In her award-winning article “Decisions . . . Decisions: Who Chooses to Use the Writing Center?”, Lori Salem uncovered dramatic demographic and academic differences between groups of students who use and don’t use the writing center. Her data-driven research led her to important conclusions about how writing center research and writing conference pedagogy might be improved. Shortly thereafter, an interview with Salem published in The Chronicle of Higher Education garnered controversy when the editor titled the piece, “What’s Wrong with Writing Centers?” This negatively reductive framing of Salem’s work elicited a response from her that clarified that nothing is wrong with writing centers, but that “our field does powerful work, and we could still do better. We have come a long way, and we can still go further.”
This exchange between Salem and The Chronicle (not to mention all the think pieces, facebook posts, and blog posts these articles generated) highlighted at least two important sets of issues that are at the heart of this conference: 1) What do writing centers do and how can we do it better? How do we know what needs to be done, and how do we define “better?” 2) How do we work in productive tension with our own field’s researched praxis and the way external forces define or dictate who we are and what we do? This conference is an opportunity for researcher-practitioners in our region to reimagine, revise, reinvent writing centers both reactively and proactively.
The MAWCA 2019 planning committee invites you to submit a proposal by Friday, January 18, 2019. We are particularly interested in proposals that respond to one of the following questions; however, proposals on any aspect of writing center work are welcome.
Questions to Explore
Mission/Philosophy/Vision: How do tutors and administrators develop a writing center philosophy and pedagogy? What informs administrators’ decisions to offer services and how do you balance need, finances, and/or diversity and equitable practices? How do personal and professional philosophies and practices impact material or cultural workplace inequities?
Daily Administration: How would you do things differently if you didn’t have to respond to external factors? How do you respond to external influences based on best practices in the field? What rules govern your center and how do those (in)visible restrictions manifest themselves in tutoring or administration? How do the rules for tutoring or administration constrain (positively or negatively) writing center work? How do tutors and administrators react to technological advances that shape writing?
Space: How might you reimagine the physical spaces of our centers if you did not have any restraints? What would inform those decisions? How have you redefined your space within the constraints of your campus? What other center models could you consider? (multimodal centers, multilingual centers, maker spaces, communication and design studios, learning commons, etc.).
Research Methods: How have you used research to redefine or reimagine aspects in your center? How have you developed research methods based on your vision and the constraints of your expertise and/or campus resources? How does the field examine our centers’ practices through either RAD research, observations, or reflections on our tutoring? To what extent does the field value practitioner knowledge while balancing research history in our field? How do tutors use and/or resist research in the writing center?
Staff Development and Tutor Training: What tutoring practices remain valuable at this moment in our practices? What evidence do you find for continuing some practices and (potentially) abandoning others? How do staff development opportunities balance theory and practice and what are the consequences of our decisions? What models of tutor training are most effective? How are our tutor training courses shaped by external forces, and how can tutors, administrators, and the field respond to those forces?
Sessions can be proposed in the following formats:
Panel:3 or more individuals present original work on a common theme.
Individual Scholarly Presentation:Presenters share original work for 15 minutes each and will be grouped with 1-2 additional presenters.
Roundtable:Facilitators lead discussion of a specific issue related to writing center research; this format might include short remarks from between 2–4 presenters followed by active and substantive engagement/collaboration with attendees prompted by guiding questions.
Round Robin Discussion:Facilitators introduce a topic or theme and organize participants into smaller breakout groups to continue the conversation. In the spirit of “round robin” tournaments, participants will change groups after 10-15 minutes to extend and expand their conversations. After at least two rounds of conversation, facilitators will reconvene the full group for a concluding discussion.
Data Dash Presentations: Presenters share their work in a 20x10 format: twenty slides, ten minutes! This innovative alternative to the poster session provides a venue suited for brief, general-audience talks accompanied by visuals.
Lab Time:Presenters can take advantage of having so many writing center professionals and tutors in one place, and draw on these human resources to help with data collection or analysis. Presenters could use lab time to refine an instrument, by piloting and receiving feedback on survey or interview questions on the type of writing center population you intend to study. You could use lab time for data collection–to distribute a survey or run a short focus group. You could use lab time for data analysis, by asking writing center colleagues to test the appropriateness or reliability of your coding. In your proposal, please describe what you want to do, how many and what kind of participants you need (Undergraduate tutors? Writing Center Administrators? etc.), and estimate how much time you would need to complete your task. If seeking participants among MAWCA attendees for projects resulting in publication or public dissemination, you will need to have institutional IRB approval as well as Informed Consent documentation for them.
Proposals must be submitted by: Friday, January 18, 2019
Decision Notification: mid-February, 2019
Works Cited and Recommended Reading List
Salem, Lori. “Decisions...Decisions: Who Chooses to Use the Writing Center?” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 35, no. 2, 2016, pp. 147–171. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/43824060.
---. “Writing-Center Researcher Says Views Were Mischaracterized.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 February 2018. chronicle.com/blogs/letters/writing-center-researcher-says-views-were-mischaracterized/