Pandemic Graduate Student Writing and Transition Support: Reflections and Predictions (Part 1)

Vol. 2, No. 11 (Spring 2021)
Liv Marken, Contributing Editor, CWCR/RCCR

This three-part series looks at how the pandemic affected both graduate student writers and graduate student writing support.We speak to Jill McMillan, a Learning Specialist at the University of Saskatchewan, and Nadine Fladd, a Writing and Multimodal Communication Specialist at the University of Waterloo.


Part I: In the Thick of It

Here, in part one, we learn about Jill’s and Nadine’s roles and work, and how the pandemic has supported intercampus collaboration and better use of resources to benefit the overall student experience.

Liv: Thank you, Nadine and Jill, for speaking with me about your experiences this year.

Could you tell me a bit about who you are and what you do at your institutions?

Nadine: Sure. I am one of several Writing and Multimodal Communication Specialists at the Writing and Communication Centre at UWaterloo. My role, in particular, focuses on supporting graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty, so a lot of the work that I do focuses on developing programs for graduate students, such as Dissertation Boot Camp, a program called Rock Your Thesis that is designed to help students start their dissertation or thesis writing process on the right foot, and orchestrating and coordinating writing groups and writing communities. In between these activities, I also do a handful of appointments with grad students, postdocs, and faculty each week.

Nadine Fladd, Writing and Multimodal Communication Specialist, University of Waterloo

Jill: I’m a Learning Specialist, and I work with Student Learning Services. And yes, there’s a lot of overlap in terms of Nadine’s and my dossiers; there is a focus on programming—facilitating workshops, designing new workshops, trying to think of new initiatives that are going to have value for our graduate student population. I’ve also been hosting virtual writing groups and offer one-to-one appointments, though the majority of the one-to-one support comes from our amazing writing help centre. I also offer a course for international grad students. But otherwise, the focus is on designing new programs, creating new initiatives, trying to connect to other campus partners, and thinking of how we can pool resources, which I think is especially important these days as we just try and figure out how we can offer support without replicating services.

Liv: Have either of you have you found that moving online has helped to reduce that duplication and increase communication between communication units?

Nadine: Maybe, but I feel like every university does have that compartmentalizing of units.

Liv: Has that lessened during the pandemic, stayed the same, or intensified?

Nadine: I think that the Writing and Communication Centre had pretty strong collaborative relationships with campus partners before the pandemic, and that has been a blessing. What I’ve seen is more communication between those campus partners and each other than I’ve seen in the past. So, for example, our Student Success Office has traditionally hosted an orientation for graduate students and during the pandemic the Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs office helped design and took the lead on building an infrastructure for an online orientation program and has since handed that program over to the Student Success Office. So there’s collaboration there that didn’t exist before that I think has been really useful.

Liv: That’s positive. Jill, what have you noticed?

Jill: It’s certainly helped me as someone who is relatively new to campus to make some of those connections a bit more easily. Of course, you still encounter some of these instances where there is duplication popping up, but then you reach out and make that connection. And so, it’s possible that that duplication will eventually turn into a collaboration at a future point. So, I think that in some ways I do recognize that there have been some strange benefits to how everything has happened over the last year in terms of the shift to remote teaching and learning. I think it really has forced people to think, “oh, how do we make use of the limited resources that are currently available to maximize the student experience?”

Jill McMillan, Learning Specialist, University of Saskatchewan

Nadine: We have an incentive system. So, students have a digital coffee card that they can fill out every time they attend a writing session. And when you’ve attended 12 writing sessions, you earn a mug that has a #WaterlooWrites logo on it. We see a lot of repeat members in our writing community, and people get to know each other and talk to each other during the breaks and help each other. We see a lot of regulars in those communities for sure.

Liv: Interesting. Now, in terms of your own work, how have you kept up professionally or what’s really helped to you in your job?

Nadine: I’m lucky because unlike a lot of writing centres, I have a team I work with of full-time permanent staff who do the same work I do. I’ve learnt a lot from other members on the team as we navigated this together. A lot of my professional development this past year has been technological. One of my colleagues, Elise Vist, our digital guru on the team, has taught me how to do things like build online asynchronous workshops through Rise 360, and so now we can build these really slick looking modules full of videos and interactive elements. And that’s not something that I ever would have even considered trying to attempt a year and a half ago. It wasn’t on my radar.

So, in some ways, the pandemic has been a push to expand my range of teaching tools. And in a lot of ways, at the beginning of the pandemic, we were focused on trying to recreate what exists in our in-person programming in an online format. And I think that worked for a while. But what students have needed after a year in isolation and after a year of video calls has changed. I think my approach to teaching has really gotten back to the very basics of starting with what is the goal, what is the objective and building from there rather than trying to transfer an in-person equivalent to an online environment.

Jill: We have an academic integrity tutorial now and we’re currently just beginning to work on some new writing modules. So, you know, it’s been good to learn all about Panopto, WebEx and other online platforms.

In part two, posted next week, Jill and Nadine share their thoughts on accessibility, especially around international student writing support.

Advocating for Accompliceship: An Interview with Neisha-Anne Green

CWCA 2020 logo

Vol 2., No. 10 (Spring 2021)
Vidya Natarajan, Writing Program Coordinator, King’s University College & CWCA/ACCR Conference Co-Chair


Her “Moving Beyond Alright” address, delivered at the 2017 IWCA conference in Chicago,  was one of the most stirring calls to righteous action that writing centre professionals had ever heard.  Neisha-Anne S. Green, carrying the responsibility of being the first Black person to deliver the annual conference keynote in the 34-year history of the IWCA, made a passionate case for “social and civic justice” in writing centres, and the active accompliceship of those in power towards those disenfranchised. In this year of racial reckoning, she has agreed to deliver the opening keynote at CWCA’s 2021 conference, “Transformative Inclusivity.” I could not be more thrilled. 

When we meet virtually, her warmth and passion flow right through and beyond the edges of the little Zoom window on my screen. I mean to ask her about the two striking paintings that flank the portraits on the wall behind her chair, but end up asking, instead, how she would like to be addressed—Professor Green, Neisha, Neisha-Anne? Continue reading “Advocating for Accompliceship: An Interview with Neisha-Anne Green”

One year on: COVID Snapshot of writing centres in Canada

Vol 2, No. 9 (Spring 2021)
Brian Hotson, Co-Editor, CWCR/RCCR

At the beginning of the lockdown across Canada and the move to online support, we asked our colleagues to provide a snapshot of their centres. These posts from March 2020 (here, here, here, and here) are historical markers and records of an unprecedented time in higher education in Canada. One year on, we’ve asked again for a March snapshot–how have tour centres changed, what have you learned, and where are we going. Here are the responses.

Continue reading “One year on: COVID Snapshot of writing centres in Canada”

Memoirs of a Former President

Vol 2., No. 8 (Spring 2021)
Heather Fitzgerald, Past-President, CWCA/ACCR


Presidents writing about their time in office has become de rigueur, so it seems only fitting that, as my 6-year term on the presidential track of the Board of the Canadian Writing Centres Association / association canadienne des centres de rédaction comes to an end, I take a moment to reflect on this period of my career. I don’t expect to garner the royalties of a Barack Obama (unless the blog editors have some marketing tricks up their sleeves that I don’t know about), but I hope my experiences might inspire others to consider whether serving on this Board might enrich their lives and work as it has mine. 

I was invited to put my name forward as Vice-Chair of the CWCA/ACCR Board by a chance encounter with then Vice-Chair Lucie Moussu, who I’d met briefly at a conference in 2014. At that point, I had never served on any Board and really had no idea what board service would entail, but I figured it was only a one-year term so I couldn’t get into too much trouble in such a short time. 

Continue reading “Memoirs of a Former President”

Supporting students for interview assignments

Vol 2., No. 7 (Spring 2021)
Brian Hotson, Co-Editor, CWCR/RCCR.


Google slides for presenting this material as a workshop.

 

Interviewing gives students greater intimacy with an event or subject in a way not otherwise possible with secondary research. In interview assignments, students connect first-hand to an individual’s accounts of, for instance, their participation in a protest event or reflections on their career in ways that support their understanding of course content. Interviewing is a process that is very much like writing; it involves stages of researching, outlining, writing, rewriting, and editing. For this reason, writing specialists and tutors situated within locations of writing support have much to offer students as they prepare for and write about interviews. Continue reading “Supporting students for interview assignments”

Free-falling into the Digital Divide: Reading on smartphone in writing centres

Vol. 2., No. 6 (Winter 2021)
Brian Hotson, Co-Editor, CWCR/RCCR


Then students started saying that they didn’t need to hand in a printed copy of their papers; the instructor asked them to submit them electronically only. They weren’t getting hardcopies of their assignments from their instructors either; they were showing us their assignment instructions on their phones. I remember the all-staff training session where I said that we would allow students to use their devices to show us their assignments. There were protests and conversation, but we agreed that it was the right thing to do for our students. It was a fundamental change, and we all felt it. I developed guidance for the tutors and students. The students were happy with the change, and the tutors who protested adapted were happy the students were happy.

Of course, now this is quaint nostalgia. None of us has seen student work on 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper since March 2020, and many of us won’t see one again until maybe September. Continue reading “Free-falling into the Digital Divide: Reading on smartphone in writing centres”

Confronting oppressive language in our tutoring practice: Some guiding thoughts

Vol. 2, No. 5. (Winter 2021)
By Roniksha Kumar

Roniksha Kumar is an undergraduate student and a Peer Tutor at the University of Waterloo Writing and Communication Centre. As an aspiring educator, she is committed to learning and applying Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practices in her work and everyday life.


Anti-oppressive writing goes beyond academics—it reflects the writer’s experiences, their colleagues, and those who do not have opportunities to express themselves. Oppression is intersectional, including, but not limited to, the marginalization of race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality and disability. A commitment to learn how intersectionalities of oppression present themselves in writing enhances a critical lens to view historic and existing power structures. Continue reading “Confronting oppressive language in our tutoring practice: Some guiding thoughts”

Black History Month: Black-Authored Resources for Writing Centres

Vol. 2, No. 4 (Winter 2021)
CWCR/ACCR Editorial Board


Canadian writing centre involvement
While Canada recognizes Black History Month, as Writing Centre professionals, it is our responsibility to address the gaps in our own education in February and beyond. Furthermore, we must confront the fact that these gaps were created intentionally to exclude learning about Black excellence, both historical and contemporary. It is our work to both name anti-Black racism as a force that has shaped our knowledge and our field, and to take up antiracist practices to re-shape our knowledge and our field. 

Many Black writers, thinkers, scholars, and educators have made and are continuing to make significant contributions to Writing Centres, both as places of practice and as spaces for theorizing. We are taking this opportunity to amplify this work and to acknowledge and thank our Black colleagues for their contributions, which have been made in environments that are too often exclusionary, hostile, racist, and traumatic. Continue reading “Black History Month: Black-Authored Resources for Writing Centres”

Announcement || Procrastination Avoidance Week, March 8-14, 2021

Julia Lane is Writing Services Coordinator at Simon Fraser University

We’d like to invite you to join in the pan-Canadian, collaborative, cross-institutional Procrastination Avoidance Week from March 8-14 2021, coinciding with National Procrastination Week.

Our concept is that we will host a week of shared programming and virtual support, with themes for each day. Our small committee including me and Ruth Silverman of Simon Fraser University, as well as Sandra Smith from the University of the Fraser Valley, have fleshed out this idea and produced this Google Doc that for everyone to participate. Please fill in the google doc by February 16th at midnight Pacific Time if your institution would like to join in the fun. Details are provided below about what we are looking for institutions to contribute. We hope that many institutions from across the country will participate. Continue reading “Announcement || Procrastination Avoidance Week, March 8-14, 2021”

Centre Spotlight: The ECP Tutoring Centre

Vol. 2, No. 3 (Winter 2021)
Stephanie Bell, CWCR/RCCR Co-Editor


Editor’s Introduction

The CWCR/RCCR’s Centre Spotlight series showcases the diversity of Canadian centres of writing support across education institutions. Beginning with Kristen Welbourn’s exposé on one of Nova Scotia’s first and only high school writing centres, this series takes a snapshot of our community today and prompts us to ask questions about the historical forces that have shaped its development.

This Centre Spotlight casts light on a tutoring centre embedded within the writing-in-the-disciplines program founded by Robert Irish in 1995: the Engineering Communication Program or ECP. Interestingly, the ECP originated, in part, from a Writing Centre (see: Weiss, Irish, Chong, & Wilkinson, 2019). In this way, it may be considered a model of success in terms of the vision that Canadian leaders in writing studies had when they turned away from the American trend toward First-Year Composition.

P. Weiss, R. K. Irish, A. Chong, & L. Wilkinson, (2019), We Have Changed: Reflections on 20+ Years of Teaching Communication in Engineering. 2019 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (ProComm). pp. 286-287. doi: 10.1109/ProComm.2019.00064

Continue reading “Centre Spotlight: The ECP Tutoring Centre”