My mantra as co-director of the Herndon Writing Center (HWC) has long been “we’re always in beta.” Each year presents a unique challenge either within our center or our larger school community that we seek to address through the work of our center. Some years, we’ve sought to make our space more inviting for our school’s growing population of English Language Learners, while other years, we’ve worked to develop a community of writers and a culture of writing in our school.
This year’s challenge? How do we offer quality, ongoing tutor training and foster a sense of ownership in our center when we have an abundance of enthusiastic, dedicated tutors and a scarcity of time to formally come together to discuss tutoring best practices and make plans?
The Herndon Writing Center is a student-run, teacher-directed space where all students at our very large, very diverse suburban high school in Fairfax County, Virginia can work with a peer tutor on their writing. While there are many models of implementation for SSWCs, which include opening all day thanks to tutors who give up a study hall period or opening only before or after school, the HWC operates through a course called Advanced Composition, an advanced writing elective that was originally revised and repurposed by Amber Jensen of Edison High School to house writing centers in Fairfax County Public Schools. Students may apply to become tutors and enroll in Advanced Composition beginning in their Sophomore year, and once accepted, they may enroll in the course every year until they graduate.
Dr. Karen-Elizabeth Moroski is the Co-Curricular Programs Coordinator for Writing and Languages at Penn State University, University Park Campus. Her research interests span affective neuroscience, trauma studies, queer theory, and writing studies—really, she loves the intersections of critical theory and embodiment. Karen’s particularly interested in how Writing Centers can work to engage/combat/heal the lives writers live before, during, and after their writing process: can we heal trauma through writing? She’s an Associate Editor for WAC Clearinghouse, serves on Executive Board for the Mid-Atlantic Writing Center Association, and was recently appointed to co-lead the first-ever International Writing Center Association Digital Content Team. Residing in Pine Grove Mills, PA, with her wife and their badly-behaved cats (Tag and Samoa), Karen loves riding her bike and singing out of tune.
Before I Begin…
I’d like to own that much of this post is a narration of a person journey wherein my experience is what’s being centered—though the issues challenging me throughout the post are areas of scholarship (and, yes, life) that can and should be centered in their own right whenever possible. I am conscious that this blog post may feel like “Here’s a white person explaining their whiteness, and how they’re challenging themselves to change”—and maybe it is that, in a way—but my pedagogical and intentional reason for crafting my post this way is to show an evolution of thought, self-reflection, and to model the type of calling out that more white academics and administrators need to do with ourselves and with one another.
I’m writing with full acknowledgement that my whiteness, my privilege, and my context have shaped how I interpret, express, and address the information I’m sharing—and that it’s scholars of color, not white allies or accomplices, who have done the most powerful and productive work on pushing the fields of rhetoric, composition, and writing center studies towards anti-racism and equity. (And I’ve included endnote references throughout to share moments of connection with my musings here today and the scholarship that informs them, as a blog post isn’t perhaps the best genre to go full-on, MLA8 in-text on ya’ll.)
I’m grateful to scholars like Vershawn Ashante Young,[i] Suresh Canagarajah,[ii] Asao Inoue,[iii] Aja Martinez,[iv] bell hooks,[v] and others who have given again and again the opportunity for white academics to learn from their work and to then act upon that learning. I write that sentence while wishing that the academy did not require scholars of color to write about and defend the dignity of their identities so that we could use their scholarship as teaching tools. That said, again, I want to express gratitude that it is work many scholars of color have done and continue doing as that work has challenged and engaged an entire field of study.
I am a work in progress; the writing center where I hang my hat is a work in progress; we hope to keep learning more and doing better, and we wish we were faster at that process.
Let’s Get To It, Then. I’ve been thinking a lot about translingualism and writing centers. I’ve been wondering what I mean (or should mean) when I say translingual, and I’ve been wondering how the answers to this question shape how I write about it, how I ask my tutors to engage with it, and how our writing center can explain its investment in translingual pedagogy to the university community. I’m wondering, too, how my context as a white academic person shapes these questions and their answers. At Penn State, we’ve been working on a grant proposal to create a Scholar in Residence for Translingual Learning and Tutoring, seeking to unite our language and writing tutoring programs to more effectively serve translingual writers—and over time, our writing center administration’s definition of translingualism has shifted from solely focusing on global languages and global Englishes to a wider, more equitable lens that embraces domestic Englishes, too. Continue reading “Toward an Anti-Racist, Translingual Writing Center”→
Anna S. Habib has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction (2006) and is near completing her PhD in Writing and Rhetoric from George Mason University. She served in several positions in the Mason Writing Center, from graduate tutor to Acting Director. Currently, she is the Associate Director of Composition, managing the undergraduate composition courses for multilingual students at both the George Mason University home campus and at the branch campus in Songdo, South Korea. She also coordinates and teaches the Graduate Writing across the Disciplines courses for INTO Mason, Mason’s pathway program for graduate and undergraduate international students.
WLN blog: Can you share some of your story? Habib:I was born in Beirut during the civil war to an American mother and a Lebanese father. At the age of four, when the war began to escalate, my parents, sister, and I fled the country on a small boat with other refugees who had found an illegal way out of the country. We made our way to the island of Cyprus where I grew up in a community of immigrant/refugees from Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, and the former Soviet Union. My father’s family opened a branch of their Lebanese school in Cyprus for this community of displaced students. The school followed the French Lycée curriculum, meaning all subjects were taught in French (a consequence of Lebanon’s post-colonial history), but the curriculum also included Arabic literature and language and English and Greek as required courses. When I turned 15, my family emigrated to the US to live with my mother’s parents. The shift from a tiny Mediterranean island surrounded by my native languages and my community of friends to a North Jersey high school in a wealthy community was extremely jarring.
I managed to find my way through high school, and then moved to Virginia to attend George Mason University as an undergraduate student. The campus felt a lot more comfortable than my high school environment—I was surrounded by other students from the Middle East and North African region and began to form friendships again with peers who also spoke Arabic as their first language or who had had similar international experiences.
WLN blog: What was the role of writing centers in your academic experience in the US? Habib: I didn’t encounter the concept of a writing center until my undergraduate studies at Mason. In the Lebanese school/French lycée system, writing was not taught as a process. Students were often required to write decontextualized essays in class or at home that demonstrated their mastery of literary/philosophical concepts without any feedback or conversations on drafts. During my undergraduate studies at Mason, I visited the writing center once, but couldn’t appreciate the possibilities of the peer-feedback approach yet. It wasn’t until I was hired as a graduate research assistant for Terry Myers Zawacki and Chris Thaiss’ book, Engaged Writers, Dynamic Disciplines (2006), that I learned about the work of writing centers. I sat in the back hallway of the writing center and transcribed dozens of Terry’s and Chris’ interviews with faculty across the curriculum describing their own experiences as writers, and how those experiences informed their writing pedagogy. As I typed and typed for hours, I watched students and tutors interact in thoughtful conversations about writing projects. Through listening to faculty perspectives and observing tutors and students in action, I began to understand pretty clearly that the role of writing in the US academy was significantly different than its role in non-US academic contexts like the one I grew up in. Continue reading “Transnational Collaborations and Writing Center Development at an English-Medium University in Lebanon”→
Genie Giaimo, Ph.D., is the current Director of The Ohio State University Writing Center. Before her arrival to OSU, she was Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Writing Centers at Bristol Community College. Her research applies RAD-based methodologies to large-scale and often systemic issues within writing center administration, such as perceptions of the writing center in open access institutions, or the impact of ordinary and extraordinary stress on writing center workers. She has published articles in peer reviewed journals such as Language and Literature, Literature and Medicine, European Journal of Life Writing and Praxis: A Writing Center Journal. She is also the special editor of the WLN issue on Wellness and Self-Care. In the time that she doesn’t manage a staff of 52+ graduate and undergraduate consultants, she practices yoga and volunteers at Colony Cats—a volunteer-run organization dedicated to trap and release, as well as the treatment and adoption of stray and surrendered cats, in Columbus, OH.
WLN blog: Why is this an important issue? Giaimo: Writing Centers are not just spaces where writing occurs, or where education occurs; they are also spaces where emotionally charged exchanges happen and where burnout can occur among workers.
WLN blog:Do you see an increased need self-care and wellness in students? Giaimo: It’s hard to say, I think, anecdotally, that the recent Presidential election and the attendant uncertainty surrounding DACA, and other policies set in-place to protect vulnerable populations among us (such as persons of color, LGBTQ+, graduate students, among many many others) certainly has had an effect on the experiences and emotions of a number of students on campus. However, statistically speaking, Degner et al.’s piece noted the increase of mental health concerns, self-diagnosed or professionally diagnosed, among student populations entering college. So, yes, I think self-care and wellness is something that a number of universities are interested in fostering for their students and that student populations (as well as those outside universities) could benefit from being supported in this work. Continue reading “Working Towards the Trifecta: A WLN Special Issue on Wellness and Self-Care”→
In coordination with the 2018 ECWCA conference theme on occupational hazards: writing center labor, self-care and reflection, we welcome submissions that explore the multi-faceted ways in which writing center labor demands, deserves and enacts wellness and self-care practices. To date, research on tutor well-being—a perennial concern for writing center administrators—is relatively under-explored in writing center scholarship. While mindfulness in the writing center has been the topic of a number of presentations at regional and national writing center conferences (and a popular discussion thread on a recent Wcenter listserv email), there is relatively little published material on this topic (Mack and Hupp; Dueck). Similarly, Degner et al.’s 2015 article “Opening Closed Doors: A Rationale For Creating a Safe Space for Tutors Struggling with Mental Health Concerns or Illness” calls for more explicit training on self-care and tutor mental health after uncovering that 65% of survey respondents identified the lack of discussion on these subjects in their writing centers’ trainings.
Wellness and self-care, then, while popular topics both in writing center academic conversations, as well as in popular culture, are poised to become a mainstay of tutor preparation and training. Similarly, this topic is becoming monetized through for-pay productivity workshops and trainings. What, then, does the academic writing center community have to say on these subjects? How do we currently integrate wellness and self-care into our practices? How might we want to incorporate these practices into our centers? And what does our desire to do so say about the labor that we preform? We encourage contributors to consider, as starting points, current and local iterations of wellness and self-care trainings in writing centers, as well as potential best practices for developing these kinds of programming for our tutors, our administrators, and our clients. Continue reading “CfP || WLN Special Issue: Wellness and Self-Care in Writing Center Work, with Dr. Genie N. Giaimo”→
In spring 2017, St. Cloud State University’s Writing Center Administration certificate program offered its first two courses, “Writing Center Theory and Practice” and “Issues in Writing Center Administration.” Students became bonded early on. Friendships and collaborations for research projects and conference presentations grew during that semester and continued into summer term with the final two classes, “Staffing and Training” and “Case Studies in Writing Center Administration.” Because the program is delivered entirely online, I was surprised at the strength of the community, which was much more than I’d hoped for during the 2 ½ years it took me to slog through the morass of bureaucratic speed bumps on the way to program approval. As I said in the earlier article/interview, I’d had to secure approvals from 14 different individuals and committees along the way. This was an intense, real-world lesson in discovering audience expectations, a topic we discuss throughout the WCA program in all of the courses.
The most significant challenge in designing the WCA program has been providing sources, instruction, and assignments that allow students to personalize a learning experience most beneficial to each one of them. Last year’s students represented a range of experience from zero to nine years in WC administration. Some were new MA students; some were PhD students; some were professionals in the field. They represented public and private institutions at the high school, 2-year, and 4-year college levels. One student had developed an independent writing center and had tax-exempt status and a board of directors in place. One, a high school teacher, had never worked in a writing center before and knew just a little about them, but hoped to help build one at her school. This year, there are more graduate students and fewer professionals; however, we have, for the first time, an administrator from a private high school boys’ preparatory school and also an assistant director from a writing center in China. Caswell, McKinney, and Jackson note the development and variety of non-standard writing centers in their book, The Working Lives of New Writing Center Directors, a longitudinal study of nine new writing center directors.
That our participants include writing center directors in a charter school and in a European boarding school is emblematic of the times. Writing centers have been sprouting up in secondary schools and in non-US settings at a growing rate. As this happens, we think we’ll see that more alternatives to the US university model will emerge as different though effective, ways to do writing center work. (199)
To reflect this diversity in the WCA certificate program, course materials cover a variety of common contexts and issues pertaining to writing center administration, like navigating institutional relationships, researching the writing center, creating assessment activities and reports, grant writing, hiring, training, and other shorter units. Assignments are flexible enough so students can create individualized documents that might be included in an application portfolio or provide a model for their home institution or for the type of writing center setting they are most interested in.
Vanessa Flora-Nakoski is the Writing Center Director & a Lecturer in English at McDaniel College.
When people ask me what I do for a living, I don’t know what to tell them. Do I say that I’m a professor? A tutor? An administrator? A writer? A scholar? Yes, but everyone in our profession knows that each of these labels is insufficient. These days, I typically answer that I’m the Director of the Writing Center.
Secretly, I remind myself, “I am an entrepreneur.”
Of the possible labels, it is the only one broad enough to connect all the aspects of my professional life, although not one that anyone in any of my graduate programs understood. I learned quickly enough that to reveal to the various fund managers in my Strategic Management classes that I was a tutor—or even at one time, a soapmaker—was to inspire incredulous looks. I learned equally quickly how dangerous it might be to seem too business-minded among my faculty colleagues.
This made me wonder why so few people outside our field readily accept the label of entrepreneur as a descriptor for writing center work. It occurs to me that it may be because so many of us, through institutional mandate or personal preference, who draw a firm line between the work we do as writing center professionals within institutions and the work we may do privately as professional tutors.
Certainly, many colleges and universities have strict policies regarding work performed in the field but outside the institution. Even when these policies are absent, it can still be awkward to discuss private tutoring among professional colleagues. When I was first approached about the possibility of writing about this issue, I had a moment of panic where I thought, “Am I writing this as a member of the college or am I writing this as sole proprietor of my company?”
Mike Jacoby is the Tutor and Mentor Coordinator for the Athletics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Previously, Mike worked at the Northern Michigan University Writing Center for many years.
When I graduated with my master’s in writing in 2015, I was fortunate to find a position coordinating a tutoring program for student-athletes at the University of Wisconsin. I had just completed my second year of managing a writing center as its associate director, and writing center administration was work I found both fulfilling
and challenging. My writing center experiences anchored me, but the move into student-athlete support as a tutor coordinator brought me into unfamiliar waters: I hadn’t worked with student-athletes before, and I didn’t (and still don’t) personally care about sports. In addition to being out of my element in that way, I also waded into another unknown dimension: the realm of multi-subject tutoring.
The Athletics Tutoring Program is funded and housed completely through the UW Athletic Department (we have an Office of Academic Services within the athletic department). We exist apart from campus and from any other department, which has more pros than cons. We’re funded through the (well-off) Athletic Department and thus aren’t pressed for resources in ways we might otherwise be. Our program employs over eighty tutors to support over five hundred student-athletes per semester in plethora of courses (we have usually over eight hundred student-athletes enrolled but not all student-athletes make use of our program). Continue reading “Boiling Down the Essentials: Transferring Tutoring Skills Beyond the Writing Center”→
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 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”? 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. 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,, 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 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
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.
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.
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.
 Russell, D. (1997) “Rethinking Genre in School and Society: An Activity Theory Analysis.” Written Communication 14(4), pp. 504-54.
 Barwarshi, A. S. and Reiff, M. J. (2010) Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research, and Pedagogy, West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, p. 104.
 Dias, P. et al. (1999/2009) Worlds Apart: Acting and Writing in Academic and Workplace Contexts. New York and London: Routledge, p. 5.
 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/
 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
A post from Guelph University (Ontario) and Bellarmine University (Kentucky): a survey on peer educators across Canada and the United States.
We are conducting research in the United States and Canada on peer educators – students who provide academic support services to other students – and their supervisors. We hope to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between supervisors and peer educators, and of the roles of peer educators within the academic support profession.
Lawrence Cleary is an Educational Developer and Co-Director, Regional Writing Centre at the University Limerick, Ireland
Two thousand and seventeen 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 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.
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). 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). 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.”Continue reading “Why good academic writers perform poorly in the workplace: Teaching for transfer across contexts of writing (Part 1 of 2)”→
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.
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”→
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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”→
WLN Blog: What is the progenitor of the CMOS changes? How did they come about? Carol: A new edition of the Manual appears only every five to ten years, so by the time drafting begins, we have a big folder of reader queries, news clippings, feedback from experts, notes from our own daily use of the book and website, and so forth. This time, the revision focused much more on updates and additions than on changes to Chicago style.
WLN Blog: What are the major changes to the CMOS? Carol:That depends who you ask. Of course, in a thousand pages, you’re going to find thousands of changes.
The general user might think the removal of the hyphen from email and the lowercasing of internet are major changes. Those are certainly the ones getting the most tweets!
A scholar might think the most significant change is that after centuries—actually millennia—of usefulness, the Latin term ibid. has become problematic in electronic publications. So Chicago now prefers the use of a shortened citation.
An English teacher might find the expansion of the grammar chapter to be the most significant: there are more than thirty new sections on sentence syntax, for instance, and a revision of the Chicago stance on the use of they with a singular antecedent.
WLN Blog: As a history major in under grad, ibid. was a word I typed quite often. What happens to poor ibid.? Carol: Don’t worry—Chicago still supports the use of ibid.! The sections explaining its use are still there. It’s just not first choice now. The problem is that in digital publications, when readers click on a note number, often it opens a screen where only that citation appears. If the citation says only “Ibid., 43,” it tells them nothing, because the previous note isn’t visible. Better for the citation to say “Calhoun, Fortress, 43.” Writers who are concerned about publishing in digital formats should know of the potential problem and write their notes with that in mind.
WLN Blog: How has electronic media shaped other changes? Carol: Hugely. These days, publishing technology is what drives the need for a new edition. For instance, the increasing use of PDF by writers and editors inspired a new section on how to use PDF editing tools. And social media: the word Twitter doesn’t even appear in the previous edition, which came out in 2010, but now even the most scholarly journals need a citation style for it. Creative Commons, accessibility standards, DOIs, library metadata—I could go on and on. In seven years, a lot has changed!
WLN Blog: I was chatting with an English professor and a Medievalist about the changes to CMOS. They were quite intrigued as to how these changes would affect citation and style in their disciplines. Could you comment on how you think that the CMOS changes will affect MLA or APA? How did they affect CMOS change decisions? Carol:While we’re always interested to see what others are doing—such as the radical overhaul MLA made last year—that’s not a big factor in updating our own guidelines. I’d be surprised if MLA or APA made changes in response to Chicago’s. Style manuals serve different constituencies.
WLN Blog: So many people in writing centres “geeked out” at CMOS’s announcement. It’s so exciting! For those on the edge of the desk chairs, what advice do you have? Carol: First, relax and enjoy it! This revision of the Manual is the best yet, from the viewpoint of users, and the transition will not be difficult. There’s a ton of new information and new examples; we haven’t taken away anything that we know users love; there are no radical changes to citation styles; and the chapter numbers remain the same (people hate it when we reorganize the chapters). What’s more, CMOS Online has a snazzy new design that responds to many user requests for easier navigation and increased readability.
Second, I’d suggest following us online, especially at the CMOS Shop Talk blog, where we’ve been highlighting what’s new.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.