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”

The Writing Centre at the Sultan Qaboos University

ryanEditor’s note: as part of our ongoing attention to highlight the work done by our colleagues around the world, I’m glad to share the following interview with Ryan McDonald, WrC Coordinator at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Oman and chair of the Middle East North Africa Writing Center Alliance (MENAWCA) in April.

Hi Ryan! Can you tell us more about your Writing Centre and the Sultan Qaboos University?

squ1This is a unique place in the Middle East. We have a seemingly homogeneous student body comprised of 99% Omani nationals, yet their backgrounds, needs, and attitudes towards education and writing are as diverse as any multicultural university in the States. Even though it’s a small country of 3 million people, there are several languages and cultural norms affecting literacy and composition at all levels. Not all students are proficient writers in their L1, and we are asking them to be able to use academic English to communicate effectively – no easy task!

tutoring in omanOn top of that, the WrC shares a space with the Tutorial Centre, run by Susan Finlay. Her staff is comprised of Omani students who have shown excellence in their studies and their grasp of English. They work up to 5 hours per week and work one-on-one with the students in any language skill or system. This is contrasted sharply with my staff, about half of which have advanced degrees in applied linguistics, education, or language. The rest have advanced degrees in other fields. They represent 9 different countries and speak well over a dozen different languages between them.

All of this takes place in the context of a Language Center at the biggest university in the country. The Language Center has more than 250 teachers from over 30 different countries. The way rhetoric and composition is taught varies from person to person, culture to culture. This can create interesting challenges for the WrC consultants as teachers have different pedagogical strategies, which, of course, imprints onto the students.

We are also trying to be research based, so we are piloting a portfolio program this semester in the WrC. Additionally, I am working on a project where consultants audio record their own sessions and then reflect on their methods in an attempt to determine if there truly are “best practices” in our contextual microcosm.

Can you tell us more about the students you work with at the Centre?

tutoring in oman 2Our students are between 17 and 19 years old, generally. The classrooms are technically mixed but the students sit on opposite sides of the class and don’t really interact with one another. They enter and exit through different doors. The students are a mix of traditional conservative students from different regions and more progressive students coming from Muscat, Rustaq, Sur, or Sohar (major cities in Oman). Students take a placement exam when they first enter the university, which puts them at a level in the Foundation Program (or they pass directly on to their BA programs). For many of the students, this is the first time a group of women or men have been taught by a man or woman, respectively.

Continue reading “The Writing Centre at the Sultan Qaboos University”

The University of British Columbia Writing Centre Faces Closure

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 4.50.48 PMThe University of British Columbia is facing a shut-down of the face-to-face services of their popular writing centre. According to reporting from Samantha McCabe in the student newspaper, The Ubyssey, “Tutors believe that it is due to financial issues facing the Writing Centre, but this has not been confirmed by the university administration.”

Tutors and staff are pushing back against the pending decision and have started an online petition, which states, “Without the Writing Centre’s free tutoring services, the university’s reputation for academic excellence and educational accessibility will no longer be secure-and that is why we, as concerned students and Writing Centre tutors, have put forth this petition as a call for action. We need to save the Writing Centre’s tutoring services.”

To lend your support, sign the petition today!

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CFP: The 3rd International Conference on Academic Writing

Dr. Michael Dickel shares a CFP for the conference hosted by the Israel Forum for Academic Writing (IFAW).

The 3rd International Conference on Academic Writing is pleased to feature the following keynote speakers:

The deadline for abstracts has been extended until 22 November. While there will be presentations in Hebrew and Arabic (with a select few having simultaneous translation into English), if it follows the pattern of the last two conferences, most will be in English. Writing Center presentations are explicitly included, and have done well in the past conferences.

Download the IFAW Call for Proposals 2016 here!

More about the conference: About 9 years ago, a group of academics who taught Academic Writing in Higher Education (mostly in English, at the time) decided to start a professional organization in Israel. I happened onto the scene and joined up with them shortly after—the result of our efforts was the Israel Forum on Academic Writing (the name came a bit later). After a couple of very successful initial meetings, we applied to the MOFET Institute, which supports pedagogical research and teacher education in Israel. They have provided support to the organization as one of its “Forums,” which is where the name came from, although we call ourselves IFAW (pronounced here as ee-FAW).

The organization quickly expanded from mostly English-writing faculty to include faculty who teach writing in Hebrew and Arabic. There are a few members who teach secondary schools, but writing is not a regular part of the usual high school curriculum here. It is also not typically taught in universities or colleges, although some individual majors do require writing. In this way, the context is very different.

The organization meets a few times each semester, usually sharing research in progress or praxis presentations. Sometimes, there is a guest speaker (such as an international visitor or someone from another field). Some of us presented at a 4Cs Panel in St. Louis. Many members of IFAW present our work internationally.

Continue reading “CFP: The 3rd International Conference on Academic Writing”