Tomoyo Okuda graduated with a Ph.D. in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of British Columbia, Canada. Her research interests include second language writing, writing center studies, internationalization of higher education, and language policy.
Christiane Donahue (2009) once praised the writing center community as having the “strongest development in terms of exchange of teaching practice and pedagogical framing, always explored in context” (p. 222). This is evident from the fact that we can find writing centers in 63 countries, according to the St. Cloud State University’s Writing Center Directory.
I was always interested in why writing centers became so popular around the world and started collecting literature written about writing centers in different countries (as a side note, I focused on writing center development in Japan for my dissertation research, “The Writing Center as a Global Pedagogy: A Case Study of a Japanese University Seeking Internationalization”). A common topic found in international writing center literature was how the idea of the writing center needed adjustments to suit the cultural, religion, existing literacy practices of each country or institution. But I was more interested in the bigger picture—the socio-political/economic imperatives of writing center initiation, namely, the political landscape of higher education discourses and reforms fed into the decision to initiate or sustain a writing center (Salem, 2014). In this blog post, I would like to discuss three imperatives identified from my reading of international writing center literature (book chapters, articles, reports, websites).
Internationalization has become a powerful agenda for many universities around the world, and for non-English speaking countries, this means internationalizing higher education through the medium of English. Thus, we can see English-medium instruction programs (courses and programs taught in English) in what Harbord (2010) calls US-style universities: universities with “US accreditation, US charter, US-style curriculum, US grading system, a liberal arts approach, and some faculty from the US” (para. 9). Examples of US-style universities would be liberal arts colleges in Hungary, India, and Japan, and American branch universities such as in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Bulgaria, where the writing center is usually managed in conjunction with first year composition courses. Another internationalization initiative for universities is scholarly publications in English and for this purpose, some writing centers in East Asia offer services to help scholars write research manuscripts in English. For instance, according to Kim (2017), the government-supported globalization initiative called ‘Brain Korea 21’, which aims to foster international scholars, led to a wave of new writing centers in South Korean universities.
The second imperative is the demands of the knowledge economy, often addressed in higher education reform plans. For example, the Bologna Process, a collective initiative to harmonize European higher education and ensure comparability of standards, appears to have been key in the promotion of writing centers. Several German writing center scholars mention that writing centers caught attention as an efficient approach to develop writing skills, promote peer learning, and individualized instruction which aligns well with the learning outcome model promoted by the Bologna Process (Bräuer, 2012; Macgilchrist & Girgensohn, 2011; Scott, 2016). Weber et al., (2014) from Qatar also talk about how the writing center at their American branch campus was established due to the nation’s shift from oil gas revenue to knowledge economy emphasizing education, research, biotechnology.
The third imperative is massification of higher education; in other words, higher education expansion or growth of enrollment in higher education. Universities, such as in Japan and New Zealand, are actively expanding student participation and admitting a diverse range of students, in some cases, students with insufficient academic literacy skills, which leads to a need for institutionalized writing support (Emerson, 2012; Iwamoto, 2008). Different reasons would explain higher education expansion. In Japan, the number of writing centers and writing programs increased due to an influx of incoming students without basic Japanese literacy skills said to have caused by the post-war massification of universities and universalization of higher education.
I have reviewed some of the socio-economic imperatives connected to writing center initiation around the world; internationalizing higher education (through English), responding to the demands of knowledge economy, and expanding student participation in higher education. These imperatives are connected to a growing interest in writing skills, especially English writing skills, as means to participate in the knowledge economy and global research community.
Most importantly, in searching for the bigger picture, I came to understand the powerful role of the writing center in internationalizing and Americanizing universities worldwide. How does this bigger picture impact our interactions with international writing center colleagues and define our international writing center community? I believe an analytical look at what’s happening outside our writing centers is important in reflecting on power balances in our international writing center community and realizing the “equal trade models of exchange” (Donahue, 2009, p. 231) of writing center scholarship.
Bräuer, G. (2012). Section essay: Academic literacy development. In Writing programs worldwide: Profiles of academic writing in many places (pp. 467-484). Fort Collins, CO: The WAC Clearinghouse.
Donahue, C. (2009). “Internationalization” and composition studies: Reorienting the discourse. College Composition and Communication, 61(2), 212-243.
Emerson, L. (2012). Developing a “Kiwi” writing centre at Massey University, New Zealand. In C. Thaiss, P. Carlino, L. Ganobcsik-Williams, & A. Sinha (Eds.), Writing programs worldwide: Profiles of academic writing in many places (pp. 313-323). Fort Collins, CO: The WAC Clearinghouse.
Harbord, J. (2010). Writing in Central and Eastern Europe: Stakeholders and directions in initiating change. Across the Disciplines, 7. Retrieved from http://wac.colostate.edu/atd/articles/harbord2010.cfm
Iwamoto, T. (2008). Senpai kara Kohai e, shinshi na adobaisu ga ikiru gakushūshien [To seniors to juniors: Academic support through advising]. Daigaku to Gakusei, 50, 30–35.
Kim, M. (2012). The politics of teaching and learning writing in L1 and L2 in Korean universities: An exploration of the possibility of developing an indigenous writing program. (Unpublished PhD Dissertation). Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.
Macgilchrist, F., & Girgensohn, K. (2011). Humboldt meets Bologna: Developments and debates in institutional writing support in Germany. Canadian Journal for Studies in Discourse and Writing, 23(1), 1-19.
Salem, L. (2014). Opportunity and transformation: How writing centers are positioned in the political landscape of higher education in the United States. Writing Center Journal, 34(1), 15-43.
Scott, A. (2016). Re-centering writing center studies: What US-based scholars can learn from their colleagues in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Zeitschrift Schreiben, Retrieved from https://zeitschrift-schreiben.eu/globalassets/zeitschrift-schreiben.eu/2016/scott_writingcenterstudies.pdf
Weber, A., Golkowska, K., Miller, I., Sharkey, R., Rishel, M., & Watts, A. (2015). The first-year writing seminar program at Weill Cornell Medical College—Qatar: Balancing tradition, culture, and innovation in transnational writing instruction. In D. S. Martins (Ed.), Transnational writing program administration (pp. 73-92). Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.