Welcome to a new academic year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center! As our Writing Center re-opens on the first day of classes for the fall semester–on Tuesday, September 4–we’ll be eager to welcome undergraduate and graduate student-writers from across the University. And we’re delighted to have 26 talented new undergraduate writing fellows and 11 new doctoral-level teaching assistants and two new undergraduate receptionists join our staff of 105 wonderful colleagues. Based on suggestions from student-writers and from faculty and from our own staff, our Writing Center’s leadership team is always looking for ways to improve and innovate. Here’s a sampling of some of what’s new this semester. . . .
I’ve long argued that writing centers at research universities should prepare interested doctoral students to lead strong, innovative writing centers and WAC programs when they move into their faculty careers. And that we should do this in systematic and sustained ways. Being a dedicated, successful, experienced writing tutor is of course a necessary part of that preparation, but that alone is not sufficient. Professional development for future writing center directors is something our Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison takes seriously—my colleagues and I are proud that this past year, in 2011 alone, seven more of our PhD alums, at various stages of their careers, were offered positions as writing center directors or assistant directors around the country, joining many other distinguished UW-Madison alums who direct writing centers.
This question—of how research universities can prepare graduate students to become writing center directors as part of their faculty careers—has been an important topic of discussion when the writing center directors from the universities in the Big 10 conference meet once a year (I’m always hoping that some athletic competition will break out during meetings of Big 10 writing center directors, but, alas, none yet). We’ve talked several times about what we can do—intentionally and systematically–to prepare our grad students to lead strong writing center and WAC programs. As an outgrowth of these discussions, at the 2010 IWCA conference in Baltimore, several members of the Big 10 group spoke about the opportunities we have and the challenges we face as we prepare graduate students to be future writing center directors.
All Graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs) who are beyond their first semester of tutoring in UW-Madison’s Writing Center participate in professional development opportunities, known as Ongoing Education opportunities, affectionately, as an “OGE.” At the start of a semester, Teaching Assistants will often see a description at the top of an OGE selection form that reads as follows:
“Ongoing Education activities are opportunities to challenge ourselves as teachers, think critically about our work, reach our personal goals, and collectively build a broad base of diverse knowledge, skills, and practices from which we all can draw.”
By Sarah Groeneveld. The day I met Laura (a pseudonym) was a memorable one. It was a slow day at the Writing Center last January, and I had a free hour in the middle of my shift. Laura was scheduled to meet with me later, but had mistaken the time of our appointment and had shown up early. Therefore, we were able to spend a wonderful two hours talking about three things that we both share a passion for: teaching, animals and questions about difference. But what is memorable to me about meeting Laura is that about five seconds after sitting down next to her, I suddenly noticed a gigantic head and deep brown eyes staring at me from underneath the desk. Laura introduced me to Monty (another pseudonym), a German Shepard who helps Laura navigate the world – not only physically, but in ways that Laura explained to me in the following weeks and months.
By Christopher Syrnyk
The physical embodiment treatment . . .
When writers come through the doors of the Main Writing Center (WC) at UW-Madison, it’s worth considering how we instructors can process many bits of information about them. Before we meet, we’ve typically reviewed instructor records to prepare us for the session in the here and now. When we meet the writers, we then notice how they appear to us as persons. We observe their faces as they register the activity at the WC. We sometimes find them hunched over a laptop computer while they sit and shift, perhaps lost in thought over a personal statement or literature paper. The point—and during such encounters our senses are processing much data—concerns how instructors, via their amazing powers of observation, can process a world of information about the people who have come to work on their writing, in an effort to help them more completely with their writing.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a long and distinguished history of public service. The guiding philosophy of this commitment to public service, called the “Wisconsin Idea,” is often described as “the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.” Since I have a scholarly interest in the Wisconsin Idea, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between the Wisconsin Idea and writing centers. I’ve only begun to explore the connections, but I’m excited about the possibilities.
The Wisconsin Idea has been receiving renewed attention on our campus in light of the University’s designation of this academic year as “The Year of the Wisconsin Idea.” If you’re unfamiliar with the Wisconsin Idea, you can browse a redesigned website, which provides information about the Idea, its history and a timeline of its development, along with stories from current faculty, staff, and students about how their service to the state, nation, and world correspond with the Wisconsin Idea.
By Sarah Iovan
One of the things we at the UW Madison Writing Center constantly strive for is to be welcoming and accessible to everyone. Our primary service is to University of Wisconsin-Madison students, but we also try to reach out beyond the campus through the Community Writing Assistance Program, our Writing Center Colloquia, and our online presence. Our writer’s handbook, which offers advice about academic writing, forms the core of our online offerings, and I am delighted to say that this morning an extensive remodel of our handbook went live.**
We decided to update the handbook for many reasons: to match the updated look of our workshop listings, to make navigation more transparent, and to increase our visibility on search engines such as Google and Bing. While changes to the overall look of the material are dramatic and helping people find more of our content is important, the changes that I personally take the most satisfaction in are the improvements to standards-compliance and accessibility.
As a dissertator and the Coordinator of the Online Writing Center, when I’m not untangling late 16th-century poetry, updating the Writing Center’s website, or making sure our synchronous and asynchronous instruction runs smoothly I like to poke around the web to try and figure out how to make the many hours I spend in front of my computer more productive. Over the past few years I’ve run across a number of programs that have made my life a lot easier, and I’ve frequently wished I knew about many of them sooner. I thought I would take a few minutes and share some of the free tools that have saved me hours of frustration.
Easy automatic backups. I am often rather forgetful; if my dissertation doesn’t automagically back itself up without me having to do anything, then it doesn’t get backed up nearly as often as it should. Additionally, I do significant amounts of work from four different computers and hate having to make sure that I have the current working version on each one. Dropbox is a life saver. It’s a web-based application that synchronizes files across different computers automatically and almost simultaneously. A free account includes 2 gigs of server space so your files are always on all of your computers and on the Dropbox servers. All you have to do is sign up for an account, download the Dropbox application on each of your computers, and enter your sign-in information. It just works.
From all of us in the UW-Madison Writing Center programs, welcome to a new academic year! We’re off and running on an exciting new year.
Last October the Writing Center held an open house to celebrate the Center’s 40th birthday. Well over 100 students and colleagues came from across campus to—
- chat with our staff
- peruse posters about our programs
- sample our podcasts and our online consultations and videos of in-person consultations
- nibble on birthday cake from Lane’s Bakery
- and hear short presentations reflecting on the Writing Center’s history and its impact across campus and beyond