When I speak with another writing center administrators, I’m fascinated by the patchwork of apps, programs, and social media platforms in use to connect with students and clients. In addition to the standards–such as WCOnline and Google Docs–we’d love to hear from you and share with our community:
What’s your best and most innovative technological discovery?
What program or app helps you organize the flow of people, information, and events?
What interesting or new things are you doing with well-known technologies?
What website or service could you no longer live without?
We’d like to post a series short testimonials on what works best for you. Please e-mail Amy Hansen at email@example.com with your answers. Include as much information as you can: links, photos of the technology in action, of you, your staff, or your writing center, and most importantly, a short (300-400 word) description of the technology, how you use it in your writing center, and what logistical or communicative need it meets.
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.
Editor’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.
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.
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.
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.
Chat Service Overview
We 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.)
Lisa Ede directed Oregon State University’s Writing Center from 1980 to 2010. She retired from OSU at the end of fall term 2013. You can read a graduate student’s history of OSU’s Writing Center here. Lisa also was a co-director of the 2007 and 2008 IWCA Summer Institutes and a leader at the 2006 Institute and has published several articles on writing centers.
The post below is an excerpt from a talk that Ede gave at the Canadian Writing Centres Association Conference this past spring. Ede’s talk focused on the role that collaboration can play in energizing writing center communities. As part of that discussion, Ede emphasized the strong research tradition that both grows out of and supports the daily work of writing centers. In order to convey a rough sense of this tradition and show its development over time, Ede constructed a chronologically organized list of important book-length contributions to writing center studies. In this excerpt Ede introduces this list, which begins with the earliest monograph that Ede found and continues to the present. Here is Ede’s discussion of the list and the list itself.
I should mention two caveats about this list. I hope to explore the reasons why collaboration is a particularly enabling term and construct for those of us who work in writing centers, wherever they are located—in the US, Canada, or around the world.
I decided to construct a chronologically organized list of important book-length contributions to writing center studies. The list begins in 1984 with the earliest monograph that I found and continues to the present.
I should mention two caveats about this list. The first is that while I think this list includes most important book-length studies that in one way or another focus on writing centers, I cannot claim that it is comprehensive. The second is that because this list does not include articles, book chapters, or other briefer studies, it is only the tip of the iceberg, as it were. To get a full sense of research on writing centers, you would need to turn to the contents of such journals as The Writing Lab Newsletter (founded in 1976 and recently renamed WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship), The Writing Center Journal (founded in 1980), and Praxis: A Writing Center Journal (founded in 2003). Writing center research is also published in a variety of journals that focus more broadly on work in rhetoric and composition—journals such as College Composition and Communication, College English, WPA: Writing Program Administration, and similar venues.
As a perfect kick-off to our upcoming fall semester, Jill Gladstein writes about the amazing work she and her colleague Brandon Fralix have done creating and curating the invaluable National Census of Writing. Their work was supported by a prestigious Mellon Foundation grant and is a game-changing resource for conversations in the field.
Often someone posts a question on WCenter or via social media asking about common practices in the writing center. Where is your writing center located? How many consultations did you hold last year? Are your consultants undergraduates, graduate students, or professional tutors? How are they trained and paid? Who directs the writing center? Sometimes people request this information with urgency in order to save a threatened writing center or other times people request this information out of curiosity to provide context for how their individual writing center fits into the larger landscape of writing centers. The answers to these questions provide perspective for folks working in and out of our centers, but we have been limited by the lack of response to these data requests.
We sent individuals at over 2500 institutions a 200+ question survey covering eight broad topics.
Our goal was to complement individual research projects and larger projects such as the Writing Centers Research Project and WAC Mapping Project by providing a large set of data that would be easily accessible via the internet. We wanted to make it easier for people to create a data-informed practice within their writing program or center.
Can you tell me a bit more about yourself and your career in the writing center world?
I attended Georgetown for two years as an undergraduate (pre-writing center academia) and struggled greatly as a writer. I eventually finished a BA and MA in English and creative writing at San Francisco State, fell into teaching in a Bay Area reading program in the mid-1980s, and became curious enough about how to teach more effectively to enroll in the EdM program at Harvard. It was there I was introduced to an entire field of studies previously obscure to me: composition and rhetoric.
While teaching composition at Loyola in New Orleans I was asked in 1992 if I would like to direct the English Lab, a satellite of the WAC Writing Center at Loyola, then directed by Kate Adams. I received a quick education that year in what writing centers could (and could not) do. In 1993 I accepted a position as the Writing Center Director at the United States Air Force Academy, one among the first 16 civilian faculty hired there. The Writing Center at the USAFA was staffed by faculty—a challenging crew, but a great opportunity to have an impact on writing across the curriculum.
In 1997, I took a three year leave from the Academy to direct the Writing Program and Writing Center at the American University in Bulgaria. I went from an all-faculty staff to a peer staff composed exclusively of English Language Learners from six different countries counseling students in an English language medium environment driven by Western rhetorical practices. In my initial semester at AUBG I met Anna Challenger, director of the Writing Center at the American College in Thessaloniki, and we began informally communicating with other writing center directors in southeastern Europe. This informal circle eventually gathered itself into a regional organization coherent enough to petition the NWCA for regional status. At the point this petition was accepted the NWCA became the IWCA, and the EWCA has flourished since under the leadership of European writing center leaders and scholars like Dilek Tokay and Gerd Brauer. I enrolled at IUP during my time abroad, studied with Ben Rafoth, and finished my PhD in comp/rhet in 2005, the year I accepted the position of Writing Center Director at Colorado College.
Can you tell us more about your center at Colorado College?
We’ve had a Writing Center on campus since 1981, and the good fortune of Molly Wingate’s dynamic leadership (1986—2001) as the CC Writing Center developed. Thus, the Writing Center had a real history and campus presence when I arrived in 2005. CC has not had a required writing course since 1966—much writing instruction on campus occurs in the Writing Center.
This blog post is written by Leigh Ryan, Director of the Writing Center at the University of Maryland, and Lisa Zimmerelli, Director of the Writing Center at Loyola University Maryland. Leigh wrote the original The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors as a manual for the University of Maryland Writing Center; she was then approached by Bedford/St. Martin’s to make the manual available to all writing centers. When tasked with including an online tutoring chapter in the third edition in 2006, she asked her previous graduate assistant director, Lisa Zimmerelli, to join her, as Lisa was directing an online writing center at the time. Three additional editions later, Leigh and Lisa reflect on the changes and trends in tutor education.
The sixth edition of The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors is now available, and we are excited both to discuss significant changes to this edition, as well as share reflections on our collaboration and the many conversations that went into revising the book.
The changes to each edition always reflect what we see going on in the writing center world. We’re both really active in anything writing centers, which places us in a good position to keep up with what’s current. We present at conferences and publish. We have been or are officers in writing center organizations, from local through international; members of executive committees; reviewers for journals; and we’re the first to volunteer to review proposals for conferences or serve formally (or informally) as mentors. We consult nationally and internationally, and every semester, we entertain international visitors to talk about writing center issues. We buy into the notion of the writing center as a Burkean Parlor, and so the focus and activities in our own writing centers are on conversation about writing and the tutoring of writing. And The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors reflects that—in both the text within the book and in our collaboration in revising the book.
Unlike thirty years ago when the The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors was first published, today directors and tutors have a broad range of tutor education books to choose from, and an even more robust and extensive selection of writing center scholarship. Perhaps the biggest change in tutor education is that a book like ours can be either central or peripheral to the texts that tutors will encounter as they study and consider their entry into the writing center community.
Can you tell us more about your career, from your perspective?
I did my graduate work in medieval literature. I was fortunate that while I was in graduate school, Mary Louise Pratt came as an Assistant Professor for one year before she went back to Stanford. Mary got me interested in sociolinguistics, which led both to an interest in classical and medieval rhetoric and connecting her work on Speech Act Theory to teaching writing. Oral speech is innate. We do not learn it; we acquire it as young children because we are hard wired for it. Writing, on the other hand, is a relatively recent technology that is only about 5,000 years old. Thus oral conversation is the default language situation, and one of Mary’s great insights is that writing is a conversation in which one of the other participants is absent and writer has to “fill in” the questions, arguments, and objections, that the absent reader may make.
After graduate school, I was a post-doctoral fellow at USC for three years working with Ross Winterowd before going to Tulane University to serve as Director of First-year Writing and a faculty member in Writing, Rhetoric, and Linguistics. I then moved to MIT, where I became an Associate Dean and Director of Writing Across the Curriculum.
Working with faculty from across the Institute in this later role, was probably the most formative experience in my career. First, MIT culture has a very low tolerance for bullshit. You can assert anything as long as you have data to back it up. An assertion without corroborating data is considered bullshit. In addition, working with computer science classes has given me a keen understanding of both how powerful computers are and how limited they are in some contexts, such as natural language processing. Finally, being at MIT has given me the opportunity to bounce ideas off of some of the world’s great linguists.
Obviously, you are widely recognized for addressing the issues with the SAT. I’m curious how that, and this fresh article for WLN, shape what you think of writing centers. You’ve fought the machines—what would you tell the tutors battling in the proverbial trenches?
To follow up on my last answer, the graders of the old SAT essay were not readers in the conversational sense I described above. They were reading 20-30 essays an hour. They were simply too overwhelmed and too tired to have to kind of the reactions a normal reader would have to a text. Machines, of course, are much worse. All they do is count. What students need is to internalize the hidden conversations that are always present in any piece of writing. Writing tutors, by asking questions, making objections, requesting clarifications–that is, being a reader that is present–help student define and then internalize the reader who is almost always absent. That is the writing tutor’s most important and extremely vital role.
Editor’s note: I was very intrigued by a recent WCenter listserv discussion about writing centers that are funded by student fees. It’s an interesting counterpoint to recent posts on here (“A Story of Volunteers,” “Volunteer Tutors,” etc) about volunteer-driven tutoring. I asked a few directors and coordinators to share their experiences; three responses are below:
The funding model and institutional organization for academic support at California State University, Bakersfield has changed over the course of my tenure from writing tutor to coordinator for all tutoring on campus. In 2008, the tutoring for all subjects (including writing) was centered in one location on campus and was funded through a Title V grant. After a couple years, NSME tutoring moved from our location and was primarily funded through various grants. In 2011, our campus decentralized tutoring, and each school housed a specific tutoring center(s) in various locations around campus. The thinking behind this was to offer hubs in each school wherein advising and tutoring were available for students belonging to each school; the campus also had a one-stop academic advising center for undeclared students. Our writing center, the Writing Resource Center (WRC) remained in the same location. During this time, I was a first year graduate student working in the writing center as lead tutor.
As the grant ran out, administration, staff, and faculty started exploring ways to keep the academic support funded, and they decided to assess a student fee to fund the academic support including some support to advising centers. On our campus, all proposals for new student fees must go through a fee committee made up of students. The proposal for the student fee (a portion of the fee funds the writing center and another portion funds the content-driven disciplines) was put forward and approved by the committee and then the president. The fee is assessed quarterly and is used to fund the writing center and other campus tutoring centers. As with any campus, we always aim to engage students through outreach efforts about the resources available to them and the benefits of individualized and group tutoring. During class visits, we are transparent with students about what resources are available to them (academic and non-academic) through their student fees and encourage them to utilize the writing and tutoring centers. I am interested to see how this funding model will hold as we increase our presence and usage on campus.
While he earned a PhD in English Literature with a thesis on a British postmodern novelist, his first job entailed ‘further education’ for him – from running literature courses at an English department to promoting engineering communication education at college level in Sweden for three and five year engineering programs. This work naturally came to involve some initial thinking and researching on process writing and genre pedagogy so that it became his first entry gate to writing development and writing studies His background in literary studies offered several entry points to textual analysis with a much higher resolution as well as the first few steps into understanding genre and its conventions. Another important component in that program was that the strong / dominant proficiency focus in some ESL and SLA contexts in Sweden was balanced with a communicative approach to language acquisition. This focus on writing studies was a response to a perceived complete lack of writing pedagogy at the college level and led to the development of a local approach to these issues. Now he directs at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Division of Language and Communication in the Department of Applied IT, which also includes the Chalmers Writing Centre. In his position he continuously tries to work to integrate disciplinary language and communication into the university’s many programs and levels.
On my institutional website, I describe my work as “supporting division colleagues in course design and networking with course and program managers across the university.” But not all our activities are integrated courses and interventions of course. In my own teaching, I often facilitate PhD level writing courses to increase PhD researchers’ disciplinary discourse awareness to enable their careers as authors. I am also involved in some of our elective courses at the graduate and undergraduate level as well as our faculty training courses. One of my favorites is ‘Fiction for Engineers’ which is a general education course with a focus on the power of fiction to emphasise the changing perspectives required to take on the challenge of relating technology or engineering to the society and people for whom it is intended.
To understand the role and function of the Division better, a few words might be called for about Chalmers University of Technology which offers bachelor level programs in engineering, management, maritime studies, and architecture. The various BSc programs open into 44 different but related 2-year master level programs. In terms of writing ‘programs’, this setup tends to take the form of starting with basic technical reporting and lab reporting in Swedish in the first year; continues with more specific writing in the second year or at least with a different genre or audience for the writing (some programs turn to English in the second year too). Most of the bachelor programs collaborate with the division throughout the first three years in integrated modules or adopt an adjunct model where a ‘content’ course runs hand-in-hand with a ‘communication’ course. What all the programs have in common is the BSc thesis in the third year. By the dean’s decision this thesis is to be written in Swedish but some 20% are in English for various reasons.
Given this type of context, we work with program managers and / or course managers to isolate the courses where scaffolding writing would be most effective for the program. We end up co-designing writing assignments and structuring these and collaborate in criteria and rubrics design as well as feedback and assessment. Most of the time, however, we do not assess final versions but focus on the process and make sure peer response elements function well.
What does writing look like at your institution? What support do writers and faculty teaching writing receive there?
The “bachelor thesis” offers our single largest writing intervention, where projects are advertised by supervisors and students sign up in an election module. Group sizes vary from 3-6 for projects and tend to involve cross-program connections. Often students from 3 different programs and disciplines participate on a project because that set of competencies is called for as it were. All groups are offered a 5-lectures series from us and participate in a set of 2 or 3 compulsory tutorials for writing support. The lectures address the stages of the writing process, from pre-writing via structure and style to argumentation and critiques.
But the lectures are only meaningful in combination with tutorials. Typically, some 850 students in approximately 220 groups book 2-3 tutorial sessions each with the division. Generally, tutorials include one focused on peer-response on early drafts or planning reports; a second one focused only on one group and where texts are more complete including results reporting and discussion sections; the third tutorial is geared towards critiquing another group’s report in the closing presentation sessions in May. Needless to say, groups can also book additional sessions with the writing center.
Today’s post comes courtesy of Deniz Saydam and Cahide Çavuşoğlu, who share the story of their graduate writing center in Ankara, Turkey, and state that “teaching is a low paid job in Turkey and yet many teachers choose to be in teaching for the outcome, not the income. As the Turkish culture values all forms of sacrifice made for children and students, and thus, the development and future of the country, our instructors’ attitude to volunteer tutoring may be different.” I’m glad they’re willing to share their story, below, and continue to think about the cultural dynamics and logistical challenges that shape the invaluable work they do.
Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey is a prestigious university counting 3 campuses (the main campus being Ankara) and 29.000 students, about 8.000 of which are graduate students. The Academic Writing Center of METU was established under the School of Foreign Languages (SFL) in 2001 and has since then served as a graduate writing center for Masters and PhD students as well as faculty and research assistants. It is located in the Central Engineering Building, a central point from where it serves the whole Ankara campus. The space consists of two coordinator offices, a meeting room, a cubicle room, a computer assistant room, and a utility room.
The center has two coordinators, one from the Department of Basic English (200 instructors of English), where undergraduate and some graduate students are enrolled in a year-long intensive English preparatory program, and the Department of Modern English (85 instructors), which offers the post preparatory freshman and sophomore academic English courses as well as other languages in the undergraduate programs.
Today, we coordinate the writing center, but we started off as two of the first tutors 15 years ago when the center first opened its doors. We both volunteered to work 2-3 hours a week and since then we have continued to volunteer to be on the team. Now as coordinators, we are responsible for managing the center under the Assistant Director and Director of the SFL. We have no secretary, so we answer phones ourselves, give information, make appointments, prepare supplementary materials, manage the AWC library, organize writing retreats, conduct short seminars on departments’ request, prepare activity reports, conduct periodic assessments, and promote the center within the university. We have a reduced teaching load of 4 hours in our department but are full-time in the writing center and receive the regular instructors pay who teach their weekly load of 12, 15, 20 or 25 hours in their department, depending on the level they teach. The regular course load is 12 hours, and instructors receive the equivalent of about 3$ for every hour they teach beyond 12 hours.
Editor’s note: I met Dr. Geoffrey Middlebrook at IWCA this year and loved hearing about the redesign of his center. I asked him to share a bit about how they partnered with various departments around campus to create a student art gallery in their space!
We who work in or with writing centers know that one of the many enduring challenges is space, or in the words of Nathalie Singh-Corcoran and Amin Emika, “where a center should be located, what a center should look like, what a center should feel like.” Another and related challenge for writing centers is establishing prominence on campus, which can be cultivated through, among other things, intra-institutional relationships (the collection Before and After the Tutorial contains a broad discussion of this topic).
In October 2015 I examined the intersection of these spatial and statural concerns at the IWCA Annual Conference in Pittsburgh, with a presentation on a project at the University of Southern California (USC), where I am Director of the Writing Center. It was fortuitous that the IWCA call for proposals highlighted how writing centers might utilize visual arts, allow students to create and connect, and join in partnerships and campus-wide initiatives and activities, for the USC project aggregated all three.
Editor’s note: It was my pleasure to meet Clint Gardner in person at IWCA this year and hear more about PeerCentered. The Director of the Salt Lake Community College Student Writing Center, he currently serves as Archivist for the Two-year College Association (TYCA) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). On his website, Clint shares that “having worked in writing centers for over two decades, I have learned a great deal about writing center theory and practice, one-to-one instruction, peer tutoring, the role of writing centers at two-year colleges, as well as the uses of computers in composition classrooms and in the writing center. My role as Student Writing Center Director at Salt Lake Community College allows me to teach writing to students from diverse backgrounds, as well as to teach tutors how to respond more effectively to their peers. ” Below, Clint shares more about the past, present, and future of the PeerCentered community!
PeerCentered started out in 1998 as an online text chat for peer tutors. The concept was simple: allow an online space for peer tutors to continue the kinds of discussions that they were having at conferences such as the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing and other more regionally-based writing center conferences such as the Rocky Mountain Peer Tutoring Conference. Initially, the discussions were held weekly, and had a fair number of peer tutor and writing center professional attendees from various institutions around the United States, but we did have one writing center professional join in from Europe on occasion. Time zones do interfere with such live discussions. In the early days, peer tutors did outnumber professionals by a considerable amount—something that would change over time. The live chats were initially held weekly—then monthly—and then finally just a few times a year, mostly due to the difficulty in sticking to such a schedule by the main organizer—me! I fear I realized far too late that I could have turned over the organization and the moderation of the live chats to peer tutors themselves.
After playing around with asynchronous discussion forums which never really took off, I decided to add a blog to PeerCentered as a means of having peer tutors share their experiences in that media with others from around the world. The blog has been moderately successful, given that there have been over 750 postings, and more than 1,100 comments in its 14 year history. PeerCentered averages over 5,000 page views per month, during the typical school year. Contributors have written on a variety of topics ranging from practical tutoring techniques, to more theoretical discussions of how peer tutoring works, language acquisition, or the student’s right to his or her own language, for example.
Marna Broekhoff is a new director at a university in southern Chile. In her words, it’s been a “slow struggle” to get the center up and running. We asked her if she’d be willing to share some of her success and challenges—and to give the rest of the writing center community the chance to offer her encouragement and advice in the comments below!
Professors feel great pressure to publish, especially in English (so they want/need WC services)
English Pedagogy students are eager to improve their writing skills and writing teaching skills
I love consulting about writing without the overlayer of a grade! I am consulting with both professors and students–maybe 25 so far.
Space (always a premium) was provided on my arrival at the back of the library
An instructor from this university, who recently completed his Ph.D. in Spanish literature the US and worked 4 years at a Spanish WC there has just been hired to take my place when I leave in late November. This is huge!
I have finally been given permission to present workshops (TOEFL, writing for publication, etc.). I have now given two. Attendance has been quite good so far.
We came through the earthquake just fine, though we were shaken out of our bed (we were in Santiago that week).
I have networked very positively with WC people in Santiago (2), and people in Bogota, where I am giving a presentation by Skype for their conference in October.
In Cortney Barko and Melissa Sartore’s recent blog post, “How to Start and Run a Writing Center With No Budget, or How We Did the Impossible!”, the answer to their titular quandary is simple: they find a volunteer staff.
I was alarmed to see the authors apply the same arguments used to justify “unpaid internships”—a line on a resume, valuable work training—to writing center work. To put the problem bluntly: using a volunteer-only staff ensures that only students who can afford to work for free can be hired. Having worked and gone to college in New York City, I’m familiar with the many industries that take advantage of the large pool of college students willing to trade time for experience. This system reproduces the socio-economic and cultural homogeneity of these industries: you can only work in publishing, art, and many nonprofits if you can afford to work for free for a few years. I know that Montgomery, WV is not NYC—but I would be willing to hazard that there are many students at WVU Tech who cannot truly afford to work for free, either.
Editor’s note: This semester, I asked my senior undergraduate consultants to share their best advice with the rest of the tutoring team. I love what they shared–and was delighted to get some tips-and-tricks from some other centers.
Vanessa Nakoski, Montgomery College – Rockville
Kill the Magic of Editing: While it’s tempting to show off to a student and produce the answers out of thin air, it’s more effective to dispel the mystery. Explain to the students what you’re doing as you’re doing it to model how they might replicate the process.
Instead of simply saying, “I won’t proofread for you,” tell the student “Let me show you how I look at your work to find errors so that you can learn to see your work the way I do.”
Etiquette & Organization: Students usually have a pretty clear idea about what they believe or think, but they get stumped trying to put it on the page. Ask them to state their thesis and then “Convince me out loud!” Students are so polite (and aware of time constraints) that they won’t waste your time rambling. They will get to their main points and put them in order right away. Write down what they say, then show them. Chances are, they’ve just written all their own topic sentences! When they go home, they can repeat the experience by speaking into a voice recorder on their phone.
Rewrite the Prompt: All too often, students write great papers that fail to meet an assignment’s objectives. Go back to the original prompt, and ask the student to rewrite the directions as a To-Do list in their own words. Then work with the student to see what they’ve missed or overemphasized. They can use that list to check their draft like a scavenger hunt.
Editor’s note: today’s story comes from Cortney Barko and Melissa Sartore, professors at WVU Tech. Their journey bringing a writing center to campus–only to find the process harder than they first anticipated–is a fascinating one!
We work at West Virginia University Institute of Technology (WVU Tech) in Montgomery, WV. WVU Tech was founded in 1895, and it is now part of West Virginia University—a land grant institution that serves southern West Virginia. Our enrollment currently hovers around 1,200 students. There are 40+ academic programs; however, WVU Tech is well known for its engineering program, and many students come here to major in engineering.
When we began our tenure-track jobs at WVU Tech in 2011, we found a Writing Center in dire straits. As instructors of History (Sartore) and English (Cronberg Barko), we both knew that a Writing Center was an important resource for students in our disciplines. Very few students were actually using the Writing Center, and the existing tutors were being put through a never-ending tedious training process that ultimately drove them away. By the end of our Spring 2012 semester, our Writing Center was down to one poorly paid tutor who would not be returning in the fall, and hardly any students were coming for tutoring. As a result, we were told that there would be no funding for the Writing Center in the Fall 2012 semester. Essentially, the Writing Center had come to an end.
Editor’s note: Ben Rafoth is the featured reviewer in our inaugural issue of the new format of WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship.
A leading scholar and author in the field, Ben has been a writing center director since 1988 and shares that “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had great teachers and awesome students, and the hundreds of tutors I’ve been fortunate to work with in my writing center at IUP have made all the difference.”
He teaches graduate courses in the Composition and TESOL program at IUP, and has served as its director. In 2010, Ben was named IUP’s Distinguished University Professor, a lifetime title and the highest award for faculty at IUP.
The keynote speaker at this year’s International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) Conference in Pittsburgh, Ben was gracious enough to share a few thoughts on his review of Talk About Writing, his upcoming presentation at IWCA, and the general state of the field.
On Talk About Writing and the art of conversation:
Conversation has always fascinated me. It’s so primal and simple but also spontaneous, intimate, complex, adaptable, universal, idiosyncratic, creative, and I could just go on and on here. Conversation as a topic of study has often been overlooked, and so when people like Schegloff, Goffman, Tannen, and others came along in the last century and devoted their careers to the study of conversation, it was very eye-opening, to me at least. In one of Deborah Tannen’s books, she writes about the conversation at her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. It’s full of mundane back-and-forth and yet totally fascinating. I like to listen to conversations in restaurants and places where eavesdropping doesn’t get you slapped in the face.
So what Mackiewicz and Thompson have done is bring the disciplined study of conversation to writing center studies. There have been others, but their work lays out the research in a way that invites others to do their own studies, building on previous research. That’s an important contribution – I mean, to write in a way that breaks new ground. I think these authors have done that.