Lessons We Learn: 10 Years of Cologne Centre for Writing Competency

Editor’s note: What do writing centers look like in other parts of the world? In this blog post we get a glimpse into how things are done in Germany at the University of Cologne’s Centre for Writing Competency. Today’s post comes from Esther Breuer, the Director of the Kompetenzzentrum Schreiben at the Universität zu Köln in Germany. She founded the center in 2007.

The Centre for Writing Competency of the University of Cologne was founded in 2007 and is going to celebrate its tenth anniversary this October. Our university is one of the largest state universities in Germany with nearly 50,000 students in six faculties or schools. In the beginning, it was funded by the students’ fees of those at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. After students’ fees were abolished, the Centre remained under this faculty and is supported by a fund set up by our federal state for balancing the budget. We now form a team of eight: one director, one specialist on teaching academic writing, the head of our classes on tutoring, an L1 English tutor, and four students for the coaching. As a result, most of its offers are exclusively for students of the Humanities, or for those students who major or minor in at least one subject at our faculty.

The main objective of the Centre is to coach and support students in the process of writing term papers, Bachelor, Master theses, as well as PhD dissertations. We work with the concept of peer-tutoring. At the beginning, our clients often had difficulties with this concept as they expected to come into an office where a lecturer was going to correct their papers. They expected this lecturer to be an ‘older’ person (from the students’ perspective) who knew how everything was to be done. They did not assume that they had to cooperate (or do the main work) in enhancing their papers, finding the weaknesses as well as workable solutions for coping with these. This passive attitude towards feedback might be the effect of a widely-accepted attitude in Germany that writing is a gift and that one cannot learn how to write well. In former times – and sometimes this is still the case today – professors made students believe that they were not apt for studying if they did not know how to write academic papers. This belief is still implanted in some of the students’ heads, and for them it is hard to understand that writing is a learnable competency that simply needs knowledge of concepts and methods, as well as training.

Continue reading “Lessons We Learn: 10 Years of Cologne Centre for Writing Competency”

An Interview with Magnus Gustafsson

Guest Edited by Steffen Guenzel: Magnus Gustafson is a busy scholar and researcher. He is the Chair of the European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing (EATAW) and is an Ex-officio board member of the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA). Furthermore, he is an editorial board member to the WAC Clearing House and an editorial board member to Across the Disciplines, as well as the International Exchanges on the Study of Writing. Closer to home, he chairs the scientific committee for Chalmers Conference on Teaching and Learning.

MG_2While he earned a PhD in English Literature with a thesis on a British postmodern novelist, his first job entailed ‘further education’ for him – from running literature courses at an English department to promoting engineering communication education at college level in Sweden for three and five year engineering programs. This work naturally came to involve some initial thinking and researching on process writing and genre pedagogy so that it became his first entry gate to writing development and writing studies His background in literary studies offered several entry points to textual analysis with a much higher resolution as well as the first few steps into understanding genre and its conventions. Another important component in that program was that the strong / dominant proficiency focus in some ESL and SLA contexts in Sweden was balanced with a communicative approach to language acquisition. This focus on writing studies was a response to a perceived complete lack of writing pedagogy at the college level and led to the development of a local approach to these issues. Now he directs at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Division of Language and Communication in the Department of Applied IT, which also includes the Chalmers Writing Centre. In his position he continuously tries to work to integrate disciplinary language and communication into the university’s many programs and levels.

On my institutional website, I describe my work as “supporting division colleagues in course design and networking with course and program managers across the university.” But not all our activities are integrated courses and interventions of course. In my own teaching, I often facilitate PhD level writing courses to increase PhD researchers’ disciplinary discourse awareness to enable their careers as authors. I am also involved in some of our elective courses at the graduate and undergraduaHands from the rightte level as well as our faculty training courses. One of my favorites is ‘Fiction for Engineers’ which is a general education course with a focus on the power of fiction to emphasise the changing perspectives required to take on the challenge of relating technology or engineering to the society and people for whom it is intended.

To understand the role and function of the Division better, a few words might be called for about Chalmers University of Technology which offers bachelor level programs in engineering, management, maritime studies, and architecture. The various BSc programs open into 44 different but related 2-year master level programs. In terms of writing ‘programs’, this setup tends to take the form of starting with basic technical reporting and lab reporting in Swedish in the first year; continues with more specific writing in the second year or at least with a different genre or audience for the writing (some programs turn to English in the second year too). Most of the bachelor programs collaborate with the division throughout the first three years in integrated modules or adopt an adjunct model where a ‘content’ course runs hand-in-hand with a ‘communication’ course. What all the programs have in common is the BSc thesis in the third year. By the dean’s decision this thesis is to be written in Swedish but some 20% are in English for various reasons.

2015-12-09 15.23.45Given this type of context, we work with program managers and / or course managers to isolate the courses where scaffolding writing would be most effective for the program. We end up co-designing writing assignments and structuring these and collaborate in criteria and rubrics design as well as feedback and assessment. Most of the time, however, we do not assess final versions but focus on the process and make sure peer response elements function well.

What does writing look like at your institution? What support do writers and faculty teaching writing receive there?

The “bachelor thesis” offers our single largest writing intervention, where projects are advertised by supervisors and students sign up in an election module. Group sizes vary from 3-6 for projects and tend to involve cross-program connections. Often students from 3 different programs and disciplines participate on a project because that set of competencies is called for as it were. All groups are offered a 5-lectures series from us and participate in a set of 2 or 3 compulsory tutorials for writing support. The lectures address the stages of the writing process, from pre-writing via structure and style to argumentation and critiques.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 11.03.27 AM

But the lectures are only meaningful in combination with tutorials. Typically, some 850 students in approximately 220 groups book 2-3 tutorial sessions each with the division. Generally, tutorials include one focused on peer-response on early drafts or planning reports; a second one focused only on one group and where texts are more complete including results reporting and discussion sections; the third tutorial is geared towards critiquing another group’s report in the closing presentation sessions in May. Needless to say, groups can also book additional sessions with the writing center.

Continue reading “An Interview with Magnus Gustafsson”

An Update on PeerCentered!

Editor’s note: It was my pleasure to meet Clint Gardner in person at IWCA this year and hear more about PeerCentered. The Director of the Salt Lake Community College Student Writing Center, he currently serves as Archivist for the Two-year College Association (TYCA) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). On his website, Clint shares that “having worked in writing centers for over two decades, I have learned a great deal about writing center theory and practice, one-to-one instruction, peer tutoring, the role of writing centers at two-year colleges, as well as the uses of computers in composition classrooms and in the writing center. My role as Student Writing Center Director at Salt Lake Community College allows me to teach writing to students from diverse backgrounds, as well as to teach tutors how to respond more effectively to their peers. ” Below, Clint shares more about the past, present, and future of the PeerCentered community!

36222_507314723380_2934617_nPeerCentered started out in 1998 as an online text chat for peer tutors. The concept was simple: allow an online space for peer tutors to continue the kinds of discussions that they were having at conferences such as the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing and other more regionally-based writing center conferences such as the Rocky Mountain Peer Tutoring Conference. Initially, the discussions were held weekly, and had a fair number of peer tutor and writing center professional attendees from various institutions around the United States, but we did have one writing center professional join in from Europe on occasion. Time zones do interfere with such live discussions. In the early days, peer tutors did outnumber professionals by a considerable amount—something that would change over time. The live chats were initially held weekly—then monthly—and then finally just a few times a year, mostly due to the difficulty in sticking to such a schedule by the main organizer—me! I fear I realized far too late that I could have turned over the organization and the moderation of the live chats to peer tutors themselves.

After playing around with asynchronous discussion forums which never really took off, I decided to add a blog to PeerCentered as a means of having peer tutors share their experiences in that media with others from around the world. The blog has been moderately successful, given that there have been over 750 postings, and more than 1,100 comments in its 14 year history. PeerCentered averages over 5,000 page views per month, during the typical school year. Contributors have written on a variety of topics ranging from practical tutoring techniques, to more theoretical discussions of how peer tutoring works, language acquisition, or the student’s right to his or her own language, for example.

Continue reading “An Update on PeerCentered!”

Semicolons Like Superglue! And Other “Stickable” Things

Editor’s note: Abby Shantzis and Lena Stypeck are tutors at the University of Maryland Writing Center and have developed some exciting strategies for using analogies as a tool in tutoring sessions. Timely advice as we start the fall semester!

Analogies in the Writing Center

lena and abby
Abby and Lena

Over the past three years, Lena has been especially interested in how students best retain information. As a University of Maryland Writing Center (UMD WC) tutor and now high school English teacher, she’s constantly worried that her efforts are for nothing–what’s the point of explaining something if your client is just going to forget the second they leave you? The issue of retention came to her attention when one of her regulars returned making the exact same mistakes as before, completely oblivious to their previous sessions’ discussions. Lena began to question her own tutoring abilities: If this client had forgotten everything they’d talked about, did her other clients forget, too? How bad of a tutor was she if her clients weren’t learning anything? Was she actually fulfilling the UMD WC’s mission to make better writers, if writers were coming back with the same mistakes? These terrifying–and potentially self-destructive–questions paved the way for research on analogies, which she used to combat student retention issues.

Continue reading “Semicolons Like Superglue! And Other “Stickable” Things”

A Writing Center to Envy

Editor’s note: After hearing from afar of the beautiful writing center space that Jackson State University in Mississippi enjoys, I wanted to know more! Tatiana Glushko and Kathi R. Griffin share their story below:

Entrance to the centerIn 2002 The Richard Wright Center for the Written Word (RWC) at Jackson State University began as part of a grant. As coordinator of the Millsaps College Writing Center, Kathi Griffin was invited to help train the first cohort of peer tutors, of which then undergraduate Summer Graves was a member. After the center got off the ground, funding sources changed more than once, which also changed the face and location of the center.

CAPTION GOES HERE
Tatiana Glushko and Kathi Griffin.

As we know, the location of the writing center speaks about its role on a campus. The evolution of the RWC reflects its changing affiliations, thereby its role and mission at JSU. When the center opened in 2003, it was located on the third floor at the back of the library. It didn’t have its own enclosed space and thus was furnished like the rest of the library, in unforgiving oak tables and chairs. It was a place where students, primarily undergraduates “who need assistance and encouragement in completing their writing assignments,” could receive support.

Continue reading “A Writing Center to Envy”

Tutoring in Qatar

Editor’s note: Today’s profile is of Dr. Molly McHarg, who was kind enough to share some of her experience working in Qatar.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.28.13 AMThe Writing Center (TWC) at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQ) began rather organically. VCUQ opened in 1998, and, to the best of my understanding, there was an English faculty member who recognized the need for additional English language writing support early on. She, along with other volunteer English faculty members, provided supplemental writing instruction to students on a one-on-one basis. Fast forward to 2004, and the first Writing Center Instructor position was created. This instructor is still with TWC. Since 2004, there have also been a series of adjunct instructors hired to work part-time in TWC. Finally, in 2013, a second full-time position was created in TWC, a position which I currently hold.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.29.30 AMMy husband and I moved to Qatar in August 2005 — almost 10 years ago — when Georgetown University was just opening its branch campus in Doha. We were newlyweds and eager to embark on an exciting adventure abroad, so we jumped at the opportunity with plans to stay “for one year, maximum two”, at which point we planned to return to the U.S. Ten years later we are still here and loving it! We now have three children and have added two advanced degrees to our resumes. Qatar is an incredible place with many opportunities, both for work and personal development. I think it is one of the best places in the world to raise children; there are also endless opportunities to travel, and research and other professional development opportunities abound.

Continue reading “Tutoring in Qatar”

18 years after “Beans” — Neal Lerner reflects

A week out from the deadline to reflect on Neal Lerner’s seminal WLN article, “Counting Beans and Making Beans Count,” the original author shares a few of his own thoughts:

Lerner_Neal Let me start by thanking Muriel Harris for the opportunity to fire up the time machine and allow me a few moments to reflect on my 1997 Writing Lab Newsletter article, “Counting Beans and Making Beans Count, ” and what the last 18 years have meant to writing centers when it comes to assessing the impact we might have on students and on our campuses. It is extremely gratifying for me to know that “Beans” might have had some effect on the ways that writing center professionals have approached assessing the work of their writing centers.

In 1997, I was less than a year removed from completing a doctorate in education degree and was charged with creating a brand-new writing center at a college of pharmacy and health sciences. That first year, I had been hired part-time, initially a 50% appointment that I was able to expand to 75% by also teaching a section of first-year writing. I describe these circumstances to offer an idea of the exigency for my study: If I wanted that part-time employment to continue and perhaps even become a full-time job, I needed to show some measure of “success” for the writing center I had just recently created. I was very fortunate to have the support of my department chair, who helped me gather the data—first-year students’ SAT scores and grades in first-year writing—that went into the initial “Beans” study. It did not occur to me at the time that such data is hard to gather or not readily made available by college and university registrars. In fact, I distinctly remember an email conversation that Mickey and I had in which she expressed amazement that I did have easy access to such data! But, fortunate I was, even if it meant seeing that some of my colleagues gave all of their students A’s without fail (a finding that my chair told me in no uncertain terms would not be released for public consumption).

Continue reading “18 years after “Beans” — Neal Lerner reflects”

Tutoring with an International Background

Editor’s note: I recently put out a call to hear the stories and perspective of those that work in our centers who come from a multi-lingual, multi-national, multi-cultural background. I hope you enjoy the following stories from Claudia and Kumar as much as I do, and the way they highlight the important, fostering work writing centers do.

And read part two, now posted!

CLAUDIA QUEZADA GARRIDO
Pursuing a MA in English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan-Flint

Currently I am one of only 3 international students in the English Language and Literature program. I come from Chile, where I got my B.A. in English and Education. As you may have guessed, my first language is Spanish. I learned English at University. While I was in my junior year I was awarded a scholarship to work as a language assistant in the UK. I lived in South Wales for a year, helping High School seniors develop their language skills in Spanish. Until that point in my life, my contact with English had been limited to the classroom setting. Living in a country where the language is actually is spoken is very different.

Continue reading “Tutoring with an International Background”

The History of the WLN: an interview with Dr. Muriel “Mickey” Harris (part two)

Editor’s note: Continuing our previous conversation about the history of the WLN, I asked Dr. Harris to comment on a few other writing center matters, including the history of the Purdue OWL, concerns for the future, and the future of the WLN.

HISTORY OF THE PURDUE OWL

We started the Purdue Writing Lab in 1975 on an experimental basis for a year, and next year, beginning in 1976, it was officially started. But that was long before email or the internet. We developed cabinets full of handouts for students to keep them from taking notes as we talked, and if we took out handouts, we’d mark them up so that they were personalized for the student to take home.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 3.45.01 PM

Somewhere in the 80’s when email came along, I thought we should make those hundreds of handouts available when the Lab wasn’t open, so I managed to scrape bits and pieces of funding to get them up on an automatic system so that students could email a request for a list, then email by number which handouts they wanted (all in ASCII characters, of course), and it would come back immediately.

I don’t know how people all over the world learned about that looooong list of handouts, but we quickly realized thousands of requests were coming in. When Gopher became available, we moved to Gopher, and when web browsers came along, we moved onto the web, all the while watching increasing numbers, so that it quickly jumped to millions of requests from all over the world. It’s still well into the millions.

Continue reading “The History of the WLN: an interview with Dr. Muriel “Mickey” Harris (part two)”

New Blog Editors!

Recently, the editorial staff of the Writing Lab Newsletter posted a call for an editor for this blog. We greatly appreciate the interest in this position and all the excellent applications. And we are delighted to announce that the position has been filled by two exceptionally qualified candidates:

IMG_9685Josh Ambrose, WLN Blog Editor. Josh is the Director of the Writing Center at McDaniel College where he also teaches multiple classes within the English department; he previously worked at the Writing Center at George Mason while completing his MFA in creative nonfiction. He has a proven interest in communicating across borders and looks forward to many great conversations ahead.

FullSizeRenderSteffen Guenzel, WLN Blog Associate Editor. Steffen joined the Center for Writing Excellence at The University of Central Florida in the summer of 2012. He received his doctorate in 20th century American Literature from the University of Alabama in 2006 after completing a Masters in secondary education (English/Russian/Education) at Leipzig University, Germany, and a year as a Fulbright exchange student. Currently, in his research he examines higher education developments in Germany and Europe in regard to the writing center movement and WAC-related initiatives with the idea to continue to build bridges and connect people.

Both have impressive academic credentials and share our vision of this blog being a space that allows writing center specialists to transcend borders and share, learn, collaborate, and meet each other. Josh and Steffen have a long list of projects to invite you, in Josh’s words, to “explore writing center-minded narratives/approaches [that reach] across borders.

To reach the editors, please email WritingCentersAcrossBorders@gmail.com

Stay tuned–and stay involved!

Alan Benson, Writing Lab Newsletter, Development Editor
and
Muriel Harris, Writing Lab Newsletter, Editor

New issue of the Writing Lab Newsletter

The first issue of Vol. 39 of the Writing Lab Newsletter is now published and winging its way to subscribers’ mailboxes, and the Tutor’s Column is available to read online. Previous issues are, as always, available in the open-access archive: https://writinglabnewsletter.org/

“What a Difference Three Tutoring Sessions Make: Early Reports of Efficacy from a Young Writing Center” – L. Lennie Irvin

“Creating a Space for Business Communication” – Elizabeth Tomlinson

“Review of Researching the Writing Center, by Rebecca Babcock and Therese Thonus”- Reviewed separately by Sherry Wynn Perdue and Sarah Littlejohn

Tutor’s Column: “The Writing Space: A Forum for the Technological Age” – Elizabeth Busekrus

Plus the Conference Calendar of forthcoming writing center conferences.