Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Professor for one year (week 46): Writing research across borders

After teaching is over, I packed my suitcase and took the TGV to Paris.  I attended the Third Writing Research Across Borders (WRAB) conference which took place at the University of Paris-Ouest Nanterre la Defénse.

WRAB takes place every third year, 2011 it was at the Georg Mason University in Washington, D.C., and 2008 at was hosted by the University of California Santa Barbara.  It is the biggest and most international conference on writing research I'm aware of.  The conferences organized by EARLI's SIG Writing (which take place every other year) are also international (i.e., not only European), but much smaller.

The number of participants, number of submitted and accepted proposals, and the number of concurrent sessions is constantly growing.  They actually had 26 parallel sessions!  It was almost impossible to find out which of the talks/presentations would be the most suitable one depending on your own interests.  There was a bit of Twitter traffic going on, so I could see that related topics would be discussed at various sessions all taking place at the same time.  The program was so dense and there were so many people, I draw the comparison to LREC (the International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation), taking place every other year.  LREC is growing still and you can be sure to meet almost everybody from the NLP community there.  If LREC is the conference to be for NLP, then WRAB is the conference to be for writing research.

And WRAB shares another not so nice feature with LREC: Although you know that everybody is there (or you even searched the program for the name of some colleagues), you cannot meet someone during a coffee break or over lunch unless you actively make an appointment.  I like small- or mid-sized conferences better.

As I had no time to submit papers to NLP conferences during this year, those writing research conferences (and also conferences/workshops on linguistics) will be the only conferences I actively attend in 2014 -- you only have to submit a very short abstract, not a full paper.  At WRAB, I presented ongoing work on a systematic analysis of complex writing errors.  I argued to go a step further than current error analysis in writing research, NLP, or (second) language acquisition -- we have to consider the process that caused an error when classifying writing errors.  This way, we could on the one hand distinguish competence errors and performance errors and we could on the other hand come up with actual proposals on how to automatically prevent or correct certain types of errors.  Fortunately, I found a possibility to actually publish this -- I will give the details once the publication is a available.

I could meet colleagues from Europe and The Americas, we exchanged ideas and made loose appointments for SIG Writing's Conference on Writing Research in August.  So yes, the conference was successful.  As I already new that I would start at IMS in Stuttgart in April, I could tell people about my new affiliation and I made some loose collaboration and cooperation agreements.  I hope I can actually work on that in Stuttgart.

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