CWCA/ACCR Statement on corporate, automated, online tutoring tools

Approved by CWCA/ACCR Board of Directors: December, 2022.

Access an accessible PDF of the Statement on corporate, automated, online tutoring tools.

Preamble

In recent years, members of the Canadian Writing Centres Association / Association canadienne des centres de rédaction (CWCA/ACCR) have noted an increase in the activity of producers of corporate, automated, online tutoring tools (CAOTTs) attempting to position themselves within higher education institutions in Canada. Many of these companies articulate such outcomes as improved writing skills, student retention, and student experience. The CWCA/ACCR shares and supports these goals, but we find that they can be far better achieved by institutional writing and learning centres within their local contexts.

Position of CWCA/ACCR

It is the position of the CWCA/ACCR that attempts to replace local, human writing tutoring and support with CAOTTs is a fundamental error. Further, any use of these tools as a supplement to writing services should be considered only with the support of and in consultation with writing centre professionals within the institution, informed by the literature of writing centre studies.

It is the position of the CWCA/ACCR that CAOTTs are not helpful or useful as a replacement for institution-based writing tutoring or instruction, whether online or in-person. CAOTTs are, in fact, a detriment to effective academic support for students, faculty, and their institutions, and CWCA/ACCR sees the use of CAOTTs as a form of social injustice.

Technological innovation

Writing centres have been at the forefront of the development and use of technology in higher education, beginning with computer-aided instruction (CAI) in the 1960s. The first dedicated CAI in a writing centre was at Michigan Technological University in 1977 (Palmquist, 2003, p. 396). Since then, writing centres have evolved to employ various technologies through the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s (See, for example, Burns, 1980; Coogan, 1995; Inman & Sewell, 2000; Wargo, 2018), including the Purdue Online Writing Lab, created  by Dr. Muriel Harris, godmother of writing centres in North America, and David Taylor in 1994 (OWL Fact Sheet, 2022). The COVID pandemic accelerated and expanded the use of technology in writing centres since 2020 (See, for example, Canadian writing centres respond, 2020; One year on…, 2021; Two years on…, 2022; Rempel, & Friesen, 2022; Wisniewski et al., 2020). Writing centres embrace and use technologies for supporting student writing when they add value to the experience for students, enrich learning, and do not pose a risk to students’ privacy or rights. Some CAOTTs may have limited usefulness for students when integrated into students’ writing processes within or alongside writing centres (Zhang et al., 2020); however, inaccuracies, algorithmic deficiencies, forms of social injustice, and other concerns, as discussed below, lead us to urge caution in their use.

Best practices

The following are best practices of the CWCA/ACCR—and of the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA)—from the literature on writing centres praxis and administration that are foundational to successful writing support. These foundational aspects of writing centres cannot be guaranteed when using a CAOTT, aspects that can only be carried out by local writing centres within institutions.

  • Tutors and instructors who work within writing centres should specifically reflect the demographic, ethnic, linguistic, and disciplinary diversity of the student population within that institution (CWCA/ACCR, 2021; IWCA, 2007, 2015).
  • Peer tutors should be selected to work in a writing centre based on performance in courses that require writing and should be endorsed by instructors (IWCA, 2007, 2015).
  • Tutors and instructors should receive appropriate, comprehensive, ongoing training via methods suitable to local context (CWCA/ACCR, 2021; IWCA, 2007, 2015).
  • Tutors and instructors should be evaluated by administrators of their institution and should receive feedback about the effectiveness of their work (IWCA, 2007, 2015).
  • Tutors and instructors should be encouraged to participate in professional development activities, including publication opportunities and participating in local, regional, national, and international conferences (CWCA/ACCR, 2021).
  • The writing centre should participate in academic and/or administrative program review processes within its own institution (CWCA/ACCR, 2021; IWCA, 2007, 2015).
  • Institutions and writing centres also have a duty and a responsibility to be accessible to all students (CWCA/ACCR, 2021). Many CAOTTs are only available to students over the age of 18 (Terms of use, 2022), and many students do not have access to technology, creating social injustice based on race and economic disparity (Gonzales, Calarco, & Lynch, 2018; Vogels et al., 2020).

Sociodigital justice

A significant aspect of the injustice of CAOTTs is the use of student data by CAOTT corporations (Bell & Hotson, 2022; Hotson & Bell, 2022; Zuboff, 2015). Students often have no choice or do not know they have choice when confronted with a request by a faculty member or institution to subscribe to an online support tool (e.g., Grammarly, Studiosity, Turnitin). Tools such as Grammarly track students’ internet use even when they are not completing work for their studies. The Grammarly browser plug-in “surveils and intervenes in their languaging practices across all contexts of online communication—from personal email to Facebook to comment forums—regardless of whether they’re writing for the purposes of the course or for personal or professional reasons” (Bell & Hotson, 2022). CAOTTs have the same practice: for example, the tutoring tool, Studiosity, collects students’ “year of study, date of birth, postcode, student status, entity/institution name, type of entity/institution (e.g., school, library, university), business address, details of sporting and other extracurricular commitments (if required to assist with scheduling)” (Privacy and cookies policy, 2022). They also reserve the right to change their user agreement at any time: “From time to time, Studiosity may vary unilaterally the terms or conditions on which it provides the Services” (Terms of use, 2022), without input from students, faculty, institutions, or government. These terms and activities, designed for financial gain, constitute “surveillance capitalism” (Zuboff, 2015).

When using CAOTTs, student writing, ideas, and opinions—their knowledge production through their writing—is held by a corporation outside students’ or their institutions’ purview. Corporations providing vital institutional services cannot be trusted to protect student data (For example, see CEO of exam monitoring software Proctorio apologises for posting student’s chat logs on Reddit (Zhou, 2020)). Regarding the use and protection of students’ knowledge production, Studiosity’s user agreement, for example, is vague:

The Receiving Party [Studiosity] shall only disclose such confidential information to those of its employees, agents and subcontractors who need to know it for the purpose of discharging the obligations of the Receiving Party under the Contract, and shall ensure that such employees, agents and subcontractors comply with the obligations set out in this clause as though they were a party to the Contract.

There is no definition of “agent” or “subcontractor,” whether these are employees of Studiosity or if they are separate corporations, entities, or individuals. While it is indicated that these agents and subcontractors adhere to Studiosity’s user agreement, who monitors these agents and subcontractors and their use of student data is not stipulated.

Governmental monitoring

Exposure of student work beyond the educational institution is especially fraught for international students in Canada whose education activities may be subject to monitoring by their home governments. (China: Government Threats…, 2019; Confucius Institute U.S. Center…, 2020). Foreign governments have an interest in the activities of students studying abroad, especially monitoring any activities in opposition to repressive and intolerant regimes (CBC News, 2019; Furstenberg, Prelec, & Heathershaw, 2020; Gil, 2017; Mandour, 2022; Marczak et al., 2018); Canadian institutions have a duty to protect the international students they recruit as community members, protection that CAOTTs are not mandated to provide and cannot ensure.

Student labour

Any replacement of local student labour with CAOTT labour is unacceptable to CWCA/ACCR members. Providing students with opportunities for employment is a significant aspect of Canadian writing centres within their institutions. This employment is important for students’ financial security. Also, student tutors are provided with important learning opportunities and experience, which CWCA/ACCR views as a vital aspect of the institutional work of writing centres, as tutors’ learning is connected to their local learning context and extended throughout their tenure in higher education outside the classroom (e.g., institutional experiential learning programs; opportunities for research, publication, and conference presentations, contributing to the field of writing centre studies). For some CWCA/ACCR member writing centres, student employment is a directive.

Outsourced writing centre labour may not follow federal and provincial labour codes, institution union agreements, institutional human resources policies and practices, or provide a living wage (Living Wage, 2022).

References

Bell, S., & Hotson, B. (2022). “A podcast would be fun !”: The fetishization of digital writing projects. Discourse and Writing/Rédactologie, 32, 4–31. https://doi.org/10.31468/dwr.915

Burns, H. (1984). Recollections of first-generation computer-assisted prewriting. In W. Wresch (Ed.), The computer in composition instruction: A writer’s tool (pp. 15–33). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

CBC News. (19 February 2019). ‘China is your daddy’: Backlash against Tibetan student’s election prompts questions about foreign influence. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/china-tibet-student-election-1.5019648

CWCA/ACCR position statement on writing centres in Canada. (2021). The Canadian Writing Centres Association / association canadienne des centres de rédaction. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zNMRc0kgBA_1bcEvBYCQdMtWhfzh02SA/view

Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 17, 2020. (2020). Canadian Writing Centre Review revue Canadienne des centres de rédaction, 1(6 Winter 2020). Retrieved from https://cwcaaccr.com/2020/03/19/covid-19-march-17-2020/

China: Government threats to academic freedom abroad. (2019). Human Rights Watch. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/21/china-government-threats-academic-freedom-abroad

Coogan, D. (1995). E-mail tutoring, a new way to do new work. Computers and Composition, 12, 171–-81.

“Confucius Institute U.S. center” designation as a foreign mission. (2020). U.S. Department of State. Retrieved from https://2017-2021.state.gov/confucius-institute-u-s-center-designation-as-a-foreign-mission/index.html

Furstenberg, S., Prelec, T., & Heathershaw, J. (2020). The internationalization of universities and the repression of academic freedom. Freedom House. Retrieved from https://freedomhouse.org/report/special-report/2020/internationalization-universities-and-repression-academic-freedom

Gil, J. (2017). Soft power and the worldwide promotion of Chinese language learning. Multilingual Matters. https://doi.org/10.21832/GIL8057

Gonzales, A. L., Calarco, J. M., & Lynch, T. K. (2018). Technology problems and student achievement gaps: A validation and extension of the technology maintenance construct. Communication Research, August, 1-38. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093650218796366

Hewett, B. L., & DePew, K. E. (Eds.) (2015). Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction (B. L. Hewett & K. E. DePew, eds.). https://doi.org/10.37514/per-b.2015.0650

Hotson, B., & Bell, S. (2022). Friends don’t let friends Studiosity (without reading the fine print), The Canadian Writing Centres Association / association canadienne des centres de rédaction, 4(1 Fall 2022).

Inman, J. A., & Sewell, D. N. (Eds.). (2000). Taking flight with OWLs: Examining electronic writing center work. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

IWCA position statement on two-year college writing centers. (2007, 2015). International Writing Centers Association. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xsYp1oZOL-AtZ1KlOTjnDMNuIe-Ks2D91c2APGMyKhM/edit

Mandour, M. (2022). Transnational repression undermines academic freedom in Western universities. University of Minnesota. Retrieved from https://cla.umn.edu/human-rights/news-events/news/transnational-repression-undermines-academic-freedom-western-universities

Marczak, B., Scott-Railton, J., Senft, A.,  Razzak, B. A., & Deibert, R. (2018). The kingdom came to Canada: How Saudi-linked digital espionage reached Canadian soil. The Citizen Lab. Retrieved from https://citizenlab.ca/2018/10/the-kingdom-came-to-canada-how-saudi-linked-digital-espionage-reached-canadian-soil/

Living wage. (2022). United Nations. Retrieved from https://www.unglobalcompact.org/what-is-gc/our-work/livingwages

OWL facts sheet. (2022). Purdue Online Writing Lab. Retrieved from https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/about_the_owl/owl_information/purdue_owl_fact_sheet.html

One year on: COVID snapshot of writing centres in Canada. (2021). The Canadian Writing Centres Association / association canadienne des centres de rédaction, 2(3 Spring 2021).

Palmquist, M. (2003). A brief history of computer support for writing centers and writing-across-the-curriculum programs. Computers and Composition, 20(4), 395–413. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2003.08.013

Privacy and Cookies Policy. (2022). Studiosity. Retrieved from https://studiosity.com/connect/policy_agreements/4/privacy

Rempel , C., & Friesen, H. L. (2022). Benefits and challenges of Zoom tutoring during the Covid-19 pandemic. Discourse and Writing/Rédactologie, 32, 370-393. https://doi.org/10.31468/dwr.961

Terms of use. (2022). Studiosity. Retrieved from https://studiosity.com/connect/policy_agreements/4/terms_of_use

Two years on: COVID snapshot of writing centres in Canada – University of Alberta’s Centre for Writers. (2022). The Canadian Writing Centres Association / association canadienne des centres de rédaction, 3(3 Spring 2022).

Vogels, E., Perrin, A., Rainie, L., & Anderson, M. (2020). 53% of Americans say the internet has been essential: Americans with lower incomes are particularly likely to have concerns related to the digital divide and the digital “homework gap” (Vol. 30). Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/04/30/53-of-americans-say-the-internet-has-been-essential-during-the-covid-19-outbreak/

Wargo, J. M. (2018). Writing with wearables? Young children’s intra-active authoring and the sounds of emplaced invention. Journal of Literacy Research, 50(4), 502-523. https://doi.org/10.1177/1086296X18802880

Wisniewski, C., Regidor, M. C., Chason, L., Groundwater, E., Kranek, A., Mayne, D., & Middleton, L. (2020). Questioning assumptions about online tutoring. The Writing Center Journal, 38(1/2), 261-296.

Zhang, J., Zorluel Özer, H., & Bayazeed, R. (2020). Grammarly vs. face-to-face tutoring at the writing center: ESL student writers’ perceptions. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 17(2), 33-43. http://dx.doi.org/10.26153/tsw/8523

Zhou, N. (1 July 2020). CEO of exam monitoring software Proctorio apologises for posting student’s chat logs on Reddit. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jul/01/ceo-of-exam-monitoring-software-proctorio-apologises-for-posting-students-chat-logs-on-reddit

Zuboff, S. (2015). Big other: Surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization. Journal of Information Technology, 30(1), 75-89. https://doi.org/10.1057/jit.2015.

There’s a BIPOC Caucus in the CWCA/ACCR

Vol. 4 No. 2 (Fall 2022)

By Vidya Natarajan and Megumi Taguchi

Vidya Natarajan is a first-gen immigrant whose mother tongue is Tamil, and a settler on the lands of the Anishnaabek, Haudenosawnee, Lunaapewak and Chononton Peoples (now called London, Ontario). She teaches writing and coordinates the Writing program at King’s University College.

Megumi Taguchi lives and works on the unceded, traditional lands of the Qayqayt Peoples, in a city commonly known as New Westminster, in British Columbia. A fourth generation racialized settler, she believes that because her family on her father’s side settled in the Okanagan region, home of the Syilx (say-ooks) people, they were able to avoid the worst of the racial discrimination and imprisonment by the Canadian government during WW2. She is a former peer tutor and English language tutor, and is currently services coordinator at Douglas College, where she supervises and helps run the operational side of tutoring. She is working on her master of education in TESOL at the University of British Columbia.

SIGs and Caucuses

Special Interest Groups (SIGs) have long been a way for likeminded scholars and activists to come together at conferences around subjects or projects in which they are deeply invested. As antiracism became a key node for advocacy, research, and attention among members of the International Writing Center Association (IWCA), the Antiracism Activism Special Interest Group, active since 2006 (Godbee & Olson, 2014) consolidated itself. Talisha Haltiwanger Morrison and Keli Tucker (2019) document how the IWCA’s “Antiracism Activism SIG became a standing SIG in 2017” (p. 4). They note that under their co-leadership, the SIG’s “primary goal has been to develop resources and support to help its members move toward the action invoked in the SIG’s name” (2019, p. 4). Many SIGs function on the basis of common professional and academic interests; in giving racial identity full recognition, however, IWCA’s Antiracism Activism SIG acknowledges the complex involvement of identity-based interests in social and professional interactions. Continue reading “There’s a BIPOC Caucus in the CWCA/ACCR”

Friends don’t let friends Studiosity (without reading the fine print)

A surveillance on the ledge of a building with a cloudy sky in the background.

Vol. 4 No. 1 (Fall 2022)

Brian Hotson, CWCR/RCCR Editor
Stevie Bell, CWCR/RCCR Associate Editor

Like many teachers on a late-August vacation, education companies can see September on the horizon. The difference is that these companies aren’t relaxing. They’re sending e-mails and booking video conferences with offers of freshly printed textbooks, handy workbooks, new online tools, and easy-to-use mobile apps that promise to make student life easier and save universities and colleges money.

The business of education is very large, with total global spending estimated at $4.7 trillion (USD) (UNESCO). By comparison, the total GDP of all African nations in 2021 was $2.7 trillion (USD) (StatisticsTimes, 2021). In 2018-2019, “public and private expenditure on [postsecondary] education” in Canada was $41.5 billion. Education companies would like a share of the money. In this context, a new-to-Canada online writing and tutoring tool, Studiosity, has appeared. Continue reading “Friends don’t let friends Studiosity (without reading the fine print)”