Writing Center Moonshots

By Bradley Hughes

Brad Hughes is the director of the Writing Center and the director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is delighted to be starting his 33rd year at UW-Madison. This post is adapted from his keynote address at the Midwest Writing Centers Association Conference, held in Iowa in March 2016.

Do you know what moonshots are? They are really ambitious goals–or the process of trying to achieve those kinds of goals. The term refers to US President John Kennedy’s 1961 speech, at Rice University in Houston, about space exploration, when Kennedy boldly promised that the United States would land a person on the moon by the end of the decade. Moonshots are really audacious projects, ones that are, in fact, so difficult that they are unlikely to succeed. As Kennedy said in that now famous speech: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” In his State of the Union address in January 2016, President Obama invoked the term when he announced the start of an ambitious new “Cancer Moonshot,” an initiative designed to advance cancer care and prevention.

moonI am inspired by ambitious goals, and I hope that you are too. In fact, I think that establishing ambitious goals and working collaboratively to achieve them are important parts of leadership in an academic culture. I want to think together with you all about what could be moonshots–ambitious goals–for you as a tutor, for your writing center, for the writing center profession. I will try to challenge you to think in some new ways about your writing center work. Later in this post, I’m going to invite all of you to think and talk about setting an ambitious goal for improving your own tutoring or for improving your center or for strengthening the writing center profession. Maybe while you read this post (you can multitask, right?), you can begin freethinking about something substantial that needs improving in your tutoring, something important and challenging that you need to learn, some significant ways in which you or your center needs to stretch or grow or improve. Your moonshot should be challenging and ambitious but can be small in scope–it doesn’t have to involve a journey to Mars. (more…)

Hearing Feelings and Visualizing Readers: Integrating Screencasting into Asynchronous Instruction

By Dominique Bourg Hacker

Author photo by Christine Sohl.

Author photo by Christine Sohl.

Dominique Bourg Hacker is the 2015-16 TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center at UW-Madison, where she has been a tutor since fall 2010. Dominique is also a PhD candidate in English literary studies writing a dissertation on contemporary South African and Caribbean fiction, gardens, and environmental imaginaries.

Before my work began as Coordinator of the Online Writing Center, I knew that I wanted to integrate screencasting into the email consultants’ workload. Screencasting is a video recording of your computer screen accompanied by voice narration. My predecessor, Mike Shapiro, had experimented with the technology in Summer 2014 and the student response was overwhelmingly positive; many students stated that they would rewatch their screencast 5 or more times. The recent studies I came across, likewise, heaped more praise on screencast technologies. Chris Anson et al. found that students:

“perceived that screencast technologies facilitated personal connections; made transparent the teacher’s evaluative process, revealed the teacher’s feelings, provided visual affirmation, […and]  seemed to account for students’ face-related needs (belonging, respect, and autonomy) and hence mitigated the predominant face-threatening potential of the evaluative space” (3).

Riki Thompson and Meredith Lee’s study revealed:

“that explanations within video feedback made the thought process of the reader visible, allowing [students] to identify problems. Thus, [f]eedback provided students with greater guidance about how to improve.”

I was so excited by the possibilities of helping students gain audience awareness as they heard their reader talk through how one moment was confusing or interesting while simultaneously enabling tutors to make personal connections without face-to-face interaction. (more…)

“Something Magical in Meeting with a Group of Like-Minded People”: Graduate Writing Groups in the Writing Center

By Chris Earle, Elisabeth Miller, and Bradley Hughes

Chris Earle is currently a co-Coordinator in the Writing Center at UW-Madison where he is completing a dissertation on the writing and activism of imprisoned individuals. In the fall, Chris will be joining the faculty in English, Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Nevada, Reno. Elisabeth Miller has been a Writing Center instructor at UW-Madison for the past five years and is currently co-coordinator of the Madison Writing Assistance community literacy program. She is currently completing her dissertation on literacy and disability, and in fall 2016 she will be joining the faculty in English, Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Nevada, Reno. Brad Hughes is the director of the Writing Center and director of Writing Across the Curriculum at UW-Madison.

Every week this spring semester, roughly 90 graduate students keep coming back to Helen C. White Hall on the UW-Madison campus. They slog through ice and snow on winter mornings; they eschew sunny spring afternoons and evenings all to participate in the Writing Center’s Graduate Writing Groups. Modelled after UW-Madison Writing Center’s Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps and Writing Retreats, these groups began in Summer 2014. As Sarah Groeneveld previously detailed, the Graduate Writing Groups are designed to provide space, time, and support for graduate student writers throughout the semester.

Each group, enrolling anywhere between 20 and 30 graduate students, meets for three hours every week. These students come from a wide range of disciplines: Electrical Engineering, Psychology, Neuroscience, French and Italian, Educational Policy Studies, Art History, Environmental Studies, Spanish and Portuguese, East Asian Studies, Geography, Sociology, Political Science, English, Forestry, History, Library and Information Studies, Curriculum and Instruction, German, and many, many more. An experienced member of the Writing Center’s staff serves as a facilitator (this semester, the authors of this post).

We open each week with a focused goal-setting activity and small- or large-group discussion about the writing process, about challenges they’re facing in their projects, or about whatever else writing related is on people’s minds. At the close of each session, the facilitator brings the group back together for the last few minutes to share progress and to set goals for the week. But the majority of the time–about two-and-a-half of the three hours–is dedicated to writing time during which writers can make substantial progress on their dissertations, article drafts, grant proposals, fellowship applications, and more. In this way, the groups follow what Sohui Lee and Chris Golde in their recent article in The Writing Lab Newsletter term the “Just Write” model. (more…)

A Wonderful Program to Work Across the Disciplines, Universities, Countries, and Institutions

By Franziska Liebetanz

Franziska Liebetanz is since 2011 the director of the Writing Center at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) Germany. She is a member of the Board of the European Writing Center Association and the “Gesellschaft für Schreibdidaktik und Schreibforschung.” She was one of the first peer tutors in writing in Germany and wrote together with Ella Grieshammer, Jana Zegenhagen and Nora Peters the first book of writing consultation at universities. “Zukunftsmodell Schreibberatung. Eine Anleitung zur Begleitung von Schreibenden im Studium.” She publishes together with Simone Tschirpke, Nora Peters, David Kreitz and Sascha Dieter a journal about writing and writing research, „JoSch“.

Last year we have had a great opportunity to improve and to develop our Writing Fellow Program at the European University Viadrina. In 2007, Katrin Girgensohn founded our Writing Center. At this time only a couple of universities in Germany had Writing Centers and one was now located next to the Polish border in Frankfurt (Oder). In 2011 she went to the USA to visit American Writing Centers; mainly she spent her time at the Writing Center of the University Wisconsin-Madison. From Madison she brought the idea of a Writing Fellow Program back to our Writing Center. Due to our Mission statement, we thought this writing program in the disciplines would be a good contribution to our work.
Our mission statement says

The Writing Center is the umbrella institution for all activities that deal with the key competences of ‘writing’ at the European University Viadrina. It supports students and graduate students alike to communicate with confidence and persuasion, using writing as a medium for critical thinking. All writers, experienced as well as unexperienced, benefit from conversations about writing processes and texts. (https://www.europa-uni.de/en/struktur/zsfl/institutionen/schreibzentrum/Writing-center-mission-statement.html)

Schreibzentrum_Logo (2)

 

 

(more…)

Acknowledgments & Alignments: Writing from a Center Place

By Mary E. Fiorenza

Mary E. FiorenzaMary E. Fiorenza would like to acknowledge Wendy Bishop’s “You Can Take the Girl Out of the Writing Center, But You Can’t Take the Writing Center Out of the Girl” for providing her with a way to see her writing center origins and consider how they influence her thought and practice as a teacher and administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As associate director of English 100, a writing program for first-year students, her current writing center relationship is primarily through its proximity to her office. That said, a brief disclaimer: This blog post uses the word center as an image, but writing centers are not directly addressed.

 The night before I turned in my dissertation was a kind of waking dream, and not a good one. Perhaps you have experienced a similar dream or night. Looking back, I see now that I might have rescheduled the appointment. I still had two days of a grace period left. But I remember feeling now or never. The dissertation had been defended; it needed to be gone. I worked through the night with periodic naps. I had corrections to finalize, paragraphs to rework, sources to check, citations to format, proofreading. And I still needed to write my acknowledgments.

(more…)

Which Shoes Should You Choose? A Meditation on Indecisiveness in Writing

By Zach Marshall

Zach Marshall

Zach Marshall

Zach Marshall is the 2015-16 TA Assistant Director of the Writing Center at UW-Madison, where he has been a tutor since fall 2012. He is also a PhD candidate in English literary studies writing a dissertation on American literature, slavery, and media culture.

It has recently come to my attention that I don’t know what to do when I work with writers who experience a certain kind of writing anxiety.  As a writing tutor, part of my job is to provide motivational scaffolding to the writers I work with—encouraging them when they make progress, recognizing the challenges of writing, and exhorting them to future progress.  Another part of my job is to help writers who struggle to produce writing think about the habits that create roadblocks for them, such as trying to get all of their writing done in one day.  However, there’s a kind of writing anxiety that some writers experience that has challenged me recently because I’m not sure it can be resolved by encouraging them or advising them to adopt better habits.  The type of anxiety I’m thinking of is when writers feel unable to make decisions they must make in order to write.  Let’s call it “indecisiveness in writing.” (more…)

The Rhetoric of Composition: How We Talk When We Talk About Dissertations

WC_BlogrickNBy Rick Ness

Rick Ness is a PhD Candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison and a writing center tutor. Rick has led graduate writer’s groups and has co-taught the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camp. His research focuses on the simultaneous emergence of British Romantic literature and biopolitical, medicalized societies.

Last January, I co-taught The Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camp with Nancy Lynn Karls and Neil Simpkins. During the camp I was perusing the collection of dissertation guide books in the Writing Center, and I noticed some common visual and verbal metaphors: mountains, journeys, and light bulbs (and while technically not a metaphor, a towering stack of books is a popular image). (more…)

Crossing the Barrier: Advocating for Students, Educating Faculty

By Alexandra Asche

Alexandra Asche

Alexandra Asche. Photo by Kari Adams.

Alexandra Asche is the Student Assistant Director at the Writing Center of the University of Minnesota, Morris, a public liberal arts college. She works with Director Tisha Turk, who served as a UW-Madison Writing Center instructor and Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program while earning her PhD. Alexandra has been a consultant in UMM’s Writing Center since 2014 and the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper since 2015. In her spare time, she studies English and Psychology.

When I first started planning this post, I intended to write about the UMM Writing Center’s formal outreach to faculty. However, as I looked through the previous posts on this blog, I found that others have already written about how to plan this sort of outreach. I also noticed, though, that I was in the peculiar position of being a student consultant and administrator attempting to educate professors who, to say the least, vary highly in their degrees of interest and investment in our small campus writing center.

(more…)

Using Peer Writing Groups For the Senior Thesis and Beyond

By Rebecca Steffy

Author Photo by Carrie Castree.

Author Photo by Carrie Castree.

Rebecca Couch Steffy is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison, where she also serves as a TA Coordinator for The Writing Center and Co-Director of the English 100 Tutorial Program. Her research focuses on the relationships between community formations and aesthetics in contemporary poetry and performance. 

This year, I have the privilege of coordinating the UW-Madison Writing Center’s Senior Thesis Writing Groups, small peer-led writing groups that meet weekly or bi-weekly throughout the daunting semester- or year-long process of writing a senior thesis. I help spread the word that senior thesis writing groups are forming at the beginning of each term, lead orientation meetings to better inform interested students about how the groups work, and facilitate the first meeting of each group to guide them in establishing a set of shared expectations for working together. Then I keep in touch throughout the semester by email or a shared check-in document, and by dropping by another meeting later in the semester. Our model aims at maximizing the rich benefits of writing groups for senior thesis writers with a minimum of direct instructional hours from our staff. (more…)

Water Damage, Writing Technologies, and Alternative Modes of Feedback

By Kathleen Daly

Kathleen Daly is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric and is currently serving as the Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at UW-Madison. Her doctoral research looks at technologies that underwrite digital archive projects in order to explore questions of archival materiality, accessibility and discoverability.

Kathleen Daly is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric and is currently serving as the Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at UW-Madison. Her doctoral research looks at technologies that underwrite digital archive projects in order to explore questions of archival materiality, accessibility and discoverability.

Kathleen Daly

Two weeks ago, I spilled water on my laptop. Despite my frantic attempts to dry it off, a few drops of water seeped in through the keyboard and into the internal components, rendering my computer entirely useless. While I wait for my computer to be repaired, I have been taking advantage of the Equipment Checkout System (ECS) available through UW InfoLabs. Through ECS, I am able to rent a laptop that is the exact same make and model as my personal computer. However, these laptops have a loan period of only three days with no options for renewal. This means that every three days, I have to check out a different machine.

(more…)