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”

Interview with Dr. Julie Christoph about NCPTW

Editor’s Note: I chatted with Dr. Julie Christoph, the chair of this year’s National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW), about her work, the theme of this year’s NCPTW, and what we can expect from the conference. The NCPTW will take place November 4-6 at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. Interested in submitting a proposal? You can find a link to the CFP at the bottom of this post!

Hi Julie! Can you tell us about yourself and your work?

julie christophI’m currently Professor of English and Director of the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching at the University of Puget Sound, which is a small liberal arts college in Tacoma, Washington. I developed my love for writing centers as an undergraduate writing center tutor at Carleton College, and I later went on to do my doctoral work in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I taught in the writing center and also served as an early assistant director of the Undergraduate Writing Fellows Program. Though writing centers are what brought me to the field of writing studies, my position as writing center director is relatively new. I have spent most of my career teaching courses in writing, rhetoric, and culture in the English department; consequently, my research agenda is eclectic. My primary area of research explores what is personal to writers about their argumentative writing: how does a writer as a living, breathing person appear on the pages of academic writing? How do writers’ personal histories, predilections, and prejudices enter into their academic writing? To what extent are writers able to be transparent about their personal history and biases in their writing—and to what extent do readers’ responses to writing exceed the limits of what writers have knowingly represented about themselves? As my teaching load has evolved into the writing center, I’ve increasingly moved toward thinking about writer identity in the writing center, and I’m going to be spending part of my sabbatical next year in at Goethe University in Germany doing a contrastive study with some writing center colleagues there.

The theme for this year’s conference is “It’s for Everyone: The Inclusive Writing Center.”  Can you tell us about how this theme was chosen?

The theme of this year’s NCPTW is an extension of work we’ve been doing at the University of Puget Sound’s writing center (or, more accurately, the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching). As is the case throughout higher education, our enrollment demographics are changing. Our campus is becoming more racially, economically, and neurologically diverse, and we’ve been making concerted efforts to adapt and change our writing center to meet the needs and interests of our students.

In the last four years, we have refocused our mission around anti-racist and inclusive practices. We’ve had some tremendously useful conversations around concepts like Claude Steele’s “stereotype threat,” and the ideas in the collection Writing Centers and the New Racism. We’d love to continue the conversation with a wider circle of people, so it seemed natural to extend these themes to the conference itself. Continue reading “Interview with Dr. Julie Christoph about NCPTW”

Spinning the Plates in a Writing Center

Like Spinning Plates

Image credit: used under rights permitted by Jameson Gagnepain at Flickr

This post began as a reply to Jared Odd, the Writing Center Director at Lindsey Wilson College. Professor Odd wrote to the national e-list for Writing Across the Curriculum, asking for advice about managing a Fellows-based program at small colleges. At times, such as our current semester, I feel like one of the performers who keeps about 30 fragile plates spinning on the ends of skinny poles.

Richmond’s program for what we now call “Writing Consultants” now enters its 21st year. How we have managed has become a little more daunting recently, with only 3,200 undergraduates and the need to staff 50+ sections with Writing Consultants while keeping a Writing Center open. My post covers a few bedrock principles and recent challenges.

  • The Training Class Must Be Strong: We don’t shortchange Consultant training at Richmond. All of them must complete a semester-long course, Eng. 383, that is by invitation of our faculty. I could rush through 100 new Consultants in a couple of weeks of basic training, but I fear they’d be unethical editors, fixing writers’ problems but not making them better writers. Faculty would consider the help intellectually lacking, and I’m not about to dumb-down our commitment to fundamental ideas of peer work, long established in the field and tested well in our program. I find that recruiting my 36 new Consultants each year, 18 trained each semester, can staff the program. This has worked well at the similar-sized program at Swarthmore, long a model for WAC at Richmond. Except…
  • The Busy Student Body Must Notice Us: It is hip to be stressed out and over-committed on this campus. Strike one for staying on student radar, as a program or potential employer. Study abroad, a wonderful opportunity that I want every student to experience, has gradually become nigh universal for our first-semester juniors. Strike Two. Then there are internships, independent study, summer research, the hum of non-academic but seemingly essential social obligations…Strike Three. For these reasons, over time, more and more students delayed taking Eng. 383 until their third or even fourth years. Having sown this wind for a few years, in May 2013 I reaped the whirlwind, finding about 20 of our trained Consultants walking across the stage in their caps and gowns. Then, this term, another 15 went abroad. Thus we are scrambling to staff 50+ sections and keep the Writing Center open with 37 Consultants. Usually, I employ 50.
  • The Director Must Appeal to Potential Consultants Early and in the Right Way: My doubling-down on recruitment began early this semester. I notified faculty teaching first-year seminars that a crisis was at hand; I would depend upon them to bring me more first-and-second-year recruits. So far, a few are drifting in, but I will appeal as well to the students directly. Paying Consultants well helps, but students want more than a job today. Students at Richmond want a path to a post-collegiate career or graduate school. Working as a Consultant here means a better chance of landing a graduate assistantship or job with a communications focus. I count EBSCO, Penguin, and The National Archives among the employers of recently graduated Consultants.
  • Faculty in all Fields Must Become Partners: I have never felt that putting a writing program in a “silo” works well. First of all, writing has historically been under-staffed and under-underfunded. Susan Miller’s “sad woman in the basement” was more than a brilliant metaphor in her book Textual Carnivals. It was the fact on the ground (and beneath the ground) for a long time. Now that the Humanities themselves are in national crisis, writing programs cannot necessarily count on English departments with diminishing institutional clout for support. Program directors will need to sit down with Mathematicians and Economists and Sociologists, too, to determine local needs, priorities, and resources. These faculty will also serve as recruiters for those new student employees to keep WAC efforts vital.

I remain convinced, after more than two decades doing this work (with some very pleasant side trips into educational technology, the design of simulations, and more) that writing programs will thrive because our colleagues and administrators share our concern, if not necessarily our values, about writing instruction. The Director’s job, as the public face of writing on campus, is to be certain that the “center remains in the Center,” or wherever else writing instruction is housed currently. My greatest fear is that other units of a college or university, hungry for influence and budget, could gobble up WAC and Writing Centers.

We should not let that happen, since with merger may come a pedagogy we have worked so hard to avoid in our teaching and tutoring.

One-woman band: up-date

The last time I wrote, I described my situation as a ‘one-woman band’ study support tutor, with a manager who was making my life impossibly difficult, with all the consequent knock-on effects on my physical and emotional health. This year, as the result of a merger, the hierarchy has shifted, so although I still have the same manager, the ‘Eye of Mordor’ seems to have turned her sights elsewhere and I am being left in peace to get on with my job. There’s no support, of course, but that’s nothing new.

My first bit of news is that I think the website I set up has helped to give the study support workshops a more prominent profile. I have all the workshop dates and details up there, study guides, and other things like useful web links. The second bit of news is that I finally managed to succeed in my argument to return to one-to-one support for students, alongside the workshops. As a result of that, business is brisk. I have always found in the past, that one-to-one support often leads to group sessions as students spread the word amongst their friends and they discover they’d all like to work on the same thing. So I am anticipating that the two different ways of supporting students will feed off each other.

Along with the website, I’m continuing to advertise on the All Student and All Staff emails and, in some programme areas where I have regular workshops running, I’m enrolled onto their Moodle sites so that I can email those groups directly. On one Moodle site I also have my own Study Support area where I post up subject-specific study skills guides.

I’m also trying Twitter – that’s a learning curve! My idea was to have another way of upping the profile of study support amongst the students. I have a limited number of followers and I’ve no idea how many, if any, are my students! Anyway, I think the story of my twittering and tweeting is best left for a separate quote.

The moral of this up-date is: manager keeps out of the way; business thrives.

From Local Center to Global OWL: An Interview with Muriel Harris

The PCCC Writing Center Blog welcomes Muriel Harris, founder of the Purdue OWL. Muriel Harris is professor emerita of English, Writing Lab Founder and Director (retired), founder and current editor of the Writing Lab Newsletter and founder of Purdue’s award-winning Online Writing Lab (OWL). She has published books, including The Prentice Hall Reference Guide and The Writer’s FAQs through Pearson. In this interview, Harris talks about the Purdue OWL best practices, its humble beginnings, and what’s next for the online lab.

PCCC Writing Center: The OWL at Purdue is known as the oldest online writing lab but also one of the most comprehensive. How did the OWL get its start? Can you talk about the process of establishing an OWL?
Muriel Harris: The Purdue OWL started as a small e-mail service and morphed into a huge website along with the technology that was available at each stage of its growth. Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and there was no Internet, most writing centers had cabinets filled with paper handouts to use in tutorials. When the earliest e-mail became available (before web browsers), I decided it would be helpful for students writing their papers at night (especially on Sundays) if we could make the handouts available online. Somehow, by securing small bits of funding, I managed to find students who could type those handouts in ASCII characters and upload them so that they’d be available 24/7 by e-mail request. The attempts at formatting were minimal in that limited online environment. But a student with programming skills was able to set up the service so that a user could send an e-mail requesting the index and get an instant response. Then, the student could browse through the index and request specific handouts listed there, send off the e-mail request for them, and again get an instant response.

Writing and Communication Center at the New Economic School, Moscow

My name is Kara Bollinger, and I am the Assistant Director of the Writing and Communication Center at the New Economic School (NES) in Moscow, Russia. Our writing center is just now turning one-year-old and is one of only two writing centers in Russia. So, the Director of the WCC, Olga Aksakalova, and I are excited to join the conversation on CWCAB. We’re sure to have questions (and hopefully insights) in the coming months, but for now we want to say “hey.”

Students at our school are enrolled in one of three programs: Bachelor’s in Economics (a joint program with the Higher School of Economics), Master’s in Economics, and Master’s in Finance. Students write and give presentations in both English and Russian. The WCC offers one-on-one writing consultations in both English and Russian. We also hold workshops on a variety of writing and communication topics (again some workshops are in English and some are in Russian). Our students read in English, attend courses in English, and listen to presentations in English, but they often want more practice speaking; because of this, we also offer one-on-one English conversation sessions.  In addition to Olga and me, the WCC employs four part-time professional consultants who work with students.

Though most of our time is dedicated to students, we also work with faculty. First, we are active collaborators with the English department in helping develop curriculum and providing guidance on aspects of courses like writing assignments, rubrics, and peer review questions. Second, we are beginning to work with Economics faculty on effectively teaching and incorporating writing in their courses.

As a recent transplant to Moscow (I’ve been here for a little over a month) what I’ve noticed most (in the WCC, that is) is that the writing pedagogy and the writing center theory that are commonplace in the US are new ideas here. Though students come to the WCC expecting help with their writing or speaking, they often show up for a session, sit down at the table and say “So, what is this place?” It’s quite rewarding to explain the writing center to students and makes the goal-setting portion of the session crucial. In the future, Olga hopes to write more about her experiences starting the WCC here last year, which illustrate the idea of Rhet/Comp being new in Russia.

Note boardOne way we’re working to increase our school’s understanding of the WCC is through Open Houses. The WCC got a new home this year, so we hope that once students actually visit the space, we can say “Okay—here’s what we do here.” To help root our writing center, our Open Houses include a discussion of other writing centers. We hope this will help students understand the context in which the WCC exists. Additionally, we want students to feel like the WCC is “theirs.” So, we’re encouraging them to provide artwork, photos, creative writing, and/or favorite quotes to decorate the WCC. To start, we’ve asked students to write their writing and/or communication goals for the year on a Post-It note and to post those goals in the WCC. So far, the Open Houses seem to be working. Students have been active in engaging us with questions about the WCC and excited about continuing to participate.

That’s all for now. We look forward to sharing and collaborating with you all soon.

 

Brand new WC–brand new university

Tomorrow is my first day of work at ADA University in Baku, Azerbaijan. I have been hired to establish and coordinate the Writing Center as well as to teach writing to graduate students.

ADA has graduate students because it has actually been running as a stand-alone graduate institution (Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy) for several years. A couple of years ago it was decided to establish an undergraduate school as well. So, our brand new campus is (almost) ready–at least that’s the rumor–I have yet to see it. A friend and former colleague from another start-up in Nigeria is heading up the library and she has sent pictures, so I know the place exists.

I am, of course, anxious to get there and stake out a claim on space for the writing center. I am imagining something like the land grab that took place in the 19th century when the US government would open new territories to pioneers and sell them the land dirt-cheap. We all know the importance of territory in academia, so it should be interesting.
There is also some controversy about the organizational home of the Writing Center–the less said about that at this point, the better.

I’ll keep you informed as things “develop.”

Cheryl Pavlik
Writing Center Coordinator
ADA University
Baku, Azerbaijan

Hello from the Writing Hub at the University of Sydney, Australia

Hi All.

It’s so great to read all the posts so far. I’m Susan Thomas, the founding director of The University of Sydney Writing Hub (a name that Mickey Harris helped me settle on after much deliberation). I’m an American-trained Writing Program Administrator who never thought for a second that I’d be this far away from home directing a writing center!

I’d like to offer a little background information on the Hub in hopes of opening up a dialogue on some of the challenges of starting a writing center–particularly in environments where writing is viewed as “remedial” or a “content-free zone.” I’ve certainly had my share of ups and downs over the past seven years–and have shed plenty of blood, sweat, and tears to make this dream a reality. But the difficulties and setbacks were all forgotten the first time I walked into the Hub and heard that unmistakable buzz of groups of students and peer tutors talking about writing.

I’ve pasted below an extract from my current research project, but I will soon upload a link to our new Writing Hub video. For now, here is a link to our homepage: http://sydney.edu.au/arts/teaching_learning/writing_hub/index.shtml

I look forward to interacting with you all and learning more about writing centers on a global scale!

All the best from Sydney,

Susan

The University of Sydney Writing Hub was established in 2009 as the teaching and research home of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Writing (WRIT) Program and Writing Centre. Since “centre” in Australia carries a different connotation from that in North America, the name Hub was chosen to reflect Burke’s idea of communication as spokes radiating from a wheel, implying multiple pathways and modalities that undergird, shape, and define the writing process. The Writing Hub is different still from North American Writing Centers since it administers seven credit-bearing courses (five undergraduate and two graduate), and offers drop-in writing assistance for students across the Faculty. While most North American Writing Centers are located in academic departments, the Writing Hub is an independent unit that sits within the Teaching and Learning Network of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Writing Hub courses are required for some degrees across the Faculty and electives for others. While many of our students come from within our own Faculty, we attract a wide range of students from other faculties, including Science and Engineering, particularly in Summer and Winter School (three to six-week intensives during semester breaks). Our flagship course (WRIT1001) and our new cross-cultural writing foundations course (WRIT1000) are offered year-round, in both twelve-week main semesters as well as in Summer and Winter School. Our (new) advanced and graduate courses are offered on rotation, but at least once per year.  All Hub courses meet for three contact hours per week in some combination of lecture, tutorial, or seminar, with all courses featuring a hybrid model of delivery (incorporating face-to-face and online instruction). Small group meetings (tutorials) are held in a 24-person, custom-designed computer classroom.

Drop-in peer writing assistance is available to students enrolled in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and/or a WRIT course. This restriction is purely financial, and we anticipate expanding our services to include the wider University community as funding becomes available.

In addition to courses and peer tutoring, the Writing Hub offers writing workshops for faculty, often facilitated by international experts, and two seminar series: “How I Write” (borrowing from Stanford University’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric), featuring high-profile writers discussing their craft; and “Rhetoric in the Real World,” featuring presentations on applications of rhetoric outside the academy. The Writing Hub also offers consultancy services to area businesses, with all profits re-invested in the Hub to support student programs.

Before the Writing Hub was created, the Faculty offered only two undergraduate writing courses: one housed in English (developed by me), and the other in Linguistics (developed by Professor William Foley, a sociolinguist), with no writing support services for undergraduates. When the Hub was created, Bill andI redesigned these two existing courses as the pilot WRIT courses, which have now undergone several iterations.

The Hub represents a departure from the way writing is usually conceived of and taught in Australia, in that it emphasizes writing as a discipline with a classical rhetorical framework. There is a particular focus on invention and the multimodalities that support discovery in the writing and research processes.

Introducing Ireland’s first academic writing centre

In 2006, €27,000 was awarded to Caroline Graham, Director, University of Limerick (UL) Language Centre, and Dr. Angela Chambers, Professor of Applied Languages, to develop a number of Writing Centre activities and an academic business plan for the creation of a Writing Centre in UL. Subsequent to that initial award, Sarah Moore, Dean of UL’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, assisted with the expansion of the UL application to take advantage of the newly announced Higher Education Authority (HEA), Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) context. Subsequently, UL was successfully awarded a 2.5 year, €250,000 budget to fund the creation of the Shannon Consortium Regional Writing Centre. An inter-institutional initiative based in UL, serving as a nexus of writing activities at four institutions in the Shannon Region, the Shannon Consortium Regional Writing Centre won its award on the strength of its recognition of the centrality of writing to teaching and learning in higher education and the importance of writing for not only the dissemination, but also the discovery and creation of knowledge. Seeing the great value of the Writing Centre to the furtherance of many of the university’s strategic goals and envisaging the centre’s eventual value to the wider off-campus community, the university’s administration mainstreamed the Writing Centre at the end of its SIF contract in 2009, placing it under the auspices of the Centre for Teaching and Learning and assuming responsibility for its financial support.

Today, the re-titled Regional Writing Centre, UL, continues in its support of undergraduate and postgraduate student writers and collaboration with faculty to develop their own writing and to expand writing-based curriculum innovations. Since its inception in 2007, over 75 key writing-enhancement programmes, attended by approximately 15,000 participants from across the region, were offered by the Regional Writing Centre, including the following:

  • Design, delivery and development of modules in writing
  • Integration of writing into course support and curriculum development: Writing to Learn and Writing in Disciplines
  • Expansion of the one-to-one Peer-tutoring in Academic Writing initiative to undergraduate programmes in all four Faculties (currently, the module is taken up only by Humanities students)
  • Online resources, including How I Write, Ireland interviews on video, with transcripts and with Writing-to-Learn prompts for subject specialists who wish to develop writing in their discipline
  • Secondary School Essay Writing Competitions

The Regional Writing Centre is now seen as a centre for excellence in the pedagogy of academic and professional writing development across Ireland and throughout Europe, as evidenced by the successful tender to host EATAW 2011, the European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing conference, which welcomed 300 international delegates to the Limerick in June 2011.

While writing centres have flourished in American universities since the late 1960s, the Regional Writing Centre is the first of its kind in Ireland. The value of the Centre is its contribution to the academic success and future professional development of students and staff at UL and its aspirations for writing development for the region.

Continue reading “Introducing Ireland’s first academic writing centre”

One woman band

I’m what we call a ‘one woman band’ at my University  – no writing centre and struggling as the only tutor to provide sessions in academic writing through workshops,  from 1st yr undergrads, up to and including, post-grads. Along with that, I am battling against a manager who is determined to restrict and limit what I can offer.

Having said that, I am always looking for ways to expand and reach students. It is difficult for a number of reasons. Firstly, up until 2010/11, students received one-to-one support with me and, compared to that, they do not see that the workshops have value – they are group sessions and there is little room for any one-to-one support. Secondly, students generally seem reluctant to attend. Some areas, I know, do offer Study Skills modules in the first year, but there are no such models for second and third years. To try and ensure that the workshops are attended, they are arranged directly through tutors. This has certainly helped and I am trying (where I can get away with it), to encourage students, following these workshops, to contact me directly and book sessions for themselves as small groups.

I’ve got a website up-and-running, which includes news of workshops, study guides, etc and a link to my Moodle site, where there are further guides and tutorials. I’m also intending to try Twitter for the new academic year – all this an attempt to get the workshops into the culture and life of the university.

I have very close and rich relationships with many colleagues across the Uni who are happy and willing to work with me and last year did a six week block of tandem teaching in workshops with the students’ subject lecturer. Amongst the other obvious benefits, it was very good fun!

I look forward to reading others’ experiences, especially if you, too, are in a similar position.

Mary