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.

During a recent information session in which new faculty came to the WC to hear more about what we can do for them, I noticed that several of the new faculty seemed uninterested. Their glazed faces may have been the result of information overload from a two-day orientation. But I wondered if some of them might not see (traditional, print) writing as an important, or even present, part of their course or discipline. Either way, I thought this might be a good opportunity to say "yes" to a question that hadn't yet been asked. Can we consult with students on "other" kinds of writing--writing done for digital presentations, for example? YES.

As soon as I mentioned this as a possibility, increasing interest became apparent, and at least three new faculty approached me afterward to further discuss the idea of consulting with students about their mediated texts. As a proponent of Writing Across the Curriculum, the conversations I had that day with a faculty member from the Recreation Department and another from the Technology Center felt like tiny victories. When we can get faculty to expand their views on what writing is/can be/looks like, then we increase the chances that they will see writing--and the work writing centers do--as important.

Only a small part of this blog post is dedicated to arguing that writing centers should embrace consulting with clients about digital writing. That's because I believe many writing centers are already doing so, and scholars like Jackie Grutsch McKinney have already made the argument well. For example, in a 2009 issue of Writing Center Journal, she discusses the necessity of extending our work:
Writing has evolved with new composing technologies and media, and we must evolve, too, because we are in the writing business. A radical shift in the way that writers communicate both academically and publicly necessitates a radical re-imagining and re-understanding of our practices, purposes, and goals. (Grutsch McKinney 49)
Instead, my argument is a more general one, one that stems from my localized experience in the situatedness of Pitt State's WC. It's simply that writing centers should say "Yes" as often as possible--sometimes even before a request is made--while still maintaining a shred or more of selectiveness, in order to consistently improve their practice, increase their business, and achieve a greater appeal to clients, faculty, and administration within a particular institution. For us, this has most recently meant saying yes to consulting over new media.

Saying yes to new media doesn't just mean changing our brochures or our marketing strategies. It's also an investment in preparing our consultants to think in new ways. And, as ever, one of the most important techniques to emphasize during this preparation will be honesty--because consultants "will not be experts in new media composing, but they will be able to offer a response," which is something they already know how to do (McKinney 49). Consider a consultant whose major is English working with a student who brings in a biology paper, for example. Whatever work we do, we do honestly, collaboratively, and with the intent to make better writers through making better writing--in all forms and across all disciplines.

The writing that has been brought to our WC so far this semester has not yet been in the form of those digital presentations and other mediated texts that I was imagining, but that only shows that we have more work to do. We'll have to reach out to all faculty (not just the new ones) and students so that they can benefit from "yes."

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