Inkshed and Canadian Writing Centres

Margaret Procter retired in 2012 as University of Toronto Coordinator, Writing Support since 1994.

 

Original Inkshed Newsletter masthead

How does a country invent a new discipline? The answer for Canada would have to involve the organization commonly called Inkshed (otherwise the Canadian Association for the Study of Language and Learning). It brought university teachers together in person and online from 1982 to 2015 to discuss how students learn to use texts, write with their own voices, and interact to develop ideas. In the process, Inkshed gave Canadian writing-centre faculty a way to think about their particular kind of teaching and helped them become growth points in the emerging discipline of writing studies. As a new writing-centre director in the 1990s, I found a community in Inkshed conferences, listserv exchanges, and newsletters. I learned from Inkshed what writing instruction could be, and gained encouragement by seeing others navigate the issues I also faced.

Inkshed no longer offers conferences or creates newsletters, but it still exists as an active publishing house, extensive online archives of newsletters and email, and many intense memories. When Inkshed took shape in the 1980s, Canadian universities had only a weak tradition of teaching writing. Where first-year composition existed, it was usually grafted onto a literature course to show students correct essay structure and grammar. A few engineering and business schools required courses on workplace genres, also emphasizing  correctness. Some universities had writing centres offering individual tutoring, but they tended to be hidden in back rooms and seen as charitable measures for underprepared students. Continue reading “Inkshed and Canadian Writing Centres”

Humble Brag: How Seriously Should We Take National Student Survey Results? || Mclean’s University Rankings Canada

Linnet Humble is the Writing Centre Coordinator at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

In April, a Maclean’s article shared by a colleague on Facebook caught my eye. This colleague noticed our university ranked first in a particular category on Maclean’s second annual Student Survey. When asked if their university was helping them write clearly and concisely, 55% of St. Thomas University students strongly agreed and 31% somewhat agreed, placing our university at the top of the list for that performance indicator—ahead of other similar schools in the region, like Acadia and Mount Allison, as well as much larger schools from Ontario, such as Queen’s.

When I saw our university ranked first in an infographic related to writing, I let out a whoop and immediately reposted the article. Just as I was wearily approaching my year-end reports, here was some external validation—from a prominent national publication, no less! It was a shot in the arm for me as the Writing Centre Coordinator. Friends and colleagues offered their congratulations; I walked around for half a day feeling quite chuffed.

But I soon began to second-guess this good news. Did these results actually mean anything? Is Maclean’s a reliable source of information? Can surveys like this accurately measure our students’ writing abilities in their own right, or in comparison to those at other Canadian universities? And how much credit could the Writing Centre reasonably take for such scores?

To learn more, I contacted Garry Hansen, Director of Institutional Research at St. Thomas University. Hansen is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and ensuring effective use of university data both internally (by informing strategic decision-making at the university), and externally, by providing data to agencies like Statistics Canada and Maclean’s.

Image source

Hansen cautioned me against placing too much stock in these survey results. In addition to lending his critical perspective on this particular publication, he was able to suggest other tools and organizations that can provide a more accurate perspective on our students’ writing skills and how they fare in comparison to others’.

First, though: a word on Maclean’s.

Continue reading “Humble Brag: How Seriously Should We Take National Student Survey Results? || Mclean’s University Rankings Canada”