A Year and a Half Later: A Humble Reflection || St. Cloud State University’s Writing Center Administration Certificate Program

This post is a followup from Carol’s piece, Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program, from February 2017, with reflections on the program from students. Carol Mohrbacher is a Professor of English and former Writing Center Director.

 

Carol Mohrbacher

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.

Now that I am in my 2nd year, I view at the program with a perspective emerging out of a year and a half’s experience. I’ve learned that cohorts differ from year to year. The first year’s class was energetic and immediately collaborative; this year’s cohort is quieter and less bonded than the first—but they are similar in their creative energy and commitment to writing center administration studies. Continue reading “A Year and a Half Later: A Humble Reflection || St. Cloud State University’s Writing Center Administration Certificate Program”

Seminar || Academic Writing and Innovation, National University of Ireland

National University of Ireland, Galway || 17 April 2017 || Registration

Innovation is seen as a key ingredient for success in academia, but we often taken good academic writing for granted as a crucial skill in this process. We know from the work of Peter Elbow that writing is a creative and imaginative process, irrespective of the subject. Janet Giltrow has argued that ‘style is meaningful’ and impacts the development of ideas. More recently, Helen Sword has drawn attention to ‘stylish academic writing’, arguing that ‘intellectual creativity thrives best in an atmosphere of experimentation rather than conformity’. Yet the precise relationship between academic writing and innovation remains to be explored; to do so means to highlight the crucial importance of writing centres, writing instructors, and pedagogical initiatives to academia at large.

This seminar will examine the connection between academic writing and innovation from a variety of perspectives, including the use of the Project Based Learning (PBL) and other innovative methodologies, the switch from assessing to improving student writing, the role of writing centres in academia, the ideology of writing spaces, and new ways to support librarians on the path towards publication.

Confirmed Speakers
Tom Deans, University of Connecticut
Steven Engel, University of Michigan
Hellen Fallon, Maynooth University
Adrian Frazier, NUI Galway
Megan Jewel, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio
Ann Nowak, Touro Law Center
Laura McLoughlin, NUI Galway

Registration

Creating a Writing Center in Salvador-Bahia, Brazil

Fernanda Queirós Campbell is a postdoctoral research assistant in the Health Sciences Institute of the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil; Katia Nunes Sá is an associate professor and coordinator of the Scientific Communication Center at the Bahiana School of Medicine and Public Health, Brazil; Abrahão Fontes Baptista is an associate professor at the Center for Mathematics, Computation, and Cognition at the Federal University of ABC, Brazil; Gigi Taylor is the Senior English Language Specialist in the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

At the 2015 IWCA Conference, we presented “Creating a Writing Center in Brazil: Revolutionizing the Unknown” (p. 25) in an ignite session. This blog post summarizes the evolution of the project and the exciting results our effort to establish a writing center in Salvador-Bahia, Brazil.

When Fernanda Queirós was pursuing a PhD in Maternal & Child Health from UNC Chapel Hill, she was an avid user of writing center resources, including individual tutoring, English language support programs, and dissertation boot camp. Throughout her time there, she worked closely with Gigi Taylor, the Writing Center’s Senior English Language Specialist. Upon returning to Brazil in a postdoctoral position, Fernanda realized that many of the students who expected to graduate in three months were behind on writing their theses. When she described her experience at UNC, her lead professor, Abrahão Baptista, asked if she would be willing to develop similar writing support for graduate students at Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA).

Fernanda had plenty of experience as a writing center user but had no training as a teacher of writing. Nonetheless, she accepted the challenge and committed to starting a group in two weeks because she was convinced that even limited support would be better than nothing. Abrahão enlisted Prof. Kátia Sá of the Escola Bahiana de Medicina e Saúde Pública (EBMSP) and the Catholic University of Salvador (UCSal). While Abrahão and Kátia shared a deep interest in writing, neither of them knew anything about writing centers and could offer no specific help.

Unable to find information online about writing centers in Brazil, Fernanda reached out to Gigi at the UNC Writing Center. They had a long skype conversation about things to consider, how to set student expectations, how get them accustomed to writing center pedagogy, and about the wealth of resources available through the IWCA. Continue reading “Creating a Writing Center in Salvador-Bahia, Brazil”

“Creating ‘click bait’ and sound bites to incite controversy”: A response to the CHE piece, “What’s Wrong With Writing Centers”

Julia Bleakney is Director of the Writing Center, Elon University.

 

There are many statements in “What’s Wrong with Writing Centers,” an interview with Lori Salem in the Feb 5, 2018 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education, that highlight bad practice for writing centers. The interview presents Dr. Salem as a maverick writing center director, unique in the writing center field for using statistical and quantitative research and whose ideas are radical and forward–thinking in a field of status-seeking writing centers using outdated strategies that don’t serve working class or minority students or those for whom English is not a first language. The interview, conducted by Rose Jacobs, suggests that writing centers cater to privileged students who don’t need them, lest centers be considered remedial, and that writing center policies that have consultants focusing on higher-order concerns or using non-directive strategies is time-wasting and ineffective for students who need more direction.

If writing centers adopted this “one size fits all” approach to working one-to-one with the privileged students they supposedly prefer, and if they shunned empirical research methods in favor of lore, we should be alarmed. But the fact is that most of the claims made in this interview are simply not true—not true of the majority of writing centers in the U.S. and certainly not true of the Writing Center at Elon University. Many writing centers, including Elon’s, train their undergraduate student consultants based on current writing education scholarship; at Elon, for instance, the students in ENG319, Writing Center Workshop, prepare to become writing center consultants not by following lore about how to work with students on their writing but by learning about contemporary research in educational scaffolding, transfer of learning in writing instruction, and working with diverse learners. While there are a range of research approaches used by writing centers, for the last ten to fifteen years, as a field we have not shunned statistical or quantitative research and instead use empirical evidence to test and support claims about the value and impact of writing center sessions on students’ writing knowledge and confidence. In more recent years, writing center scholars have begun several large-scale, multi-site, and longitudinal studies on writing centers and their impact on student writers.

The most alarming claims in this interview are the ideas that writing center consulting strategies adopted as policy discriminate against minorities, multilingual learners, or working-class students and that transformative learning is not happening in writing centers. When Dr. Salem spoke with the Chronicle, she assumed she was speaking to a colleague who would respect a field’s need to continually self-assess and improve, not a writer intent on creating “click bait” sound bites to incite controversy. What the interview gets wrong, in fact, and what we know from empirical studies of writing center practice (for instance, Mackiewicz and Thompson, 2015), is what’s right about writing centers: that consultants, especially peers, do an excellent job identifying, through dialogue, each student’s unique needs at that moment and then tailoring feedback to suit that need. Ask any writing center consultant, at Elon or elsewhere, and they will tell you that it’s simply not possible to use the same technique with every student and that adjusting to each student’s learning style is one of the most important aspects of writing center work; consultants will also tell you that students will receive help with whatever they need, whether it’s organization, punctuation, or understanding an assignment’s purpose. What the interview gets right is the invitation to think carefully and continuously about how we can serve each and every student in our writing center; how our practices might intentionally or unintentionally exclude or discriminate; and about the evidence we collect and disseminate that shows the value of our service to students. While we have work to do, as does any academic program, individualized learning is at the heart of writing center practice.

_________

Read Lori Salem’s response to the CHE article. (Editor)

 

“Writing-Center Researcher Says Views Were Mischaracterized” || Lori Salem’s response to CHE’s “What’s Wrong With Writing Centers”

Below is Lori Salem’s response to her interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education in What’s Wrong With Writing Centers.

The letter below was originally published in the Chronicle of Higher Education on February 9, 2018. It is presented here unedited and with Salem’s permission.

Lori Salem is the Assistant Vice Provost and director of the Student Success Center and Writing Center at Temple University in Philadelphia.

 

To the Editor:

I am the scholar who was profiled in a Chronicle interview that was given the title, “What’s Wrong With Writing Centers” (The Chronicle, February 5).

While I am grateful to The Chronicle for showcasing my article, I must object to how the interview was framed and edited. I am described as “something of a heretic” in the field for advocating that writing centers adopt new pedagogies, and that description is used to set up a me-against-the-field narrative.

This characterization is simply false. What makes my work new is its quantitative methodology, not my arguments about pedagogy. This is from the conclusion to my article: “I am not the first writing center researcher to observe problems with orthodox writing center pedagogies, nor the first to call for changes. My goal here is to add my voice to that growing chorus, as well as to provide some empirical backing for the argument.”

Moreover, my colleagues have embraced my research — they gave it an award, for heaven’s sake! — and they don’t deserve the implicit slam that came along with the article.

I hope that readers of this interview will be able to see past these mischaracterizations to a more balanced view of writing-center work. In my view, our field does powerful work, and we could still do better. We have come a long way, and we can still go further. The best way to understand my research is as a contribution to a field that is engaged in healthy debate.

To be clear, I don’t believe that there is anything fundamentally “wrong” with writing centers.

Lori Salem
Assistant Vice Provost
Director, Student Success Center and Writing Center
Temple University
Philadelphia

Middle East and North Africa Writing Center Alliance conference: Transfer and Transform

Elizabeth Whitehouse (Ewhitehouse@uaeu.ac.ae) is the Executive Secretary of the Middle East and North Africa Writing Center Alliance (MENAWCA) and the Supervisor of the Student Academic Success Program (SASP) Writing Centers at United Arab Emirates University.

Following up on our first post about MENAWCA in 2015, Elizabeth Whitehouse provides an update here and talks about their 6th biennial conference in February 2018, Transfer and Transform.

WLN Blog: Tell us about MENAWCA. What does it stand for? How did it begin?  How do you communicate with each other?
Elizabeth: MENAWCA stands for the Middle East and North Africa Writing Center Alliance; we are a regional affiliate of the IWCA. The alliance was established by some teachers at my own institution, UAEU, in 2007. They saw a need for a network to connect writing center directors, tutors and staff in the Middle East and North Africa region. Since then, MENAWCA has worked to foster best practice in MENA writing centers, provide professional development and networking opportunities, raise awareness of the value of writing centers as an educational resource and promote research into MENA writing center activities. We pursue these goals in various ways, such as our website, newsletters, listserve and social media (Facebook; Twitter) but most importantly, we hold biennial conferences for our membership and the wider community.

WLN Blog: You are organizing an upcoming conference. Does the conference have a theme? What do you hope participants will get out of the experience and what do you hope to achieve by organizing this conference?
Elizabeth: Yes, work is underway for our 6th biennial conference, which we are convening in collaboration with the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU). The conference will be held in the beautiful, historic oasis town of Al Ain, in the UAE, in February 2018. Our conference theme is ‘Transfer and Transform,’ which we hope will act as a springboard for engaging discussions and critical reflections on our work with student writers in the Arab world.  Participants will have an opportunity to share insights, raise questions, hopefully get some answers, and leave with refreshing new ideas and perspectives that will help them advance the work of their centers.  We are particularly excited to be welcoming Dr. Chris Anson, Distinguished University Professor and Director of the Campus Writing and Speaking Program at North Carolina State University, as our keynote speaker; his wide-ranging scholarly expertise encompasses areas of key importance to our work with student writers (http://www.ansonica.net/).

WLN Blog: Can you tell us about opportunities and challenges you see for the MENAWCA and for writing centers in the region?
Elizabeth: MENAWCA is in a position to offer professional development opportunities for anyone involved in writing center work in the region. Whether someone attends our conferences, reads our newsletters, uses our website, or seeks advice by posting a question on our listserve, MENAWCA should help them get an answer to a writing center related question. It is not uncommon for teachers in the region (such as myself) to find themselves tasked with starting or managing a writing center, with little or possibly no prior writing center experience. Being able to visit an established center or link up with a more experienced peer can be a great help. I see a lot of potential for MENAWCA to expand its work, particularly in encouraging discussion about the work of writing centers in ESOL academic communities. That brings us directly to the challenges!  While institutions in the region often use higher education models established in the US, the academic support services that go with those models are not always in place, or secure. Center directors can find themselves expending a lot of time and effort explaining and justifying their work, and trying to secure appropriate resources. Of course, this challenge is not unique to our region. Continue reading “Middle East and North Africa Writing Center Alliance conference: Transfer and Transform”

CWCAB: Creative/Writing Center Note

Amy Hansen, staff writer, introduces our special creative writing feature to wrap up the spring ’17 semester! To read individual pieces, click the pull quotes below, or scroll through the creative writing section of the blog. 

I had no idea what we’d receive when we put out the call for creative writing about writing center work, but I was banking on the obsessive devotion both fields require to produce good results. We read so many good submissions from all over the world — from South Africa to Hawai’i to Canada (and beyond!) — and gradually, as these things do, a theme began to emerge.

Like our writers, all of whom identify as creative writers and writing center folks, each piece we chose features a space between the creative and the academic, between self and other, between prescriptivist and descriptivist, between music and poetry, and between play and form.

This makes sense to me! As writing center tutors and administrators, our work requires us to shift rapidly in and out of discourse communities and interpersonal roles. So why wouldn’t that same tension translate thematically and stylistically to our creative writing?

Continue reading “CWCAB: Creative/Writing Center Note”

Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program

Carol Mohrbacher

Carol Mohrbacher is a Professor of English and former Writing Center Director (the Write Place) at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. Carol, using her many years of experience, advice and input from colleagues, as well as research in writing center practice, theory, and pedagogy, planned, developed, and launched a new Writing Center Administration graduate certificate in the Fall of this year. Below is our e-mail interview with Carol.

WLN Blog: What was the progenitor of your idea to set up this program?
Carol: About seven or eight years ago, it occurred to me that I was supervising too many independent studies on the topic of writing center administration and tutor training. Some of our writing center alums who had completed these independent studies were finding jobs as writing center professionals. In 2009, there was a call from our Provost for the development of ideas that might appeal to the local and state community. Funding would be involved. So, never one to overlook an opportunity for funding, I proposed a course on writing center administration. The proposal almost immediately fell into a black hole, as the Provost moved on to another position at another institution, and the initiative disappeared—a situation that anyone who has been in academia for any length of time will recognize.

In 2012-13, a few years and more independent studies—and two Provosts—later, a new Provost called for innovative certificate programs. Simultaneously, administration pushed for more online offerings. I saw this as an opportunity to develop a valuable program—something that would contribute to the international writing center community, as well as to my own institution. My efforts in 2009 had resulted in a syllabus, and a sort of plan for future topics courses in writing center administration. I decided to build off of that early nugget.

WLN Blog: What were the processes and obstacles to developing and implementing the program?
Carol: The first thing I needed was some direction on what a certificate program looked like. No one seemed to know, so I did my research, looking at programs in IT and Education. One note: generally, this kind of project is the result of group or committee efforts. I was on my own, except for the feedback and editing help of my friend, Tim Fountaine.

What I did not expect were the many levels of scrutiny and research that would be required of me from groups and individuals at all levels—the English Department, College of Liberal Arts, SCSU administration, IT, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities administrative body. Two years later, after 14 levels (I counted them) of permissions and approvals, and after much research and one survey that resulted in 260+ respondents, the program was a go.

The next step was to create the courses that I had proposed and outlined for the various committees and individuals. This semester, I have begun teaching the first 2 courses—Writing Center Theories and Practice, and Issues in Writing Center Administration. So far, so good. I have students from 7 states. They are MA and PhD students and writing center professionals from various institutions from high school to R-1 universities. The engagement and enthusiasm are infectious. I am having a great time working with them.

The final two 2-credit courses for this 10-credit certificate program will be offered at the beginning of summer semester in a 5-week session. They are titled, “Staffing and Training” and “Cases Studies in Writing Center Administration.” Continue reading “Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program”