Emma Sylvester is Coordinator, Writing Centre and Academic Communications, Saint Mary’s University.
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.
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.
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”→
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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”→
Social Justice and Writing Centres
May 17 – 21, 2021
“[A] culture of access is a culture of participation and redesign” –Elizabeth Brewer, Cynthia L. Selfe, and M. Remi Yergeau
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”→
Megan is a BC ELN (British Columbia Electronic Library Network) Coordinator providing support for tutors and coordinators throughout BC and Alberta.
While the rush to emergency remote teaching occurred out of necessity due to the COVID-19 disruption, writing supports already operating only online have an opportunity to reflect on their existing approaches. WriteAway, British Columbia and Alberta’s online asynchronous writing support consortium of post-secondary students, was first piloted in 2012. Through a series of cautious expansions over several years, the service enters this new reality of online tutoring firmly in its operating stage with eighteen participating institutions. Continue reading “Asynchronous Affordances: WriteAway’s Pandemic Experience”→
Vol. 2, No. 2 (Fall 2020) Lauren Mckenzie, Language Specialist Saint Mary’s University Writing Centre and Academic Communication
Lauren Mckenzie lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia and works at the Writing Centre and Academic Communications at Saint Mary’s University. Lauren is currently completing her MA TESOL and research interests include critical and social justice pedagogy, rebellious thinking, fascination and distraction.
Writing can be a challenging process that takes time, thought, revision, and mental focus. Students are challenged more than ever to find or recreate writing spaces as traditional venues such as the library or student lounges have limited or no availability. However, it is possible to create the mental and environmental conditions that will help you to enjoy the writing process and increase productivity as you adjust to studying from home. Continue reading “Writing: It’s an outdoor vibe”→