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.
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.
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.