University Writing Center (r)Evolution?

Cassie Book, Associate Director

Many posts here on our blog are about the writing and tutoring processes, but another important part of “who we are and what we do” is participate in scholarly conversations. This month I attended the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) annual conference. The theme, Writing Center (r)evolutions, challenged me to rethink my own assumptions as a consultant and administrator. I’m sharing a few of the half-formed thoughts and questions. I want to invite you into my conference experience. By doing so, I hope to blur the invisible boundaries between daily practices, personal reflection, conversations, and research; I want to make our behind-the-scenes writing center conversations a bit more visible.

  • Foremost on my mind is the University Writing Center’s impending move to the first floor of the library. We’re excited to gain a more visible space and digital consultation rooms. But we’re also gaining new neighbors: the Digital Media Suite, REACH Computer Resource Center, and Research Assistance and Instruction. Stacy Rice’s presentation confronted anxieties that exist when separate centers, such as writing, speaking, digital, or communication, have somewhat overlapping missions. She challenged all centers to not attempt to divide communication into different realms and instead simply respond rhetorically to the writers and composers who seek response and feedback. Our new space and location affords us the opportunity to collaborate in ways that previously may have been difficult. Will each center embrace opportunity or retreat into our separate spheres? What are the best ways to collaborate?
  • Regardless of any (r)evolution or renovation, I think it’s safe to assume our writing center services will always include the individual consultation. Yet, writing center research still has work to do in understanding the dynamics of writing tutoring. Molly Parson’s research focuses on consultants’ perceptions of conflict during sessions. Parsons made me think about the expectations consultants and writers have for sessions. She seemed to suggest that while both sides may think “good” or “productive” sessions will be those that steer clear of conflict, but, in reality, conflict can spur ideas and those “ah-ha!” moments. Do we learn because of, not despite, conflict?
  • We work with many multilingual writers. Nicole Bailey’s presentation suggested that centers should consider providing tutoring in writers’ home languages when possible. Her ethnographic research in a multilingual university in South Africa suggests that when writers feel comfortable, they will learn more. She’s already embraced the practice at the writing center she directs. How can we bring writers’ home languages into the writing consultation?
  • All the consultants in the University Writing Center are graduate students who complete a course called Writing Center Theory and Practice. Kelsey Weyerbacher and Jack Bouchard, two undergraduate consultants, presented their experience and research data. Their perspectives challenge the (mis)conception that a tutor is just a tutor. Yet, writing centers are fruitful sites for research that informs issues of learning, writing, development process, response, space, and conversation. What happens when tutor-initiated research becomes the rule rather than the exception?
  • Matt Dowell’s presentation suggested that writing centers should pay more attention to paratexts—handwritten notes, charts, marginalia, and drawings—written or drawn during sessions. These texts may have untapped potential. In a separate presentation, Matthew Rossi argued that doodling in sessions can create opportunities for common ground and understanding that talking simply cannot.

Finally, a panel organized by Muriel Harris challenged writing centers to better use online spaces—listservs, blogs, databases, and websites—to share across centers and among local contexts. An important question that arose during the discussions was: Who do our blogs reach? Our UofL Writing Center blog had 7,541 unique visitors in 2014. We’ve had 6,263 so far in 2015. But who are you? Is there a better way to reach our target audiences?

To that end, I encourage you to be radical—comment on the blog and let us know. What are your thoughts on writing center (r)evolutions?

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