Regional Writing Centre Associations in Canada: Spotlight on the Alberta Writing Centres Association

An image of Alberta Wild Roses

Vol. 3, No. 3 (Fall 2021)

An interview with Sarah-Jean Watt, Athabasca University Write Site Coordinator, and AWCA contact

Liv Marken, Contributing Editor, CWCR/RCCR


Liv: Could you please explain for our readers what the Alberta Writing Centres Association is and what it does? How is it different from the Campus Alberta Writing Network (CAWS)?

Sarah-Jean: The AWCA began as an informal connection between institutions that participated in eTutor Alberta, an online tutoring service modelled on BC’s WriteAway. eTutor Alberta was formed in 2014 as a consortium of institutions, each of which lent a certain number of tutor hours per week to the service. Students from these institutions could submit written assignment drafts through an online system and receive feedback from a writing tutor. Helping us to build the system was the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, which shared its code. Continue reading “Regional Writing Centre Associations in Canada: Spotlight on the Alberta Writing Centres Association”

A Short History of CWCA/ACCR: Fifteen years on

Vol. 3, No. 1 (Fall 2021)

Brian Hotson, CWCR/RCCR Editor

Introduction

Volume 1, Issue 1 Halifax Gazette, March 23, 1752

Although writing centres in Canada date to the mid-1960s (See Table 1) (Proctor, 2011, p. 418; Bromley, 2017, p. 35), writing tutoring and writing instruction, of course, didn’t begin with the first writing centres. Writing instruction has a progenitor dating to the first European colonizers in what is now called Canada (Halifax Gazette, 1752). Because the Canadian writing centre field is young, many of the key founders and figures in its development continue to add to its literature and practice. These writing centre practitioners in the past thirty years have created a significant body of work, including publications, repositories of information, modes of practice, national and regional associations and conferences, and proactive advocacy and social justice work. While there have been times in the past where shifts in writing centres in Canada have caused worries about centre funding and importance, writing centres will not disappear from  Canada’s  education field. In fact, writing centres will continue to grow in importance, as writing centres

are more vital in the Canadian context because Writing Centres are not “marginal” places of writing instruction as they may be viewed in the United States. In the absence of the universal composition requirement, the primary Canadian site for writing pedagogy is, unlike the American context, the Writing Centre. (Beard, 2009)

Writing centres in Canada are the fermentation ground for innovative theoretical and pedagogical work. Writing centres are entrenched in Canada’s educational institutions, as they provide a frame, model, and structure for a significant number of additional  academic supports within educational institutions. While the story of scholarly writing at the COVID turn as it relates to writing centres is yet to be written, there is confidence that writing centres will be viewed as a significant contributor to stabilizing virtual education in Canada.

Table 1 – Canadian writing centres/labs by establishing date

How it started

Prior to the 2000s, several writing-focused associations and organizations existed, such as the Canadian Association for the Study of Language and Learning (CASLL, aka Inkshed (1982-2015)) and the Canadian Association for the Study of Discourse and Writing (CASDW, formerly the Canadian Association of Teachers of Technical Writing (CATTW)) founded in 1982 (About, n.d.). CWCA/ACCR past-president, Theresa Hyland, writes that the “grandmother” of CASDW and CWCA/ACCR is CASLL (Hyland, 2014, p. 12). Otherwise known as Inkshed, first officially and then affectionately, it began as a collaboration of Russ Hunt and James A. Reither, both of St. Thomas University in New Brunswick (Proctor, 2018).

Issue 1, page 1
Inkshed Newsletter, Issue 1, Page 1

The continuing legacy of Inkshed is the Inkshed Newsletter (1983-2015), also a brainchild of Reither and Hunt. These volumes remain a largely untapped resource of the development of writing theory and practice as well as of writing centres in Canada. I have created a searchable repository of the Inkshed newsletter (with permission of past newsletter editors, Russ Hunt, Margaret Proctor, and Roger Graves) for researchers to be able to search by keyword (B. Hotson, personal communication, June 3, 2021).

It is in the Inkshed Newsletter’s volumes that the first piece written specifically about writing centres in Canada (that I could locate) is found. Draft editing in the writing centre, written by Doug Brent, then writing centre director at the University of Calgary, was published in 1983 (Brent, 1983, p. 2-3). Here, Brent mentions the “rapidly proliferating institution of the writing centres” in Canada (p. 2), which began in earnest in the 1970s (see Table 1). Looking at the Inkshed Newsletter repository between 1983 and 2006, a number of writing centres related articles were published and events noted. In 1987, it’s recorded that Katherine McManus and Jacqueline Bowse (Memorial University Writing Centre) presented at CCCC’s on Evaluation in the writing centre: An unresolvable dilemma? (Inkshedders at CCCC, 1987, p. 2), with an excerpt of the presentation published in the newsletter as The dilemma of evaluation in the writing centre: A reading for two voices (Howse & McManus, 1987, p. 3-4), revealing a significant level of scholarship developing in writing centres studies. This is also the case in Jim Bell’s article, Small-scale evaluations for writing centres in these times of trouble (1996), a quantitative study of student evaluation of tutoring sessions in University of Northern British Columbia.

What is noteworthy is that at the inaugural AGM of CASLL in 1994, a suggested topic for their annual conference “The general crisis regarding writing centres” (Inaugural General Meeting of CASLL, 1994, p. 4) was proposed. Though this was not accepted, it shows a great deal of interest, developing scholarship, and a need for more singular focus of community in writing centres and the field of writing centre studies in Canada, as can be seen from the titles of the pieces being published. Writing centre professionals felt isolated and threatened by lack of funding and recognition within their institutions. Writing centre administrators, instructors, and tutors began to look for support and community beyond CASLL and CASDW, neither of which could provide for these specific needs (Hyland, 2014).

From STLHE SIG to independence 

CWCA/ACCR initial logo

It would be another 10 years until the beginning of a writing centre association. At the 2006 Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) conference in Toronto, a group of writing centre professionals met over lunch to discuss interest for the development of a writing centre association (Holock, 2007, p. 2; Canadian Writing Centres…, 2008; Landry, 2016, p. 38). This group, members of whom included Marion McKeown, Joanne André, Linda Bondoc-McLeod, Tyler Tokaryk, Martin Holock, among others (Holock, 2007, p. 2; Hotson, 2020), found that there was a great deal of enthusiasm and need for the development of an association as a community of writing centre practitioners. In 2007, CWCA/ACCR was founded and applied to become a special interest group of STLHE (Holock, 2007, p. 2; Hughes, 2007a, p. 15). The first AGM of CWCA/ACCR was held on June 18, 2008 at the STLHE conference in Edmonton. The new association met as a STLHE SIG at a meeting called “Canadian Writing Centres and Student Writing Special Interest Group (SIG) Annual General Meeting” (World of Learning, 2008, p. 4).

At this conference, there were four sessions specifically for writing centre professionals, Beyond the Five Paragraph Essay: From Assignation to Elaboration in Undergraduate Writing Practice; Exploring the Pros and Cons of Implementing Synchronous, Online Tutoring in Writing Centres; Addressing the Unique Needs of Graduate Writers; and Communication Café: A Proactive Approach to Engaging ESL Students. These sessions were presented by a mix of large and small universities and colleges―University of Toronto, University of Saskatchewan, University of Ottawa; Athabasca University, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Durham College, and Ontario College of Art and Design (A World of Learning, 2008).

However, CWCA/ACCR did not thrive as a STLHE SIG for several reasons: 1) STLHE is a forum for teaching and learning administrators―there were very few sessions that related directly to the field of writing centres; 2) STLHE conference fees were (and remain) prohibitive for many; 3) STLHE would not allow, at first, for CWCA/ACCR to hold an AGM as a SIG; 4) No paper presentations or workshops were allowed within the SIG; all papers had to be presented to the conference generally, significantly lowering the possible numbers of conference papers on writing centres; 5) Many CWCA/ACCR members were also members of CASDW and CASLL, and the STLHE conference was held at different dates and locations to these associations, making the cost in time and money of attending both the Congress and STHLE conferences prohibitive; 6) A major sticking point was CWCA/ACCR’s attempts to develop their own web presence, as well as a scholarship, neither of which was supported to a great extent by STLHE. As a result of these issues, attendance by CWCA/ACCR’s members to the STLHE conferences steadily declined.

This was evidenced in 2012 when the CWCA/ACCR’s AGM was attended by only four members: three, Liv Marken, Brian Hotson, and Past-Chair Marion McKeown, attended in person, and CWCA/ACCR Chair, Linda Bondoc-McLeod, via video link. At this meeting, Hotson was elected Chair, Theresa Hyland Vice-Chair, and Bondoc-McLeod moved into the Past-Chairship. Hotson moved with the association’s approval to officially end CWCA/ACCR’s association with STLHE in June 2012 (B. Hotson, personal communication, July 5, 2012).

Web page from 1st CWCA/ACCR conference
Web page from 1st CWCA/ACCR conference

Part of the planning for CWCA/ACCR for 2013 was to reconstitute the association’s web presence, create social media accounts, and to hold a conference “that would specifically address the needs of the Canadian writing centre community and that would not be prohibitively expensive” (Hyland, 2014b, p. 12). This first conference was co-chaired by Laurie Waye (University of Victoria) and Hotson and was held in 2013 in University of Victoria. The conference was held just prior to the beginning of the Congress of the Humanities to coincide with the CASDW and CASLL conferences (the CASLL conference was held in Vancouver a few days after the CWCA/ACCR conference). The conference was a success and a bellwether of interest and desire for community among writing centre professionals. Hyland reported,

The results [of the conference] were phenomenal, over 100 participants for the first conference and 85 for the second. The one-day format was appreciated, which kept costs to a minimum, and the community had a genuine forum to discuss both practical matters and action research, as well as make connections…

The sheer numbers of attendees at subsequent conferences in 2014 reveals a continued desire for CWCA/ACCR as a national organization. With 120 members from across Canada and US, the association’s success is evident not only from its growing membership, but also from activity of the members and the interest of universities and colleges in the association nationally and internationally. (Hyland, 2014b, p. 12)

Looking forward by looking back

As a national body, CWCA/ACCR continues to develop as a centralizing hub for research and practice, especially in three areas: writing tutoring, professional writing centre administration, and writing instruction. CWCA/ACCR’s continued growth, especially in higher education, can have a reciprocal effect: the more active the association is, the more impactful the work of the association and its members can be. Table 2 provides a timeline of significant events of the development of the association.

Table 2 – Chairs and presidents of CWCA/ACCR with a timeline of events

CWCA/ACCR’s progenitor is now 15 years old. While this may seem a short period of time, it was quite difficult to track down key documents relating to CWCA/ACCR’s development. Early annual reports, website archives, meeting agenda, listserv conversation, memberships lists―a great deal of this is missing. As I began to look deeper into the development of CWCA/ACCR, a history appeared of key moments, important decisions, and of steps forward and back. The association began with a desire for community, which is nicely encapsulated by Hyland: “I need to stay close to my Writing Centre roots, and just hang out with others who have the same needs as I do and have met those practical needs in interesting and creative ways” (Hyland, 2014). Hyland is correct in her descriptions of the work of CWCA/ACCR and its many members―creating and working in the literature of writing centre and writing studies fields and developing the administrative practices that make the creating and working succeed, while keeping in contact with our diverse and expansive community. The development of position statements and virtual conferences shows the continued growth and maturity as well as adaptability of the association.


References

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Trying to capture the full story: Making a post-tutoring session survey

Volume 2, No. 1 Summer 2021
by Emma Sylvester

Emma Sylvester is Coordinator, Writing Centre and Academic Communications, Saint Mary’s University.

Introduction

As Writing Centre (WC) practitioners, how do we know that students are actually benefitting from our work? Plenty of research has shown that WC use improves students’ grades (e.g., Driscoll, 2015; Thompson, 2006; Trosset et al., 2019, Dansereau, et al., 2020), but how do I know that translates to my own unique institution or to the session I had with a tutee this morning? As a tutor, the immediate feedback of seeing a student’s “lightbulb moment” or hearing their expressions of gratitude gives me some indication that I’m doing something right. Unfortunately, these experiences aren’t reliable or comprehensive indicators of the benefits of the WC, and they don’t tell me about the student’s full emotional experience in session or their long-term learning. Further, in the post-covid era, ripe with asynchronous sessions and cameras left off, these moments are potentially fewer and farther between.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Zt4bRIYDrOHFxtgO8iRzuJAZ4DyUp5YLbsA4oAWTrY0/edit

Post-session surveys are widely used across WCs not only to learn about how students value writing tutorials, but also to inform program development, assess and refine tutor practice, collect data for study and publication, and even to justify the existence of the centres themselves (Bromley et al., 2013). The need to collect, analyse, and apply data related to students’ experience in session is obvious and inherent in the ongoing development of WC practice, but taking a rigorous approach to this process is often forgotten amidst other seemingly more important (and let’s just say it, more interesting) work.

Continue reading “Trying to capture the full story: Making a post-tutoring session survey”

Pandemic Graduate Student Writing and Transition Support: Reflections and Predictions (Part 3)

Vol. 2, No.8 (Spring 2021)
Liv Marken, Contributing Editor, CWCR/RCCR

Link to Part II


PART III: Looking Ahead

In last week’s instalment, Jill McMillan, a Learning Specialist at the University of Saskatchewan, and Nadine Fladd, a Writing and Multimodal Communication Specialist at the University of Waterloo, shared their thoughts about accessibility, transition, and international student support. In part three, our final instalment, Jill and Nadine look ahead to what they envision keeping and what will be changed in the slow transition back to campus. Continue reading “Pandemic Graduate Student Writing and Transition Support: Reflections and Predictions (Part 3)”

There will be no switch flipping in my future: A look at post-COVID writing centres

Photo of a light switch

Vol 2., No. 7 (Spring 2021)
Julia Lane, Phd, Writing Services Coordinator, Student Learning Commons


Early in the pandemic, Kate Elliott, a Graduate Writing Facilitator with the SFU Student Learning Commons, wrote Maintaining Social Cohesion in a Time of Social Distancing, a blog post which she generously allowed me to contribute to. The post was about the opportunities that this moment of seeming isolation presents to get creative about supporting connectivity through virtual means.

Here I am over a year later reflecting once again on Kate’s incredible ability to focus on connectivity in the time of social/physical distancing within a week of everything shutting down the first time. We have been told to maintain distance from one another to keep each other safe, but that doesn’t mean that we can safely forego the social. It is clear that Kate’s emphasis on the ongoing need for social connection remains central. Throughout this past year, writing centres have been challenged to re-consider and re-imagine our roles in our wider institutions and to get creative with opportunities to support human connection—remotely—while we all experience ongoing crisis. Continue reading “There will be no switch flipping in my future: A look at post-COVID writing centres”

Pandemic Graduate Student Writing and Transition Support: Reflections and Predictions (Part 2)

Vol. 2, No. 6 (Spring 2021)
Liv Marken, Contributing Editor, CWCR/RCCR

Link to Part I


PART II: Accessibility and Transition

Last week, we heard from Jill McMillan, a Learning Specialist at University of Saskatchewan, and Nadine Fladd, a Writing and Multimodal Communication Specialist at the University of Waterloo. They talked about their pandemic year. Here, in part two, they share their thoughts on graduate student transition, and accessibility, particularly in regard to international students. Continue reading “Pandemic Graduate Student Writing and Transition Support: Reflections and Predictions (Part 2)”

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

Vol. 2, No. 5 (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.

One year on: COVID Snapshot of writing centres in Canada

Vol 2, No. 3 (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”

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

Screenshot of collaborative Padlet.

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 British Columbia Writing Centres Association’s (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. Continue reading “BCWCA “Director’s Day Out”: Meaningful Collaboration Online”

Announcement || CWCA/ACCR 2021 Conference CfP – Transformative Inclusivity: Social Justice and Writing Centres

8th CWCA/ACCR Conference

CWCA 2020 logo

Transformative Inclusivity:
Social Justice and Writing Centres


May 17 – 21, 2021

Virtual Conference


“[A] culture of access is a culture of participation and redesign”
–Elizabeth Brewer, Cynthia L. Selfe, and M. Remi Yergeau


Conference Context

For our 2021 conference, the Canadian Writing Centres Association / association canadienne des centres de rédaction welcomes proposals on any writing centre-related subject, but particularly proposals that consider and/or critique frameworks of inclusion, access, and accessibility. These themes may be related to anti-racist work and Indigenization at writing centres, to our recent experiences arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to writing and writing centre theory, pedagogy, praxis, programming, administration, research, physical and online environments, advocacy, or activism.

Writing centres have committed to making their spaces and services accessible, inclusive, and democratic, not least to students and tutors from marginalized backgrounds (Geller et al., 2007; Greenfield & Rowan, 2011; Hitt, 2012; Lang, 2017; Martini & Webster, 2017). Even as COVID-19 has inflected, sharpened, and foregrounded systemic inequities, the Black Lives Matter movement, Indigenous movements for social justice such as 1492 Land Back Lane and Idle No More, and the Disability Rights Movement have called upon us, with greater urgency than ever before, to expand the definition and the scope of access, and revitalize writing centres as social justice projects. Continue reading “Announcement || CWCA/ACCR 2021 Conference CfP – Transformative Inclusivity: Social Justice and Writing Centres”