Middle East and North Africa Writing Center Alliance conference: Transfer and Transform

Elizabeth Whitehouse (Ewhitehouse@uaeu.ac.ae) is the Executive Secretary of the Middle East and North Africa Writing Center Alliance (MENAWCA) and the Supervisor of the Student Academic Success Program (SASP) Writing Centers at United Arab Emirates University.

Following up on our first post about MENAWCA in 2015, Elizabeth Whitehouse provides an update here and talks about their 6th biennial conference in February 2018, Transfer and Transform.

WLN Blog: Tell us about MENAWCA. What does it stand for? How did it begin?  How do you communicate with each other?
Elizabeth: MENAWCA stands for the Middle East and North Africa Writing Center Alliance; we are a regional affiliate of the IWCA. The alliance was established by some teachers at my own institution, UAEU, in 2007. They saw a need for a network to connect writing center directors, tutors and staff in the Middle East and North Africa region. Since then, MENAWCA has worked to foster best practice in MENA writing centers, provide professional development and networking opportunities, raise awareness of the value of writing centers as an educational resource and promote research into MENA writing center activities. We pursue these goals in various ways, such as our website, newsletters, listserve and social media (Facebook; Twitter) but most importantly, we hold biennial conferences for our membership and the wider community.

WLN Blog: You are organizing an upcoming conference. Does the conference have a theme? What do you hope participants will get out of the experience and what do you hope to achieve by organizing this conference?
Elizabeth: Yes, work is underway for our 6th biennial conference, which we are convening in collaboration with the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU). The conference will be held in the beautiful, historic oasis town of Al Ain, in the UAE, in February 2018. Our conference theme is ‘Transfer and Transform,’ which we hope will act as a springboard for engaging discussions and critical reflections on our work with student writers in the Arab world.  Participants will have an opportunity to share insights, raise questions, hopefully get some answers, and leave with refreshing new ideas and perspectives that will help them advance the work of their centers.  We are particularly excited to be welcoming Dr. Chris Anson, Distinguished University Professor and Director of the Campus Writing and Speaking Program at North Carolina State University, as our keynote speaker; his wide-ranging scholarly expertise encompasses areas of key importance to our work with student writers (http://www.ansonica.net/).

WLN Blog: Can you tell us about opportunities and challenges you see for the MENAWCA and for writing centers in the region?
Elizabeth: MENAWCA is in a position to offer professional development opportunities for anyone involved in writing center work in the region. Whether someone attends our conferences, reads our newsletters, uses our website, or seeks advice by posting a question on our listserve, MENAWCA should help them get an answer to a writing center related question. It is not uncommon for teachers in the region (such as myself) to find themselves tasked with starting or managing a writing center, with little or possibly no prior writing center experience. Being able to visit an established center or link up with a more experienced peer can be a great help. I see a lot of potential for MENAWCA to expand its work, particularly in encouraging discussion about the work of writing centers in ESOL academic communities. That brings us directly to the challenges!  While institutions in the region often use higher education models established in the US, the academic support services that go with those models are not always in place, or secure. Center directors can find themselves expending a lot of time and effort explaining and justifying their work, and trying to secure appropriate resources. Of course, this challenge is not unique to our region.

WLN Blog: The Writing Center at UAEU is one of those centers. How do your writing centers work in UAE?
Elizabeth: Our Writing Center is part of the Student Academic Success Program at University College, UAEU, and we welcome all members of the university community. We deliver about 1500 consultations each semester, and since the university has separate campuses for male and female students, we have a branch on each campus. Students from foundation, undergraduate and graduate programs come to us for help with a wide range of writing tasks and from a variety of academic disciplines.  We also help with vocational writing and preparation for English proficiency exams, offer writing workshops, and provide writing practice materials. Student engagement is particularly important to us, and we encourage students to engage in different types of writing and to write for enjoyment through writing competitions and other events, as well as publishing student writing.

WLN Blog: What is the size of your staff and who are your tutors?
Elizabeth: We usually have about 14 teacher tutors assigned to work with us for a few hours per week, and about 12 talented student tutors recruited from different faculties at the university.

WLN Blog: Can you tell us about a success story or two?
Elizabeth: Yes; we had a great success story this semester.  A student who enrolled in the university’s foundation program with pre-intermediate English several years ago has just completed her doctorate in English literature. She was a regular visitor over the years. It was a pleasure to see her grow as a writer and pursue excellence in her writing with astonishing determination.

WLN Blog: What is your biggest piece of advice for a new tutor
Elizabeth: Two pieces of advice spring to mind: “It’s not your writing!”  and “Let the writer talk, and be a good listener; don’t just react to the writing.”

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