Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Space, Race, and Saving Face

Last month during Pitt State's fall break, I traveled to San Diego--not for the great weather, beach access, or authentic Mexican food, but for the International Writing Centers Association conference (although I might have enjoyed a couple of those other things as an added bonus...). At the conference, I met several other writing center professionals and had the opportunity to listen to and discuss some great scholarship that's happening now in the field. I also presented as a member of the panel titled "Space, Race, and Saving Face: What Writing Centers Can Do to Minimize Division."

In our disciplinary literature, writing centers are frequently presented as comfortable, safe, and student-centered. This is in contrast to the larger academic institution that's portrayed as sterile and competitive. Our panel, as a whole, problematized this common narrative that claims we exist as an "idyllic oasis" in the midst of the Academy. Instead, discrimination can surface in various ways in writing center tutorials and spaces, both physical and virtual. We shared our individual research as it relates to this issue and proposed some strategies for countering threats to social justice and pedagogical effectiveness in the writing center.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Intake Forms or Takeout Forms?

As I mentioned in my previous post (Writing Center of "Yes"), over the past couple of years the Writing Center @ PSU has undergone many changes--from directorship to location to mission. This full-scale reinvention of ourselves and our mission has also given us the chance to reinvent the WC artifacts at the heart of our day-to-day interaction with the academic community. According to Peter Carino, "The rhetoric that directors produce tells much about how centers, individually and communally, have constructed themselves in the academy" (94). With this in mind, we craft each artifact, in any medium and for any purpose, so that each one contributes to constructing and reinforcing our identity. As a result, our WC mission and identity are consciously manifested through even the simplest documents that we use every day. 

One example of a simple document that we're currently in the process of rethinking is our student intake form. The intake form we use now is doing something for us, but we're wondering if it could possibly be doing something different and better for us. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writing Centers, Twitter, and the Creepy Treehouse

Image by Lisa Jarvis
This is not our goal. 
As a writing center professional whose educational background is a strange m√©lange of comp/rhet, technical writing, and graphic design, I am frequently our writing center's go-to person for all things tech-related. I am fascinated by emerging media, and I am constantly seeking out new ways to use those media to enhance the Writing Center @ PSU's online presence, and more importantly to enhance our students' experience. Recently, it was decided that our writing center needed a Twitter account, which we would use not only to network with other writing centers, but also to provide our students with a new space in which to interact with us. I knew that there was great potential to reach our target audiences; I also knew that there was great potential to really mess this up. 

The benefits of Twitter seem obvious. One tweet can potentially be seen by the entirety of our audience and quickly passed along. As I went through the process of creating our Twitter account, I visualized tweets about events in the Writing Center being retweeted from student to student, links to our scheduling system being disseminated across campus via the smartphones and tablets of the people we most want to reach - students. It was only when I began to actually compose tweets that I realized just how difficult this was going to be. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Writing Center of "Yes"

We are the Writing Center of "yes." Can we send notification of student visits? Certainly. Can we do an in-class workshop on how to write a review of the literature or how to start a research project? We'll be glad to. Can we ... ? Of course. Can we ... ? Absolutely.

This mantra of "yes" is one of the first things Janet Zepernick, Writing Center Director at PSU, taught me after I was hired this summer as Assistant Writing Center Director. For us, yes is about more than making our colleagues happy and pleasing administrators. It's how we put our time and effort where our marketing is. And it's how we live our values--chiefly that support for student writing is among the most important things a university can offer its students. It makes sense for us to be willing to take on new roles because our WC has recently gone through a major overhaul--a new location, new directors, new initiatives, etc.--and, because of that, we're still working to help faculty and students see the new possibilities we offer.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Rubrics Revisited

As I’ve listened to faculty across the University talk about how they evaluate student writing, I’ve been increasingly interested in the many different ways we arrive at value judgments, particularly in the difference between analytical and holistic scoring guides.
Typically, an analytical scoring guide (or rubric) includes a list of features the finished product must include (e.g. “introduction that defines the problem” or “references to at least two articles from peer-reviewed journals”) and assigns a point value to each one. A paper’s grade is then determined by adding the points awarded to each feature. By contrast, a holistic scoring guide describes the target qualities of the finished product collectively, often in a form like this: “An A paper will . . .” “A B paper will . . .”

How can students know what we don't tell them?

             The New York Times recently ran a series of articles on anosognosia and the troubling implications of the things we don’t even know enough to know we don’t know. The whole series was worth a read, but it seems to me to have a special relevance to the perennial question of how to get students to care more about their writing and to take more responsibility for improving their writing skills. 
             As faculty, we’re very much aware that the time and money students invest in a college education will do nothing for them if they leave college without the advanced literacy skills they need in order to put their degrees to work.  And we’ve done a  good job of communicating this to students.  If you ask students if writing will be important for their future success, most of them will say yes.  And often they’re able to back that up with pretty convincing reasons why.

Falling literacy levels and rising student loan debt

As you plan for fall semester, you might want to give some thought to the nature of our incoming students.
This year’s PSU students share the same disadvantages as their peers all over the country: they read less than students did 20 years ago, and their reading skills are weaker; they have less writing experience than high school graduates of 20 years ago, and because they read less, their writing is less competent; they have had less practice in critical thinking, and they are less able to follow a connected chain of reasoning; their attention span is shorter than it was even five years ago, and they have more difficulty understanding and following directions.