Webinar Invitation: Transitioning Your Writing Center Online

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Editor’s Note: We are sharing this message from Dr. Lisa Cahill of Arizona State University. Please consider attending this webinar. We would also like to thank Dr. Cahill and the Arizona State University Writing Center for hosting this free webinar. 

Greetings!

As many of us have recently moved our writing center operations to online formats (or are currently in the process of doing so), I’m writing to share information about a free webinar being offered on two different dates:  Sunday, March 22 (2-3 pm, Arizona time) and Monday, March 23 (12-1 pm, Arizona time) by Arizona State University.

Webinar Description:

The Arizona State University Writing Center is hosting a free webinar to share how it has operationalized the transition to a fully digital delivery model. Continue reading

How’re you doing?

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CWCAB friends,

We are in uncertain times.  Some of us are having to move our centers completely online for the first time while others of us might have to close for a while.

Come what may, we are a strong, helpful, and encouraging community.  Let’s come together and support each other.

In the Comments box below, let us know how your center is adapting to the present situation? Have you had to move your tutoring completely online? If so, what platforms are you using? How are you working out schedules, tech issues etc? What questions do you have as you adapt?

Are there any tips you have found helpful and could share with the rest of our community?

Please post your comments below or write to us at writinglabnewsletterblog@gmail.com and we will gladly share your thoughts here.

But before we go, here’s a little something out of Italy to cheer us all up and remind us of the power of creativity in resilience!

Writing Center Spotlight: The Haigazian University Writing Center (Lebanon)

Editor’s note: We’re spotlighting writing centers around the world! This week, Anita Moutchoyan shared about the Haigazian University Writing Center in Lebanon which she directs. You can learn more about the center by visiting its Instagram page: HU-Writing Center or its Facebook page: Writing Center – Haigazian University. 

Poetry Workshop at Haigazian University Writing Center

The Haigazian University Writing Center is affiliated with Haigazian University which was established as a liberal arts institution in 1955 in Beirut, Lebanon. The university is inspired by the Armenian Evangelical heritage and operates on the United States model of higher education, using English as the language of instruction while offering courses in Arabic and Armenian. The university offers the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, and Master of Business Administration degrees.

Continue reading

Announcement: TESOL Arabia Conference & Exhibition Postponed

 

The TESOL Arabia Conference and Exhibition LLC has been postponed. See the message below from the Middle East and North Africa Writing Center Association.

 

Dear All,
In light of recent developments regarding travel restrictions around the world and in the Gulf region due the Covid-19 Corona virus, TESOL Arabia Conference and Exhibitions, LLC, regrets the postponement of the 25th International TESOL Arabia Conference and Exhibition until September  25-27, 2020, at The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grant Canal.

For information regarding reimbursement of conference fees if you are unable to attend the event in September, please contact info@tesol-arabia.org We are very sorry for any inconvenience and deeply regret the postponement of the conference.

Do you have any changes to your conference on account of Covid-19? Feel free to share here.

Registration is now open for the IWCA Summer Institute in Santa Fe, NM

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Registration is now open for the IWCA Summer Institute! The 2020 IWCA Summer Institute will be held in Santa Fe, New Mexico from Sunday, June 14th through Friday, June 19th.

To register, log in to the IWCAmembers.org portal, or if you have never created an account, create a new account and then register. Registration is $900. The deadline to register is April 1st, 2020. 

Limited grants (up to ½ the registration cost) are available to help support attendees. At least one grant is reserved for a person of color/member of a historically marginalized group. Please apply by March 15th, 2020 to be considered for a grant.

Find out more about the Institute by clicking on this link.

CFP | Deadline extended for EWCA 2020 conference proposals

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Universität, Gebäude, Wiese, Bäume, Campusleben

Dear EWCA members, dear friends of writing, writing centres and writing pedagogy,

We wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year 2020! We are looking very much forward to the EWCA Conference this summer and we would kindly like to remind you that the deadline for submissions is approaching (January 6, 2020). For all those who come back from their winter holydays only next week there will be an extended deadline till February 3, 2020. Continue reading

Welcome to 2020! A Message from Your CWCAB Editors

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Anna Habib, Editor, CWCAB, WLN Blog

Esther Namubiru, Associate Editor, CWCAB, WLN Blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year to our writing center friends and colleagues around the world!

As we enter the new year and a new semester, we wanted to take this opportunity to formally introduce ourselves as the new editors of Connecting Writing Centers across Borders, a blog of the Writing Lab Newsletter: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship. As many of you know from the announcement on the wcenter listserv last Fall, Brian Hotson stepped down as the Editor in the beginning of the Fall semester to work on a book project and launch a digital writing project journal. I served as his Associate Editor for a semester and was honored that he asked me to step in as the Editor. I have since invited Esther Namubiru to join me as Associate Editor.  Continue reading

CFP || Join the Twelfth Symposium on Writing Centers in Asia

Osaka University, Suita Campus – the venue for the 12th Symposium on Writing Centers in Asia.

The Writing Centers Association of Japan is now accepting proposals for its twelfth Symposium on Writing Centers in Asia. The theme for this year’s symposium is “Opportunities and Challenges for Writing and Writing Centers.” This symposium addresses “the role of writing centers in Asian educational institutions as well as the researching, teaching, and learning of writing.”

The Plenary Speaker will be Judy Noguchi (Kobe Gakuin University) presenting “Thoughts on Professional Writing for Mid 21st Century: ESL, DDL, and STEAM”. For more information, please visit “Writing Center Associations of Japan” or click here to download the symposium flyer.

To submit a proposal, click here. To register for the symposium, click here.

Deadline for submitting proposals: January 10, 2010

Symposium date: Sunday February 23, 2020 at Osaka University.

 

WLN Workshop: Webinar #4 || “Writing a Tutor’s Column: From Submitting to Revising.”

WLN is proud to present our fourth webinar:  “Writing a Tutor’s Column: From Submitting to Revising.”  This webinar, covering WLN expectations for Tutor’s Column submissions, and how to research, structure, and revise an article, will be held on:

Friday, October 25, 2019, 1:00pm to 2:00pm P.S.T.
To register, click here

Hosted by WLN Associate Editors Elizabeth Kleinfeld, Sohui Lee, and Julie Prebel, the webinar welcomes directors and tutors to join the presentation and a lively question and answer session. There is no charge to sign up for the webinar, but registration is required.  Participants can register up to the day/time of the workshop. Continue reading

Multimodal and Multimedia Projects in the Writing Center by Douglas Eyman

Douglas Eyman is Director of the PhD in Writing and Rhetoric, the MA concentration in Professional Writing and Rhetoric (PWR), and the undergraduate Professional Writing Minor at George Mason University.  He teaches courses in digital rhetoric, technical and scientific communication, editing, web authoring, advanced composition, and professional writing. His current research interests include investigations of digital literacy acquisition and development, new media scholarship, electronic publication, information design/information architecture, teaching in digital environments, and video games as sites of composition. Eyman is the senior editor and publisher of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, an online journal that has been publishing peer-reviewed scholarship on computers and writing since 1996. 

Anna S. Habib, Associate Editor, CWCAC

In this post, I hope to provide some concrete advice for working with multimedia and multimodal projects in the writing center, but I should start by noting that my advice (and even my definition of “writing”) comes from my work as editor of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy and from my research interests in digital rhetoric – I’m not a scholar or practitioner of Writing Center pedagogies, but I am an ally and supporter of  the great work that Writing Centers accomplish. I’ll start with some history and some context; feel free to skip down to the “Advice and Preparation” section to get straight to the practical bits. Continue reading

WLN workshop: Webinar #3 || Finding Ideas for Scholarship in Everyday Writing Center Work

Friday, June 28th || 1:00-2:00pm PST

Please register in advance.

In this third WLN webinar in the workshop series, we’ll talk about how to find ideas for research and publication in the everyday happenings of your writing center. We will focus on how to recognize what you can contribute to the scholarly conversation, and how to frame your contribution in ways that fit WLN and are useful to other writing center practitioners. We will encourage interactive discussion at the end of this workshop and will invite your ideas to test our heuristic questions or strategies for preparing ideas for publication.

This webinar will be recorded. Participants can register up to the day/time of the workshop, but registration is required.

Questions? please contact WLN Associate Editors

Elizabeth Kleinfeld: ekleinfe@msu.denver.edu

Sohui Lee: sohui.lee@csuci.edu

Julie Prebel: jprebel@oxy.edu

New Resource for Writing Centers || Writing Lab Newsletter’s Digital Edited Collection

Karen Gabrielle Johnson is an Associate Professor and Director of the Writing Studio at Shippensburg University. Ted Roggenbuck is an Associate Professor and Director of the Writing and Literacy Engagement Studio at Bloomsburg University.

 

WLN Blog: This new WLN resource will be very helpful. What is the progenitor of the project?

Karen: The Digital Edited Collection (DEC) developed over a two-year span in response to our call for proposals for a WLN special issue on tutor education. This project began in the spring of 2016 when I responded to an email sent by Mickey Harris through the WCenter listserv. In her email, Mickey invited colleagues to contact her if they were interested in serving as guest editors for a WLN special issue. I conversed electronically with Mickey about the logistics of serving as a guest editor for a special issue on tutor education, noting Mickey’s prediction that this topic might generate a great number of responses that could possibly result in a monograph.

Excited about a tutor education special issue and a possible follow-up project, I contacted Ted Roggenbuck to join me. Ted and I had previously collaborated on several projects, conference presentations, and joint tutor education seminars, so I was hoping he’d agree to join me on this particular project. I’m so glad he did. My natural inclination leans toward collaborative professional projects rather than solitary ventures, and Ted’s energy, fresh perspectives, and organizational skills made the work enjoyable and invigorating.

Writing Lab Newsletter co-editors, Karen and Tod

 

Mickey was correct; we received an overwhelming number of viable proposals for special issue articles, making the selections for one special issue incredibly difficult. We began to consider two special issues and entertained the idea of a monograph. Yet, when we began to research the possibility of publishing a WLN monograph that laid the groundwork for future monographs to follow, we encountered a number of challenges that included high printing costs and complications in disseminating the monograph. These roadblocks seemed to impede sharing of the exceptional scholarship we found in the proposals we received. But because we believed the authors had such good research, praxis, and resources to share, we felt compelled to identify alternative forms of publication. Through many conversations, informed by our belief that scholarship should be free and available to the public, we decided to pursue an open-access publication that is digitally available and could take advantage of digital affordances. After identifying how such a collection of research could be published, we contacted Richard Hay who graciously offered to support us as we worked to create an online, multimodal publication that offered numerous possibilities for engaging readers, sharing resources, and incorporating visual and audible elements on the WLN website. As we worked with authors, we collectively imagined how to transform largely text-based chapters into multimodal ones. During this process when we realized our technical skills were not sufficient to match our idealized vision for a multimodal publication, we contacted Crystal Conzo, who agreed to become the Design Editor and make our ideas become reality. Continue reading

Building international partnerships opportunities || IWCA International Partnership Initiative Committee

Dear Colleagues,

The International Writing Centers Association invites you to register for an international partner! At this point, and as a first step, we (The IWCA International Partnership Initiative Committee) want to partner writing centers in the United States with international writing centers as part of IWCA’s attempt to build international partnerships.

The partnerships can take various forms depending on each other’s needs and capabilities, including but not limited to mentorship, hosting visiting scholars from the partner center, and explore collaborative research opportunities, etc. In addition, writing centers outside U.S. work in contexts very different from ours; through the potential partnerships, we can learn a lot from them about their writing center practice and their innovative approaches to gaining/promoting buy-in in their institutions. Therefore, we anticipate the partnerships to be mutually beneficial!

So, if you’re interested in getting involved in this initiative, please register through this Interest Form: https://forms.gle/xY6BVswsd65bUtUk7

Thank you,
IWCA International Partnership Initiative Committee
Joseph Cheatle
Georganne Nordstrom
Lingshan Song

CfP || Writing Programs in the Former Soviet Union

Ashley Squires is Director, Writing and Communication Center, New Economic School, Moscow.

 

When I arrived in Moscow in 2013 to begin my job as Associate Director of the Writing and Communication Center at the New Economic School, it was with a sense of purpose and adventure. I felt that the work I was doing—teaching communication and critical thinking skills to Russian students—would be challenging and urgent. But I could not have guessed that my time here would overlap with the emergence of writing and writing pedagogy as a genuine academic discipline in a place where it hadn’t previously existed.

The WCC at NES is usually considered to be the first American-style writing center in the Russian Federation. Founded in 2011, it coincided with the creation of an American-style liberal arts program at the New Economic School and the Higher School of Economics. The latter university, which, like NES, was founded in the years immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, began its own writing center in the very same year. Since then, between 14 and 16 writing centers have popped up across the country (the number depends on how we define an “active” writing center). However, the NES WCC remains the only writing center that, in the American mode, primarily serves the needs of students, especially undergraduate students.

Though inspired by American writing centers and Anglophone writing pedagogy, Russian writing programs are taking new forms. Many of them were founded with money distributed as part of Project 5-100 (Проекта 5-100), a state-sponsored effort to raise the international profile of Russian universities by encouraging faculty to publish in international venues. This has created the conditions for writing to emerge as a genuine discipline focused as it is on raising the general level of scientific communication, not only in English but in Russian as well. Interesting new approaches and research projects are emerging in this environment, and parallel efforts are ongoing in Central Asia and other parts of Eastern Europe. But across such a vast territory, scholars need help finding one another, and the West as yet knows little about the work being done here.

In cooperation with the WAC Clearinghouse, I am looking to bring attention to this important work and to increase the possibility of collaboration across borders. We are seeking proposals for contributions to an edited volume that will cover the history and current practice of writing programs throughout the former Soviet Union. This collection seeks to address the following questions:

  • How are teachers, students, researchers and administrators in the region working to further progressive writing pedagogy?
  • What ideas about writing and writing instruction—both new and old, foreign and domestic— inform, assist or complicate this work?
  • How does writing shape knowledge and practice within specific regional cultures, academic or otherwise? How might writing function as a bridge or barrier?
  • How is writing being used as a learning tool, within disciplines, within the university, or at a national or international level?

Possible submissions might include:

  • Studies of past language / educational practices in the region and the impact these practices have on contemporary writing pedagogy.
  • Analyses of institutions (writing centers, language departments, universities) and the forces, both internal and external, with which stakeholders must contend in reforming writing pedagogy.
  • Analyses of the region’s unique cultural, economic and political challenges, and how these challenges affect the teaching of writing.
  • Stories of success (or failure) in attempting to incorporate methods and materials from other countries’ research traditions.
  • Analyses of international collaboration efforts, the challenges faced and knowledges produced.
  • Research studies (either qualitative or quantitative) that test the feasibility of various teaching methods.
  • Stories or studies which understand local experience through broad theoretical concepts (translingualism; World Englishes; genre studies, activity systems and communities of practice; writing to learn and WAC/WID theory; academic literacies, etc.).

The deadline for proposals (200-300 word abstracts) is October 31, but we will continue to look at submissions after that point. Final essays will be due in late Spring of 2019. To submit an abstract or ask a question, contact Ashley Squires at asquires@nes.ru.

 

Internationalization, Massification, and the Knowledge Economy: A Comparison of International Writing Center Trends

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. Continue reading

Transnational Collaborations and Writing Center Development at an English-Medium University in Lebanon

Anna S. Habib has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction (2006) and is near completing her PhD in Writing and Rhetoric from George Mason University. She served in several positions in the Mason Writing Center, from graduate tutor to Acting Director. Currently, she is the Associate Director of Composition, managing the undergraduate composition courses for multilingual students at both the George Mason University home campus and at the branch campus in Songdo, South Korea. She also coordinates and teaches the Graduate Writing across the Disciplines courses for INTO Mason, Mason’s pathway program for graduate and undergraduate international students.

WLN blog: Can you share some of your story?
Habib: I was born in Beirut during the civil war[1] to an American mother and a Lebanese father. At the age of four, when the war began to escalate, my parents, sister, and I fled the country on a small boat with other refugees who had found an illegal way out of the country. We made our way to the island of Cyprus where I grew up in a community of immigrant/refugees from Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, and the former Soviet Union. My father’s family opened a branch of their Lebanese school in Cyprus for this community of displaced students. The school followed the French Lycée curriculum, meaning all subjects were taught in French (a consequence of Lebanon’s post-colonial history), but the curriculum also included Arabic literature and language and English and Greek as required courses. When I turned 15, my family emigrated to the US to live with my mother’s parents. The shift from a tiny Mediterranean island surrounded by my native languages and my community of friends to a North Jersey high school in a wealthy community was extremely jarring.

I managed to find my way through high school, and then moved to Virginia to attend George Mason University as an undergraduate student. The campus felt a lot more comfortable than my high school environment—I was surrounded by other students from the Middle East and North African region and began to form friendships again with peers who also spoke Arabic as their first language or who had had similar international experiences.

View from University of Balamand

WLN blog: What was the role of writing centers in your academic experience in the US?
Habib:
I didn’t encounter the concept of a writing center until my undergraduate studies at Mason. In the Lebanese school/French lycée system, writing was not taught as a process. Students were often required to write decontextualized essays in class or at home that demonstrated their mastery of literary/philosophical concepts without any feedback or conversations on drafts. During my undergraduate studies at Mason, I visited the writing center once, but couldn’t appreciate the possibilities of the peer-feedback approach yet. It wasn’t until I was hired as a graduate research assistant for Terry Myers Zawacki and Chris Thaiss’ book, Engaged Writers, Dynamic Disciplines (2006), that I learned about the work of writing centers. I sat in the back hallway of the writing center and transcribed dozens of Terry’s and Chris’ interviews with faculty across the curriculum describing their own experiences as writers, and how those experiences informed their writing pedagogy. As I typed and typed for hours, I watched students and tutors interact in thoughtful conversations about writing projects. Through listening to faculty perspectives and observing tutors and students in action, I began to understand pretty clearly that the role of writing in the US academy was significantly different than its role in non-US academic contexts like the one I grew up in. Continue reading

A Year and a Half Later: A Humble Reflection || St. Cloud State University’s Writing Center Administration Certificate Program

This post is a followup from Carol’s piece, Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program, from February 2017, with reflections on the program from students. Carol Mohrbacher is a Professor of English and former Writing Center Director.

 

Carol Mohrbacher

In spring 2017, St. Cloud State University’s Writing Center Administration certificate program offered its first two courses, “Writing Center Theory and Practice” and “Issues in Writing Center Administration.” Students became bonded early on. Friendships and collaborations for research projects and conference presentations grew during that semester and continued into summer term with the final two classes, “Staffing and Training” and “Case Studies in Writing Center Administration.” Because the program is delivered entirely online, I was surprised at the strength of the community, which was much more than I’d hoped for during the 2 ½ years it took me to slog through the morass of bureaucratic speed bumps on the way to program approval. As I said in the earlier article/interview, I’d had to secure approvals from 14 different individuals and committees along the way. This was an intense, real-world lesson in discovering audience expectations, a topic we discuss throughout the WCA program in all of the courses.

The most significant challenge in designing the WCA program has been providing sources, instruction, and assignments that allow students to personalize a learning experience most beneficial to each one of them. Last year’s students represented a range of experience from zero to nine years in WC administration. Some were new MA students; some were PhD students; some were professionals in the field. They represented public and private institutions at the high school, 2-year, and 4-year college levels. One student had developed an independent writing center and had tax-exempt status and a board of directors in place. One, a high school teacher, had never worked in a writing center before and knew just a little about them, but hoped to help build one at her school. This year, there are more graduate students and fewer professionals; however, we have, for the first time, an administrator from a private high school boys’ preparatory school and also an assistant director from a writing center in China. Caswell, McKinney, and Jackson note the development and variety of non-standard writing centers in their book, The Working Lives of New Writing Center Directors, a longitudinal study of nine new writing center directors.

That our participants include writing center directors in a charter school and in a European boarding school is emblematic of the times. Writing centers have been sprouting up in secondary schools and in non-US settings at a growing rate. As this happens, we think we’ll see that more alternatives to the US university model will emerge as different though effective, ways to do writing center work. (199)       

To reflect this diversity in the WCA certificate program, course materials cover a variety of common contexts and issues pertaining to writing center administration, like navigating institutional relationships, researching the writing center, creating assessment activities and reports, grant writing, hiring, training, and other shorter units. Assignments are flexible enough so students can create individualized documents that might be included in an application portfolio or provide a model for their home institution or for the type of writing center setting they are most interested in.

Now that I am in my 2nd year, I view at the program with a perspective emerging out of a year and a half’s experience. I’ve learned that cohorts differ from year to year. The first year’s class was energetic and immediately collaborative; this year’s cohort is quieter and less bonded than the first—but they are similar in their creative energy and commitment to writing center administration studies. Continue reading

“Writing-Center Researcher Says Views Were Mischaracterized” || Lori Salem’s response to CHE’s “What’s Wrong With Writing Centers”

Below is Lori Salem’s response to her interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education in What’s Wrong With Writing Centers.

The letter below was originally published in the Chronicle of Higher Education on February 9, 2018. It is presented here unedited and with Salem’s permission.

Lori Salem is the Assistant Vice Provost and director of the Student Success Center and Writing Center at Temple University in Philadelphia.

 

To the Editor:

I am the scholar who was profiled in a Chronicle interview that was given the title, “What’s Wrong With Writing Centers” (The Chronicle, February 5).

While I am grateful to The Chronicle for showcasing my article, I must object to how the interview was framed and edited. I am described as “something of a heretic” in the field for advocating that writing centers adopt new pedagogies, and that description is used to set up a me-against-the-field narrative.

This characterization is simply false. What makes my work new is its quantitative methodology, not my arguments about pedagogy. This is from the conclusion to my article: “I am not the first writing center researcher to observe problems with orthodox writing center pedagogies, nor the first to call for changes. My goal here is to add my voice to that growing chorus, as well as to provide some empirical backing for the argument.”

Moreover, my colleagues have embraced my research — they gave it an award, for heaven’s sake! — and they don’t deserve the implicit slam that came along with the article.

I hope that readers of this interview will be able to see past these mischaracterizations to a more balanced view of writing-center work. In my view, our field does powerful work, and we could still do better. We have come a long way, and we can still go further. The best way to understand my research is as a contribution to a field that is engaged in healthy debate.

To be clear, I don’t believe that there is anything fundamentally “wrong” with writing centers.

Lori Salem
Assistant Vice Provost
Director, Student Success Center and Writing Center
Temple University
Philadelphia

Why good academic writers perform poorly in the workplace: Teaching for transfer across contexts of writing (Part 2 of 2)

This post is the second of two posts on transference and academic writing from the 10th Anniversary Symposium on Writing, held at the Regional Writing Centre, University Limerick, Ireland in June 2017.

Lawrence Cleary is an Educational Developer and Co-Director, Regional Writing Centre at the University Limerick, Ireland

(post one)

Many questioned how this year’s 10th Anniversary Symposium on Writing, Why good academic writers perform poorly in the workplace: Teaching for transfer across contexts of writing, differed from our 2012 symposium. The simple answer is that the second symposium was asking whether it was our job to prepare students for workplace writing, even though no strong arguments were made challenging the notion. It was largely assumed that we should prepare students for the writing that they would do in their professional fields. Our 10th Anniversary Symposium on Writing, on the other hand, was asking if it was even possible to prepare students situated in an academic context for the writing they would do in a completely different context, the workplace.

My scepticism resulted from an interest in Rhetorical Genre Studies and, in particular, the implications of Activity Theory[1] that commenced in earnest after attending Genre 2012 conference in Ottawa. If “genres are part of how individuals participate in complex relations with one another in order to get things done, and how newcomers learn to construct themselves and participate effectively within activity systems”, then “how [can we] teach genres in ways that honor their complexity and their status as more than just typified rhetorical features”?[2] How could workplace activities that are mediated through language be replicated in academic contexts if the goal of the replication did not match the goal of the activity it was about to replicate? As Dias et al.[3] so aptly put it, the contexts are worlds apart. The conditions that motivate the occasion, the features of the rhetorical situation, the nature of the process, the role of author, the rules and the conventions…are all likely to be starkly different. This symposium would contest the notion that writing well in an academic context necessarily prepares graduates for the writing they will do in workplace contexts, a topic skirted around in our last symposium.

Too often, in the literature[4],[5],[6] and in my conversations with employers in many of the transferable skills seminars that I attended in the years since the last symposium, employers have maintained that graduates do not assess the new writing situation, but remain reliant on the values, purposes, conventions and forms, etc., of academic writing.  Graduates’ sense of authorship, audience and purpose, industry representatives have told me, are often completely off the mark of what the corporate context requires. With this in mind, I wanted our symposium to initiate a conversation between representatives from industry and academics about how graduates perform in workplace writing situations, the baggage that they bring along from academic writing contexts, and the process they go through in learning to write for this new workplace context. Because of my own strong belief that the role of ‘situation’ in writing pedagogy is undervalued and, therefore, ineffectively covered or considered in conversations on writing, I wanted both academics and business communication managers to explore the limits of replicating workplace writing situations in academic contexts and to discuss ways in which third-level educational institutions could better prepare third-level graduates for future workplace writing situations.

The symposium was held on June 1st, as the Irish Network for the Enhancement of Writing (INEW) were bringing in Kathleen Blake Yancey, Kellogg Hunt Professor of English and Distinguished Research Professor at Florida State University (FSU), earlier in the week to talk about the role of reflection in peer review as a tool for learning and writing transfer, and the two co-Chairs, Íde O’Sullivan (UL) and Alison Farrell (NUI Maynooth) graciously asked Kathy if she would mind presenting at our symposium while she was in town. Kathy, generously, agreed to speak to our audience about things that they should consider when framing their conversations on writing and transfer and teaching writing transfer. I thought that some writing developers in Ireland might have some sense of how people in Rhetoric and Composition Studies talk about the writing, or rhetorical, situation and about metacognitive awareness about one’s own process and practices, but those concepts might be somewhat new to many here who teach writing either in the discipline or as ancillary support. Kathy[7] described, for our audience, the components of the Teaching for Transfer (TFT) curriculum that she facilitates in FSU and how each of those components worked with each other in the teaching and learning dynamic. She also identified and defended what she believes to be the conditions necessary for transfer to occur.

By the time that I spoke to Kathy, Anthony Paré was already on board. Anthony agreed to talk a bit about the historical theoretical evolution in our approach to teaching writing at third level and to emphasise the role of context in transitioning from one writing situation to another. Anthony, in his talk, elaborated on the seemingly endless functions that text can perform and emphasised how a shift in context can impact on the form that ‘text’ takes in order to mean and function. Anthony advocated for an increase in the number and variety of rhetorical challenges faced by students, replication of situations and processes that are specific to actual

Anthony Paré, Professor and Head of Language and Literacy Education Department, University of British Columbia, speaking at the Regional Writing Centre’s 10th Anniversary Symposium on Writing, June 1st, 2017, University of Limerick, Ireland.

situations they may face later in their academic careers or in the workplace or in life in general, opportunities for addressing a variety of audiences, chain or series assignments and an increase in the modes by which knowledge is communicated, arguments made. Anthony also brought to the table discussions about the role of industry, their responsibility for easing the transition for incoming graduate employees.

Much more difficult was it to find representatives from industry, and even more so finding third-level writing and/or subject specialists willing to present on their own attempts to facilitate writing transfer across contexts. Originally, I had approximately six or seven people that wrote to me to say that they would like to present on a curriculum designed to assist students in their transition to workplace writing. I envisaged a one-hour breakout of seven or eight twenty-minute presentations on pedagogical practices, but only two people responded to the call for abstracts; one of those two, sadly, had to bow out for personal reasons. Susan Norton, DIT School of Languages, Law & Social Sciences was our lone practitioner. Sue took the stage to deliver a thirty-minute talk about how Reader Response Theory helps developing writers to become more aware of the conventions of the texts that they and their audiences read so that they are more astute about how their audience makes meaning.

I had more success attracting representatives from industry, though the process was somewhat stressful. Maria-Jose Gonzalez, coordinator of Dublin Institute of Technology’s recently formed Academic Writing Centre, tipped me toward Tony Donohoe, Head of Education and Social Policy for the Irish Business and Employer Confederation (Ibec). She had heard Tony speak in the past and found him very supportive of initiatives like our symposium. It was Tony who found Barry McLoughlin, Senior Training Consultant for The Communication Clinic in Dublin. Though The Communication Clinic is usually thought of as one of Ireland’s most visible public relations firms, they also provide industries with consultants like Barry to either train staff to write texts that achieve corporate goals or else consultants write those texts themselves. Our third speaker from industry was much more difficult to come by. I was looking for a corporate-level communications manager, preferably one responsible for external communications. I wanted this person to describe the corporate culture, the kinds of texts that were produced, the process of production, and how the process differed from the writing they had done at university or at the IT.

I researched the top ten indigenous companies, either highest employment numbers or highest revenue turnover. I had originally written to a woman who produced quarterly financial reports for CRH plc, The International Building Materials Group, rated Ireland’s top industry with the highest turnover, but I received no response. I then began searching LinkedIn for Communication Managers. I had written to one person who was a University Limerick graduate working for Twitter, but again received no response. Finally, after making a few other contacts that did not pan out, I came across Edel Clancy, Director of Communication & Corporate Affairs, Musgrave Group, Ireland’s sixth largest employer[8].

Edel is native to Limerick and a graduate of UL, and one of our tutors was a good friend of hers. It couldn’t get better. I had written to her, but again did not receive a response. I was beginning to think I would have to give up on the idea of a having a representative from a large industry who could take our audience through the production of a text, step by step through its complicated, and potentially long, process. Then, Edel wrote back. I gave her the date, and she agreed to speak. She called me a few weeks before the symposium from a train travelling from Cork to Dublin. She was worried about the fifty-minute slot. She thought she would not have enough to talk about. Despite being disconnected several times as the train passed through areas without a signal, we spoke for over an hour about writing and how writing functioned at Musgrave Group. It became clear, even to her, that she’d have no trouble talking about writing for fifty minutes.

Speakers and RWC staff: (from the left) Anthony Paré, Íde O’Sullivan, Kathleen Blake Yancey, Edel Clancy, Lawrence Cleary, Aoife Lenihan, Fiona Farr, UL Dean of Teaching and Learning, Barry McLoughlin and Tony Donohoe (Picture Credit: Brian Gavin Press 22)

The symposium was brilliant. Our audience was not as large as I’d have hoped, but it is already a tricky time of year, only madeworse by the abundance of relevant events that had been scheduled for the preceding two days. By Thursday, June 1st, many people were already tuckered out and not up to the long drives to Limerick from far-flung quarters of Ireland. Nevertheless, people from as far away as the US, the UK and Germany were in attendance. Many people had written to ask if we could video-record the talks. We couldn’t afford a professional outfit to do the job, but we did manage to get hold of a video recorder and a stand. The recordings are available on our website. I hope those who contacted me find value in the recordings. The symposium finished with a panel conversation with the audience. Barry McLoughlin left us with a sense of the importance of writing knowledge to efficacy, asserting that people who feel confident about their writing skills feel more prepared to accept more demanding roles. Edel expressed the hope that the Regional Writing Centre step outside of the university to engage with a wider society, an idea with which the rest of the panel strongly concurred. Kathy and Anthony both advocated for more student engagement with industry through internship and apprenticeship programmes, Anthony speaking a bit more philosophically about the way the academic project views its place in society. Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, UL’s Associate Vice President Academic, was asked to join the panel. Sarah brought the conversation back to the Graduate Attributes spoken of earlier in this piece. Sarah views the attributes as the link between a student’s academic experience and the future that awaits them. If one follows Kathy’s talk, they might consider this link made by Sarah and the link to the future that Kathy tells us is so important as a condition for transfer.

I hope the readers of this report on our symposium and its context will link into our website to view and listen to the conversations that took place on June 1st, at our 10th Anniversary Symposium on Writing. At the RWC, we are preparing now for a new semester, but we are also looking ahead to engaging an increasingly diverse society in the ongoing conversation on writing.

Thank you for reading along.

 

Notes

[1] Russell, D. (1997) “Rethinking Genre in School and Society: An Activity Theory Analysis.” Written Communication 14(4), pp. 504-54.

[2] Barwarshi, A. S. and Reiff, M. J. (2010) Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research, and Pedagogy, West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, p. 104.

[3] Dias, P. et al. (1999/2009) Worlds Apart: Acting and Writing in Academic and Workplace Contexts. New York and London: Routledge, p. 5.

[4] thejournal.ie (2016) ‘Lots of jobs out there for graduates – but employers say they don’t have the communication skills’, http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/graduates-opportunities-employers-ruairi-kavanagh-2861634-Jul2016/

[5] Forbes (2016) ‘These Are The Skills Bosses Say New College Grads Do Not Have’, https://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2016/05/17/these-are-the-skills-bosses-say-new-college-grads-do-not-have/#234e34125491

[6] Ibid, p. 5.

[7]  Visit the RWCUL’s website to see video-recordings of each of the speaker’s talks: http://ulsites.ul.ie/rwc/keynote-speakers

[8] The Irish Times (2017) ‘Top 1000: Results 2017’, https://www.irishtimes.com/top1000

Why good academic writers perform poorly in the workplace: Teaching for transfer across contexts of writing (Part 1 of 2)

This post is the first of two posts on transference and academic writing from the 10th Anniversary Symposium on Writing, held at the Regional Writing Centre, University Limerick, Ireland in June 2017.

Lawrence Cleary is an Educational Developer and Co-Director, Regional Writing Centre at the University Limerick, Ireland

Two thousand and seventeen marks the 10th anniversary of Ireland’s first academic writing centre, originally called the Shannon Consortium Regional Writing Centre, University Limerick. The Shannon Consortium is an alliance between four third-level institutes[1] in the Shannon region: The University of Limerick (UL), Mary Immaculate College (MIC), Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) and the Institute of Technology, Tralee (IT, Tralee)—the only institute outside of not only the city of Limerick, but also outside of County Limerick. The formation of that alliance facilitated the consortium’s acquisition of a variety of Strategic Innovation Funds (SIF) that had been offered by the Irish government from 2006-2008. One of those awards funded the Shannon Consortium Regional Writing Centre for the first two and a half years of its existence, long enough for my colleague, Íde O’Sullivan, and I to establish the centre’s value and appeal for institutional funding to preserve and maintain it. In 2009, the University of Limerick found the contribution of the centre significant enough to warrant allocating an annual budget to keep the resource open. That allocation is managed by the university’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, to whom we now report. However, though we are no longer funded by the Shannon Consortium, we maintained our regional aspirations in our new name, the Regional Writing Centre, UL, and this aspiration is in line with UL’s strategic plan, Broadening Horizons 2015-19.[2]

The Shannon Consortium schools

Previous to the establishment of this first third-level academic writing centre in Ireland, only one other academic writing centre existed on the island: St. Mary’s University College Writing Centre, in Belfast, established in 2002 by two Americans, Jonathan Worley and Matthew Martin. Jonathan and Matthew spoke at our first symposium on writing, Research on Writing Practices: Consequences for the Teaching of Writing and Learner Outcomes, organised by my colleague Íde O’Sullivan in December of 2007, with Ken Hyland as keynote speaker.

In that first symposium, Íde and I presented on our rationale for our choice of response to the university’s writing needs, subsequently published as ‘Responding to the Writing Development Needs of Irish Higher Education Students: A Case Study’ (Cleary, Graham, Jeanneau and O’Sullivan, 2009).[3] Though the bulk of the presentation and ensuing article focused on the results of Íde’s 2005 and 2006 surveys of staff and student attitudes toward writing and their preferences for writing provision, as well as on the informed, systematic approaches available to us for addressing the needs expressed in the surveys, even here we felt we had to first establish for our audience that writing mattered.

When making our case in this first presentation, much of our argument for the importance of writing was focused on the importance of writing for the achievement of the national strategies to which Irish universities responded in their own strategic plans. Ireland at that time was determined to become a knowledge economy. “Knowledge, innovation, creativity and workforce skills are now the key success factors for Ireland’s economic and social prosperity” (Hanafin 2005).[4] Citing the Teachta Dála’s words in her 2008 formal evaluation of our writing centre, Terry Zawacki emphasised this idea that “[t]he importance of writing in the overall higher education mission cannot be overestimated considering the knowledge-economy context in which Ireland now evolves.”[5] Continue reading