Writing Center Outreach and Leading from the Middle

By Angela J. Zito

Angela is a PhD Candidate in English and currently serves as the Writing Center Outreach Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Last week, the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network held its annual conference in Montreal, Quebec, where the keynote speaker Randy Bass called upon all of us in attendance (and the programs and institutions we represented) to help steer higher education in the direction of increasingly inclusive and integrated learning by “leading from the middle.”

the author, Angela

It (leading from the middle) is a different kind of narrative for how the academic community can effectively re-situate students and their education at the center of a university’s mission—a narrative that doesn’t rely solely on classroom-level innovation (which is limited in scope and access) nor on institution-wide structural change (which is slow-moving), but rather pulls these forces together in collaborative action through the scholarship of teaching and learning and the experimental redesign of program-level instruction and assessment.

I am not a faculty developer or instructional designer, like most of the folks attending the POD Conference—I’m the current graduate Outreach Coordinator at the UW-Madison Writing Center. But leading from the middle, I realized as I listened to Bass’s address, is precisely what our Outreach and Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) programs strive to do—and to do better—every semester at our university. Continue reading

Writing with Evidence in the Age of Alternative Facts

By Leah Pope Parker

Leah Pope Parker

Leah Pope Parker has been a tutor in the UW-Madison Writing Center since 2014, where she also served as the Coordinator of Writing Center Outreach during the 2016–17 school year. Leah is also PhD candidate in English Literary Studies.

Conversations about evidence in writing center pedagogy traditionally focus on the genre of the research paper, where evidence includes the ideas, data, and quotations located through research that must be incorporated effectively into the prose of the paper. However, if we think about evidence more broadly within writing center teaching, as any aspect of writing that claims the authority of truth or expertise in order to achieve the objectives of the written document, then nearly every conference presents an opportunity to talk about evidence. Traditional forms of evidence (such as facts, figures, and the citation of authoritative perspectives) turn up not only in thesis-driven research papers, but also in literature reviews, scientific reports, and resumes. Forms of anecdotal or narrative evidence are also deployed in application essays, cover letters, and personal reflections. Even choices made around primary sources in class assignments that specifically do not call for secondary research can be considered a practice of writing with evidence. Thinking about evidence in all of these modes means that nearly every writing center conference presents us with the opportunity to encourage our students to think critically about their sources and the assumptions that writers and readers make around evidence and truth. Continue reading

Waterloo Journal: Building WAC Support Where There Is No WAC

By Stephanie White

Stephanie White is an Instructional Developer at the University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence. She consults with instructors about teaching writing and communication and assists with teaching development programs for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Stephanie holds a PhD in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she taught composition, tutored in the Writing Center, and served as TA Assistant Director of Writing Across the Curriculum.

Stephanie White, back when she would spend hours writing and taking selfies to procrastinate in the Wisconsin Historical Society library.

I’ve been reading Adam Gopnik’s ageless Paris to the Moon off and on over the last year, savouring it in small portions like a bottle of good Scotch. Gopnik’s descriptions of life in Paris for a non-Parisian family, originally published as a series of New Yorker essays called “Paris Journals,” are warm and acute. They’ve made me think again about the “outsider” perspective, about why travel writing is so powerful and why anthropologists rarely study their home cultures. And they’ve made me consider my own perspective as a Canadian returning home to Ontario after spending twelve years in the U.S. So I thought I’d invite you to read my own journal entry here about life as a Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) consultant in a university culture where WAC is rarely mentioned.

Going Alt-Ac

I just celebrated my one-year anniversary as “Instructional Developer, TA Training and Writing Support” at the Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. My manager took me to lunch to celebrate, and we marveled that it had only been and had already been a year since I left a teaching position in the English department here at UWaterloo to take on this role. The shift to an alt-ac career wasn’t something I saw coming, but when I read the job description for a newly created position with a focus on writing instruction, I couldn’t resist applying and was thrilled to be offered the job.

I now spend my days helping run two different graduate student teaching development programs, supervising graduate-student workshop facilitators, and facilitating TA training in departments across campus. At the same time, I teach workshops and consult with instructors, departments, and even whole faculties (what you’d call colleges in the U.S.) about designing, teaching, and responding to written assignments. Continue reading

Not It! Resistance to Teaching Writing Across the Curriculum

By Kathleen Daly

Kathleen Daly is a PhD candidate in Composition and Rhetoric and is currently serving as the Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at UW-Madison. Her dissertation looks at how arguments are made from and with Big Data, both within and outside of academia.

Kathleen

For the past three years, I’ve worked in the UW-Madison Writing Center and, for the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of working as Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program where I have worked with faculty members, instructional staff and teaching assistants from a range of disciplines, including plant pathology, political science, sociology, psychology, history, physics, and more. 

In almost every part of my WAC work—from the writing center workshops that I teach to the one-on-one consultations I hold to the large teacher training events I co-lead with the Director of WAC, Brad Hughes—there is one question that never fails to come up. In fact, I often can’t even go five minutes without having someone ask it. Any guesses what it is? Continue reading

More Than Words: A Collaborative Approach to Writing Instruction in a Graduate Science Seminar

By Nancy Linh Karls

Nancy Linh Karls

Nancy Linh Karls

Nancy Linh Karls is a senior instructor in the UW-Madison Writing Center, where she serves as its science-writing specialist. She also coordinates and teaches the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps and directs the community-based Madison Writing Assistance program. 

With 2016 soon drawing to a close, many of us have been reflecting on what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past year. For staff in the UW-Madison Writing Center, that’s a pretty significant list: meeting with thousands of student-writers in one-to-one sessions at our main location and across our many satellites; responding to hundreds of writers’ drafts via email and Skype; offering a robust series of Writing Center workshops; teaching brief units on writing in courses across the curriculum; consulting with faculty to strengthen writing instruction in their home departments; and providing our own Writing Center tutors with ongoing training and support. Continue reading

A map of the UW-Madison campus with red stars showing locations where Outreach instruction has occurred in the fall of 2016, as of November 7th. Substantially more of the campus is covered than by satellite locations alone.

The Impact of Writing Center Outreach: Empirical and Anecdotal Evidence

By Leah Pope

A Photo of the Author, Leah Pope

Leah Pope

Leah Pope is the TA Coordinator of Outreach for the UW-Madison Writing Center, where she has been an instructor since 2014. She is also a PhD Candidate in English Literary Studies, working on a dissertation that examines theologies of disability and bodily difference in Anglo-Saxon England.

Every semester, the Outreach team of the UW-Madison Writing Center devotes dozens of hours to visiting classrooms, workshops, resource fairs, and student organizations to deliver brief introductions to the Writing Center’s services and teach or co-teach workshops on various genres and aspects of writing [1]. As the TA Coordinator of Outreach this year, I have the unique pleasure of a bird’s-eye-view of Outreach teaching; each week I field requests from across campus and each week I receive reports from instructors about completed events. It is from this perspective that I want to mull over the purpose of Outreach, why we leave the comforts and resources of our Writing Center and its cozy satellites to traverse the UW-Madison campus (and it is not, I would point out, a small campus).

Just last week, I was asked to give a group of undergraduates (of whom, it turned out, not a single one had ever had a Writing Center appointment) an introduction to the Writing Center’s services. I described our core beliefs; some reasons one might want to visit the Writing Center; our availability in person, by Skype, or by email; how to make an appointment; and some workshops we offer that this particular group might find helpful. In encouraging these students to make use of the Writing Center, my immediate goals were to give the Writing Center a face (my own) and demystify the process of making an appointment and attending a writing conference. Continue reading

Writing Center classroom set up for a workshop

Writing Center Workshops: Test-Drive an Academic Writing Genre Today!

By 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.

Zach Marshall

Zach Marshall

Here at the UW-Madison Writing Center, we offer a broad range of short-term, no-credit writing workshops that teach student-writers about specific academic genres and writing tasks. The first Writing Center workshop I helped teach in the spring of 2014 taught 120 students how to write more successfully on the undergraduate application essay for the Wisconsin School of Business. My wonderful colleague Michelle Neiman (then the TA Assistant Director of the Writing Center) invited me to join her at a session with a representative from School of Business Admissions to plan this particular workshop. As a second-year instructor at the Writing Center, I was flattered by the offer of more responsibility and decided to join her.

Although I went to the workshop planning meeting feeling interested, I also felt apprehensive. I had taught in the classroom as a teaching assistant and in the writing center as a tutor, but I felt like I was in the way since I had never planned a workshop before. In our meeting, our thoughtful colleague from the School of Business explained her goals for the workshop—helping students write in more detail about their experiences and personal goals. It was a great goal, but I didn’t have a specific plan for what to do to achieve it. Continue reading

Showcasing Undergraduate Research

By Emily Hall

At a large university we are regularly exposed to the original and sometimes groundbreaking research that takes place across campus. Mostly, this research comes from the work of professors and graduate students, many of whom have grants, research funds, and laboratories to support their endeavors. Less frequently do we have the opportunity to learn about the innovative research produced by our talented undergraduates.

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International Writing Centers and Environmental Humanities

RobDunes

Rob Emmett at the Kohler Dunes, Wisconsin with Elisabeth, 2010.

By Rob Emmett

Writing centers can launch lives in new directions, across continents and oceans. The years I spent working at the Writing Center while in graduate school in Madison certainly set me on a path to my current work at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (RCC) in Munich, Germany. The RCC is an interdisciplinary, international center for research in environmental history and allied fields that aims to raise the profile of this work in public discussions of environmental issues, in the spirit of our namesake, the influential author of Silent Spring. The project is exceptional in many ways–one being that its directors, Christof Mauch and Helmuth Trischler, represent Munich’s oldest public university (LMU Munich) and the research division of the Deutsches Museum, respectively. For the last year I have served as Director of Academic Programs; I support the center’s research fellows, develop collaborations in environmental humanities with other centers, and teach in our international environmental studies program, among other things. Continue reading

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. Continue reading