Stephanie Bell, Associate Professor, York University Writing Centre; co-founder, CWCR/RCCR
A clear-cut strategy for undermining the writing centre’s relationship with student writers is to become reporters, adjudicators, or punishers of plagiarism and cheating (Bell, 2018).
In its heavy-handed discourse around academic dishonesty, the institution draws a divide between itself and students. Students arrive on campuses to find themselves positioned as likely criminals, and their work is policed by AI that scans it for infractions. Ironically, the institution’s academic dishonesty rhetoric can so undermine the institution-student relationship that it fosters academically dishonest student behaviour (see Strayhorn, 2012). To fulfill their missions, writing centres must carefully navigate the issue of academic dishonesty and the institution-student divide it constructs.
However, it’s not always easy to do this dance. Writing centres are often called upon to supply resources — tutoring, workshops, online modules, courses — in the form of educational sanctions for students who’ve been found “guilty” of the “crime” of plagiarism. Refraining from participating in sanctions can be difficult when the pressure to do so comes from those who approve one’s budget and manage one’s existence.
Recent pressure from a YorkU senate committee has lead to discussions among writing centre faculty about the potential ramifications of supplying educational sanctions; whether we’d have control over their form and content; why the writing centre’s role is being dictated by senate rather than being self-constructed; and whether there are greater opportunities for us to reshape our institution’s approaches to academic dishonesty as it pertains to student writing.
The answer to the last question had us thinking about the fact that we want to be supporters rather than punishers of students. We want to be connecting with them while they’re not in trouble with policy, and the best way to reach them at that stage might be in our work with faculty. What do we want all faculty to know about academic integrity as it pertains to student writing. It turns out, I knew exactly what I want to say. It came into words quite easily. The question is why I’m not out there saying it more loudly.
Prompted by this exercise, I wrote and produced a series of videos with my writing partner in crime, Brian Hotson, and supplied a worksheet that includes the statement I drafted for faculty. I am gearing up to write a proposal for an internal teaching-release grant to produce more resources for student writers along these lines. Fingers crossed.
I’m interested in how you’ve been navigating the tension between maintaining a strong relationship with student writers while responding to the demands for educational sanctions from the administration. What would you want all faculty to know about academic integrity as it pertains to student writing? I’ve created a document here for your answers. You can read the comments from your colleagues, as well.
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.
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).
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
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).
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.
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.
About. (n.d.). Canadian Association for the Study of Discourse and Writing / Association Canadienne de Rédactologie. Retrieved from https://casdw-acr.ca/about/
Brooks, K. (2006). National culture and first-year English curriculum: A historical study of composition in Canadian Universities. In R. Graves & H. Graves (Eds) Writing centres, writing seminars, writing culture: Writing instruction in Anglo-Canadian universities (pp. 95-199). Inkshed Publications; Winnipeg.
Bromley, P. (2017). Locating Canadian Writing Centres: An Empirical Investigation. Canadian Journal for Studies in Discourse and Writing/Rédactologie, 27, 24–41. Retrieved from http://journals.sfu.ca/cjsdw
Buck, G. (1909). “Make-believe grammar.” The School Review, 17(1), 21–33.
Howse, J, & McManus, K. (1987). The dilemma of evaluation in the writing centre: A reading for two voices, Inkshed: Newsletter of the Canadian Association for the Study of Writing and Reading, 6(4), 3-4
Organization and Use of a Writing Laboratory: The Report of Workshop No. 9. (1967). In College Composition and Communication (Vol. 2). Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/354618
Paré, A. (1988). Centre & For-the Study and Teaching Of Writing, McGill University. Inkshed: Newsletter of the Canadian Association for the Study of Writing and Reading, 7(2 March), 3-4.
Procter, M (2011). Talking the talk and walking the walk: Establishing the academic aole of writing centres. In D. Starke-Meyerring, A. Paré, N. Artemeva, M. Horne, & L. Yousoubova (Eds.), Writing in Knowledge Societies (pp. 415-439). https://doi.org/10.37514/per-b.2011.2379
Rehner, J. (1995). What Happens After You Say, “Please Go to the Writing Centre,” Inkshed, 13(3).
Sheese, R., Spencer, J., Rehner, J., Greenwald, T., & Rosendal, P. (2006). Faculty of Arts for Academic Writing: York University, Toronto. In R. Graves & H. Graves (Eds.), Writing centres, writing seminars, writing culture: Writing instruction in Anglo-Canadian universities (pp. 255–272). Winnipeg: Inkshed Publications.
Sheese, R., Spencer, J., Rehner, J., Greenwald, T., & Rosendal, P. (2006). Faculty of Arts for Academic Writing: York University, Toronto. In R. Graves & H. Graves (Eds.), Writing Centres, Writing Seminars, Writing Culture: Writing Instruction in Anglo-Canadian Universities (pp. 255–272). Winnipeg: Inkshed Publications.
Tanner, R. H. (1920). An Application of the Laboratory Method to the Teaching of Greek and Latin. The Classical Journal, 15(9), 546–554. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/3288120
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”→
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.
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.
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”→
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”→