Two years on: COVID Snapshot of writing centres in Canada – Mount Saint Vincent University Writing Centre

Vol 3, No 1 (Spring 2022)

In both March 2020 and 2021, CWCR/RCCR published snapshots of writing centres in Canada and their responses to the disruption of COVID 19. Now, two years on, while the thesaurus is busy writing new adjectives to describe our new realities, CWCR/RCCR is providing a snapshot from centres around Canada for 2022. We will post three snapshots—here is the first from MSVU in Halifax.

Mount Saint Vincent University Writing Centre
Hailie Tattrie, PhD Student
Mount Saint Vincent University
Halifax, NS

Making the best of COVID19: Learning together

“I really feel like this meeting has helped me!”, words from one of my regular students, Student M, who visits me at the Mount Saint Vincent University Writing Centre. Some days we edit her work together, other days we converse for the entire hour; sharing ideas, asking one another questions as we sip coffee at our desks, each of us in a different country. Despite the distance and the low hum of our laptops we make online tutoring work.

An image of Paulo Freire sitting in an office or library.
Paulo Freire

Revolutionary educator, Paulo Freire, is known for his work on critical pedagogy, as well as his exploration of the banking-model of education and the problem-posing model of education. The form of education that many in North America grew up with is known as the banking-model of education. This model is a subject-object relationship. As a tutor under the banking-model of education, I would simply sit at my desk and tell the student to remain silent as I edit their paper and make comments; there would be very little conversing. Under this model, the teacher is the subject, the bringer of knowledge, and the students are the object, empty and knowing nothing (Freire, 1970). Under the banking-model of education, students are seen as empty vessels, waiting to be filled with what is deemed the “correct” knowledge. In the banking-model, there’s no room for dialogue, critical thinking, or creativity. The banking model can be seen as Eurocentric in nature (Beattie, 2019; Kanu, 2006). However, Freire dreamed of more than the banking-model; he suggested an alternative, the problem-posing model of education.

In the problem-posing model of education, students are no longer seen as those who know nothing, and teachers are no longer seen as those who know all; rather, they are seen as equals, who enter into dialogue together. Under this model they are what Freire calls teacher-students and student-teachers; “the students—no longer docile listeners—are now critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher” (p. 81). Indeed, as was seen in my interaction with Student M; we were co-investigators, exploring the problem that she brought to the session together. What is unique about this, is that both Student M and I could end the session having learned something from one another.

Given the current global climate, it’s easy for us as educators, as writing centre tutors, to fall into the habit of teaching under a banking-model of education, whether knowingly or not. Yet, this strange moment in history can be used as an opportunity to build relationships, to open up dialogue, and to pursue a problem-posing model of learning. We now see many of our students through a computer screen; it can seem alienating and disingenuous, but to some students, we are the only face they may see that day, we are the only voice they may hear. These past two years, I have had many meaningful conversations with students, about COVID 19, about how some have had COVID, about their living situations, their anxieties, their passions, their interests, and more times than not, we both walk away having learned something from one another. Although we may be communicating through a screen my aim is to make this connection genuine. We enter into dialogue together, with students learning something from tutors and vice versa. I’ve learned to approach this work as ready to learn—I accept and make it known to my students that I do not know everything. I ask questions, I inquire about a subject; similar to Freire, I am a curious being.

So, in these strange and uncertain times, I encourage all writing centre workers to be curious and recognize that we, too, have something to learn from each student we work with. We should take this opportunity of upheaval and shifting pedagogical approaches to become teacher-students with our student-teachers. Whether we are connecting with a student over the phone in the same city or video calling a student on another continent, these interactions, these dialogues, can be meaningful for all involved. As I close my laptop, having shared my knowledge with student M and her having educated me on different psychological theories, I feel proud and connected to this student. I look forward to our next session, as does she. This is what online learning can look like.


Beattie, L. (2019). Educational leadership: Producing docile bodies? A Foucauldian perspective on higher education. Higher Education Quarterly, 74(1), 98-110.

Freire, P. (2012, c. 1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury.

Kanu, Y. (2006). Curriculum as cultural practice: Postcolonial imaginations. University of         Toronto Press.