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?”
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.
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
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”→
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”→
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.
Lingshan Song is the Assistant Director of the Writing Center at Mississippi College (MC). She also teaches freshmen composition courses and the tutor training course at MC. Her research interests include writing center theory and practice, ESL tutoring, cultural studies, and international collaboration. Her ongoing research projects involve advocating for writing centers in China and supporting writing center establishment there. Lingshan also serves as Outreach Coordinator on the Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA) board, TESOL Representative for the Association of Christians in Writing Centers (ACWC), Secretary of Mississippi Writing Centers Association, and Member for the International Symposium of English Writing Center in Chinese Universities planning committee.
While writing centers have a long history in American academia and are well established in the U.S., in the past decade, writing centers have just started revealing their values to higher education institutions in China. In the past twelve years, from 2006-2017, a batch of Chinese higher institutions have started writing centers to provide tutoring for English writing. Another important step in writing center development was the inaugural conference of Writing Center Association of China, held from June 9-11, 2017 in the Sino-British university, Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University, located in Suzhou, China.
With the exciting progress of building writing centers in China, there is yet to be a study about existing writing centers in China and their contributing elements commonly observed. In other words, how did these writing centers get started? What elements are essential to their establishment? I conducted preliminary research from September to November 2017, aiming to investigate existing writing centers in mainland China and discover commonalities among them and explore possible models for future writing center establishments in China, considering local adaptations.
Despite local adaptations, I found that as international partnerships prosper between U.S. universities and Chinese universities in the past decade, it has created a historical timing for writing center establishment in China. The “globalization” concept, bringing China’s education more in line with international practice, urges Chinese higher institutions to form international partnerships with oversea universities in two forms: 1) by developing exchange student programs with partner universities; 2) sending faculty to partner universities as visiting scholars. Continue reading “Joining the Momentum of Writing Center Establishment in China (Part 2 of 5, Writing Centers in China)”→
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.
Assistant Vice Provost
Director, Student Success Center and Writing Center
シンポジウム開催「Innovations in Writing Education」
主催：東洋大学、The Writing Centers Association of Japan
参加登録には、 https://goo.gl/forms/gQAPw2d7nDzLf5cG3 にアクセスしてください。（無料）
応募書類を https://goo.gl/forms/qFLoZWh0QWwDwSLy2 で提出してください。
The Writing Centers Association of Japan, in conjunction with Toyo University and the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), is pleased to announce the Tenth Symposium on Writing Centers in Asia to be held on March 9th, 2018. The theme this year is “Innovations in Writing Education.”
This symposium provides opportunities for scholars, teachers, students, university administrators, and other professionals to come together to exchange ideas about the role of writing centers in Asian educational institutions as well as the teaching and learning of writing. The symposium attracts a large number of participants, demonstrating the growing importance
of writing centers and a high level of interest in the role and functions of writing centers and writing in Asian higher education. We welcome a diverse group of participants and presenters
from a variety of contexts to join us. Attendance and participation are free.
5-28-20, Hakusan, Bunkyo-ku
Tokyo 112-8606, Japan
Call for Proposals
The Program Committee invites proposals for both research and practice-based presentations in English and Japanese. Presenters will have 25 minutes to present and answer questions.
Presenters are encouraged to use presentation software (e.g., PowerPoint), though they will need to bring their own computers and adapters. We also welcome poster presentations. This
year, reports on newly established writing centers and writing programs are particularly welcome, as well as other topics related to writing education.
Language of proposals and presentations: Either English or Japanese
• Title: Up to 100 letters (including spaces) in English or 50 characters in Japanese
• Summary for the symposium program: About 100 words in English or 250 characters in Japanese
• Abstract: 200 to 300 words in English or 500 to 800 characters in Japanese
• Names, affiliations, and e-mail addresses of all presenters
Proposals are to be submitted online.
Deadline for submissions: February 14, 2018 (Japan Standard Time)
Notification: February 19, 2018
In Canada, a recent focus on reconciliation and Indigenization are revitalizing conversations around anti-oppression pedagogy (Kumashiro, 2000), a series of approaches which focus on how traditional educational systems and practices reinforce existing hierarchies and contribute to the disenfranchisement of marginalized students. Nationally and internationally, post-secondary institutions are seeing students affected by the rising tide of extremist right-wing politics and dubious news sources, calling for renewed attention to social justice and literacy-building.
An International Writing Centres Association (IWCA) position statement states that writing centres are particularly well positioned to “uphold students’ rights, as we work in the everyday-ness of literacy” (as cited in Godbee & Olson, 2014). As Nancy Grimm (2009) said in her IWCA keynote, “Although some might claim that the work of a writing center is ‘just’ to teach writing, the teaching of writing is never a neutral endeavor; it is never devoid of political motivations or outcomes.”
At the 2018 CWCA conference, we invite you to join us to exchange knowledge, share challenges, and ask questions about the ways our teaching and tutoring can and should engage in anti-oppressive educational practices.
Karen-Elizabeth Moroski is the Co-Curricular Programs Coordinator, Writing and Languages at Pennsylvania State University
There’s so much joy in our work: Why not share it?
#WCjoy is a brand-new, bi-weekly twitter chat (Thursdays, 8 PM, EST), wherein WPAs, tutors, composition instructors, writers, etc. are invited to share their anecdotes, quotes, memories and various ways of expressing the joy we find in Writing Center work.
There are two goals for the chat:
The #wcjoy chat seeks to create an informal but still organized space for WPAs to meet, make friends, and experience a positive sense of community together. Follow others from the chat! Make friends! We are, quite literally, here for that reason.
The #wcjoy chat seeks to encourage WPAs, etc. to carve time out of their busy workweeks for mindfulness and reflection on the very moments and people who make our work so wonderful. This type of attention fosters gratitude, and gratitude in turn fosters joy.
Chat Dates for Fall 2017:
Here’s how it works.
Each bi-weekly session, questions will be posted to Write Centered Monday of that week.
At 8:00PM on Thursday, @write_centered will tweet out a welcome.
Follow the Chat Norms below for the rest.
Follow the moderator (@write_centered)
Questions are tweeted out with “Q” and question number.
Responses should start with “A” and corresponding Q# at the start of your tweet
Always use the hashtag #wcjoy to keep us organized!
Kindness and respect, always.
Users who attack or harm others will be blocked by participants.
Use the #wcjoy tag OFTEN and WELL! No need to reserve use for just the chat.
If you can’t attend the chat on time but want to answer questions, that’s totally cool. Just follow the chat norms, so we can still trace where you’re coming from and where you’re headed in your replies.
WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarshipis launching a workshop program to help writers publish in WLN and contribute to the field of writing center studies. The online workshops will support writers in their early stages of thinking and writing.
Help us help you!Please take our short survey to help us identify topics that most interest you, consider factors that will make the online workshops easy for you to attend, and make the workshops inclusive and accessible.
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.