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

2017 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 “Why good academic writers perform poorly in the workplace: Teaching for transfer across contexts of writing (Part 1 of 2)”

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

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

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

中文版

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

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

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

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

Throughout the past 10 months, we have accrued concrete records of the Writing Center visits and plan to use these data for further adjustment of scheduling, which parallels the “big data” trend in the Internet environment where information is being densely analyzed for manifold purposes. Through browsing our visit tracking book we can easily see the pattern of student visits: which weeks are the peak visiting periods, which time during the day is mostly preferred, which student groups like to take advantage of this service the most, and which tutors are most frequently booked by the students. Continue reading “Writing Centers in China | The Writing Center @BNUZ School of Design | Part 1 of 5”

The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors : An Interview with Lauren Fitzgerald and Melissa Ianetta

Andrea Rosso Efthymiou, guest contributor 

Devoted to fostering research and conference participation for peer writing tutors, the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) is gearing up for its 2017 conference at Hofstra University. In this post, NCPTW 2017 Chair, Andrea Rosso Efthymiou, interviews this year’s keynote speakers, Lauren Fitzgerald and Melissa Ianetta, co-authors of The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors (OGWT). In their interview, Fitzgerald and Ianetta discuss their personal processes as long-time collaborators, the choices they made writing and editing OGWT, and of course, writing center tutoring.

Andrea: Can you describe your writing process as co-authors of this book? How did you work together as co-authors? Did you work on separate sections individually or did you actively write each section together? Or was the process altogether different?

Actually, we used a range of collaborative and individual composing strategies to write The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors (OGWT). Our approach depended on the stage in the process and the immediate writing goal. Some of these processes were very organic and highly collaborative – with the controlling concept for the book which we articulated for the prospectus, for instance, we worked intensively together for a couple of days. The process was so natural and so focused that we really don’t know any more who came up with what idea.

However, some parts of the process are very individual, so that one of us takes responsibility for a chapter or subsection. We’ll talk through the chapters, then each of us goes away to compose, and we trade drafts. We respond to one another’s work and then the original author responds to the commentary and revision. We’ll then trade again and, at that point, we often have lost track of who wrote what. There was a time, for example, when Melissa praised lavishly a change in a much-revised chapter – she really thought Lauren had taken things in an exciting new direction. And her enthusiasm was only minimally dampened when Lauren told her that the revision was hers –Melissa herself had written the text of which she spoke in such admiring terms.

This instance of the composing process, however, is only one part of the larger research process that comprises our professional partnership. We chose to write this book in part because, together, we’ve been writing and talking about writing centers for many years: our first shared work was a set of paired conference reports for Writing Center Journal (WCJ) on the 2005 IWCA conference. And while we published two separate conference accounts, the process we used there laid the groundwork for the process we still use. We talk, draft, respond, revise, and talk again. This is the process we used when working with a large group of collaborators on “Polylog: Are Writing Center Administrators WPAs?” and, most importantly, when co-editing WCJ. Our editorial conversations not only shaped journal issues, but framed our understanding of the field: our two special issues – on peer tutor research and the landmark essays of the field, respectively – lie at the foundation of OGWT. And, finally, we still use that process today –we’re using it right now, as we answer these questions, in fact! Continue reading “The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors : An Interview with Lauren Fitzgerald and Melissa Ianetta”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons We Learn: 10 Years of Cologne Centre for Writing Competency

Editor’s note: What do writing centers look like in other parts of the world? In this blog post we get a glimpse into how things are done in Germany at the University of Cologne’s Centre for Writing Competency. Today’s post comes from Esther Breuer, the Director of the Kompetenzzentrum Schreiben at the Universität zu Köln in Germany. She founded the center in 2007.

The Centre for Writing Competency of the University of Cologne was founded in 2007 and is going to celebrate its tenth anniversary this October. Our university is one of the largest state universities in Germany with nearly 50,000 students in six faculties or schools. In the beginning, it was funded by the students’ fees of those at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. After students’ fees were abolished, the Centre remained under this faculty and is supported by a fund set up by our federal state for balancing the budget. We now form a team of eight: one director, one specialist on teaching academic writing, the head of our classes on tutoring, an L1 English tutor, and four students for the coaching. As a result, most of its offers are exclusively for students of the Humanities, or for those students who major or minor in at least one subject at our faculty.

The main objective of the Centre is to coach and support students in the process of writing term papers, Bachelor, Master theses, as well as PhD dissertations. We work with the concept of peer-tutoring. At the beginning, our clients often had difficulties with this concept as they expected to come into an office where a lecturer was going to correct their papers. They expected this lecturer to be an ‘older’ person (from the students’ perspective) who knew how everything was to be done. They did not assume that they had to cooperate (or do the main work) in enhancing their papers, finding the weaknesses as well as workable solutions for coping with these. This passive attitude towards feedback might be the effect of a widely-accepted attitude in Germany that writing is a gift and that one cannot learn how to write well. In former times – and sometimes this is still the case today – professors made students believe that they were not apt for studying if they did not know how to write academic papers. This belief is still implanted in some of the students’ heads, and for them it is hard to understand that writing is a learnable competency that simply needs knowledge of concepts and methods, as well as training.

Continue reading “Lessons We Learn: 10 Years of Cologne Centre for Writing Competency”

“If You Are Doing it Right, You’ll Encounter Bumps and Trouble”: The University of Washington Tacoma’s Social Justice and Antiracism Statement

The Writing Center at the University of Washington Tacoma received attention in February after a press release about their social justice and antiracism statement was featured on UW Tacoma’s news and communications page. Following the article, several far-right blogs misrepresented the statement to suggest that UW Tacoma’s writing center director, Asao B. Inoue, had claimed that dominant English grammar is racist.(1) Below is our email interview with Asao about the creation of the writing center’s antiracism statement.

Asao B. Inoue

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.

Continue reading ““If You Are Doing it Right, You’ll Encounter Bumps and Trouble”: The University of Washington Tacoma’s Social Justice and Antiracism Statement”

Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program

Carol Mohrbacher

Carol Mohrbacher is a Professor of English and former Writing Center Director (the Write Place) at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. Carol, using her many years of experience, advice and input from colleagues, as well as research in writing center practice, theory, and pedagogy, planned, developed, and launched a new Writing Center Administration graduate certificate in the Fall of this year. Below is our e-mail interview with Carol.

WLN Blog: What was the progenitor of your idea to set up this program?
Carol: About seven or eight years ago, it occurred to me that I was supervising too many independent studies on the topic of writing center administration and tutor training. Some of our writing center alums who had completed these independent studies were finding jobs as writing center professionals. In 2009, there was a call from our Provost for the development of ideas that might appeal to the local and state community. Funding would be involved. So, never one to overlook an opportunity for funding, I proposed a course on writing center administration. The proposal almost immediately fell into a black hole, as the Provost moved on to another position at another institution, and the initiative disappeared—a situation that anyone who has been in academia for any length of time will recognize.

In 2012-13, a few years and more independent studies—and two Provosts—later, a new Provost called for innovative certificate programs. Simultaneously, administration pushed for more online offerings. I saw this as an opportunity to develop a valuable program—something that would contribute to the international writing center community, as well as to my own institution. My efforts in 2009 had resulted in a syllabus, and a sort of plan for future topics courses in writing center administration. I decided to build off of that early nugget.

WLN Blog: What were the processes and obstacles to developing and implementing the program?
Carol: The first thing I needed was some direction on what a certificate program looked like. No one seemed to know, so I did my research, looking at programs in IT and Education. One note: generally, this kind of project is the result of group or committee efforts. I was on my own, except for the feedback and editing help of my friend, Tim Fountaine.

What I did not expect were the many levels of scrutiny and research that would be required of me from groups and individuals at all levels—the English Department, College of Liberal Arts, SCSU administration, IT, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities administrative body. Two years later, after 14 levels (I counted them) of permissions and approvals, and after much research and one survey that resulted in 260+ respondents, the program was a go.

The next step was to create the courses that I had proposed and outlined for the various committees and individuals. This semester, I have begun teaching the first 2 courses—Writing Center Theories and Practice, and Issues in Writing Center Administration. So far, so good. I have students from 7 states. They are MA and PhD students and writing center professionals from various institutions from high school to R-1 universities. The engagement and enthusiasm are infectious. I am having a great time working with them.

The final two 2-credit courses for this 10-credit certificate program will be offered at the beginning of summer semester in a 5-week session. They are titled, “Staffing and Training” and “Cases Studies in Writing Center Administration.” Continue reading “Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program”

Our new WLN Blog co-editors: Ann Gardiner and Brian Hotson

This week’s post is an introduction of our new co-editors, Ann Gardiner, Director of the Writing and Learning Center at Franklin University Switzerland and Brian Hotson, Director of Student Academic Learning Services in the Studio for Teaching and Learning at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada. In their conversation below, they speak to their own experiences coming to writing centers, their own practices in academic writing, and their outlook for the blog. You can contact Ann (agardiner@fus.edu) and Brian (brian.hotson@smu.ca) with any ideas for the blog.

Ann Gardiner

Q:    How did you arrive at your current position?
Ann: To make a long story short, I would say that I went through several side doors to arrive at my current position at Franklin University Switzerland, where I have been Director of the Writing and Learning Center since 2010. With a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, I started my academic career as a professor, but I always worked closely with writing centers and even created one during my first academic appointment in Germany. In a sense, I became a specialist in general education courses, and I found that I really enjoyed helping students how to write better, read better, think better. In my two previous teaching appointments prior to coming to Franklin, I regularly taught writing and was teaching writing courses at Franklin as an adjunct when my predecessor at the Writing and Learning Center took an extended maternity leave. The replacement position became a permanent position in 2010, and I have been happily here ever since.

Brian Hotson

Brian: Unlike Anne, I started outside academia before my first writing centre position in 2008 at the writing centre at Queen’s University in Kingston (Ontario). I worked for many years in academic publishing, as a writer, project manager, and editor, among other things, mainly for Nelson Education. I also spent ten years as a writer and director/producer in educational television. Writing centre work came as a suggestion to me from a friend: I needed a job while completing my Master’s. We moved our family to Halifax in 2009, and in 2010, the directorship of the centre at Saint Mary’s University came available. It seems to really bring together my working skills and experience together.

Q:    What do you like best about working in writing centres?
Brian: Students and sentences. I spend a lot of time thinking about both. I like getting to know the students as a person–when I can–what they want to do academically, as well as how they’re going to take all their experiences and knowledge away with them. There’s great satisfactions to witness a student’s progress in, through, and out of the school. It’s humbling and satisfying!

Ann: As Director of the Writing and Learning Center, I have also gotten to know my tutors well too. Like Brian, I find it extremely rewarding to watch a student or tutor progress. I regularly have fantastic discussions with my students, tutors and academic mentors, who are upper-level students who help professors in their first year seminar courses and whose training I help coordinate. As I mentioned, I really enjoy helping students become better learners, and there is never a dull moment with this endeavor. We are a very small school at Franklin with about 400 students, and as a result I know my students well.

Continue reading “Our new WLN Blog co-editors: Ann Gardiner and Brian Hotson”

Democratizing Space in the Writing Center

Today’s look at learning centers and writing centers comes from Ann Gardiner, the Director of the Writing and Learning Center at Franklin University Switzerland

As the master of “spatialiality,” Henri Lefebvre, wrote in the 1970s, “space is a social product” (26). Even without buying fully into his Marxist ideology or addressing every twist of his dense prose, his observations say a lot about Writing Center space, particularly when it comes to power relations within the institution. Specifically, he asks several important questions applicable to our kinds of spaces, as well as to our “place” within the campus community itself. “If space embodies social relationships,” he writes, “how and why does it do so? And what relationships are they?” (27).

Having recently merged our Writing Center with an adjacent library space to create a so-called Learning Commons–a place for tutoring and collaborative self-study–I would like to share a few personal observations inspired by Lefebvre about our largely successful experience. At Franklin University Switzerland–a small English-speaking liberal arts institution in the Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino with about 400 students–producing an appropriate space for our Writing Center within a larger Learning Commons has not only increased the number of tutoring visits, but also helped reposition academic support within the academy. This repositioning, in a literal and metaphorical sense, has allowed us to think about projects that were not possible or even imaginable before.

A few words about the small size of our school before I begin, as managing a learning space for 400 students comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. To give but one example, we have never had multiple academic support centers spread over the campus – one for writing, one for learning, one for languages or STEM etc. Instead, we pretty much do everything under one roof, including organizing the logistics of accommodated exams. Our small size can present challenges in terms of juggling everything, but it also presents opportunities because we offer a one-stop shop for students and we answer directly to the Dean of Academic Affairs.

Because we are not competing with other academic support centers, we do not face some of the political problems with regards to space seen recently in the Writing Center listserv, merging with Learning Centers, for example. Readers of the Writing Program Administrator listserv know that at least one university has recently tried to abolish their Writing Center, the latest victims of budget cuts and administrative reconfiguring (“Keep the NJCU Writing Center Open”). Collectively, both listservs confirm Lefebvre’s claim that as a social product, space is embedded within a web of, often, unequal power relations (26). In our case, power relations play out at both the institutional and accreditation level, as our U.S. accreditors place value on the learning experience, while our Swiss accreditors focus more on research output. This latter emphasis on research may help explain why European universities have traditionally not embedded academic support centers into their respective curricula.

Continue reading “Democratizing Space in the Writing Center”

One Stop Shopping – A Pathway to Student Success, Access, and Equity

Haglund.KimberlyEditor’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.

Benefits

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.

Continue reading “One Stop Shopping – A Pathway to Student Success, Access, and Equity”

Words from “The Writers’ Block”

IMG_3177Mary McGlone coordinates the Ward Melville High School writing center in East Setauket, New York. She also teaches English and writing at Suffolk County Community College. 

The Ward Melville High School Writing Center, “The Writers’ Block,” is in its fourth year of evolution, serving a student population of 1,775 in grades 10-12. The writing center grew out of services offered to students in literacy classes, as the literacy teachers sought to reach students in need of support who didn’t qualify for literacy services. The center was originally located in a classroom, staffed by a full-time paraprofessional and two English/literacy teachers one period a day each.

IMG_3173In order to reach a wider range of the student body, the writing center was relocated to a section of the high school library in its third year, 2014. I have coordinated the growth of the writing center since January 2016, as it evolves from its “hidden secret” existence in a classroom to a full-time center based in the school library. We are currently open every period of the school day and after school, staffed by a full-time paraprofessional, a part-time writing teacher, and English teachers who work in the center one period a day for one semester a year; thus, the center is staffed by at least one writing coach per period, sometimes two. This post focuses on the location of our writing center in the school library.

The biggest advantage—and the main reason for relocating the writing center—is that we are centrally located in the building (Everyone knows where the library is!). Students who may not be aware that the writing center exists actually see it in their daily travels. Teachers of subjects other than English (traditionally our biggest supporters come from this department) are grateful that our location is so easy to remember and tell students about. We are physically in the center of the building, close to the cafeteria, so students can find us easily and can arrive early in the period for conferences. Study hall teachers who want to send students to us know where we are, and students can get to us quickly. It is fitting that we are physically in the center of the school, since our goal is to be a “hub” of writing in the school, the center from which writing in various subjects and grade levels occurs.

Continue reading “Words from “The Writers’ Block””

Chats and Webinars–an online writing center discussion

In a previous post,  Dr. Sarah Prince and Beth Nastachowski, MA, of Walden University started a discussion about online writing centers. In addition to starting a new discussion group–the OWC email discussion list–they’re happy to share some thoughts about two of their successful online services: chat and webinars.

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.

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Chat Service Overview

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-17-41-amWe 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.)

Continue reading “Chats and Webinars–an online writing center discussion”

AUA’s Math and Writing Center: Let’s get acquainted!

Photo_Anna AghlamazyanAnna Aghlamazyan is the Math and Writing Center coordinator at the American University in Armenia. She shares a bit of the story of her center, below!

Students at the American University of Armenia (AUA) have a place not to be found in any other educational institution in Armenia – a Center dedicated to Math and Writing. We are the only one in the country and now are 3 years old.

It all began in 2013 when Garine Palandjian, Manager of Student Services, launched the Center for Student Success. Six work-study students were hired to provide math and writing consultations specifically targeting undergraduate students.

4. MWC

Founded 25 years ago, AUA is a private, independent university affiliated with the University of California. Our University initially offered only graduate programs but with the establishment of undergraduate programs The Math and Writing Center was also set up. Supporting student success is an integral part of an American undergraduate education; therefore, AUA ensured that student support services such as the MWC would be included in the design of the undergraduate program.

The number of consultants did not change significantly since the launch of the Math and Writing Center, ranging from 4 to 5. Upon being hired, all of the work-study students are trained to be able to provide support to their peers successfully. The Manager of Student Services and I as the Math and Writing Center Coordinator, guide the consultants to essential tips and tricks to prepare them for consultation sessions. We also have bi-weekly meetings throughout the academic year to ensure work-study students’ professional development.

Continue reading “AUA’s Math and Writing Center: Let’s get acquainted!”

Interview with Dana McLachlin from the Asian University for Women

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.04.28 AMIn today’s interview, Dana McLachlin, Coordinator of the Writing Center at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, discusses the focus of AUW and how the writing center meets student needs.

Hi Dana! Can you tell us about the mission of Asian University for Women (AUW) and the student population?

AUW is a unique institution in many ways: we’re a liberal arts college for women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, and our students come from over 15 countries across Asia, including Afghanistan, Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Syria. AUW’s mission is to graduate service-oriented leaders who will collaborate across cultural, ethnic, and religious divisions to address social and political problems. Our liberal arts curriculum thus requires courses in Social Analysis and Ethical Reasoning to cultivate critical thinking and civic and political responsibility; our residential program and extracurricular activities also promote friendship and cooperation among students. Our mission is also to expand access to higher education for women, thus the majority of our students are the first women from their families to attend higher education, and most receive full scholarships to study.

How did you get involved with the AUW writing center? What was your experience with writing center work before AUW?

I originally worked as a writing tutor at the University of Richmond, in Richmond, Virginia in the United States. At UR, most of my writing tutoring was classroom-specific rather than in a center. I worked with a specific professor for first-year writing seminars, and gave written feedback in addition to meeting with students.

When researching postgraduate opportunities, I found out about AUW online, and jumped at the chance to live in Bangladesh and work at a women’s university. While I enjoyed writing tutoring at Richmond, I began to really love writing center work at AUW, largely because of our unique student body and context. Working with many students in different classes is also a unique challenge compared to being a class-specific tutor, where you may know the assignment and content well.  

dsc_1713What does a typical day look like at the AUW Writing Center?

As with almost any office in Bangladesh, a typical day at the writing center involves many cups of tea and lots of conversation! We’re open 10:30-6:00 weekdays as well as Saturday afternoons (the second day of the weekend in Bangladesh). We normally start the day relatively quiet, but by the afternoon we’re busy with tutors and students coming in and out, and lots of chatting by the front desk. We’re really lucky to have a group of dedicated work-study students, who serve as peer tutors and administrative assistants. They are the lifeblood of the center and keep everything running smoothly, welcoming people as they walk in and creating a friendly atmosphere. We also have a group of staff (in the past AUW fellows and WorldTeach Volunteers) who do the bulk of our tutoring; they also run workshops and IELTS/GRE courses for students preparing for graduate school.

Continue reading “Interview with Dana McLachlin from the Asian University for Women”

An Interview with Tracy Santa

Editor’s note: Dr. Tracy Santa’s article on close listening is featured in the May/June issue of the WLN Journal. I asked the director of the writing center at Colorado College to share a bit more of his story and about some of the details his article touches upon.

  • Can you tell me a bit more about yourself and your career in the writing center world?

TracyJune13I 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.

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Continue reading “An Interview with Tracy Santa”

Tutoring at Viadrina University

Today’s post comes from Alicja Pitak, a peer tutor at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany, where she is pursuing intercultural communication studies.

If somebody had told me a few years ago that I would work in an office or in a unit at a university in Germany, I would have considered this idea crazy. Me, a foreigner in a German unit at a university??? At that time it was hard for me to believe and now it is reality. My name is Alicja, I come from Poland and I am pursuing my masters in Intercultural Communication at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder). I feel attached to the university not only because of my studies but also because of the job in the Writing Center (German: Schreibzentrum). I’m writing this blog to present my place of work as well as to share some experience and thoughts on the subject of what the Writing Center is for me and how I perceive the job of a writing tutor.

APitak_FotoI started my job at the university in April a year ago. What does the work as a peer tutor mean to me? Hm… This is my occupation in which I perfect my writing competence and help others in perfecting it. This is just one side of a coin. Actually I treat this job as a wonderful adventure and never-ending meeting with people and exchange of experience, values, smiles and joy. I’m glad to be able to enrich my studies at the Viadrina University and my stay on the Polish-German border in this way.

Coming back to Schreibzentrum where I’m sitting, I would like to pay attention to the atmosphere of work and education which prevails in our team. It is very friendly and unstressful. Thanks to this atmosphere I changed my approach to writing itself. Earlier I thought that writing was an activity in which you put your thoughts down to paper or to the computer screen.

In our Writing Center I understood and experience that this is a process in which a dialog with another person and me is realized. As many of my friends at the university share my earlier approach, I would like to spread my new approach and the atmosphere prevailing in the Center to lecturers, students and other people met in the context of academic or literary writing. I would like others to see this process from another perspective, which can bring them a lot of advantages, not only a positive approach to writing itself, but also perfecting this competence and the joy of creating texts.

Continue reading “Tutoring at Viadrina University”

How shud we teach students tew write?

my'yah
My’yah tutoring

Editor’s note: Today’s blog comes from My’yah Mitchell, a senior peer tutor at Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy Writing Center in Baltimore, MD. Read on for her fun response to “Should Writers Use They Own English?” by Vershawn Ashanti Young.

Why y’all so closed minded? Who y’all think y’all is telling folks how they can or cannot write? If you are capable of understanding what I am saying while speaking in my own language, why should I be forced to write in “Standard English”? For those who don’t know, “Standard English” is the only form of the English language widely accepted as the “correct” form. When I refer to speaking, I’m talking about writing how I speak. For example, I don’t always pronounce erry letter in a word, or I might pronounce a letter differently. If you can understand what it is I’m sayin’ and writtin’, why do I need to write in yo language? As tutors, we should teach students to perfect their own language because if enough students prove that they can write formally in they own dialect, maybe society will began to accept it.

classroom and writing center
The classroom–and writing center!–that My’yah tutors in.

My intention is to explain why forcing students to write in society’s version of “correct English” rather than their own is doing more harm than benefit. I believe that helping students perfect their own dialect would benefit more than forcing them to learn and write what you think is correct. To help support my claim, I reference “Should writer’s use they own English?” by Vershawn Ashanti Young.

When people are forced to learn to read or write a certain way and basically told that their way of speaking is incorrect, they began to feel ignorant: “One set of rules that people be applyin to everbody’s dialects leads to perceptions that writers need ‘remedial training’ or that speaker’s dialects are dumb” (Young 112). This is exactly why y’all shouldn’t be forcing your dialects on others because you make ‘em feel dumb. This could lead to a number of things; people could give up on writing, or people would be forced to write in a way which they are not comfortable in, causing them to fail. All of which could be prevented by helping them perfect they own dialect.

Continue reading “How shud we teach students tew write?”

The Writing Centre at the Sultan Qaboos University

ryanEditor’s note: as part of our ongoing attention to highlight the work done by our colleagues around the world, I’m glad to share the following interview with Ryan McDonald, WrC Coordinator at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Oman and chair of the Middle East North Africa Writing Center Alliance (MENAWCA) in April.

Hi Ryan! Can you tell us more about your Writing Centre and the Sultan Qaboos University?

squ1This is a unique place in the Middle East. We have a seemingly homogeneous student body comprised of 99% Omani nationals, yet their backgrounds, needs, and attitudes towards education and writing are as diverse as any multicultural university in the States. Even though it’s a small country of 3 million people, there are several languages and cultural norms affecting literacy and composition at all levels. Not all students are proficient writers in their L1, and we are asking them to be able to use academic English to communicate effectively – no easy task!

tutoring in omanOn top of that, the WrC shares a space with the Tutorial Centre, run by Susan Finlay. Her staff is comprised of Omani students who have shown excellence in their studies and their grasp of English. They work up to 5 hours per week and work one-on-one with the students in any language skill or system. This is contrasted sharply with my staff, about half of which have advanced degrees in applied linguistics, education, or language. The rest have advanced degrees in other fields. They represent 9 different countries and speak well over a dozen different languages between them.

All of this takes place in the context of a Language Center at the biggest university in the country. The Language Center has more than 250 teachers from over 30 different countries. The way rhetoric and composition is taught varies from person to person, culture to culture. This can create interesting challenges for the WrC consultants as teachers have different pedagogical strategies, which, of course, imprints onto the students.

We are also trying to be research based, so we are piloting a portfolio program this semester in the WrC. Additionally, I am working on a project where consultants audio record their own sessions and then reflect on their methods in an attempt to determine if there truly are “best practices” in our contextual microcosm.

Can you tell us more about the students you work with at the Centre?

tutoring in oman 2Our students are between 17 and 19 years old, generally. The classrooms are technically mixed but the students sit on opposite sides of the class and don’t really interact with one another. They enter and exit through different doors. The students are a mix of traditional conservative students from different regions and more progressive students coming from Muscat, Rustaq, Sur, or Sohar (major cities in Oman). Students take a placement exam when they first enter the university, which puts them at a level in the Foundation Program (or they pass directly on to their BA programs). For many of the students, this is the first time a group of women or men have been taught by a man or woman, respectively.

Continue reading “The Writing Centre at the Sultan Qaboos University”

A Conversation with Les Perelman

Editor’s note: Les Perelman has a new article in the March/April edition of the WLN Journal, called “Grammar Checkers Do Not Work.” He also graciously agreed to talk a bit more about his career, writing centers–and that dratted 5-paragraph essay.

UnknownCan 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?

Les_Perelman1To 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.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Les Perelman”