From Far and Wide: The Sixth Annual Canadian Writing Centres Association Conference

The Canadian Writing Centres Association (CWCA) hosts its fifth annual conference at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) in Toronto, Ontario on May 25th and 26th, 2017. CWCA represents members of writing centres, broadly defined, in colleges, universities, and institutions of all sizes across Canada. It is an affiliate member of the International Writing Centres Association (IWCA).

Clare Bermingham is the Director of the Writing and Communication Centre at the University of Waterloo and is Secretary of CWCA.

WLN Blog: The theme of this year’s CWCA conference is From Far and Wide: Imagining the Futures of Writing Centres. In developing this theme, what were you hoping for?

Clare: “From Far and Wide” is a phrase pulled from the Canadian national anthem, and it’s connected to the 150th anniversary of the formation of Canada as a political nation. However, rather than simply and uncomplicatedly celebrating this milestone, our theme seeks to recognize the complex, often difficult, history of Canada, which plays out in our institutions today and feeds into the questions that writing centres ask about language and writing. We want to challenge ourselves to take note of this history as we turn and look ahead to what’s next for writing centres. We want to know how our community is engaging in work that is inclusive and equitable. How are we working with both Indigenous and international student populations? How are we responding to questions about power and language in training, in theory, and in our daily practice? In what ways are we opening our centres up to be places of real diversity and inclusion in our respective institutions?

WLN Blog: The keynote, Dr. Frankie Condon, has written a great deal on racism and rhetoric. How does her keynote fit into this year’s conference?

Clare: Dr. Condon’s work challenges us to think more deeply about how we do the work we do. It moves us to face issues of inequity and bias head on, but to do so with generosity and care. Frankie’s work, for me, is a generous conversation that’s grounded in the assumption that we want to act in good faith, that we’re taking these issues seriously, and that we acknowledge the potential harm of not listening to each other, especially to the marginalized voices in our communities. Her work is personal and reflective, and she is always equally responsible for the work she calls others to do.

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Call for Submissions: Creative Writing/Center

Amy Hansen is the assistant director of the Appalachian State University Writing Center and a recent graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at Northern Michigan University. She’s joining the CWCAB blog team as a staff writer–and has a great first project!

For my first project at CWCAB, I’d like to solicit and share the creative writing of writing center tutors and administrators here on the blog. I’d love to read poetry and short non-fiction/fiction pieces about writing center work, but I’m just as interested in creative work that’s more abstractly inspired by the practice and pedagogy of tutoring writing. Maybe you have a poem inspired by an interaction with a student in the writing center. Maybe you wrote a reflective profile of yourself as a tutor. Maybe (fingers crossed!) you composed the first writing center rock opera. Whatever it is, however you got there from writing center studies, we want to read it.

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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.

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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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“Does anyone know…?”: The National Census of Writing responds

gladstein_jill_profileAs a perfect kick-off to our upcoming fall semester, Jill Gladstein writes about the amazing work she and her colleague Brandon Fralix have done creating and curating the invaluable National Census of Writing. Their work was supported by a prestigious Mellon Foundation grant and is a game-changing resource for conversations in the field.  

Often someone posts a question on WCenter or via social media asking about common practices in the writing center. Where is your writing center located? How many consultations did you hold last year? Are your consultants undergraduates, graduate students, or professional tutors? How are they trained and paid? Who directs the writing center? Sometimes people request this information with urgency in order to save a threatened writing center or other times people request this information out of curiosity to provide context for how their individual writing center fits into the larger landscape of writing centers. The answers to these questions provide perspective for folks working in and out of our centers, but we have been limited by the lack of response to these data requests.

Last fall my colleague Brandon Fralix from Bloomfield College and I, with the assistance and support of many, launched the National Census of Writing database.

We sent individuals at over 2500 institutions a 200+ question survey covering eight broad topics.

survey

Our goal was to complement individual research projects and larger projects such as the Writing Centers Research Project and WAC Mapping Project by providing a large set of data that would be easily accessible via the internet. We wanted to make it easier for people to create a data-informed practice within their writing program or center.

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Listserv Misgivings and the WcORD

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 8.25.38 AMThis blog post is courtesy of Patrick Hargon, the Associate Director of the Learning Commons at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. 

If you haven’t checked out the Writing Center Online Research Database, enter a term in the search field at this link. It is like a micro-Google just for writing centers. You can find annotated exchanges from WCenter, links to writing center websites with all of the handouts and videos and resources so many have created, links to journal articles, blogs, podcasts, etc.

Perhaps its most useful function, for me, is that it offers a new site to check whenever I get the feeling that I want to post a question to the WCenter listserv.

Last Friday, as UNK’s Learning Commons neared closing time, I pulled one of our writing tutors aside and asked her to tutor me. She said she would, but I couldn’t judge her. “That’s got to go both ways,” I said, knowing that I was about to drag her into a house of mirrors: I wanted to send a question to the WCenter listserv, and I just needed to verbally release, like static electric discharge, all of the misgivings I cycle through beforehand. Should I this, should I that? Should I not? No, I should not. Okay, just do the thing. Hit send.

I’ve never been browbeaten on a listserv, I’ve never sent a message and lost sleep over it (I haven’t hit “Reply-all” by accident yet), and I’ve never come up with a single rational reason to go through the anxious protocol of searching the archives, writing, deleting, searching the archives again, rewriting, thinking, overthinking, finishing, almost sending, rethinking, etc., before simply hitting send. Furthermore, WCenter has an admirable record for polite responses to questions that have been asked many times before.

The tutor and I looked over recent posts to assess the tone of the salutations, to look at folks’ preferred sign-offs, to just get a feel for the different intonations of queries. We didn’t come up with a coding or classification system or anything, so I have nothing to report from our findings. But it was fun.

After that, she asked, “What are you worried about?”

“Well, creating an international wave of eyerolls throughout higher education,” I said.

She said, “Seriously, what’s the worst thing that could happen?”
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CFP: Special Issue of WLN–The Work of the Writing Center Director

Mueller-SusanSusan Mueller has been the Writing Center Director at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy since 2003, where she also teaches first year writing courses and literature courses. Her work has appeared in WLN and in PRAXIS:  A Writing Center Journal. Susan has often presented at MWCA and and IWCA, particularly on tutor training and on the intersections of WAC and writing centers. 

JAutengifphotoJanet G. Auten was the associate editor of WLN for seven years. She directs the Writing Center and teaches the graduate seminar in composition pedagogy in the Department of Literature at American University. Current research and publication center on pedagogy education, teaching information literacy, and the work of literacy narratives in both of those contexts. Her recent work has appeared in Composition Studies, Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, and Teaching and Learning Inquiry, and in many presentations for 4C’s, IWCA, and MAWCA. 

As recent discussions on WCenter demonstrate, the way writing center directors and writing centers are perceived outside our walls is critical to our survival and growth both as organizations and as vital components of our schools. Yet these perceptions are often determined by fleeting, incomplete, and/or too-often inaccurate impressions of what we do rather than conclusions based on solid facts. Our daily work is important and influences our students and tutors beyond our writing centers. What tools do we have at our disposal that can provide our stakeholders with accurate information about our professional stature, our gravitas as members of the academy, and our status? What substantive evidence of our value and importance, both to our students’ success and to our institutions themselves, is available for us to present and promote?

For this special issue on “The Work of the Writing Center Director,” we invite proposals, of 300-350 words, for articles up to 3000 words (including Works Cited) that consider the broader impact of our work and the specific mechanisms available to us for establishing value in the eyes of those who matter—administrators, faculty, staff (such as advisors, student success coordinators, and others who matter), and students. Proposals should also identify how those mechanisms will enable directors to convey that information to stakeholders in light of local politics.

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Tutoring with an International Background: Part Two

Editor’s note: for the first installment in this series, click here. Read on for excellent stories from Lara, Jimmy, and Nne!

NNE NWANKWO
Pursuing Political Science, Urban Affairs & Planning, and Creative Writing at Virginia Tech

As a Nigerian (from metropolitan Lagos), I grew up learning and understanding several languages at the same time. Nigeria is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, and more importantly, Lagos is the melting pot of the nation. As an Igbo girl, I learned Igbo growing up; and as a contemporary Nigerian, pidgin English is necessary to enjoyably engage in any conversation. As a Lagosian, Yoruba (no matter how little) is important to convincingly haggle with a hawker or to spit fire at a rude neighbor. Furthermore, as francophone nations of Benin, Cameron and Togo border Nigeria, French is the mandatory foreign language in schools. In fact, most contemporary Nigerian songs incorporate a mix of Nigerian pidgin, Yoruba and Igbo, and many times, other minority languages. Sometimes, the songs include French ad-libs also. Nigerian music is a direct representation of the average Nigerian’s speaking and writing patterns – a beautifully jumbled mesh of multiple languages.

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#EstoyconEndil2014 and the Latin America Writing Center Association

In November, Violeta Molina-Natera, director of the Javeriano Writing Center in Colombia, sent out an invitation to the Writing Center Listserv to stand in social-media solidarity with participants of an academic conference in Venezuela, who are facing considerable economic and political challenges.

After the conference was over, I asked Violeta to share more about the exciting work that her writing center is doing, along with others in Latin America. Her responses are below, in her own words.

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