CfP || Writing Programs in the Former Soviet Union

Ashley Squires is Director, Writing and Communication Center, New Economic School, Moscow.

 

When I arrived in Moscow in 2013 to begin my job as Associate Director of the Writing and Communication Center at the New Economic School, it was with a sense of purpose and adventure. I felt that the work I was doing—teaching communication and critical thinking skills to Russian students—would be challenging and urgent. But I could not have guessed that my time here would overlap with the emergence of writing and writing pedagogy as a genuine academic discipline in a place where it hadn’t previously existed.

The WCC at NES is usually considered to be the first American-style writing center in the Russian Federation. Founded in 2011, it coincided with the creation of an American-style liberal arts program at the New Economic School and the Higher School of Economics. The latter university, which, like NES, was founded in the years immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, began its own writing center in the very same year. Since then, between 14 and 16 writing centers have popped up across the country (the number depends on how we define an “active” writing center). However, the NES WCC remains the only writing center that, in the American mode, primarily serves the needs of students, especially undergraduate students.

Though inspired by American writing centers and Anglophone writing pedagogy, Russian writing programs are taking new forms. Many of them were founded with money distributed as part of Project 5-100 (Проекта 5-100), a state-sponsored effort to raise the international profile of Russian universities by encouraging faculty to publish in international venues. This has created the conditions for writing to emerge as a genuine discipline focused as it is on raising the general level of scientific communication, not only in English but in Russian as well. Interesting new approaches and research projects are emerging in this environment, and parallel efforts are ongoing in Central Asia and other parts of Eastern Europe. But across such a vast territory, scholars need help finding one another, and the West as yet knows little about the work being done here.

In cooperation with the WAC Clearinghouse, I am looking to bring attention to this important work and to increase the possibility of collaboration across borders. We are seeking proposals for contributions to an edited volume that will cover the history and current practice of writing programs throughout the former Soviet Union. This collection seeks to address the following questions:

  • How are teachers, students, researchers and administrators in the region working to further progressive writing pedagogy?
  • What ideas about writing and writing instruction—both new and old, foreign and domestic— inform, assist or complicate this work?
  • How does writing shape knowledge and practice within specific regional cultures, academic or otherwise? How might writing function as a bridge or barrier?
  • How is writing being used as a learning tool, within disciplines, within the university, or at a national or international level?

Possible submissions might include:

  • Studies of past language / educational practices in the region and the impact these practices have on contemporary writing pedagogy.
  • Analyses of institutions (writing centers, language departments, universities) and the forces, both internal and external, with which stakeholders must contend in reforming writing pedagogy.
  • Analyses of the region’s unique cultural, economic and political challenges, and how these challenges affect the teaching of writing.
  • Stories of success (or failure) in attempting to incorporate methods and materials from other countries’ research traditions.
  • Analyses of international collaboration efforts, the challenges faced and knowledges produced.
  • Research studies (either qualitative or quantitative) that test the feasibility of various teaching methods.
  • Stories or studies which understand local experience through broad theoretical concepts (translingualism; World Englishes; genre studies, activity systems and communities of practice; writing to learn and WAC/WID theory; academic literacies, etc.).

The deadline for proposals (200-300 word abstracts) is October 31, but we will continue to look at submissions after that point. Final essays will be due in late Spring of 2019. To submit an abstract or ask a question, contact Ashley Squires at asquires@nes.ru.

 

Transnational Collaborations and Writing Center Development at an English-Medium University in Lebanon

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[1] 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.

View from University of Balamand

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”

Volunteer Tutors

Editor’s note: like many others who shared the post on social media, we were very interested in the discussion started by Cortney Barko and Melissa Sartore’s “How to Start and Run a Writing Center With No Budget, or How We Did the Impossible!” So we were quite pleased when Diana Hamilton, associate director at Baruch College Writing Center, offered to share her thoughts.

In Cortney Barko and Melissa Sartore’s recent blog post, “How to Start and Run a Writing Center With No Budget, or How We Did the Impossible!”, the answer to their titular quandary is simple: they find a volunteer staff.

Dianaheadshot[1]
Diana Hamilton, Associate Director at Baruch College Writing Center
I was alarmed to see the authors apply the same arguments used to justify “unpaid internships”—a line on a resume, valuable work training—to writing center work. To put the problem bluntly: using a volunteer-only staff ensures that only students who can afford to work for free can be hired. Having worked and gone to college in New York City, I’m familiar with the many industries that take advantage of the large pool of college students willing to trade time for experience. This system reproduces the socio-economic and cultural homogeneity of these industries: you can only work in publishing, art, and many nonprofits if you can afford to work for free for a few years. I know that Montgomery, WV is not NYC—but I would be willing to hazard that there are many students at WVU Tech who cannot truly afford to work for free, either.

Continue reading “Volunteer Tutors”