Summer on the North Coast: What’s New with UW-Madison Writing Center Programs

By Brad Hughes

Brad Hughes is the director of the Writing Center and director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is delighted to be starting his 31st year as director of the Writing Center.

Welcome to a new academic year at UW-Madison’s Writing Center! With contributions from my wonderful colleagues, I’d like to celebrate some of our program’s accomplishments during the late spring and the summer of 2014 and share some of our plans for the fall. Throughout the summer, our staff have been busy collaborating and venturing out—as always—to offer instruction across our campus and around the city of Madison and beyond. Here are some highlights. . . . (more…)

To Consolidate or Not to Consolidate? That Is the Question . . .

By Bryan Trabold, Suffolk University

Bryan Trabold is an associate professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston, former director of Suffolk’s Writing Center, and currently serves as a faculty mentor to writing tutors at Suffolk’s newly created Center for Learning and Academic Success (CLAS). He is in the final stages of completing his book on South African anti-apartheid journalists entitled To Write it Down: The Story of the Weekly Mail and New Nation in Apartheid South Africa.

When Brad Hughes, the director of the Writing Center and the Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, asked if I would be willing to write an entry for this wonderful blog, I of course accepted. I have said this to countless people so I may as well share it in this post: Working as a tutor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center from 1995-2000 (except for the year I lived in South Africa) taught me more about writing – and how to teach writing – than any other experience I have had in my life. I think most people who have tutored at a writing center can probably say this. I know anyone who has had the privilege of working as a tutor with Brad Hughes at Wisconsin almost certainly will. (more…)

What Two Cultures? Helping Tutors Cross Disciplines

Mattie Burkert is the T.A. Coordinator of Outreach for the Writing Center at UW-Madison, where she has been a tutor since 2011. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies.

Imagine you’re a writing tutor with no background in biology. A student comes to meet with you in the Writing Center about a draft describing the process of obtaining lysates for an experiment, like the example in the image above. What do you do when faced with this material? Do you admit that you don’t know the first thing about what lysates are and why they might be useful? How can you look beyond these unfamiliar terms to identify and respond to the larger intellectual and rhetorical work the writer is doing?

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DesignLab: Shaping the Experimental Digital Studies Landscape at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

By Laini Kavaloski

Laini Kavaloski is a Ph.D. student in English and a DesignLab consultant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

At their best, experimental spaces within the university inspire new fields of inquiry, cultivate new pedagogies, and make cross-disciplinary connections. The innovative University of Wisconsin-Madison’s DesignLab was established in 2011 in order to improve the media literacy of students at the university and to serve as a space of inquiry and experimentation for media work. Indeed, the creative environment of DesignLab has fostered my own interest in the potential of media forms to intervene in political processes. As a graduate student in English and a TA consultant at DesignLab, much of my day is spent contemplating the affordances and constraints of media platforms with students and faculty across campus. In what follows, I give a brief introduction to DesignLab, and then I present a specific example of one of the creative media platforms that we are currently teaching. (more…)

What’s the Harm in Blogging?

By Deborah Brandt

Deborah Brandt is professor emerita of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was a longtime writing teacher and writing program administrator.  She is author of the award-winning Literacy in American Lives and a 2011 Guggenheim fellow.  She just finished a new book about changing relationships between reading and writing, as seen through the experiences of workaday writers, and is at work on a co-authored book about writing development across the lifespan.

The first two times Writing Center director Brad Hughes invited me to contribute something to Another Word, I didn’t respond.  This resistance puzzled me in some ways.  My career has been dedicated to teaching and studying writing.  I am a champion of all things writing – with the UW-Madison Writing Center high on the list.  Some of my happiest moments in life are spent writing. Besides, aren’t blogs among the most appealing forms of expression?  Breezy, easy, low stakes, anything goes—an embodiment of the best democratic potential of the Internet?  So when Brad asked for the third time, I thought, okay, what’s the harm? (more…)

“Why Are You Working Here?” Engineers in the Writing Center

By Rachel Azima

Rachel Azima is the director of the Writing & Media Center at Iowa State University.  While completing her Ph.D. in English, she worked for 13 semesters in the UW-Madison Writing Center.  Before starting at Iowa State in Fall 2012, she served as Assistant Professor of English at a small private university in the Detroit area, where she helped start a writing center.

The past few years have brought sea changes for me and for the center I direct at Iowa State.  During that time, what was the Writing and Media Help Center moved from the English Department to the Dean of Students Office, becoming a joint venture between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs in the process, and I leaped off the tenure track to take a full-time administrative position to direct this center.  Since my arrival, we have adopted a new, shorter name—the Writing & Media Center (WMC)—with the “help” removed to avoid those pesky remedial connotations.  Our undergraduate staff is transitioning from “peer tutors” to “communication consultants” (terminology we’re still getting used to), and our per semester usage has more than doubled, from 407 tutoring hours in Fall 2011 to 1046 hours in Fall 2013.  My graduate assistants and I have thrown ourselves headfirst into outreach efforts: staff members gave 11 presentations total during the year before I arrived, while my graduate assistants and I gave 105 presentations in Fall 2013 alone, allowing us to reach over 3,500 students with information about the WMC.  (more…)

Getting a Fix on What Big 10 Writing Centers Are Up To

By Laura Plummer, Director of the Campus Writing Program at Indiana University. She is joined here by Jo Ann Vogt (Writing Tutorial Services Director, Indiana University); Carol Severino (Writing Center Director, the University of Iowa); and Naomi Silver (Writing Center Associate Director, the University of Michigan).

Laura Plummer, Director of the Campus Writing Program at Indiana University

Laura Plummer, Director of the Campus Writing Program at Indiana University

Q: Why did I start an informal working group for “Big Ten” writing center and writing program directors?
A: Because sometimes you just want to spend time with people who get your jokes.

The “tutored” dog
You’ve seen the 1985 Gary Larson Far Side cartoon before, no doubt: a dog riding shotgun in a car is talking out the window to a dog-friend: “Ha, Ha, Biff. Guess what? After we go to the drugstore and post office, I’m going to the vet’s to get tutored!”

It’s funny: our canine speaker misunderstands the play date his owners have planned for him. Tutoring or neutering—oh, what a difference a consonant makes.

For most audiences, the tutor/neuter confusion is funny enough. I would argue that writing center folks find this joke even funnier. We laugh at the distance and tension between what “tutor” means to us, and its potentially clinical meaning to those outside our small writing-profession group. (more…)

Notes from My 60-Day Writing Challenge

By Rebecca Steffy Couch

The author outside the Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA, June 2013. Photo by Aaron Couch.

The author outside the Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA, June 2013. Photo by Aaron Couch.

Rebecca is in her third year teaching for the UW-Madison Writing Center, and she is writing a dissertation on recent American poetics through the lens of community discourse and spatial theory in the English Literary Studies program at UW-Madison. She currently co-coordinates the Felix Series of New Writing.

For many of us in the university setting, semesters, quarters, and intercessions arrange our time into predictable, if also swift, units of work.  And these beginnings and endings invite us to assess and reconfigure our goals and habits. During the 2013-2014 cycle, practicing the habit of writing—indeed, making writing a daily resolution—has been foremost among my priorities.

Cultivating the everyday habit of writing serves two important purposes for me: it helps me, as a Writing Center instructor and teacher of writing, to narrow the gap between pedagogy and practice, between the suggestions I frequently give to other writers and what I do at my own desk. And, as a graduate student working on a dissertation of my own, the everyday habit of writing promises me that I will make steady progress toward its successful completion.

So last fall I embarked on a self-imposed “60 Day Writing Challenge,” in which I scheduled daily writing time and planned, on a weekly basis, writing tasks to tackle each day. This semester, I am once again challenging myself to write every day – this time, without the arbitrary end date.

By sharing my experience with a self-imposed “Writing Challenge,” as well as some of the resources that inspired it, I hope to encourage other writers to set new goals for their writing habits, and to invite teachers of writing to think about how they can coax students towards the habit of writing. (more…)

The Importance of Being Interested

By Michelle Niemann

Michelle Niemann is the assistant director of the writing center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 2013-2014. Her first tutoring experience was in the writing center at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, in 2003 and 2004. She recently defended her dissertation and will receive her PhD in English literature from UW-Madison in May. 

The author on a bird-watching walk at Horicon March.

Michelle bird-watching at Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin. Photo by Liz Vine.

Tutoring in the writing center at University of Wisconsin-Madison since 2009 has given me a great gift: it has shown me the power of being interested. In anything, or anyone. In the next student signed up to meet with me and whatever project they’re working on. At the same time, as a graduate student in English literature at UW-Madison, I’ve also learned a lot about the corresponding power of being interesting.

Being interesting is, quite rightly, the coin of the realm in advanced scholarship. And I’ve absolutely, nerdily loved the opportunity to pursue my interests in poetic form and sustainable farming by writing a dissertation about organic metaphors in both fields. But I’m also grateful that I’ve been working in the Writing Center, because tutoring constantly reminds me, and indeed requires me, to look up and notice at least some of the other interesting things going on around me. (more…)

The Quiet Game of Writing Center Diplomacy

By Melvin Hall

The author in 2008 on a mountain overlooking the small Christian town of Maaloula whose residents take pride in speaking and preserving the biblical Aramaic spoken by Christ.

The author in 2008 on a mountain overlooking the small Christian town of Maaloula whose residents take pride in speaking and preserving the biblical Aramaic spoken by Christ.

In 2006, I took a leave of absence from the PhD program in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study Arabic language in Syria, 2007-2008. Upon my return, I had the privilege of managing the National Security Language Initiative for Youth at the Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, Youth Programs, where I visited families in Egypt and Jordan hosting American high school students. And from July 2010 to July 2011, as a social scientist on a Human Terrain Team, I had the privilege of deploying with the 3rd and 4th U.S. Army Infantry Divisions in Northern Iraq to conduct ethnographic research. I recently returned to UW–Madison and finished my PhD dissertation this past summer. During my leave of absence, I met, lived, and worked with many different people from different cultures and bureaucratic institutions from almost every socio-economic strata of society: diplomats, military leaders, soldiers, local political leaders, sheikhs, imams, families; Christian, Druze, Muslim; Arab, Kurdish, Yazidi, and Palestinian.  Between 2006 and the present, I have spoken to and interviewed well over a thousand people in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Morocco.  And my cross-cultural experience and ethnographic research brought me to the following idealistic, if not utopian, conclusion: writing center training and teaching should be required for diplomats, international workers, and researchers.  What makes me confident in this? (more…)