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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Brian (email@example.com) with any ideas for the blog.
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: 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.
Q: What does your writing center look like?
Brian: Our centre has two levels: an upper level, which is the entrance and reception area, and a lower level, with four tutoring areas, bookshelves that divide the tutoring areas, a conference room, a long table with computers for staff, and my office in the back. I asked the university’s art gallery to hang some art in the space, so we have some very large pieces there, which add some great textures and colour.
Ann: We’ve recently moved into a Learning Commons-type space. I am working on a blog post for the WLN called “Democratizing Space in the Writing Center” (now published), which started as a conference paper relating the success of our move to the new space. We have an L-shaped space now, the short part of the L reserved for quiet study, and the longer part reserved for tutoring and collaborative study. We have a sofa and some comfortable chairs in there and several round tutoring tables. This space is primarily managed by tutors, and I have a regular faculty office upstairs. Like Brian, we have recently asked the art department to help us liven up the space with student work. It is a great addition.
Q: What do you do on a typical work day?
Ann: At a small school, people tend to wear many hats, and I certainly have several. I teach two courses a semester, so I have two days a week devoted to teaching, and three days a week devoted to administration. As part of my duties, I coordinate the Writing Program, which is housed in the Writing and Learning Center. I meet regularly with numerous community constituents, both at the faculty and staff level. The Writing and Learning Center at Franklin has become a bridge to many places, and I am often running off to a meeting. I do some tutoring, primarily with students who need help with résumés, cover letters and personal statements. Although not part of my job description, I also coordinate the students who work in our organic garden and am actively involved with our Center for Sustainability Initiatives; I am an avid gardener.
Brian: Like Ann, I’ve a few hats, as well. Recently, I’ve taken on oversight of a few other academic services. I oversee the ESL support program, which is a hybrid writing/language tutoring service, a technology centre, and a pan-campus learning communities program. I spend a great deal of time with staff, scheduling programs and services, as well as doing long-terms planning and other administrative projects. I don’t have the opportunity to tutor much recently.
Q: What projects are you working on at the moment?
Brian: We been working on expanding our embedded tutoring programs in science, which have been successful. This program developed over the last couple years so that the writing centre tutors, lab techs, and TA/markers work together to generate a holistic approach to writing in the science. I’m quite happy with how it’s worked out, and the feedback from the students is great. We’ve now several years of data collected on the project, which we’re hoping to publish. I’m also planning a program where faculty hold their office hours in the centre with writing tutors. I’ve piloted this program, and students and faculty were very happy with it.
Ann: Too many! I am currently working on developing tutor training with my Assistant Director, who really runs the day-to-day aspects of our Writing and Learning Center. I am also involved with assessment on many levels and currently chair our Student Learning Outcomes Assessment Committee. We are accredited in the US and in Switzerland, which has a different approach to assessment than in the U.S. so we have a lot to do in terms of assessment. I am also trying to complete a book chapter on ecocriticism and the graphic novel. We are week 3 into our semester so I am busy reading drafts of my students and I am helping organizing our university day, which will focus this year on social justice and sustainability and will showcase student research in these areas.
Q: How would you like to see your writing center develop?
Brian: I’m always interested in training for the tutors, so I’d like to be able to have training that is continuous and meaningful. When I go to conferences, I try to see what others are doing. Training is expensive, so I’m also trying to find ways to keep the costs down, as well.
Ann: I, too, am interested in training for tutors. We currently meet weekly for training purposes and I would like to develop a course so our tutors could get credit for the training that they do. Our tutors are all undergraduates and receive funding through our Life Long Learning Scholarship Program, which is a little bit like Work Study, but our program offers merit awards, not jobs. I would like to make this award more meaningful for our tutors, who are very busy helping other students.
Q: What’s important about connecting to other writing centres?
Ann: As we are one of the few English language Writing Centers in Switzerland, connecting with other practitioners beyond the local level is crucial. I try to go to conferences in Europe; going to the US is expensive and I usually cannot get away for more than a few days. There are an increasing number of Writing Centers in Europe, and I would really like to become more connected with them and open the WLN to these centers.
Brian: I agree with Ann. Writing centre work is often disconnected from others within the university, as well as with our colleagues in other universities. Connecting with other writing centre practitioners, whether directors or tutors is key. I’ve gone to NCPTW the past two years. It’s one of my favourite conferences, as it practical, there are a lot of tutors, and I’ve met some great people that I keep in contact with.The other part is sharing ideas. Talking in the hallway outside a session at a conference is probably the best meeting place for writing centre people.
Q: How do you share/receive writing centre practices and ideas with other writing centre practitioners?
Brian: Conversation. I try to call people on the phone when I can, but e-mail does work. It’s the face-to-face meeting that seems to be the best means for sharing. In our regional, Atlantic Canada, we are isolated from writing centre people, so we’ve banded together and formed our own association, ACWCA. Our meetings are very helpful, and we always come away with new ideas and renewed energy for our work.
Ann: There are several larger global liberal arts consortiums to which Franklin belongs, and I often go to these consortium meetings to exchange ideas. Teaching and Learning are both top priorities there. There are many U.S. style liberal arts colleges in Europe and beyond so it is important to connect with these networks. For me, I have found the writing center list-serv to be very helpful, and it is enjoyable to connect with people via this medium.
Q: How do you see the WLN blog fitting into this sharing?
Ann: I love the idea of the blog because it connects people from far away places; the WLN blog has the potential to become a node in a larger network.
Brian: Agreed. It’s a very good means to test ideas, get feedback, and to let others know about new practices.
Q: What are some story ideas others could contribute?
Brian: A great number of writing centre people I talk to want to know what works, what almost works, and what been jettisoned! I’m also curious about how the growing body of writing centre theory and pedagogy; how does this fit into the practice of academic writing and writing centres? Ann and I have a long list of other ideas we are going to share. If you’ve an idea, we’d like to hear about it.
Ann: I agree with Brian, finding out what works and what does not work is really interesting and finding out about other contexts is fascinating. I would love to hear from Writing Center people from all over the world; I think the debate can really be expanded. I take Connecting Writing Centers Across Borders to heart, and think we can really learn from each other.
Do you have ideas for posting to our blog? We’d like to hear from you.