Executive Function and Writing: What Does It Mean for Writing Centres? – An Open Discussion

Amanda M Marshall, CTESL, M.Ed., is the Writing Centre Project Coordinator for the Nova Scotia Community College.

I have often joked that I have three fantasy careers: an astronaut, a neuroscientist, and a brew-master. While my career trajectory has not led me in those directions, I do have a keen interest in brain-based learning and in how to help students. When thinking about my role as Writing Centre Project Coordinator one evening, possibly over a pint, my inner neuroscientist and prior learning got me thinking, and I started to do some research into Executive Function (EF) skills. EF skills, which include “cognitive processes such as reasoning, planning, and judgement” (Bradley-Ruder, 2008), reside in the frontal lobe/prefrontal cortex of the brain. Interestingly, “the prefrontal cortex is one of the last regions of the brain to reach maturation…[and] is not complete until near the age of 25” (Arain et al., 2013, p. 435). Whilst delving more into EF skills, I began to see a significant connection between EF skills development and the development and deployment of writing skills. I would like to explore more of these connections in this blog, as well as make room for discussion on the topic. I hope you will all join in on the conversation.

Amanda Marshall

First, let’s explore Executive Function a bit more. As mentioned, EF includes the ability to develop and reach goals, process and evaluate information, understand cause and effect, and make reasonable inferences (Bradley-Ruder 2008). Residing in the frontal lobe, we also know that this part of the brain is responsible for logic, strategy, working memory, planning, problem-solving, and reasoning skills (Schwaighofer, Buhner, & Fischer, 2017). When a learner faces difficulty in these areas and with these skills, they will likely encounter challenges parsing, sequencing, remembering, evaluating, organizing, manipulating, planning, self-regulating, and with general task follow-through (Zumbrunn, Tadlock, & Roberts, 2011). This can affect both the learner’s interaction within their learning environment(s), as well as with specific program expectations and activities/tasks.

Understanding that the frontal lobe/prefrontal cortex takes a significant amount of time to fully develop, and knowing that EF skills are not innate, post-secondary education is faced with some unique challenges. Much of what we require of our students depends on their ability to organize, critique, remember, reflect, evaluate, plan, and reason (Graham, Karris, & Olinghouse, 2007). If students are coming to us beginning at the age of 18, for example, not only are they still approximately 7 years from having a fully, physiologically-developed frontal lobe, they may also not have had enough exposure and EF training to be fully successful on their own. “Poor executive functioning leads to difficulty with planning, attention, using feedback, and mental inflexibility” (Johnson, Blum, Geidd, 2009, p. 219), which are all critical skills for post-secondary success and employability. With this in mind, it seems increasingly incumbent on adult educators to direct focus, time, and specific practice to help our students engage in and strengthen their EF skills. When discussing EF skills as they relate to adolescents and young adults, Harvard’s Centre for the Developing Child states that “…executive function skills are not yet at adult levels, but the demands placed on these skills often are” (Harvard’s Centre for the Developing Child, 2017). Further, Weinberger, Elvevåg, and Geidd (2005) remind us that while adolescents and young adults are “full of promise, often energetic and caring, capable of making many contributions to their communities, and able to make remarkable spurts in intellectual development and learning…neurologically, they are not [yet] adults. They are…a work in progress” (2005, p. 19) and require support to continue learning and developing the skills required for post-secondary success. Continue reading “Executive Function and Writing: What Does It Mean for Writing Centres? – An Open Discussion”

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”

Announcement | #wcchat 9/14/17 | Join our bi-weekly chats!

Join our bi-weekly chats!

South Haven Writing Center

The start of the academic year is one of the most important times for institutions, including writing centers. Training, routines, and center management become focal points; effective practices in these areas helps foster growth and efficient operations for the center. It’s an important, and sometimes stressful, time for centers, making it a vital topic for discussion for writing center professionals. For this week’s chat, we’ll focus on the role that training takes in starting our academic years, discussing specifically what we do, why we do those things, and what we struggle with in training. Through discussion, we will be able to share ideas for what works for our own centers, as well as offer ideas for others.

~ Kyle Boswell @boskm

Chat norms:

  • Follow the moderator (@boskm).
  • Questions are tweeted out with “Q” and question number.
  • Respond with “A” and corresponding question number at the front of your tweet.
  • Don’t forget the hashtag! #wcchat
  • Use an app that allows you to follow more than one stream. Set a column for #wcchat
  • Favorite tools include Tweetdeck and HootSuite
  • Follow those you connected with and/or learned from to grow your PLN.
  • Be respectful of others.
  • Focus on quality responses and questions that generate discussions that focus on our writing center practices.

Questions:

  • Q1: Describe the training consultants go through at the beginning of the year.
  • Q2: If you use journal articles for training, what articles do you find most useful? If you don’t, why don’t you use journal articles for training?
  • Q3: What are your biggest concerns during the initial training process? Why?
  • Q4: Describe your strategies for teaching consultation basics.
  • Q5: What initial struggles are most typical for consultants in your center? Why?
  • Q6: What is your favorite training activity? Why is it necessary?
  • Q7: What is your least favorite aspect of training? (Comment ideas for others that might spice up their training methods.)

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”

“Connecting with Purpose”: 14th Annual Southern California Writing Centers Association Tutor Conference

California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA — Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

The Southern California Writing Centers Association invites proposals for our 2018 Tutor Conference. The theme for this year’s conference is “Connecting with Purpose.” Connections are central to writing center work: between tutor and student, between concept and execution, and across genres, disciplines, and departments. This year’s conference asks us to question and confirm these connections. The conference organizers intend for participants and presenters to leave with new or renewed connections to each other, and to the meaning and value of their writing center work.

Questions you might consider as you develop your proposal; use them to aid, not limit, your thinking:

  •  What is the purpose of a writing center in facilitating connections across campus—connections around service, scholarship, support, learning, advocacy, development, professionalization?
  •  How can tutors help facilitate students in making their own connections between current and future writing projects?
  •  Who are we connecting with when we involve ourselves in supporting writers and promoting literacy education outside the classroom?
  •  Are there types of connections that writing centers should resist fostering? Or seek to promote?

As always, this conference is by tutors, for tutors. Therefore, we seek proposals for highly interactive 50-minute conference sessions (10 minutes of presentation, 40 minutes of interaction) that seek to investigate, reimagine, and/or rediscover the purpose(s) of writing center work. After giving a short framing presentation (approx. 10 minutes) on research or ideas related to the theme, presenters will engage the audience in activities or discussion to collaboratively explore the issue. The conference will close with a community hour for further sharing and conversation.

Proposals due November 1, 2017 via http://sandbox.socalwritingcenters.org/2018-tutor-conference/

Writing Center Administrators: During the tutor conference, SoCal writing center administrators will engage in a parallel meeting featuring presentations by and discussions with other writing center professionals. Registration, lunch, and community hour will offer opportunities to connect back with tutors.

 

An Interview with Central European University’s Agnes Toth

Editor’s note: This past semester, I had the good fortune to work in Budapest, Hungary for a semester, at my institution’s European campus. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and greatly appreciated networking with colleagues in the city. At the end of my trip, I invited the director of Central European University’s writing center, Agnes Toth, to sit down and tell me more about her graduate Center for Academic Writing.

As you may know, this past year, CEU has made international headlines, due to an unprecedented level of government scrutiny. Their accreditation structure—and, in particular, their funding ties to billionaire philanthropist, George Soros—resulted in a series of legislative moves that threw their future in Hungary into question. While discussions and negotiations are ongoing, I wanted to find out more about the work of their writing center, from Agnes—and how the university’s uncertain future was impacting the day-to-day work of her team.

WLN blog: Hi Agnes! Thanks for meeting with me today. I’d love to learn more about you and your center. Can you tell me a bit about CEU, and what did you do before working at CEU?

CEU is a graduate-level university accredited both in the US and Hungary, which offers English-language, 1/2-year Masters and doctoral programs in the social sciences, law, management and public policy. CEU currently has about 1400 students from over 110 countries, which makes it the second most international university in the world, according to The Times of Higher Education.

CEU’s Center for Academic Writing (CAW) was established at the beginning of the 1990s. Its primary mission is to ensure high standards of written academic English throughout the university by helping students become proficient, independent writers who can function effectively in CEU’s and the wider academic and policy community even after graduation and by supporting and working with faculty to assist their students. To date, CAW is the only European writing program to have ever received the “Writing Program Certificate of Excellence” award by the CCCC.

I have my masters in English language and literature. I also have postgraduate degrees in Translation Studies and Business Coaching.

WLN blog: I’d love to learn more about your center. CEU is a graduate school, that serves only graduate students. Can you tell me about your classes and your writing center?

Our center is a combination of a writing center and a writing program. We teach mandatory academic writing courses and offer consultations to students in all departments. We also collaborate closely with department heads and professors to tailor our course content towards students’ writing needs.

Our staff is entirely made up of professional writing instructors; all are considered part of faculty,  We teach native and nonnative speakers together. Most of our courses are in the fall and winter terms. We teach twelve sessions in academic writing in the fall, focusing on cultural differences in thinking and writing, the research paper and another, discipline-specific genre we choose in collaboration with professors.

Increasingly our writing instructors work with departments to develop guides/expectations. There are big differences between policy and research writing, for example. All students are asked to write something in multiple genres. Developed with different professors.

In winter, when students start working on their thesis, we offer classes on how to write thesis proposals, departmental thesis requirements, and then the thesis itself.

Our center is basically mandatory for all students. We don’t need to advertise our consultation services hardly at all! Students are required to come once or twice early in the semester. From that point on it’s optional. What may make us different from other writing centers is that we ask students to send their papers in ahead of time. We do utilize WCOnline, but only do online appointments for students that are doing thesis research abroad

Now we are very busy consulting with students in the spring term. Some students work through the whole thesis in one concentrated push, others just bring in sections.

For us, marketing/selling ourselves is more about proposing things to management! Such as last year’s initiatives for PhD students. We work with them mostly in consultations, currently, often over years, but want to do more. My team wants to provide special writing training for the PhD students, so we worked with the programs to tailor things to their needs.

Continue reading “An Interview with Central European University’s Agnes Toth”

WLN BLOG UPDATE

Note from the editor

Recently, I shared with the WLN team some snapshots of how our online presence has evolved over the past few years. We quickly decided to pull back the curtain and share some of these with you, as well.

Back in 2013, the blog was reaching a thousand page views or so. Today, we’re on track for 20k page-views, and well over 12k unique visitors. In the past year alone, we’ve had visitors from 124 different countries.

We’ve posted more than 35 times in the past two semesters, from articles on high-school writing centers to discussions about writing centers’ relationship with learning centers, from a review on the movie Arrival to a wonderful roll-out of our first creative writing feature.

Thanks to you, we have a full slate of upcoming articles in development, including profiles of centers in China, an interview with the graduate writing center of CEU in Hungary, a round-up of helpful new software tools and practices, tips for those on the job market, and more. We’re excited for what’s ahead. I’m proud to be part of such a meaningful field!

This past year, I put out a call for more collaborators to join the WLN blog staff, and I’m thrilled that colleagues from all over the world answered. Now, with a great team in place, I’m pleased to hand things off and transition to an advisory role with the blog. Our team includes:

  • Brian Hotson: editor-in-chief, Saint Mary’s University, Canada.
  • Amy Hansen: assistant editor/social media, Appalachian State University, USA.
  • Ann Gardiner: staff writer, Franklin University, Switzerland.
  • Josh Ambrose: consultant/editor emeritus, McDaniel College, USA.

Of course, our most valuable team members are, and always have been, you. And we want to continue hear from you, about the great work you’re doing at your centers, the opportunities and challenges you face, and the new directions ahead. E-mail an editor today with a story tip, and we’ll help you boost the signal—and don’t forget to join the conversations at https://www.facebook.com/wlnjournal and https://twitter.com/wlnjournal.

Gratefully,

Josh Ambrose
McDaniel College

From Far and Wide: The Fifth 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.

Continue reading “From Far and Wide: The Fifth Annual Canadian Writing Centres Association Conference”

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

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

Asao B. Inoue

WLN: First, can you tell us a little about yourself, your writing center, and your staff?
Asao: I’m the Director of University Writing and the Writing Center at the University of Washington Tacoma. I am an Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, and I was just promoted to Full Professor, as of September. I am also the Assistant Chair of CCCCs and so am the Program Chair for 4C18 in Kansas City next March.

My research is in writing assessment and racism. I’ve published on validity theory, classroom assessment, writing program assessment, and composition pedagogy. Most of my work deals with ways to consider race, racial formations, whiteness, and antiracism as a practice in writing assessment. My work has won three national awards, two outstanding book awards, and an outstanding scholarship award from CWPA.

Our writing center is lucky to have four professional staff members, all of whom work full time (except one, out of choice), and full time administrative support. We also have fourteen student writing consultants (tutors), with majors from Communications to Philosophy to Environmental Science to Psychology. The center is centrally located on the second floor of the library. We conduct face-to-face and online sessions.

WLN: Can you describe the composing process and timeline for the statement? To what degree was your staff involved?
Asao: During our staff meetings in the winter and spring of 2015, we read some literature on racism and language, including some in writing center studies, and discussed them. During the process, student tutors and professional staff decided to build a statement with my urging. We used a Google Doc so that we could continue our work outside of the confines of the staff meetings, and so that others who couldn’t make a meeting could still participate.

I shaped a lot of things in the statement early on, then let everyone else craft and revise the statement. We went through several iterations of the statement. I suggested that we think of the statement as a living document, one we would come back to periodically to refresh ourselves of our understandings of our position on antiracism and what we promise to do about it. This periodical looking back also means the statement may change as we change and as we try things.

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

Crossing Borders: Bilingual and Multilingual Writing Centers

Melanie Doyle is a writing tutor at the Writing House in the College of Nursing and Heath Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She also teaches composition in UMass Boston’s English department while completing her MA.

In 2000, John Trimbur wrote of the importance of bilingualism in writing and called for more writing centers to transform from English-only to multilingual (30). Though many writing centers embrace notions of multiliteracies, some even rebranding themselves as multiliteracy centers, this designation tends to emphasize digital literacies rather than multilingualism or translingualism in the more traditional sense. In other words, despite college campuses becoming increasingly linguistically diverse, the majority of writing centers still operate under a dominant discourse. Indeed, though most (if not all) American college writing centers serve students from diverse language backgrounds, few can serve students in their preferred language. Looking slightly north, Canadian writing centers offer a unique perspective into writing tutoring, bilingually. Though Canada’s contribution to writing center scholarship has been historically small, the field is growing, and the work produced from the Canadian Writing Centres

Melanie Doyle

Association’s (CWCA) annual conferences look to extend the borders of writing research. And with the continuing interest—and current utter importance—of understanding students’ use of language, Canadian institutions are available sites for inquiry.

While Canada as a nation is officially bilingual, each Canadian province chooses its official language: Quebec, for example, is unilingual French, while Ontario, Canada’s largest province, is unilingual English. Still, many of Canada’s higher ed institutions offer francophone writing tutoring or bilingual writing tutoring. Ontario’s University of Ottawa, situated in Canada’s national capital and on the border with Quebec, is currently the largest bilingual university (French-English) in the world, and is thus is an interesting case study to examine bilingual writing tutoring.

To help me understand tutoring practices, pedagogies, and dynamics at the University of Ottawa, I spoke with Amélie from the Academic Writing Help Centre (AWHC), otherwise known as Centre d’aide à la rédaction des travaux universitaires (CARTU). Housed in a bilingual university where courses are taught in French and English, AWHC/CARTU’s mandate is to offer writing support to all students in the official language of their choice in order to fulfill the University’s mission. Indeed, the University of Ottawa is committed to protecting the region’s francophone culture; so in 2015, it obtained designation[1] for its services in French, including student support services like tutoring. In other words, by offering writing tutoring in both French and English, the AWHC/CARTU is doing its part to protect student rights to their own language, using official statutes to ensure protection and access. Ultimately, by supporting francophone students in their studies, the AWHC plays an important role in helping the University of Ottawa achieve its goals regarding the promotion and safeguarding of francophonie. Continue reading “Crossing Borders: Bilingual and Multilingual Writing Centers”

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”

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.

Continue reading “Call for Submissions: Creative 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.

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Review: Arrival

ARihn-image-300x300Editor’s note: The recent movie, Arrival, provoked many strong reactions from me–and lots of thought! I’m delighted that someone else from the writing center world saw connections to the work that we do. Today’s post comes courtesy of Andrew Rihn, who started working in writing centers as an undergrad at Kent State University – Stark Campus. Today, he works as a professional tutor at Stark State College. 

Arrival is a 2016 science-fiction movie about humanity’s first contact with an alien species, so it’s appeal to writing center people may not be immediately obvious. While much science fiction focuses on domination or conflict, Arrival is unique in its focus on the problems and promises of linguistics. The plot hinges on the work of pursuing communication and avoiding miscommunication, familiar work to anyone who has spent time in a writing center.

In Arrival, the aliens simply arrive with no warning or explanation. Twelve large, mysterious ships hover twenty feet about the ground at seemingly random points across the globe, including one in Montana. The Army is mobilized for defense, but cannot make headway when it comes to communication. They enlist the help of two professors, Louise Banks, a linguist (played by Amy Adams), and Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist (played by Jeremy Renner). This interdisciplinary duo sets out to meet the aliens, find a way communicate, and at the behest of the Army, find the answer to the question “What is your purpose on Earth?”

We follow Dr. Banks’ first fumbling attempts to communicate with the aliens, called “heptapods” in the movie (so-named for their seven tentacle-like limbs). The language-learning process is of course very slow. The Army is increasingly frustrated with their progress, so we are treated to several scenes of explanation from Dr. Banks about the hows and whys of language acquisition.

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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.

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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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Introducing the Online Writing Centers (OWC) Email Discussion List

sarah_princeToday’s post comes courtesy of Dr. Sarah Prince, of Walden University. Together with Beth Nastachowski, MA, Dr. Prince is starting a new discussion group–the OWC email discussion list. Today’s post is about the OWC–stay tuned for part two, coming next week, about best practices for online centers!

The idea for the listserv grew out of a SIG we presented at the 2015 IWCA conference titled “Refocusing the Conversation: Creating Spaces for Online Writing Center Community, Support, and Discussion.” After talking through possibilities for community building during the SIG, many ideas were on the table—an annual conference and/or a possible affiliation group within IWCA (much like the current regional affiliations rooted in specific geographic locations). Post conference, to follow up with these ideas, we sent out a survey to all who attended the conference and others at the conference who signed up to receive more information. Based on the group’s voting, it was decided that we would initially start with a listserv, or discussion list, to promote communication about what centers are doing and how we could all better serve students in a fully-online capacity.

Please join us today at the Online Writing Centers (OWC) email discussion list!

We hope that this listserv does in fact start as a building block that generates wider conversations about the state of current online writing centers, common issues among fully online centers, and possibilities for future collaboration among these centers. We would love to see our group gain the support and membership to work toward a separate affiliation under IWCA one day or even create an academic conference around issues specific to tutoring writing in a virtual environment.

We are advocating for further conversations among staff and tutors that serve students online, so we can, as a group, come up with best practices. Because such a community is still in its infancy, perhaps a better discussion would be how we’ve come to the practices that work for our center– through trial and error, gaps we perceived in our services, ideas for conveying information about writing in new ways, etc. In other words, we can talk about how we have a lot of this stuff, in part, because we don’t really have many discipline-wide best practices and, consequently, we’ve had to experiment. Our guess is that other centers are in the same boat, so we’d like to really advocate for a space where important discussions on innovation and new technologies can take place.

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In Other Words–a book review

arihn%20imageToday’s post comes courtesy of Andrew Rihn, who started working in writing centers as an undergrad at Kent State University – Stark Campus. Today, he works as a professional tutor at Stark State College. Andrew says that “the book does not discuss writing centers directly, but the topics it does discuss overlap with the work of the writing center in many ways (language acquisition, translation, identity issues, genre and style, etc).” 

Jhumpa Lahiri, the acclaimed novelist whose first book won her the Pulitzer Prize at age thirty-two, has released her first work of non-fiction: a collection of essays about learning Italian aptly titled In Other Words. The essays are animated by her passion, wide-eyed if a bit innocent, yet crafted by a masterful writer whose love of language is evident in every line.

Spoiler alert: the book never discusses writing centers. Rather, it is a personal narrative of language acquisition. Lahiri, whose life is devoted to the craft of writing, recounts her experience with Italian as one might recount a love affair. Lahiri embraces not only moments of exhilaration, but also those moments that disturb and disrupt, and even those that hurt; I suspect the writing center community will find much to identify with.

51wnsrzeh6l-_sx315_bo1204203200_In all, the book contains twenty-one essays, two short stories, and one longer, lyric afterword. Essays are short, most clocking in at less than five pages. In Other Words was first written in Italian and later translated into English, and both are presented side by side, making its 233 pages appear deceptively long. A fast and focused read, I could easily imagine this book being useful for teaching, or initiating conversations in a writing center (topics include language acquisition, the processes of reading and writing, the intricacies of identity, translation, genre and form, and the creative process).

The essays are short and episodic, focusing on one element of the language-learning process at a time. Many focus on a central metaphor or analogy. For instance, early in the book she compares learning Italian to swimming across a lake. For Lahiri, studying Italian in America was like swimming near the shore, good exercise but not exciting. She could always touch ground with her feet, revert back to speaking English. “But you can’t float without the possibility of drowning, of sinking. To know a new language, to immerse yourself, you have to leave the shore.” Throughout the book, she revisits and revises this analogy, swimming through the deep parts of the lake, allowing the lake to become an ocean.

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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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