One-woman band: up-date

The last time I wrote, I described my situation as a ‘one-woman band’ study support tutor, with a manager who was making my life impossibly difficult, with all the consequent knock-on effects on my physical and emotional health. This year, as the result of a merger, the hierarchy has shifted, so although I still have the same manager, the ‘Eye of Mordor’ seems to have turned her sights elsewhere and I am being left in peace to get on with my job. There’s no support, of course, but that’s nothing new.

My first bit of news is that I think the website I set up has helped to give the study support workshops a more prominent profile. I have all the workshop dates and details up there, study guides, and other things like useful web links. The second bit of news is that I finally managed to succeed in my argument to return to one-to-one support for students, alongside the workshops. As a result of that, business is brisk. I have always found in the past, that one-to-one support often leads to group sessions as students spread the word amongst their friends and they discover they’d all like to work on the same thing. So I am anticipating that the two different ways of supporting students will feed off each other.

Along with the website, I’m continuing to advertise on the All Student and All Staff emails and, in some programme areas where I have regular workshops running, I’m enrolled onto their Moodle sites so that I can email those groups directly. On one Moodle site I also have my own Study Support area where I post up subject-specific study skills guides.

I’m also trying Twitter – that’s a learning curve! My idea was to have another way of upping the profile of study support amongst the students. I have a limited number of followers and I’ve no idea how many, if any, are my students! Anyway, I think the story of my twittering and tweeting is best left for a separate quote.

The moral of this up-date is: manager keeps out of the way; business thrives.

Hello from the Writing Hub at the University of Sydney, Australia

Hi All.

It’s so great to read all the posts so far. I’m Susan Thomas, the founding director of The University of Sydney Writing Hub (a name that Mickey Harris helped me settle on after much deliberation). I’m an American-trained Writing Program Administrator who never thought for a second that I’d be this far away from home directing a writing center!

I’d like to offer a little background information on the Hub in hopes of opening up a dialogue on some of the challenges of starting a writing center–particularly in environments where writing is viewed as “remedial” or a “content-free zone.” I’ve certainly had my share of ups and downs over the past seven years–and have shed plenty of blood, sweat, and tears to make this dream a reality. But the difficulties and setbacks were all forgotten the first time I walked into the Hub and heard that unmistakable buzz of groups of students and peer tutors talking about writing.

I’ve pasted below an extract from my current research project, but I will soon upload a link to our new Writing Hub video. For now, here is a link to our homepage: http://sydney.edu.au/arts/teaching_learning/writing_hub/index.shtml

I look forward to interacting with you all and learning more about writing centers on a global scale!

All the best from Sydney,

Susan

The University of Sydney Writing Hub was established in 2009 as the teaching and research home of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Writing (WRIT) Program and Writing Centre. Since “centre” in Australia carries a different connotation from that in North America, the name Hub was chosen to reflect Burke’s idea of communication as spokes radiating from a wheel, implying multiple pathways and modalities that undergird, shape, and define the writing process. The Writing Hub is different still from North American Writing Centers since it administers seven credit-bearing courses (five undergraduate and two graduate), and offers drop-in writing assistance for students across the Faculty. While most North American Writing Centers are located in academic departments, the Writing Hub is an independent unit that sits within the Teaching and Learning Network of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Writing Hub courses are required for some degrees across the Faculty and electives for others. While many of our students come from within our own Faculty, we attract a wide range of students from other faculties, including Science and Engineering, particularly in Summer and Winter School (three to six-week intensives during semester breaks). Our flagship course (WRIT1001) and our new cross-cultural writing foundations course (WRIT1000) are offered year-round, in both twelve-week main semesters as well as in Summer and Winter School. Our (new) advanced and graduate courses are offered on rotation, but at least once per year.  All Hub courses meet for three contact hours per week in some combination of lecture, tutorial, or seminar, with all courses featuring a hybrid model of delivery (incorporating face-to-face and online instruction). Small group meetings (tutorials) are held in a 24-person, custom-designed computer classroom.

Drop-in peer writing assistance is available to students enrolled in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and/or a WRIT course. This restriction is purely financial, and we anticipate expanding our services to include the wider University community as funding becomes available.

In addition to courses and peer tutoring, the Writing Hub offers writing workshops for faculty, often facilitated by international experts, and two seminar series: “How I Write” (borrowing from Stanford University’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric), featuring high-profile writers discussing their craft; and “Rhetoric in the Real World,” featuring presentations on applications of rhetoric outside the academy. The Writing Hub also offers consultancy services to area businesses, with all profits re-invested in the Hub to support student programs.

Before the Writing Hub was created, the Faculty offered only two undergraduate writing courses: one housed in English (developed by me), and the other in Linguistics (developed by Professor William Foley, a sociolinguist), with no writing support services for undergraduates. When the Hub was created, Bill andI redesigned these two existing courses as the pilot WRIT courses, which have now undergone several iterations.

The Hub represents a departure from the way writing is usually conceived of and taught in Australia, in that it emphasizes writing as a discipline with a classical rhetorical framework. There is a particular focus on invention and the multimodalities that support discovery in the writing and research processes.

Introducing Ireland’s first academic writing centre

In 2006, €27,000 was awarded to Caroline Graham, Director, University of Limerick (UL) Language Centre, and Dr. Angela Chambers, Professor of Applied Languages, to develop a number of Writing Centre activities and an academic business plan for the creation of a Writing Centre in UL. Subsequent to that initial award, Sarah Moore, Dean of UL’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, assisted with the expansion of the UL application to take advantage of the newly announced Higher Education Authority (HEA), Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) context. Subsequently, UL was successfully awarded a 2.5 year, €250,000 budget to fund the creation of the Shannon Consortium Regional Writing Centre. An inter-institutional initiative based in UL, serving as a nexus of writing activities at four institutions in the Shannon Region, the Shannon Consortium Regional Writing Centre won its award on the strength of its recognition of the centrality of writing to teaching and learning in higher education and the importance of writing for not only the dissemination, but also the discovery and creation of knowledge. Seeing the great value of the Writing Centre to the furtherance of many of the university’s strategic goals and envisaging the centre’s eventual value to the wider off-campus community, the university’s administration mainstreamed the Writing Centre at the end of its SIF contract in 2009, placing it under the auspices of the Centre for Teaching and Learning and assuming responsibility for its financial support.

Today, the re-titled Regional Writing Centre, UL, continues in its support of undergraduate and postgraduate student writers and collaboration with faculty to develop their own writing and to expand writing-based curriculum innovations. Since its inception in 2007, over 75 key writing-enhancement programmes, attended by approximately 15,000 participants from across the region, were offered by the Regional Writing Centre, including the following:

  • Design, delivery and development of modules in writing
  • Integration of writing into course support and curriculum development: Writing to Learn and Writing in Disciplines
  • Expansion of the one-to-one Peer-tutoring in Academic Writing initiative to undergraduate programmes in all four Faculties (currently, the module is taken up only by Humanities students)
  • Online resources, including How I Write, Ireland interviews on video, with transcripts and with Writing-to-Learn prompts for subject specialists who wish to develop writing in their discipline
  • Secondary School Essay Writing Competitions

The Regional Writing Centre is now seen as a centre for excellence in the pedagogy of academic and professional writing development across Ireland and throughout Europe, as evidenced by the successful tender to host EATAW 2011, the European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing conference, which welcomed 300 international delegates to the Limerick in June 2011.

While writing centres have flourished in American universities since the late 1960s, the Regional Writing Centre is the first of its kind in Ireland. The value of the Centre is its contribution to the academic success and future professional development of students and staff at UL and its aspirations for writing development for the region.

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One woman band

I’m what we call a ‘one woman band’ at my University  – no writing centre and struggling as the only tutor to provide sessions in academic writing through workshops,  from 1st yr undergrads, up to and including, post-grads. Along with that, I am battling against a manager who is determined to restrict and limit what I can offer.

Having said that, I am always looking for ways to expand and reach students. It is difficult for a number of reasons. Firstly, up until 2010/11, students received one-to-one support with me and, compared to that, they do not see that the workshops have value – they are group sessions and there is little room for any one-to-one support. Secondly, students generally seem reluctant to attend. Some areas, I know, do offer Study Skills modules in the first year, but there are no such models for second and third years. To try and ensure that the workshops are attended, they are arranged directly through tutors. This has certainly helped and I am trying (where I can get away with it), to encourage students, following these workshops, to contact me directly and book sessions for themselves as small groups.

I’ve got a website up-and-running, which includes news of workshops, study guides, etc and a link to my Moodle site, where there are further guides and tutorials. I’m also intending to try Twitter for the new academic year – all this an attempt to get the workshops into the culture and life of the university.

I have very close and rich relationships with many colleagues across the Uni who are happy and willing to work with me and last year did a six week block of tandem teaching in workshops with the students’ subject lecturer. Amongst the other obvious benefits, it was very good fun!

I look forward to reading others’ experiences, especially if you, too, are in a similar position.

Mary

Tips from Hanyang University Center for Teaching and Learning English Writing Lab

Our center in Korea has a number of links to resources for engineering and science writing particularly for international graduate students. The materials were designed for Korean students but most tips are not language specific.

QUICK TIP

When working with engineering and science English learners who have difficulty explaining science concepts during a tutorial, I have often found it useful to bring out the scrap paper and have them draw out the relationship on paper or use simple algebra-like equations: Do you mean (a + b) + (c + d) OR (a) + (b + C)  + (D) to show which words, phrases or clauses go together in a sentence, particularly complex lists.

Serving international students

To better serve Walden University’s growing international student body, our writing center has begun an initiative to assess the needs of our international and multilingual students, support faculty in working with these students, and develop our own resources and services to better meet the needs of these students. While Walden is based in the United States, our students are from around the globe, and many are seeking their Walden education while still residing in their home countries.

As an online, asynchronous center, we must cope with a variety of pragmatic, technological, cultural, linguistic, and academic barriers in student outreach, communication, and support. As we continue to seek student and faculty cooperation and consider the options and direction for this initiative, we would love to learn from writing center directors and staff working in international contexts–or indeed from anyone who has ideas about or experience in working with international students.

To start the conversation, we’ve compiled a list of initial questions; please feel free to chime in on any or all of these, or to bring up any issues that we’re overlooking.

  1. Do you use the traditional American writing lab model for tutoring (e.g., tutor as coach rather than editor, focusing on higher-level concerns rather than line edits)? If so, how successful have you found this model to be? How receptive have your students been to this model? And have you adapted this model at all to fit your academic or cultural context?
  2. What would you say are the three top challenges or frustrations you’ve faced in working with students? In working with faculty?
  3. Do you work chiefly with undergraduate or with graduate writers? If both, do you take a different approach based on the students’ level of education?
  4. Does your staff consist of students? Of professionals? Are your tutors native or nonnative English speakers?
  5. What services do you offer? Do you offer, for example, workshops, writing groups, or instruction beyond one-on-one consultation? If so, how are these services structured (e.g., in class or outside of class)?
  6. Where in your university are you housed? For example, are you part of the English department or an academic skills center?
  7. Do you actively promote yourself to students and if so, how? And how successful have you found your outreach to be?
  8. Are your services face-to-face, online, or a combination?

We look forward to hearing about successes, challenges, ideas, and tips to help us develop our services. Thanks!