The Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association: Legitimizing and Sustaining the Work of Secondary School Writing Centers

Kate Hutton is the director of the Herndon Writing Center at Herndon High School in Fairfax County, VA, and the Vice President of the Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association. She served on an IWCA-sponsored panel of Secondary School Writing Center Directors at NCTE 2016 entitled, “Writing Centers as Sites of Advocacy.”

In the past decade, the Secondary School Writing Center (SSWC) movement has gained tremendous momentum and traction, and perhaps no region has seen such rapid growth in the establishment of SSWCs as the greater Washington, D.C. area. When I became co-director of the Herndon Writing Center in 2012, I was excited about what our center could do within our school. It wasn’t until I became involved with the network of SSWCs that eventually became the Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association (CAPTA) that I recognized how important it is for me to engage in a professional community dedicated to celebrating and supporting the work that SSWCs do. In an effort to highlight the ways in which CAPTA has unified and amplified the voices of SSWCs, I reached out to long-time and new CAPTA members to ask them to share how our network has helped them to legitimize and sustain the work we all do in our SSWCs.

CAPTA has grown out of what was once an informal network of SSWCs that began in Fairfax County, Virginia. Amber Jensen established one of the first area SSWCs at Edison High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, in 2009, and by 2011, SSWCs had established enough of a presence in the region to warrant partnering with the University of Maryland and George Mason University in hosting what has become an annual peer tutoring conference hosted by CAPTA. “From the beginning, it was evident that the sustainability of our centers would require working together to develop a vision for the role of an SSWC director and to collaborate on creating and sharing resources specifically tailored to our contexts,” Jensen explains. “The growth of SSWCs in our area, I think, is directly related to the work of this informal network of directors to create and share replicable implementation models, to collaborate in creating and modifying resources, and to support and share the emotional labor of defining and continually negotiating our positions in our schools and within the greater writing center scholarly community.”

In 2014, six SSWC Directors—Amber Jensen of Edison High School; Beth Blankenship of Oakton High School; Alison Hughes of Centreville High School; Jenny Goransson of West Springfield High School; Hannah Baran of Albemarle High School; and me—officially founded CAPTA, an organization dedicated to building community among, promoting advocacy for, and supporting the development and sharing of resources for new and existing SSWCs in the greater Washington, DC, area.

The CAPTA Executive Board at CAPTA 2016

While many of us acknowledged the need for and sought out opportunities to connect with other university writing centers around the country via existing peer tutoring networks, we quickly realized that SSWCs, their directors, and their tutors faced challenges and opportunities unique to the world of secondary schools. CAPTA was born of the need to create a sustainable network that specifically catered to our needs, that legitimized our work, and that encouraged scholarship in the field of SSWCs.

Janice Jewell, founder of the Herndon Writing Center, reflects, “The creation of CAPTA gave a wider sense of legitimacy to the fledgling writing centers. I think that as centers become established, participation in CAPTA normalizes these programs, so that once established, they become part of their communities, and the impulse to do away with them can subside.” As a diverse group of directors from schools with diverse needs, the formalization of the CAPTA network helped us to establish norms and identify our own best practices for sustaining successful SSWCs.

Trisha Vamosi, Director of the Eagle Writing Center at Osbourn High School in Manassas, VA, and CAPTA’s website curator, has found “the resources and guidance from other directors to be overwhelmingly supportive. CAPTA has provided not only an irreplaceable resource toolkit, but a space inviting constant networking” among directors in the field.

Continue reading “The Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association: Legitimizing and Sustaining the Work of Secondary School Writing Centers”

“If You Are Doing it Right, You’ll Encounter Bumps and Trouble”: The University of Washington Tacoma’s Social Justice and Antiracism Statement

The Writing Center at the University of Washington Tacoma received attention in February after a press release about their social justice and antiracism statement was featured on UW Tacoma’s news and communications page. Following the article, several far-right blogs misrepresented the statement to suggest that UW Tacoma’s writing center director, Asao B. Inoue, had claimed that dominant English grammar is racist.(1) Below is our email interview with Asao about the creation of the writing center’s antiracism statement.

Asao B. Inoue

WLN: First, can you tell us a little about yourself, your writing center, and your staff?
Asao: I’m the Director of University Writing and the Writing Center at the University of Washington Tacoma. I am an Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, and I was just promoted to Full Professor, as of September. I am also the Assistant Chair of CCCCs and so am the Program Chair for 4C18 in Kansas City next March.

My research is in writing assessment and racism. I’ve published on validity theory, classroom assessment, writing program assessment, and composition pedagogy. Most of my work deals with ways to consider race, racial formations, whiteness, and antiracism as a practice in writing assessment. My work has won three national awards, two outstanding book awards, and an outstanding scholarship award from CWPA.

Our writing center is lucky to have four professional staff members, all of whom work full time (except one, out of choice), and full time administrative support. We also have fourteen student writing consultants (tutors), with majors from Communications to Philosophy to Environmental Science to Psychology. The center is centrally located on the second floor of the library. We conduct face-to-face and online sessions.

WLN: Can you describe the composing process and timeline for the statement? To what degree was your staff involved?
Asao: During our staff meetings in the winter and spring of 2015, we read some literature on racism and language, including some in writing center studies, and discussed them. During the process, student tutors and professional staff decided to build a statement with my urging. We used a Google Doc so that we could continue our work outside of the confines of the staff meetings, and so that others who couldn’t make a meeting could still participate.

I shaped a lot of things in the statement early on, then let everyone else craft and revise the statement. We went through several iterations of the statement. I suggested that we think of the statement as a living document, one we would come back to periodically to refresh ourselves of our understandings of our position on antiracism and what we promise to do about it. This periodical looking back also means the statement may change as we change and as we try things.

Continue reading ““If You Are Doing it Right, You’ll Encounter Bumps and Trouble”: The University of Washington Tacoma’s Social Justice and Antiracism Statement”

Crossing Borders: Bilingual and Multilingual Writing Centers

Melanie Doyle is a writing tutor at the Writing House in the College of Nursing and Heath Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She also teaches composition in UMass Boston’s English department while completing her MA.

In 2000, John Trimbur wrote of the importance of bilingualism in writing and called for more writing centers to transform from English-only to multilingual (30). Though many writing centers embrace notions of multiliteracies, some even rebranding themselves as multiliteracy centers, this designation tends to emphasize digital literacies rather than multilingualism or translingualism in the more traditional sense. In other words, despite college campuses becoming increasingly linguistically diverse, the majority of writing centers still operate under a dominant discourse. Indeed, though most (if not all) American college writing centers serve students from diverse language backgrounds, few can serve students in their preferred language. Looking slightly north, Canadian writing centers offer a unique perspective into writing tutoring, bilingually. Though Canada’s contribution to writing center scholarship has been historically small, the field is growing, and the work produced from the Canadian Writing Centres

Melanie Doyle

Association’s (CWCA) annual conferences look to extend the borders of writing research. And with the continuing interest—and current utter importance—of understanding students’ use of language, Canadian institutions are available sites for inquiry.

While Canada as a nation is officially bilingual, each Canadian province chooses its official language: Quebec, for example, is unilingual French, while Ontario, Canada’s largest province, is unilingual English. Still, many of Canada’s higher ed institutions offer francophone writing tutoring or bilingual writing tutoring. Ontario’s University of Ottawa, situated in Canada’s national capital and on the border with Quebec, is currently the largest bilingual university (French-English) in the world, and is thus is an interesting case study to examine bilingual writing tutoring.

To help me understand tutoring practices, pedagogies, and dynamics at the University of Ottawa, I spoke with Amélie from the Academic Writing Help Centre (AWHC), otherwise known as Centre d’aide à la rédaction des travaux universitaires (CARTU). Housed in a bilingual university where courses are taught in French and English, AWHC/CARTU’s mandate is to offer writing support to all students in the official language of their choice in order to fulfill the University’s mission. Indeed, the University of Ottawa is committed to protecting the region’s francophone culture; so in 2015, it obtained designation[1] for its services in French, including student support services like tutoring. In other words, by offering writing tutoring in both French and English, the AWHC/CARTU is doing its part to protect student rights to their own language, using official statutes to ensure protection and access. Ultimately, by supporting francophone students in their studies, the AWHC plays an important role in helping the University of Ottawa achieve its goals regarding the promotion and safeguarding of francophonie. Continue reading “Crossing Borders: Bilingual and Multilingual Writing Centers”

Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program

Carol Mohrbacher

Carol Mohrbacher is a Professor of English and former Writing Center Director (the Write Place) at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. Carol, using her many years of experience, advice and input from colleagues, as well as research in writing center practice, theory, and pedagogy, planned, developed, and launched a new Writing Center Administration graduate certificate in the Fall of this year. Below is our e-mail interview with Carol.

WLN Blog: What was the progenitor of your idea to set up this program?
Carol: About seven or eight years ago, it occurred to me that I was supervising too many independent studies on the topic of writing center administration and tutor training. Some of our writing center alums who had completed these independent studies were finding jobs as writing center professionals. In 2009, there was a call from our Provost for the development of ideas that might appeal to the local and state community. Funding would be involved. So, never one to overlook an opportunity for funding, I proposed a course on writing center administration. The proposal almost immediately fell into a black hole, as the Provost moved on to another position at another institution, and the initiative disappeared—a situation that anyone who has been in academia for any length of time will recognize.

In 2012-13, a few years and more independent studies—and two Provosts—later, a new Provost called for innovative certificate programs. Simultaneously, administration pushed for more online offerings. I saw this as an opportunity to develop a valuable program—something that would contribute to the international writing center community, as well as to my own institution. My efforts in 2009 had resulted in a syllabus, and a sort of plan for future topics courses in writing center administration. I decided to build off of that early nugget.

WLN Blog: What were the processes and obstacles to developing and implementing the program?
Carol: The first thing I needed was some direction on what a certificate program looked like. No one seemed to know, so I did my research, looking at programs in IT and Education. One note: generally, this kind of project is the result of group or committee efforts. I was on my own, except for the feedback and editing help of my friend, Tim Fountaine.

What I did not expect were the many levels of scrutiny and research that would be required of me from groups and individuals at all levels—the English Department, College of Liberal Arts, SCSU administration, IT, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities administrative body. Two years later, after 14 levels (I counted them) of permissions and approvals, and after much research and one survey that resulted in 260+ respondents, the program was a go.

The next step was to create the courses that I had proposed and outlined for the various committees and individuals. This semester, I have begun teaching the first 2 courses—Writing Center Theories and Practice, and Issues in Writing Center Administration. So far, so good. I have students from 7 states. They are MA and PhD students and writing center professionals from various institutions from high school to R-1 universities. The engagement and enthusiasm are infectious. I am having a great time working with them.

The final two 2-credit courses for this 10-credit certificate program will be offered at the beginning of summer semester in a 5-week session. They are titled, “Staffing and Training” and “Cases Studies in Writing Center Administration.” Continue reading “Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program”

Our new WLN Blog co-editors: Ann Gardiner and Brian Hotson

This week’s post is an introduction of our new co-editors, Ann Gardiner, Director of the Writing and Learning Center at Franklin University Switzerland and Brian Hotson, Director of Student Academic Learning Services in the Studio for Teaching and Learning at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada. In their conversation below, they speak to their own experiences coming to writing centers, their own practices in academic writing, and their outlook for the blog. You can contact Ann (agardiner@fus.edu) and Brian (brian.hotson@smu.ca) with any ideas for the blog.

Ann Gardiner

Q:    How did you arrive at your current position?
Ann: To make a long story short, I would say that I went through several side doors to arrive at my current position at Franklin University Switzerland, where I have been Director of the Writing and Learning Center since 2010. With a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, I started my academic career as a professor, but I always worked closely with writing centers and even created one during my first academic appointment in Germany. In a sense, I became a specialist in general education courses, and I found that I really enjoyed helping students how to write better, read better, think better. In my two previous teaching appointments prior to coming to Franklin, I regularly taught writing and was teaching writing courses at Franklin as an adjunct when my predecessor at the Writing and Learning Center took an extended maternity leave. The replacement position became a permanent position in 2010, and I have been happily here ever since.

Brian Hotson

Brian: Unlike Anne, I started outside academia before my first writing centre position in 2008 at the writing centre at Queen’s University in Kingston (Ontario). I worked for many years in academic publishing, as a writer, project manager, and editor, among other things, mainly for Nelson Education. I also spent ten years as a writer and director/producer in educational television. Writing centre work came as a suggestion to me from a friend: I needed a job while completing my Master’s. We moved our family to Halifax in 2009, and in 2010, the directorship of the centre at Saint Mary’s University came available. It seems to really bring together my working skills and experience together.

Q:    What do you like best about working in writing centres?
Brian: Students and sentences. I spend a lot of time thinking about both. I like getting to know the students as a person–when I can–what they want to do academically, as well as how they’re going to take all their experiences and knowledge away with them. There’s great satisfactions to witness a student’s progress in, through, and out of the school. It’s humbling and satisfying!

Ann: As Director of the Writing and Learning Center, I have also gotten to know my tutors well too. Like Brian, I find it extremely rewarding to watch a student or tutor progress. I regularly have fantastic discussions with my students, tutors and academic mentors, who are upper-level students who help professors in their first year seminar courses and whose training I help coordinate. As I mentioned, I really enjoy helping students become better learners, and there is never a dull moment with this endeavor. We are a very small school at Franklin with about 400 students, and as a result I know my students well.

Continue reading “Our new WLN Blog co-editors: Ann Gardiner and Brian Hotson”

Call for Submissions: Creative Writing/Center

Amy Hansen is the assistant director of the Appalachian State University Writing Center and a recent graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at Northern Michigan University. She’s joining the CWCAB blog team as a staff writer–and has a great first project!

For my first project at CWCAB, I’d like to solicit and share the creative writing of writing center tutors and administrators here on the blog. I’d love to read poetry and short non-fiction/fiction pieces about writing center work, but I’m just as interested in creative work that’s more abstractly inspired by the practice and pedagogy of tutoring writing. Maybe you have a poem inspired by an interaction with a student in the writing center. Maybe you wrote a reflective profile of yourself as a tutor. Maybe (fingers crossed!) you composed the first writing center rock opera. Whatever it is, however you got there from writing center studies, we want to read it.

Continue reading “Call for Submissions: Creative Writing/Center”

Democratizing Space in the Writing Center

Today’s look at learning centers and writing centers comes from Ann Gardiner, the Director of the Writing and Learning Center at Franklin University Switzerland

As the master of “spatialiality,” Henri Lefebvre, wrote in the 1970s, “space is a social product” (26). Even without buying fully into his Marxist ideology or addressing every twist of his dense prose, his observations say a lot about Writing Center space, particularly when it comes to power relations within the institution. Specifically, he asks several important questions applicable to our kinds of spaces, as well as to our “place” within the campus community itself. “If space embodies social relationships,” he writes, “how and why does it do so? And what relationships are they?” (27).

Having recently merged our Writing Center with an adjacent library space to create a so-called Learning Commons–a place for tutoring and collaborative self-study–I would like to share a few personal observations inspired by Lefebvre about our largely successful experience. At Franklin University Switzerland–a small English-speaking liberal arts institution in the Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino with about 400 students–producing an appropriate space for our Writing Center within a larger Learning Commons has not only increased the number of tutoring visits, but also helped reposition academic support within the academy. This repositioning, in a literal and metaphorical sense, has allowed us to think about projects that were not possible or even imaginable before.

A few words about the small size of our school before I begin, as managing a learning space for 400 students comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. To give but one example, we have never had multiple academic support centers spread over the campus – one for writing, one for learning, one for languages or STEM etc. Instead, we pretty much do everything under one roof, including organizing the logistics of accommodated exams. Our small size can present challenges in terms of juggling everything, but it also presents opportunities because we offer a one-stop shop for students and we answer directly to the Dean of Academic Affairs.

Because we are not competing with other academic support centers, we do not face some of the political problems with regards to space seen recently in the Writing Center listserv, merging with Learning Centers, for example. Readers of the Writing Program Administrator listserv know that at least one university has recently tried to abolish their Writing Center, the latest victims of budget cuts and administrative reconfiguring (“Keep the NJCU Writing Center Open”). Collectively, both listservs confirm Lefebvre’s claim that as a social product, space is embedded within a web of, often, unequal power relations (26). In our case, power relations play out at both the institutional and accreditation level, as our U.S. accreditors place value on the learning experience, while our Swiss accreditors focus more on research output. This latter emphasis on research may help explain why European universities have traditionally not embedded academic support centers into their respective curricula.

Continue reading “Democratizing Space in the Writing Center”

One Stop Shopping – A Pathway to Student Success, Access, and Equity

Haglund.KimberlyEditor’s note: As part of an ongoing discussion about writing centers and learning centers, I’m excited to hear from Kim Haglund, who has worked at College of the Canyons for 15 years. Kim currently serves as a coordinator in The Learning Center, particularly serving the Writing Center needs.  

In the 1970’s, the Tutoring, Learning, and Computing Center (now The Learning Center, or TLC) at College of the Canyons opened its doors as an all-inclusive Learning Center. We have never had separate locations by subject area and have always shared space together. I coordinate the Writing Center portion which includes Writing in the Disciplines, Supplemental Learning, an Online Writing Lab and tutoring, and tutoring for Humanities, Social Sciences, and Modern Languages, while my counterpart coordinates Math, Science, and Engineering needs for our student populations. We have found that the open floor plan, extended operating hours, and inclusion of all subject areas has led to a “one stop” shopping model whereby students can sign in and out of areas in order to receive tutoring for any class they may be in, all in one location, which data reveals lead to recognition, metacognition, and replication of skills imparted to our students to meet our Mission Statement and SLOs. We have also found that students spend extended periods of time in The Learning Center, often switching from projects or classes, or group collaborations without having to travel across campus, and this accessibility is also part of equity for all students, illustrating the fluidity of one location and synthesis among courses.  Students find it convenient, which leads to higher attendance, success, and retention as our data also reflects. Furthermore, Institutional Development Surveys have demonstrated both faculty and students find the location and the walk-in only paradigm the highest ranked of all our services.

Benefits

There are several benefits for students, faculty, and staff to having the Writing Center housed within The Learning Center. Financially, we have one overall budget which we internally delegate based on attendance and need; however, campus-wide, we are not in competition for limited funds with boutique programs or other tutoring activities, and the lack of redundancy in offerings brings students to The Learning Center, with the exception of the grant-funded MESA Lab and specialized DSPS program (though we share tutors, training, and students with both). The coordinators and staff all have the same goal: To increase student success and retention and assist them with educational goals while promoting independent learning.

Continue reading “One Stop Shopping – A Pathway to Student Success, Access, and Equity”

Review: Arrival

ARihn-image-300x300Editor’s note: The recent movie, Arrival, provoked many strong reactions from me–and lots of thought! I’m delighted that someone else from the writing center world saw connections to the work that we do. Today’s post comes courtesy of Andrew Rihn, who started working in writing centers as an undergrad at Kent State University – Stark Campus. Today, he works as a professional tutor at Stark State College. 

Arrival is a 2016 science-fiction movie about humanity’s first contact with an alien species, so it’s appeal to writing center people may not be immediately obvious. While much science fiction focuses on domination or conflict, Arrival is unique in its focus on the problems and promises of linguistics. The plot hinges on the work of pursuing communication and avoiding miscommunication, familiar work to anyone who has spent time in a writing center.

In Arrival, the aliens simply arrive with no warning or explanation. Twelve large, mysterious ships hover twenty feet about the ground at seemingly random points across the globe, including one in Montana. The Army is mobilized for defense, but cannot make headway when it comes to communication. They enlist the help of two professors, Louise Banks, a linguist (played by Amy Adams), and Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist (played by Jeremy Renner). This interdisciplinary duo sets out to meet the aliens, find a way communicate, and at the behest of the Army, find the answer to the question “What is your purpose on Earth?”

We follow Dr. Banks’ first fumbling attempts to communicate with the aliens, called “heptapods” in the movie (so-named for their seven tentacle-like limbs). The language-learning process is of course very slow. The Army is increasingly frustrated with their progress, so we are treated to several scenes of explanation from Dr. Banks about the hows and whys of language acquisition.

Continue reading “Review: Arrival”

Words from “The Writers’ Block”

IMG_3177Mary McGlone coordinates the Ward Melville High School writing center in East Setauket, New York. She also teaches English and writing at Suffolk County Community College. 

The Ward Melville High School Writing Center, “The Writers’ Block,” is in its fourth year of evolution, serving a student population of 1,775 in grades 10-12. The writing center grew out of services offered to students in literacy classes, as the literacy teachers sought to reach students in need of support who didn’t qualify for literacy services. The center was originally located in a classroom, staffed by a full-time paraprofessional and two English/literacy teachers one period a day each.

IMG_3173In order to reach a wider range of the student body, the writing center was relocated to a section of the high school library in its third year, 2014. I have coordinated the growth of the writing center since January 2016, as it evolves from its “hidden secret” existence in a classroom to a full-time center based in the school library. We are currently open every period of the school day and after school, staffed by a full-time paraprofessional, a part-time writing teacher, and English teachers who work in the center one period a day for one semester a year; thus, the center is staffed by at least one writing coach per period, sometimes two. This post focuses on the location of our writing center in the school library.

The biggest advantage—and the main reason for relocating the writing center—is that we are centrally located in the building (Everyone knows where the library is!). Students who may not be aware that the writing center exists actually see it in their daily travels. Teachers of subjects other than English (traditionally our biggest supporters come from this department) are grateful that our location is so easy to remember and tell students about. We are physically in the center of the building, close to the cafeteria, so students can find us easily and can arrive early in the period for conferences. Study hall teachers who want to send students to us know where we are, and students can get to us quickly. It is fitting that we are physically in the center of the school, since our goal is to be a “hub” of writing in the school, the center from which writing in various subjects and grade levels occurs.

Continue reading “Words from “The Writers’ Block””

Conference announcement! “Directions in Academic Writing: Issues and Solutions”

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Last year’s conference team

The Ninth Symposium on Writing Centers in Asia will be held on ​March 6, 2017 at International Christian University in Tokyo.

​The theme this year is ​Directions in Academic Writing: Issues and Solutions.

This symposium provides opportunities for scholars, teachers, students, university administrators, and other professionals to come together to exchange ideas about the role of writing centers in Asian universities as well as the teaching and learning of writing. We welcome a diverse group of participants and presenters from a variety of contexts to join us.

For more details, registration and proposals for papers click here 

Call for Proposals: Special Issue of WLN  

Submitted by Susan DeRosa and Stephen Ferruci, Associate Professors of English Eastern CT State University

Susan DeRosa and Stephen Ferruci are Associate Professors of English at Eastern Connecticut State University. They co-authored the textbook, Choices Writers Make: A Guide (Pearson, 2011), and they have collaborated lately on scholarly articles and conference papers on multimodal writing in the writing center and writing classroom. Their research laid the groundwork for the creation of Eastern’s Writing Center in 2008.

Title: Multimodal Writing in the Writing Center: Relationships, Roles, and Responsibilities

Students are increasingly composing and designing multimodal texts that combine sound, visual, performative, and textual components. Takayoshi and Selfe (2007) argue that students need to be versed in both critically reading and producing multimodal texts “if they hope to communicate successfully within the digital communication networks that characterize workplaces, schools, civic life, and span traditional cultural, national, and geopolitical borders” (3). As writers produce multimodal texts to respond to different rhetorical situations and assignments, writing centers need to find ways to work with students and the texts they design. While writing centers may have experience helping writers who include visual elements in their texts, (photos, graphs, charts, etc.), they may be less familiar with other modes with which writers choose to compose. Recent scholarship suggests a focus on these changing roles and the relationships between writing centers and writing classrooms as we engage with multimodal composers and their choices.

Continue reading “Call for Proposals: Special Issue of WLN  “

Join the WLN team!

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-12-32-25-pmHi all! I’m excited to put out a call for a co-editor at the WLN blog (http://www.wlnjournal.org/blog/). We’ve had a lot of growth over the past few years, and have reached a point where there’s simply more stories out there than I can tell by myself.
I’m looking for someone down-to-earth, who works well with others, and has a natural, friendly inquisitiveness about what other centers around the world are up to. Familiarity with google doc collaboration is a must, as well as a commitment to keeping in touch on a regular basis (goal is to work smart, but stay on top of things). Above all else, ambition and curiosity are welcome!

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A goal of the blog is to continue to grow in our international scope and highlight the awesome work our colleagues are doing, wherever they are. Interested in joining the team? Shoot me an email at JAmbrose@mcdaniel.edu and tell me why you’d want to work on the project, and some of your story/initiative ideas.

Thanks! I look forward to talking more.

Josh Ambrose (aka Prof A)

Director of the McDaniel College Writing Center

phone: 410.857.2420/Hill 102

Chats and Webinars–an online writing center discussion

In a previous post,  Dr. Sarah Prince and Beth Nastachowski, MA, of Walden University started a discussion about online writing centers. In addition to starting a new discussion group–the OWC email discussion list–they’re happy to share some thoughts about two of their successful online services: chat and webinars.

Because Walden offers its paper reviews asynchronously, offerings like synchronous chat and live webinars not only provide students with supplemental writing instruction but also give them the rare opportunity to interact in real time. The chat service is designed to quickly answer students’ writing questions while they are actively constructing their drafts. In contrast, Walden Writing Center’s bimonthly webinars offer more in-depth instruction on topics ranging from scholarly writing, style and grammar tips, and practical writing skills. Although these services aim to serve students at different points during the writing process, they both were created with the same goals in mind: to provide human connection and real-time writing instruction to distance students engaged in what can often feel like an isolating writing process.

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Chat Service Overview

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-17-41-amWe use a live Chat feature through LibApps to give students a chance for live interaction and an opportunity to get questions answered immediately. Our Chat widgets are embedded on our writing center’s homepage and in slide-outs on every page of our website to make Chat accessible in multiple places. Because online students often crave immediate, personalized support, this service’s goal is to reach students who may not be inclined to e-mail us with their inquiry (though our policy is to answer all e-mails within 24-hours) or to try to search through our web content.

Before the current successful iteration of Chat, we piloted chat a few times with limited success. It originated as a pilot called Tutor Talk in the summer of 2013 in a separate platform that was not integrated with our website. It was at one set time each week and targeted undergraduate students only. When this pilot did not gain interest, we opened it up to all students toward the end of 2013, but we still had little participation. Finally, when we discovered that our current platform had the option for Chat, we revisited it in early 2015. We offered it at varying times on varying days of the week, and we also were more intentional with the way in which we marketed it (when we had targeted advertising in an all-student communication, we had better results.) Now, in 2016, we’ve had anywhere from 150 to almost 400 students use the Chat service each month (the numbers vary depending on term starts, student communications and advertising, etc.)

Continue reading “Chats and Webinars–an online writing center discussion”

Honoring Mary Jo Turley

A note from our editor in chief, Dr. Mickey Harris:

turleyIn its earlier incarnation as the Writing Lab Newsletter, the publication was put out through Purdue University, until Purdue ended its connection. But during that time, some of you who subscribed to WLN and/or sent in submissions for possible publication may have interacted with Mary Jo Turley, our secretary, who handled subscriptions, manuscripts, etc. I was saddened to learn that Mary Jo passed away in a traffic accident earlier this month. And while I don’t like to be the bearer of such sad news, I realize that some of you may want to join me in honoring the memory of a truly good woman whose humanity and grace—and sly humor—were constantly present in her work.

After Mary Jo and I both retired, we’d meet around town and always vow that we’d have lunch together soon, but that didn’t happen as often as it should have. Such a reminder of our mortality as well as the need to appreciate people around us—those whom we work with, whom we personally enjoy being with, and whom we depend on to keep on doing the great work that they do.

Introducing the Online Writing Centers (OWC) Email Discussion List

sarah_princeToday’s post comes courtesy of Dr. Sarah Prince, of Walden University. Together with Beth Nastachowski, MA, Dr. Prince is starting a new discussion group–the OWC email discussion list. Today’s post is about the OWC–stay tuned for part two, coming next week, about best practices for online centers!

The idea for the listserv grew out of a SIG we presented at the 2015 IWCA conference titled “Refocusing the Conversation: Creating Spaces for Online Writing Center Community, Support, and Discussion.” After talking through possibilities for community building during the SIG, many ideas were on the table—an annual conference and/or a possible affiliation group within IWCA (much like the current regional affiliations rooted in specific geographic locations). Post conference, to follow up with these ideas, we sent out a survey to all who attended the conference and others at the conference who signed up to receive more information. Based on the group’s voting, it was decided that we would initially start with a listserv, or discussion list, to promote communication about what centers are doing and how we could all better serve students in a fully-online capacity.

Please join us today at the Online Writing Centers (OWC) email discussion list!

We hope that this listserv does in fact start as a building block that generates wider conversations about the state of current online writing centers, common issues among fully online centers, and possibilities for future collaboration among these centers. We would love to see our group gain the support and membership to work toward a separate affiliation under IWCA one day or even create an academic conference around issues specific to tutoring writing in a virtual environment.

We are advocating for further conversations among staff and tutors that serve students online, so we can, as a group, come up with best practices. Because such a community is still in its infancy, perhaps a better discussion would be how we’ve come to the practices that work for our center– through trial and error, gaps we perceived in our services, ideas for conveying information about writing in new ways, etc. In other words, we can talk about how we have a lot of this stuff, in part, because we don’t really have many discipline-wide best practices and, consequently, we’ve had to experiment. Our guess is that other centers are in the same boat, so we’d like to really advocate for a space where important discussions on innovation and new technologies can take place.

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SEEKING YOUR RESPONSE: How Are Writing Centers Working Out within Learning Centers?

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-10-32-18-amWLN editor, Dr. Mickey Harris, writes with a special announcement:

More and more writing centers now exist within or are moving into learning centers (or Student Success Centers or Academic Skills Centers, or whatever name they are given), but how are they faring? This complex question needs to be explored from numerous perspectives and by numerous voices, so we at WLN have decided to ask you to identify problems you’re solving and write about positive aspects of existing within a learning center and how you achieved success.

What wisdom, insights, solutions can you pass along to others? What are conditions that could prove to be problematic? Consider your audience as other writing center directors who are wondering how to fit in or improve their writing center and want to learn from colleagues who have clarified problems and found solutions. This will be a collaborative effort of as many voices as we can fit in to an issue of WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship.

Please send your 1500-word (Works Cited included in that number) responses to the editors:
Kim Ballard: <kim.ballard@wmich.edu>
Lee Ann Glowzenski <laglowzenski@gmail.com>
Muriel Harris <harrism@purdue.edu>

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CFP: Special Issue of WLN–What We Believe and Why: Educating Writing Tutors

Guest editors Karen Johnson and Ted Roggenbuck share their call for proposals, below.

Key to our success in the important work of writing centers is our effectiveness in providing tutor education. Our field has over three decades of scholarship on how to educate writing tutors in a multitude of settings, but the wealth and variety of resources can create challenges for those seeking guidance. However, that we also have a number of excellent and popular (though not universally used) resources such as The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring, and The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors does suggest at least some consistency in how we educate tutors. But to what degree do we share core beliefs about tutor education, how do we know what aspects of our programs to prepare writing tutors are most effective, and to what areas are we not paying adequate attention? Moreover, what are effective contexts for educating tutors? Although credit-bearing courses appear to be ideal contexts for tutor education, what particular aspects of a course make it effective? And for directors who are unable to offer a course or even paid time for educating tutors, how can they effectively prepare tutors for the different rhetorical situations and writers they will encounter?

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In Other Words–a book review

arihn%20imageToday’s post comes courtesy of Andrew Rihn, who started working in writing centers as an undergrad at Kent State University – Stark Campus. Today, he works as a professional tutor at Stark State College. Andrew says that “the book does not discuss writing centers directly, but the topics it does discuss overlap with the work of the writing center in many ways (language acquisition, translation, identity issues, genre and style, etc).” 

Jhumpa Lahiri, the acclaimed novelist whose first book won her the Pulitzer Prize at age thirty-two, has released her first work of non-fiction: a collection of essays about learning Italian aptly titled In Other Words. The essays are animated by her passion, wide-eyed if a bit innocent, yet crafted by a masterful writer whose love of language is evident in every line.

Spoiler alert: the book never discusses writing centers. Rather, it is a personal narrative of language acquisition. Lahiri, whose life is devoted to the craft of writing, recounts her experience with Italian as one might recount a love affair. Lahiri embraces not only moments of exhilaration, but also those moments that disturb and disrupt, and even those that hurt; I suspect the writing center community will find much to identify with.

51wnsrzeh6l-_sx315_bo1204203200_In all, the book contains twenty-one essays, two short stories, and one longer, lyric afterword. Essays are short, most clocking in at less than five pages. In Other Words was first written in Italian and later translated into English, and both are presented side by side, making its 233 pages appear deceptively long. A fast and focused read, I could easily imagine this book being useful for teaching, or initiating conversations in a writing center (topics include language acquisition, the processes of reading and writing, the intricacies of identity, translation, genre and form, and the creative process).

The essays are short and episodic, focusing on one element of the language-learning process at a time. Many focus on a central metaphor or analogy. For instance, early in the book she compares learning Italian to swimming across a lake. For Lahiri, studying Italian in America was like swimming near the shore, good exercise but not exciting. She could always touch ground with her feet, revert back to speaking English. “But you can’t float without the possibility of drowning, of sinking. To know a new language, to immerse yourself, you have to leave the shore.” Throughout the book, she revisits and revises this analogy, swimming through the deep parts of the lake, allowing the lake to become an ocean.

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WLN News Round-Up: September 2016

Here is some of what has been on the WLN news radar lately:

“How to Write Like an Olympian”– In reflecting on the summer Olympics, Shira Lurie draws parallels between writing and athletics and shares tips for graduate students to write at their highest level.  [Inside Higher Ed]

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“Gender-Neutral Pronoun Usage in Academic Writing”– This article discusses the importance of avoiding gender bias in academic writing and offers advice on using singular they. [UofL Writing Center]

What do adult students want from college?“- Did you know that over 40% of college students are over 25 years old? This article explores the needs of adult college students. Let us know in the comments if your writing centers have initiatives for adult students!  [Christian Science Monitor]

“College Graduates Weigh In On the Value of Higher Education”– Read or listen to quotes from recently graduated students who chose public, private, and community college experiences. [NPR]

“You Can Write Your Way Out of an Emotional Funk. Here’s How.”– This article reminds us of the therapeutic powers of writing and gives tips on how you can use writing to lift your mood and escape a funk. [NYMag]