowledge production and impact are the coin of the academic realm.

Reason #2 - Time:

No academic has enough time to write. Teaching and service loads are large, and expanding with the adjunctification of the professoriate. All academics could make good use of a campus writing retreat.

The time challenges for alt-acs are particularly acute. Alternative academics do almost all of our work in collaboration with campus partners. We work with faculty and students, librarians and media educators, assessment experts and colleagues in student life.

Carving out any protected bands of time to think and write is difficult for even the most well-organized alternative academic.  A writing retreat of 2 to 4 days of e-mail that is mostly turned off, and phone calls and web meetings that are mostly not attended, feels like an almost unimaginable luxury.   

Reason #3 - Community:

Academics don’t write in isolation. Writing is one way that the academic conversation advances. We write for each other. Even when we are writing for a non-specialist, non-academic audience, we are synthesizing our disciplinary conversations.

Writing, therefore, requires a community. We require a community to develop and shape our ideas. We require a community to push us to think more critically. We require a community to read out stuff.

A campus-based alt-ac writing retreat is as much about the community as it is about the writing. The conversations start over meals and on walks, and only later make it into our writing.

Reason #4 - Costs:

One wonderful advantage of a campus writing retreat is that it is cheap. No registration fees. Meals are cheap if they are made at home. Staying in the homes of your colleagues during the writing retreat lowers the cost of attendance.

Conference, travel, and professional development dollars are scarce. This is as true for alternative academics as it is for everyone else in higher ed.  A campus based writing retreat can feel more doable, as it is less expensive.

Reason #5 - Academic Freedom:

Academic freedom is a benefit that is enjoyed by an ever-diminishing proportion of postsecondary educators. The point of tenure, as I understand it, is to provide some protections for those whose research and teaching may conflict and challenge mainstream thinking.

Alternative academics have lots of ideas that may challenge the higher ed status quo.  No alternative academics have tenure. (At least none that I know - you?).

In the absence of institutional and disciplinary protections for unpopular ideas, alt-acs rely on our communities.  We help each other balance the imperative to think and write critically with the reality of place in the higher ed hierarchy. A  writing retreat is one place where alt-acs can try to figure out that balance.

Have you ever participated in, or hosted, an alt-ac campus writing retreat?

What are the enablers and barriers to your participation in a writing retreat?

Do you think that alt-acs will begin to move away from professional conferences held at hotels and convention centers, and towards smaller grass roots campus-based events?

Where do you do your writing?


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