Writing Centers in China | The Writing Center @BNUZ School of Design | Part 1 of 5

Over the next few months, we will be posting on writing centre work in China. Contributing are 杨雪 Xue (Rachel ) Yang, Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai School of Design; 宋凌珊 Lingshan Song, Writing Center Assistant Director, Mississippi College; Jessie Cannady, Module Convenor Writing Centre, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University; Brian Hotson, Director, Academic Learning Services, Saint Mary’s University; and Julia Combs, Writing Center Director,  Southern Utah University.

杨雪 Xue (Rachel ) Yang is the writing center coordinator at Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai, School of Design.

中文版

We first came up with the idea of establishing our own Writing Center in Spring 2015. We were facing an ever-increasing number of students enrolled who had to grapple with higher expectations in English competency. The program we build at the School of Design focuses tremendously on a globalized education which internalizes its doctrine in preparing students to be more active and engaged global participants through its ever more internationalized guiding themes, curriculum framework, teaching staff, study environment, and exchange program. A heavily IELTS-driven English language curriculum has therefore been introduced. 2+2 program students are required to pass the official IELTS test before the end of their sophomore year so that they can transition smoothly to a collaborative overseas program. 4+0 program students are asked to prove their English proficiency through IELTS as well since starting from the third year, all their design-related major courses will be instructed by lecturers/professors sent from Germany, where English is the main and only teaching language in class. At this point they will have no help from teaching assistants anymore. 4+0 program students will also need the IETLS score report for them to receive the bachelor’s degree from the German university side.

From this description, you can get a sense of how English language proficiency is a matter of life or death for students in our program.

Nearly every instructor in our English language team has some education background in a foreign country, and thus we are considerably excited and revitalized by the Writing Center idea. I did my master’s degree at Boston College which has a writing center that I took huge advantage of. The BC writing center is a sub session within an overarching learning center, which centers on tutoring that covers over 60 subjects, ADHD & Learning Disability Support Services, and writing support. “Writing support” is similar to what we have here at the School of Design Writing Center.

The Writing Center officially launched in September 2016, and we called it the “beta” trial version. We were the first on-campus writing center at our university, basically with no prior experience to build on. Thus, the format of the tutorial, size of student populations we intended to serve, and what kind of tutors we wanted to hire were all tricky problems we encountered. There is no perfection in your first try. What matters is that you do try. Bearing in mind this belief, we decided that the tutorial should follow the format of an ESL writing assistance session. These writing appointments focus on not only helping students formulate their writing ideas, structure and flow of papers, but also checking for their grammatical mistakes. Students are asked to come prepared with drafted writing pieces and attempted problems. Student population size is another thing that is hard to predict. The writing center aims at serving sophomores of international cooperation programs, accounting for over 450 students in total. However, this writing appointment service is on a completely voluntary basis, making the visits tricky to predict. We later agreed on providing 10 available sessions to the students and seeing how things go as time went on. As for recruiting tutors, we soon abandoned the idea of hiring student tutors. Back in early 2015, we did hire some senior student tutors from the School of Foreign Language to help our students with IELTS reading and listening, but it did not end up well. One of the challenges was it was extremely difficult to recruit sufficiently qualified tutors with a proper sense of responsibility and another was that the student tutors’ schedules varied to a great degree which caused unnecessary trouble for scheduling writing appointments.

Throughout the past 10 months, we have accrued concrete records of the Writing Center visits and plan to use these data for further adjustment of scheduling, which parallels the “big data” trend in the Internet environment where information is being densely analyzed for manifold purposes. Through browsing our visit tracking book we can easily see the pattern of student visits: which weeks are the peak visiting periods, which time during the day is mostly preferred, which student groups like to take advantage of this service the most, and which tutors are most frequently booked by the students.

So far, we have a rather small number of visits, which makes 10 sessions a week feasible. We use a point-to-point contact method for communication between our visitors and the tutors. The Writing Center coordinator schedules a timetable that fits each tutors’ schedule (as shown below) and publishes the timetable with contact information of each tutor at the very beginning of each semester. Later, the contact is simply between the tutors and the students. This method has worked out well so far because of the small number of students we serve. However, if the whole BNUZ community is about to set up a university-wide writing center that is supposed to serve more than 20,000 students, this old-fashioned approach might not seem convincing.

Allow me to end my piece with a quote from the Boston College Learning Center:

The goal of a writing appointment is to help create better writers, not just better papers.”

 

中文版

我们最初是在15年的时候萌生了想要建立我们自己的写作中心的想法。我们的学生数量越来越多,同时,我们对他们的英文水平要求也越来越高。我们设计学院的国际化办学项目十分注重全球化的教育理念,通过不断深化的国际性指导方针、课程体系、教学团队、学习环境和交流项目立足把学生培养成为更积极主动的全球性参与者。于是乎,一个以雅思为主导的英语语言课程体系便应运而生。2+2项目的学生需要在大二结束前通过官方的雅思考试,这样他们才能如愿在海外合作大学继续学业。4+0项目的学生也需要通过一纸雅思证书来证明他们的英语能力——大三后他们所有的专业课都将由德方合作大学教授授课,届时,英语是课上的唯一通用语言,课堂上将不再配备任何形式的助教。同时,4+0项目的学生也需要雅思成绩来获得德国大学本科文凭。

现在你大概了解了为什么说英语语言能力在时刻左右着我们项目学生的命运。

我们英语语言教学组的几乎每一位教师都有着不同层次的海外留学背景,所以我们对写作中心的想法都感到很熟悉也很兴奋。我在美国波士顿学院读的硕士,那儿有个我时常光顾的写作中心。波士顿学院的写作中心下设于一个更加庞大的学习中心。学习中心主要提供超过60个科目的辅导、多动症和学习障碍支持服务及写作支持中心。波士顿学院的写作支持中心跟我们设计学院国际办学项目的写作中心就比较相似。

我们的写作中心最终在2016年9月正式上线,我们称它为一个“Beta”的试验版。我们是北师珠校园内开设的第一个写作中心,基本上没有什么前人的经验可以借鉴。所以,关于写作中心辅导的形式、学生的数量、需要招聘什么样的辅导老师,都是我们遇到的比较棘手的难题。我们都深知第一次尝试肯定不会完美,关键在于要勇于尝试。我们秉承这个信念,决定我们的写作中心应该以英语作为二语的写作辅导为主。写作辅导侧重的不仅仅是帮助学生构想写作思路和框架,确保文章的流畅性,同时也帮助学生检查一定的语法错误,我们要求学生带着已经写好的文稿和问题而来。学生的体量也是另一个比较难预测的关键。写作中心立志于为国际项目的450名大二学生服务,然而,这些写作辅导是完全自发的,我们很难准确预测他们预约这项服务的频次。在经过商讨后,我们一致同意先从一周提供10个时间板块的写作辅导做起,随后再持续保持观察。早在2015年初的时候,我们就曾从外国语学院聘请了一些大四的学生辅导我们的学生雅思阅读和听力,但结果并不算特别理想。其中一个挑战在于要想聘请到数量足够的高质量负责任的小助教非常难,另一个挑战在于学生助教们的作息时间表非常不统一,对写作中心的时间协调管理造成了很多不必要的麻烦。

在过去的10个月间,我们积累了不少关于辅导预约频次的数据,并且会把这些数据更科学合理地运用到将来的时间安排。这就像现在网络大环境下常说的大数据,我们运用网络大数据来深度分析预判相关的可能性。通过浏览我们的预约记录本,我们可以清楚地看到学生使用写作中心预约服务的模式:哪些周是学生预约的高峰期,一天内的什么时间预约的学生比较多,哪些专业的学生最喜欢利用这项服务,哪个辅导老师最受学生们的欢迎。

到目前为止,我们的学生预约量不算太多,一周提供的10个时间段绰绰有余。我们在学生和辅导老师之前实行点到点的联络方式。写作中心的负责人会在每学期初安排好每个辅导老师可行的时间并且把辅导老师的联系方式也一并打印到海报上(如下图所示)。之后,所有的联系都在辅导老师和学生间进行。这种简单的方法目前运作得非常成功,毕竟我们服务的的学生对象体量还不算太大。但是,如果要想在我们北师珠设立一个服务于全校两万多学生的写作中心,这种方法恐怕就难以胜任了。

波士顿学院学习中心的一句话也能很好地概括我们写作中心的宗旨:

“写作辅导不仅仅在于产出更好的文章,而在于培养好优秀的写手。”

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