BCWCA “Director’s Day Out”: Meaningful Collaboration Online

Screenshot of collaborative Padlet.

Amanda Brobbel, Jenna Goddard, Julia Lane, and Holly Salmon
Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter 2021)

While the pivot to a remote environment has created significant disconnection and isolation, it has also opened unexpected and creative possibilities for collaboration. Our boundaries are no longer so firmly institutional or geographical.

Previously, our BCWCA “Director’s Day Out” events were planned and hosted by one institution, and often at what was deemed to be a more central geographical location. 2020’s virtual event was necessitated by pandemic restrictions and made possible by our increased familiarity with collaborative writing tools.

During a time when Zoom fatigue, email exhaustion and disconnection characterize our every day, we were able to work across institutions to set the priorities for our gathering and to function as a productive collective of writing and learning professionals.

Our virtual-enabled collaborative approach emerged as particularly helpful for making headway on our 2020 agenda item: our commitments to anti-racism policies and practices. We knew from experience that the challenges are immense and the feelings of overwhelm are real. But, we resolved not to stall out on such important work. So, we did what we encourage students to do: 

      • Define your goal(s).

      • Break. It. Down. 

      • Take the problems step by step. 

      • Focus on the first thing you are able to get clarity on and begin to address. Then, focus on the next thing. 

This approach to collaboration across institutions has the potential to bring structural change to our work. The following account of our collaborative virtual work in 2020 provides a possible road map for virtual-enabled community building between writing and learning centre professionals across institutions. And, as we bring our attention to questions of racism and antiracism, we are aware that structural changes are needed.

The planning

On June 26th, Holly Salmon sent a brief email to colleagues Amanda Brobbel, Julia Lane, and Jenna Goddard: “Do you think we should get together? And, have you checked out  Frankie Condon’s Pedagogue podcast on antiracism in writing centres?”

We did want to get together, and we did want to check out that podcast. We also realized that we were all desperately seeking a space in which to have vulnerable conversations about the issues raised in Condon’s podcast: how to use the positions we have and how to leverage the leadership and collaborative relationships at our own institutions to bring forward antiracist practices. 

This email sparked a flurry of collaborative planning among our impromptu committee: responsibilities were divided, agendas and schedules created, and virtual spaces readied as we planned for our Writing Centre “Directors’ Day Out” on August 14th, which then led to another event in late October.  

As we planned, we focused on the support we can draw from each other, and how to emphasize that in our conversations. This focus came forward in the structure of the gatherings, as well as in the topics we raised and the activities we planned.  

Knowing that some participants might potentially feel depleted as they worked to provide online services to students for fall, we tried to keep both events focused on possibilities for development, and actionable items. We modeled our actions and the sessions on the support we give to students tackling these sorts of big projects. Having defined our goal, we found the first thing we could then tackle together: listen to the wisdom of another (Frankie Condon).  

The gatherings

The first half of the August gathering encouraged participants to share ideas around building community to keep our tutors, learners, and Centres connected; developing our tutors in the online environment; and big ideas we were excited to implement. The second half focused on debriefing the Condon podcast and discussing antiracism in the Writing Centre. Major themes of that discussion included: 

  • Recognizing and grappling with the overlap between racism and notions of Standard Academic English.
  • Acknowledging the role of the writing centre as an “in between space” and working to create change from the source of our power. Condon articulates the tendency of writing centres to say “we think your language is perfectly fine, but we know that that professor over there won’t agree.” She calls this being “functionaries for racism.” We wanted to think about how we can get out of this bind. 
  • Considering how we can centre antiracism in all facets of our work in the writing centre.

We all have different experiences with racism and antiracist work, and we know that these conversations are difficult. We used Padlet, an online brainstorming tool, during this initial discussion of anti-racism to invite everyone to share their ideas and questions anonymously. This was a helpful way to “break the ice” in this necessarily challenging conversation about our own entanglement with systems of racist oppression. 

At the end of the session in August, we realized that we weren’t finished and resolved to gather again. 

In the fall, we were keen to follow up on the discussions we started in the summer and get more specific about centring antiracism in our Centres, as Condon suggests. As part of a strategy to bring forward the knowledge already within the group, we scheduled the first part of the day as a silent collaboration of writing and reflection under three prompts that asked participants to centre antiracism in their work, present and future:

  • What’s one way you’d love to see your Writing Centre becoming antiracist?
  • What’s something you’ve done to centre antiracism in your work?
  • What are you planning to do but haven’t found the way into yet?

To encourage concrete next-steps, both events closed with our own commitments to move forward. The first session asked participants to record commitment statements in response to the question: “What is one thing that you can commit to doing when you leave here today?” Similarly, the second session wrapped up with a discussion of specific ideas, such as developing antiracist assignment guidelines for faculty, to build our capacity to support antiracist work on our individual campuses through collaboration among members of the BCWCA. 

Developing a statement

As we all find ways to move forward in our individual Centres, the BCWCA is also solidifying as a regional affiliate of CWCA and taking action. Our first action was committing, as a group, to posting a statement of commitment to antiracism. After our August meeting, John Hill from Vancouver Island University graciously offered to work on a draft to be shared back with the rest of the group for feedback. Based on the feedback received, our impromptu organizing committee, with John’s support, got to work wordsmithing. 

We often reflected to each other what a joy it was to work together on this task. We all felt passionate about the commitments we were making with the document and also all recognized the power of language and the importance of choosing the right words. Of course, there are no words that can erase the violence of racism, but we are aware that being careful and caring with our language can help us to become more conscious of the ways that language shapes our experiences and encounters and can be used to support or to challenge racism. The importance of this writing task presented us with significant challenges in wording, in determining inclusion criteria, and in being thorough and specific without becoming (too) long winded. We appreciated the opportunity to work collaboratively toward those goals together. 

As a result of this work, a new draft of the BCWCA statement of commitment to antiracism was presented to our members prior to our fall meet up. The statement commits the BCWCA to working from an antiracist framework and to supporting our member institutions to do the same. This statement has been presented to our larger professional association, CWCA, at their November Board meeting. We encourage others working on similar statements to feel free to adapt the work we’ve done and to share your ideas our way. 

Writing a statement is never the endpoint for the work. We now must live up to the commitments made in the statement. To that end, we look forward to further strengthening BCWCA as a regional affiliate group because we know that the task of creating antiracist writing centres cannot be accomplished alone. We invite other writing centres who are working on establishing regional affiliate groups and/or writing statements of commitment to antiracism to be in touch with us. When we pull together, we are able to move forward with more ease. 


Resources used in planning and meeting

Wood, Shane A., host. “Episode 28: Frankie CondonPedagogue, episode 28, 2020. 

Yousefi, BaharakOn the Disparity Between What We Say and What We Do in Libraries”. Feminists Among Us: Resistance and Advocacy in Library Leadership. by Lew, Shirley, and Baharak Yousefi, 2017. Print.

Inclusive and antiracist writing. Simon Fraser University Library, 2020.

Open Letter to IWCA exec

Additional antiracism resources brought forward at our gatherings

Cole, Desmond. The Freedom to Learn: Confronting Anti-Black Racism with Desmond Cole. Colleges Ontario, 16 Nov. 2019, Webinar. 

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: Dimensions Pilot Program. Government of Canada, 2019. 

Inoue, Asao B. (2020) Teaching Antiracist Reading, Journal of College Reading and Learning, 50:3, 134-156. 

Inoue, Asao B. Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future. The WAC Clearinghouse; Parlor Press, 2015.

Kendi, Ibram X., How to Be an Antiracist. New York: One World, 2019.

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race.  Seal Press, 2018.

Time Traveler. Merriam-Webster, 2020.

Amanda Brobbel, Senior Manager of Writing and Language Learning Services, UBC-Okanagan
Jenna Goddard, Writing Centre Coordinator, Thompson Rivers University
Julia Lane, Writing Services Coordinator, Simon Fraser University
Holly Salmon, Learning Centre Coordinator and Instructor, Douglas College 

Honest Discussions in Graduate Writing Cafés

Visual representation of the program described in the text.

Keith O’Regan
Vol. 2 No. 4 (Fall 2020)

Keith O’Regan is the Graduate Writing Specialist at the York University Writing Centre. He has published on disparate fields such as Post-Graduate Writing Education, Film and Aesthetic Theory, and the Poetics of Escapism. His monograph, a comparative analysis of the poetic and theatrical work of Bertolt Brecht and William Blake will be published with Brill in the Spring of 2021.

Whether it be in the nature of the workshops offered, the limitations of a typical 60-minute appointment, or in the attention to the concrete tasks associated with short essays, current forms of writing centre support are not always best attuned to the needs of graduate student writers working on longer form projects  such as masters’ theses or doctoral dissertations.

With increasingly stretched supervisory faculty, the writing mentorship graduate students receive beyond the writing centre can be limited, slow and delayed. This mentorship is sometimes structured as top-down paternalistic programs often organized around bureaucratic or financial incentives. Continue reading “Honest Discussions in Graduate Writing Cafés”

Infographic | Writing (and students) throughout history: A timeline of complaints about students and their ills

Brian Hotson, Co-Editor, CWCR/RCCR
Vol. 2, No. 3 (Fall 2020)

Click to access the infographic.

GIF featuring historical complaints about writing technologies.Robert Zaretsky’s piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Our students can’t write. We have ourselves to blame, still rubs me the wrong way, and it was published in 2019. Not only does he belittle his students who are learning to write, but he also quotes from one of their papers, outing the student and their work as “a tad less coherent than others.” It may be safe to assume he’s quoting the student without consent and breaking confidentiality rules (as they are in most HE institutions in Canada). It’s also in the literature and the media that making fun of students leads to humiliation, shame, poor grades, and dropouts (see here, here, and here).

Continue reading “Infographic | Writing (and students) throughout history: A timeline of complaints about students and their ills”

Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 19, 2020

CWCR/RCCR editorial team
Liv Marken, Stephanie Bell, & Brian Hotson

Over the previous two posts, our colleagues spoke to the adaptation and changes they’ve made due to COVID-19. In this third instalment, writing centres from northern Manitoba, Québec, Ontario, and Alberta speak to their experiences.

If you have a story you want to tell about your experience responding to COIVD-19, please send 2-3 paragraphs to cwcr.rccr@gmail.com. Enter “COVID-19 response” in the subject line. Thanks.
Continue reading “Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 19, 2020”

Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 18, 2020

CWCR/RCCR editorial team
Liv Marken, Stephanie Bell, & Brian Hotson
Vol. 1, No. 7 (Winter 2020)

From the previous post, there are common themes and processes centres are following. What is apparent is the ability to adapt and pull together programming quickly. With so much uncertainty, we’re all planning for the best while looking at all the unknowns.

We asked twenty writing centres from coast to coast to coast to provide a short description of their centre’s response to COVID-19. We will publish these responses in parts by the day they were received, from March 17th to March 19th.

Below is a snapshot of our colleagues’ writing centres from March 18, 2020. Continue reading “Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 18, 2020”

Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 17, 2020

CWCR/RCCR editorial team
Liv Marken, Stephanie Bell, & Brian Hotson
Vol. 1, No. 6 (Winter 2020)

As Heraclitus continually reminds us, everything changes, constantly, but the tempo and severity of change from COVID-19 has overwhelmed and challenged us all in our writing centres. We wondered how other institutions around the country are coping with the fallout from COVID-19.

We asked twenty writing centres from coast to coast to coast to provide a short description of their centre’s response to COVID-19. We will publish these responses in parts by the day they were received, from March 17th to March 19th.

Below is a snapshot of our colleagues’ writing centres from March 17, 2020. Continue reading “Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 17, 2020”

A deeper understanding of writing: A reflection on advocacy

GIF of Stephanie Bell saying cheers with her coffee mug.

By Stephanie Bell, Co-editor, CWCR/RCCR
Vol. 1, No. 5 (Winter 2020)

With guest editor,
Holly Salmon, CWCA/ACCR board member, Coordinator and Instructor, Learning Centre Instructor, English Department, Douglas College

How do you describe the role of writing centres in higher education? I find that my efforts to articulate a narrative that moves beyond descriptions of programming and pedagogy are centred on advocacy and education about the nature of writing. What is good writing? This question has high stakes for higher education, and writing specialists located in writing centres have the expertise required to shape the answer. Continue reading “A deeper understanding of writing: A reflection on advocacy”

How Ryerson is leading Canadian universities in multimodal writing support

Animated GIF that reads "creators welcome"

By Stephanie Bell & Brian Hotson
Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter 2020)

An interview with John Hannah and Tesni Ellis from Ryerson University’s Student Affairs Special Projects & Storytelling team

Despite a dramatic rise of plug-and-play applications for producing and publishing multimodal web content, their migration into higher education classrooms has been slow. Likewise, support from Canada’s writing centres has remained fixed on traditional genres of writing, such as the research paper, lab report, and literature review. While researching for our forthcoming book on the future of multimodal digital writing support for students by Canadian writing centres/programs, we’ve been unable to find many programs of tutoring multimodal writing and production in university writing centre contexts. A noteworthy outlier is the Multiliteracy Support Appointments program listed on Ryerson’s Writing Support website.

We contacted John Hannah and Tesni Ellis at Ryerson to chat about their multimedia supports. John is Director, Special Projects in Student Affairs and former director of the Writing Centre, English Language support, and Graduate Student Support. Tesni is Coordinator, Student Affairs Storytelling within Student Affairs, and a former Writing Consultant at Ryerson’s Writing Centre herself.

Stephanie: Hi John and Tesni – thanks for agreeing to talk with us. Given that there seems to be slow uptake on this front, we’re interested in how your program got started. Can you tell us that story?  Continue reading “How Ryerson is leading Canadian universities in multimodal writing support”

Resource | A Presenter Prepares: Preliminary Research, Editing, and Practice

By Dr. Joel Benabu
Vol. 1, No. 3 (Winter 2020)

Dr. Joel Benabu’s research interests include English Renaissance drama (Shakespeare’s writing practices for the stage, specifically), theory of drama and performance, and Ancient and early modern rhetorical theory. At the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre (University of Toronto Mississauga), he has helped hundreds of students to hone their critical thinking and writing skills: “My writing pedagogy is less about imparting information and more about giving students the tools they need to excel in their academic writing. This can be achieved most effectively by building a diverse and robust skill set and confidence over time.”

This in-class exercise asks students to identify and then categorize a range of actions a presenter might take at different stages in the development of an oral presentation (OP). I believe that the exercise facilitates good learning because it translates a complex, and, for many students, an opaque task into a set of practical, goal-oriented activities. Furthermore, the exercise helps to instill the notion in students that composition of any kind is a process (a distillation of sorts), over which greater control can be exercised through careful research, revision, and practice. Continue reading “Resource | A Presenter Prepares: Preliminary Research, Editing, and Practice”