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.
If somebody had told me a few years ago that I would work in an office or in a unit at a university in Germany, I would have considered this idea crazy. Me, a foreigner in a German unit at a university??? At that time it was hard for me to believe and now it is reality. My name is Alicja, I come from Poland and I am pursuing my masters in Intercultural Communication at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder). I feel attached to the university not only because of my studies but also because of the job in the Writing Center (German: Schreibzentrum). I’m writing this blog to present my place of work as well as to share some experience and thoughts on the subject of what the Writing Center is for me and how I perceive the job of a writing tutor.
I started my job at the university in April a year ago. What does the work as a peer tutor mean to me? Hm… This is my occupation in which I perfect my writing competence and help others in perfecting it. This is just one side of a coin. Actually I treat this job as a wonderful adventure and never-ending meeting with people and exchange of experience, values, smiles and joy. I’m glad to be able to enrich my studies at the Viadrina University and my stay on the Polish-German border in this way.
Coming back to Schreibzentrum where I’m sitting, I would like to pay attention to the atmosphere of work and education which prevails in our team. It is very friendly and unstressful. Thanks to this atmosphere I changed my approach to writing itself. Earlier I thought that writing was an activity in which you put your thoughts down to paper or to the computer screen.
In our Writing Center I understood and experience that this is a process in which a dialog with another person and me is realized. As many of my friends at the university share my earlier approach, I would like to spread my new approach and the atmosphere prevailing in the Center to lecturers, students and other people met in the context of academic or literary writing. I would like others to see this process from another perspective, which can bring them a lot of advantages, not only a positive approach to writing itself, but also perfecting this competence and the joy of creating texts.