Writing and Communication Center at the New Economic School, Moscow

My name is Kara Bollinger, and I am the Assistant Director of the Writing and Communication Center at the New Economic School (NES) in Moscow, Russia. Our writing center is just now turning one-year-old and is one of only two writing centers in Russia. So, the Director of the WCC, Olga Aksakalova, and I are excited to join the conversation on CWCAB. We’re sure to have questions (and hopefully insights) in the coming months, but for now we want to say “hey.”

Students at our school are enrolled in one of three programs: Bachelor’s in Economics (a joint program with the Higher School of Economics), Master’s in Economics, and Master’s in Finance. Students write and give presentations in both English and Russian. The WCC offers one-on-one writing consultations in both English and Russian. We also hold workshops on a variety of writing and communication topics (again some workshops are in English and some are in Russian). Our students read in English, attend courses in English, and listen to presentations in English, but they often want more practice speaking; because of this, we also offer one-on-one English conversation sessions.  In addition to Olga and me, the WCC employs four part-time professional consultants who work with students.

Though most of our time is dedicated to students, we also work with faculty. First, we are active collaborators with the English department in helping develop curriculum and providing guidance on aspects of courses like writing assignments, rubrics, and peer review questions. Second, we are beginning to work with Economics faculty on effectively teaching and incorporating writing in their courses.

As a recent transplant to Moscow (I’ve been here for a little over a month) what I’ve noticed most (in the WCC, that is) is that the writing pedagogy and the writing center theory that are commonplace in the US are new ideas here. Though students come to the WCC expecting help with their writing or speaking, they often show up for a session, sit down at the table and say “So, what is this place?” It’s quite rewarding to explain the writing center to students and makes the goal-setting portion of the session crucial. In the future, Olga hopes to write more about her experiences starting the WCC here last year, which illustrate the idea of Rhet/Comp being new in Russia.

Note boardOne way we’re working to increase our school’s understanding of the WCC is through Open Houses. The WCC got a new home this year, so we hope that once students actually visit the space, we can say “Okay—here’s what we do here.” To help root our writing center, our Open Houses include a discussion of other writing centers. We hope this will help students understand the context in which the WCC exists. Additionally, we want students to feel like the WCC is “theirs.” So, we’re encouraging them to provide artwork, photos, creative writing, and/or favorite quotes to decorate the WCC. To start, we’ve asked students to write their writing and/or communication goals for the year on a Post-It note and to post those goals in the WCC. So far, the Open Houses seem to be working. Students have been active in engaging us with questions about the WCC and excited about continuing to participate.

That’s all for now. We look forward to sharing and collaborating with you all soon.

 

Advice on Starting a Writing Center

I’m a writing center director who started the first writing center in a Central Asian country. For those of you who are starting a writing center in your country, wherever you are,  you may be the first or one of the few who start a writing center, I offer some cautionary advice as we listen to each other talking about our writing centers.

One of the complications of writing a few paragraphs on the local reality in my country is that it’s so local and contextual that it may say little about what exists in your country. I feel that what I would have to say would be, especially in terms of “advice,” useful only within the country where I am. Maybe we can begin to share some differences to be alert to. But my cautionary advice is not to assume that what someone else says about his or her country, even if it’s a nearby one, is relevant to you. The cultural norms that exist there may—or may not—apply to your situation.

It is possible that a university wants a writing center, but their idea of one will vary a great deal from the notions a new director would have, especially coming out of the context of a university in the USA. Some foreign universities may have an interest in modeling their student services or academic support on the Western models, or what they have read about Writing Centers in the U. S. A.  There is significant cultural capital in resembling Western education.  Also, there can be the age-old assumption that a writing center will come to the rescue in terms of students’ second language skills (read “grammatical” errors), which are often more problematic/pronounced in academic writing than in speaking.

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