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.)

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Something Old, Something New: Tuula Lehtonen on International Exchange

TuulaToday’s post is written by Tuula Lehtonen, who works as the co-head of the English Unit at the Language Centre, University of Helsinki, Finland.  Her work focuses on graduate writing courses and other writing support for an increasingly international student population taking part in English-medium instruction. She has an MA in English (1988, University of Helsinki), and her EdD (1998, University of Leeds) dealt with individualized vocabulary learning. She was was awarded membership in the Teachers’ Academy in 2015, and the award financed the trip described in this post.

I have taught academic writing to international students for nearly ten years, ever since the first English-medium master’s programmes started at the University of Helsinki. First, there were only a few programmes and a handful of students; now we have closer to 40 programmes and an increased number of students. When I think of adjectives to describe these students, many come to mind: innovative, able, keen to adjust, hard-working, goal-oriented, but sometimes also puzzled, lost in the new academic setting and hungry for support. As a group, they are diverse. This heterogeneous nature of our international student body is a richness, but also a challenge when we (re)plan, (re)organise and (re)evaluate writing courses and other writing support in the English Unit at the Language Centre. I travelled to the USA in October/November last year to find inspiration for meeting this challenge in the various peer practices for which US writing centers are known. My particular interest was in understanding how we could better harness the potential of peer work in our writing context.

DePaul's University Center for Writing-based Learning, Photo courtesy of Tuula Lehtonen
DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning, Photo courtesy of Tuula Lehtonen

Between us, my colleague Michele Simeon and I visited six writing centers at DePaul, University of Chicago, UCLA, Cal State LA, UC Berkeley and Stanford. Although these universities and the student populations they serve have many differences, it seems to me that those working in the writing centers share a passion to help student writers, and that the centers utilize the power of peer work in various ways. The most notable peer work practice is peer tutoring, which clearly offers both the tutors and the tutees learning possibilities.

Embracing pedagogical ideas from the US context that is quite different from my own turned out to be relatively easy, especially as my hosts seemed to base many of their practices on notions similar to mine, such as the idea that learning entails cognitive, metacognitive, emotional and social dimensions. However, adopting pedagogical practices or structures is not as straightforward because of financial or organizational constraints. For example, although I was impressed by the possibilities of receiving individual feedback and other support in the peer tutoring context, setting up and running a system of peer tutoring would be too costly at the moment. So, throughout the trip and after it, the question has been: How can we offer our students peer work opportunities without creating an expensive organizational structure?

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An Interview with Magnus Gustafsson

Guest Edited by Steffen Guenzel: Magnus Gustafson is a busy scholar and researcher. He is the Chair of the European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing (EATAW) and is an Ex-officio board member of the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA). Furthermore, he is an editorial board member to the WAC Clearing House and an editorial board member to Across the Disciplines, as well as the International Exchanges on the Study of Writing. Closer to home, he chairs the scientific committee for Chalmers Conference on Teaching and Learning.

MG_2While he earned a PhD in English Literature with a thesis on a British postmodern novelist, his first job entailed ‘further education’ for him – from running literature courses at an English department to promoting engineering communication education at college level in Sweden for three and five year engineering programs. This work naturally came to involve some initial thinking and researching on process writing and genre pedagogy so that it became his first entry gate to writing development and writing studies His background in literary studies offered several entry points to textual analysis with a much higher resolution as well as the first few steps into understanding genre and its conventions. Another important component in that program was that the strong / dominant proficiency focus in some ESL and SLA contexts in Sweden was balanced with a communicative approach to language acquisition. This focus on writing studies was a response to a perceived complete lack of writing pedagogy at the college level and led to the development of a local approach to these issues. Now he directs at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Division of Language and Communication in the Department of Applied IT, which also includes the Chalmers Writing Centre. In his position he continuously tries to work to integrate disciplinary language and communication into the university’s many programs and levels.

On my institutional website, I describe my work as “supporting division colleagues in course design and networking with course and program managers across the university.” But not all our activities are integrated courses and interventions of course. In my own teaching, I often facilitate PhD level writing courses to increase PhD researchers’ disciplinary discourse awareness to enable their careers as authors. I am also involved in some of our elective courses at the graduate and undergraduaHands from the rightte level as well as our faculty training courses. One of my favorites is ‘Fiction for Engineers’ which is a general education course with a focus on the power of fiction to emphasise the changing perspectives required to take on the challenge of relating technology or engineering to the society and people for whom it is intended.

To understand the role and function of the Division better, a few words might be called for about Chalmers University of Technology which offers bachelor level programs in engineering, management, maritime studies, and architecture. The various BSc programs open into 44 different but related 2-year master level programs. In terms of writing ‘programs’, this setup tends to take the form of starting with basic technical reporting and lab reporting in Swedish in the first year; continues with more specific writing in the second year or at least with a different genre or audience for the writing (some programs turn to English in the second year too). Most of the bachelor programs collaborate with the division throughout the first three years in integrated modules or adopt an adjunct model where a ‘content’ course runs hand-in-hand with a ‘communication’ course. What all the programs have in common is the BSc thesis in the third year. By the dean’s decision this thesis is to be written in Swedish but some 20% are in English for various reasons.

2015-12-09 15.23.45Given this type of context, we work with program managers and / or course managers to isolate the courses where scaffolding writing would be most effective for the program. We end up co-designing writing assignments and structuring these and collaborate in criteria and rubrics design as well as feedback and assessment. Most of the time, however, we do not assess final versions but focus on the process and make sure peer response elements function well.

What does writing look like at your institution? What support do writers and faculty teaching writing receive there?

The “bachelor thesis” offers our single largest writing intervention, where projects are advertised by supervisors and students sign up in an election module. Group sizes vary from 3-6 for projects and tend to involve cross-program connections. Often students from 3 different programs and disciplines participate on a project because that set of competencies is called for as it were. All groups are offered a 5-lectures series from us and participate in a set of 2 or 3 compulsory tutorials for writing support. The lectures address the stages of the writing process, from pre-writing via structure and style to argumentation and critiques.

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But the lectures are only meaningful in combination with tutorials. Typically, some 850 students in approximately 220 groups book 2-3 tutorial sessions each with the division. Generally, tutorials include one focused on peer-response on early drafts or planning reports; a second one focused only on one group and where texts are more complete including results reporting and discussion sections; the third tutorial is geared towards critiquing another group’s report in the closing presentation sessions in May. Needless to say, groups can also book additional sessions with the writing center.

Continue reading “An Interview with Magnus Gustafsson”

The Middle East Technical University Academic Writing Center: A Story of Volunteers

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Coordinators Deniz Saydam and Cahide Çavuşoğlu

Editor’s note: The questions around volunteering in the writing center are always contentious ones! Even in the last year, Barko and Satore’s article “How to Start and Run A Writing Center With No Budget” produced a lot of interest, including a thoughtful response on “Volunteer Tutors” from Diana Hamilton.

Today’s post comes courtesy of Deniz Saydam and Cahide Çavuşoğlu, who share the story of their graduate writing center in Ankara, Turkey, and state that “teaching is a low paid job in Turkey and yet many teachers choose to be in teaching for the outcome, not the income. As the Turkish culture values all forms of sacrifice made for children and students, and thus, the development and future of the country, our instructors’ attitude to volunteer tutoring may be different.” I’m glad they’re willing to share their story, below, and continue to think about the cultural dynamics and logistical challenges that shape the invaluable work they do.

Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey is a prestigious university counting 3 campuses (the main campus being Ankara) and 29.000 students, about 8.000 of which are graduate students. The Academic Writing Center of METU was established under the School of Foreign Languages (SFL) in 2001 and has since then served as a graduate writing center for Masters and PhD students as well as faculty and research assistants. It is located in the Central Engineering Building, a central point from where it serves the whole Ankara campus. The space consists of two coordinator offices, a meeting room, a cubicle room, a computer assistant room, and a utility room.

The center has two coordinators, one from the Department of Basic English (200 instructors of English), where undergraduate and some graduate students are enrolled in a year-long intensive English preparatory program, and the Department of Modern English (85 instructors), which offers the post preparatory freshman and sophomore academic English courses as well as other languages in the undergraduate programs.

7Today, we coordinate the writing center, but we started off as two of the first tutors 15 years ago when the center first opened its doors. We both volunteered to work 2-3 hours a week and since then we have continued to volunteer to be on the team. Now as coordinators, we are responsible for managing the center under the Assistant Director and Director of the SFL. We have no secretary, so we answer phones ourselves, give information, make appointments, prepare supplementary materials, manage the AWC library, organize writing retreats, conduct short seminars on departments’ request, prepare activity reports, conduct periodic assessments, and promote the center within the university. We have a reduced teaching load of 4 hours in our department but are full-time in the writing center and receive the regular instructors pay who teach their weekly load of 12, 15, 20 or 25 hours in their department, depending on the level they teach. The regular course load is 12 hours, and instructors receive the equivalent of about 3$ for every hour they teach beyond 12 hours.

Continue reading “The Middle East Technical University Academic Writing Center: A Story of Volunteers”

An Update on PeerCentered!

Editor’s note: It was my pleasure to meet Clint Gardner in person at IWCA this year and hear more about PeerCentered. The Director of the Salt Lake Community College Student Writing Center, he currently serves as Archivist for the Two-year College Association (TYCA) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). On his website, Clint shares that “having worked in writing centers for over two decades, I have learned a great deal about writing center theory and practice, one-to-one instruction, peer tutoring, the role of writing centers at two-year colleges, as well as the uses of computers in composition classrooms and in the writing center. My role as Student Writing Center Director at Salt Lake Community College allows me to teach writing to students from diverse backgrounds, as well as to teach tutors how to respond more effectively to their peers. ” Below, Clint shares more about the past, present, and future of the PeerCentered community!

36222_507314723380_2934617_nPeerCentered started out in 1998 as an online text chat for peer tutors. The concept was simple: allow an online space for peer tutors to continue the kinds of discussions that they were having at conferences such as the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing and other more regionally-based writing center conferences such as the Rocky Mountain Peer Tutoring Conference. Initially, the discussions were held weekly, and had a fair number of peer tutor and writing center professional attendees from various institutions around the United States, but we did have one writing center professional join in from Europe on occasion. Time zones do interfere with such live discussions. In the early days, peer tutors did outnumber professionals by a considerable amount—something that would change over time. The live chats were initially held weekly—then monthly—and then finally just a few times a year, mostly due to the difficulty in sticking to such a schedule by the main organizer—me! I fear I realized far too late that I could have turned over the organization and the moderation of the live chats to peer tutors themselves.

After playing around with asynchronous discussion forums which never really took off, I decided to add a blog to PeerCentered as a means of having peer tutors share their experiences in that media with others from around the world. The blog has been moderately successful, given that there have been over 750 postings, and more than 1,100 comments in its 14 year history. PeerCentered averages over 5,000 page views per month, during the typical school year. Contributors have written on a variety of topics ranging from practical tutoring techniques, to more theoretical discussions of how peer tutoring works, language acquisition, or the student’s right to his or her own language, for example.

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Opportunities and Challenges in Chile

Marna Broekhoff is a new director at a university in southern Chile. In her words, it’s been a “slow struggle” to get the center up and running. We asked her if she’d be willing to share some of her success and challenges—and to give the rest of the writing center community the chance to offer her encouragement and advice in the comments below!

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Plusses:

  • Professors feel great pressure to publish, especially in English (so they want/need WC services)
  • English Pedagogy students are eager to improve their writing skills and writing teaching skills
  • I love consulting about writing without the overlayer of a grade! I am consulting with both professors and students–maybe 25 so far.
  • Space (always a premium) was provided on my arrival at the back of the library
  • An instructor from this university, who recently completed his Ph.D. in Spanish literature the US and worked 4 years at a Spanish WC there has just been hired to take my place when I leave in late November. This is huge!
  • I have finally been given permission to present workshops (TOEFL, writing for publication, etc.). I have now given two. Attendance has been quite good so far.
  • We came through the earthquake just fine, though we were shaken out of our bed (we were in Santiago that week).
  • I have networked very positively with WC people in Santiago (2), and people in Bogota, where I am giving a presentation by Skype for their conference in October.

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How to Start and Run a Writing Center With No Budget, or How We Did the Impossible!

Editor’s note: today’s story comes from Cortney Barko and Melissa Sartore, professors at WVU Tech. Their journey bringing a writing center to campus–only to find the process harder than they first anticipated–is a fascinating one!

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Cortney Barko

We work at West Virginia University Institute of Technology (WVU Tech) in Montgomery, WV. WVU Tech was founded in 1895, and it is now part of West Virginia University—a land grant institution that serves southern West Virginia. Our enrollment currently hovers around 1,200 students. There are 40+ academic programs; however, WVU Tech is well known for its engineering program, and many students come here to major in engineering.

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Melissa Sartore

When we began our tenure-track jobs at WVU Tech in 2011, we found a Writing Center in dire straits. As instructors of History (Sartore) and English (Cronberg Barko), we both knew that a Writing Center was an important resource for students in our disciplines. Very few students were actually using the Writing Center, and the existing tutors were being put through a never-ending tedious training process that ultimately drove them away. By the end of our Spring 2012 semester, our Writing Center was down to one poorly paid tutor who would not be returning in the fall, and hardly any students were coming for tutoring. As a result, we were told that there would be no funding for the Writing Center in the Fall 2012 semester. Essentially, the Writing Center had come to an end.

Continue reading “How to Start and Run a Writing Center With No Budget, or How We Did the Impossible!”

A Conversation with Ben Rafoth

Editor’s note: Ben Rafoth is the featured reviewer in our inaugural issue of the new format of WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship.

Rafoth, Ben 73014D31A leading scholar and author in the field, Ben has been a writing center director since 1988 and shares that “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had great teachers and awesome students, and the hundreds of tutors I’ve been fortunate to work with in my writing center at IUP have made all the difference.”

He teaches graduate courses in the Composition and TESOL program at IUP, and has served as its director. In 2010, Ben was named IUP’s Distinguished University Professor, a lifetime title and the highest award for faculty at IUP.

The keynote speaker at this year’s International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) Conference in Pittsburgh, Ben was gracious enough to share a few thoughts on his review of Talk About Writing, his upcoming presentation at IWCA, and the general state of the field.

On Talk About Writing and the art of conversation:

Conversation has always fascinated me. It’s so primal and simple but also spontaneous, intimate, complex, adaptable, universal, idiosyncratic, creative, and I could just go on and on here. Conversation as a topic of study has often been overlooked, and so when people like Schegloff, Goffman, Tannen, and others came along in the last century and devoted their careers to the study of conversation, it was very eye-opening, to me at least. In one of Deborah Tannen’s books, she writes about the conversation at her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. It’s full of mundane back-and-forth and yet totally fascinating. I like to listen to conversations in restaurants and places where eavesdropping doesn’t get you slapped in the face.

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Tutors at IUP celebrating “Stripe Day”

So what Mackiewicz and Thompson have done is bring the disciplined study of conversation to writing center studies. There have been others, but their work lays out the research in a way that invites others to do their own studies, building on previous research. That’s an important contribution – I mean, to write in a way that breaks new ground. I think these authors have done that.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Ben Rafoth”