Thursday, February 12, 2015

My RAD Research Journey
Sherry Wynn Perdue, Director, Oakland University Writing Center
Thursday, February 12, 2015

My thoughts about research and the research agenda for our center occur at the nexus of two important themes: 1) the need for more empirical research to sustain writing centers’ claims to best practices and 2) a growing awareness of the important role that sponsorship plays in WC research. In today’s post, I reflect upon the etiology of my own research and how it has shaped opportunities for my own center’s undergraduate- and graduate student writing consultants.

My RAD research journey commenced when my colleague Dana Lynn Driscoll and I launched a content analysis of all research articles from 1980-2009 in The Writing Center Journal. This was soon followed by a large-scale survey of writing center professionals (WCPs), follow-up interviews with a selected sample of WCPs, and a focus group of WCPS attending a national conference. (Thank you writing center colleagues for being so generous with your time!) Our first publication demonstrated that of the articles classified as “research,” less than five percent would meet the conditions for empirical research or RAD Research (Haswell, 2005), meaning that most of this research was not replicable, aggregable, or data-supported. Despite this disappointing finding, we determined that research scores were rising over time, particularly over the last decade. More important than our findings about research production was our growing attention to the question, “Why?” As such, we next turned to the conditions that potentially hindered empirical research in and on writing centers.

In two follow-up articles we have shared six themes that appear to influence WCPs’ research: 1) education and training, 2) labor and institutional oversight, 3) financial resources, and 4) sponsorship as well as our field’s 5) definition of and politics of research and its 6) research practices. Of these, the linchpin is sponsorship.

Shortly after completing the interviews and surveys and while helping our own department to build a new undergraduate major in writing and rhetoric, we realized that sponsorship needed to occur on all fronts; we needed to BOTH address conditions affecting the situation of our professional colleagues AND prepare the next generation of scholars to do empirical research. While we already taught research and we certainly mentored our WRT majors and consultants, we needed to hone the sponsorship continuum by inviting students, the primary WC practitioners, not only to study with us and work for us but also to collaborate with us on publications and on research projects that we envisioned together. Our first effort yielded an article for Perspectives on Undergraduate Research and Mentoring in which Dana, I, and three UG consultants (Enrique Paz, Jessica Tess, and Jacob Matthews (two who are now graduate students doing exciting work at other institutions)) reflected on our participation along the sponsorship continuum—moving to and fro among teaching, mentoring, collaborating, and coauthoring. While it did not describe a collaborative empirical research project, it did 1) empower three UGs to articulate their process of becoming researchers in their own words and via their own projects and 2) share a sponsorship framework for future collaborations.

In our current project, Dana, I, and a UG colleague have I have extended that sponsorship into a truly collaborative empirical research project that examines WCP job descriptions. With undergraduate researcher Sam Boyhtari, we are coding 10 years’ worth of position descriptions culled from the MLA jobs’ list, the WPA Job Board, and job posting shared on WCenter. This project was motivated by a wave of recent job announcements that shocked our community in different ways. One type appears to describe two jobs in one, with expectations for research, a heavy teaching load, and full-time writing center oversight. Another type, which entrusts the leadership and training of an academic service to someone with limited education—a B.A.—carries an embarrassingly small salary and a laundry lists of duties . . . . With this study, we hope to determine how institutions understand the WCP’s role and how this might further affect WC research as well as to make recommendations for a WCP position statement . . .

Well, I’ve penned too much for a blog post and now run the risk of composing a biography of my scholarship . . . . And, while I share the need for kudos, I don’t think you are reading this just to learn about me . . . .

In sharing today, I hope to demonstrate the rewards inherent in research—for me, for the center, for the future of the field—even research conducted when not a part of one’s job description, even when I’m coding during the wee hours, even when simple numbers of clients might have been deemed enough. I’m thankful for the research sponsorship extended to me (Thank you Dana (yes, we can learn from younger colleagues), the late Linda Bergmann, Eileen Johnson, and Julia Smith) and for the opportunity to pay it forward.

This moment of gratitude leads me to my last point of reflection. I would not be positioned to help my co-editor Rebecca Hallman bring her vision for IWCA’s new journal The Peer Review: A Journal for Writing Center Practitioners to life if it were not for this journey, my sponsors, and the lessons I continue to learn from and with my writing center colleagues—directors, graduate students, undergraduate students, and high school students.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Day in the Life of an OUWC Consultant

My shifts this semester are Monday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Currently, I am working close to the maximum allotted hours at the OUWC, and because of the amount of hours I work at the writing center during the week, I believe I am more exposed to a larger variety of clients and assist students, faculty, and staff with different types of assignments--no week is ever the same as the last one!

This week is half way over and I have already assisted students with papers for nursing, history, business, writing/composition, and even doctoral literature reviews. Because we serve clients from multiple disciplines each session must be approached differently from the last session, not only because the topics vary, but for the more important reason: each client has different writing needs. Assessing students' needs is challenging at times, especially in instances where the client is not a regular client of mine. If this is the case, I generally start the session by asking specific questions about what he/she hopes to accomplish in the 40 minutes we have together. Once we have established the initial needs I focus primarily on those needs in the initial meeting. This is not to suggest that I ignore larger concerns like assignment adherence (because a lot of times clients need help unpacking the assignment at hand), but rather that I do not lose sight of the clients' wants and needs; remaining perceptive and ensuring that you address the  "bigger" concerns that pop up in the session that may not have been noticed by the client is important.

Perhaps my favorite part of working at the OUWC is establishing a professional relationship with my regular clients. It is not uncommon for a whole shift to be comprised of regular clients. I love meeting new clients, too, but there is just another level of personal reward and satisfaction when you can visually see a client's writing progress over a semester, or even after a few weeks.

It is difficult to write about a "typical" day because there are no "typical" days in the writing center, and that is part of the reason I enjoy it so much. I usually browse my scheduled appointments online the night before in order to prepare myself for the next day, but I often find that while I can go into a session "prepared" to go over certain techniques, citation rules, etc. (based on the client's description of what they want to work on/complete in the session), this often changes in the actual session. The client might change the direction of the session by shifting focus and attention to other aspects of the assignment, or I might suggest another course of action in addition to the initial requests provided by the student on our online scheduler. In any case, a consultant's job largely requires him/her to think on his/her feet, which not only keeps the job fresh and exciting, but personally rewarding as well.

#IWCAWeek : The Daily Delights of Oakland University's Writing Center

Bright orange walls and lively greenery fill the space that is our writing haven and collaborative learning environment. We are indeed the Write Space on campus. The flow of clients ranges from ESL writers to devoted graduate students, who feed the buzz of brainstorming, grammar discussions, and organizational feedback. This is the daily activity that continues to inspire all of our consultants and keep the stream of knowledge bubbling in the epicenter of Oakland University that is Kresge Library.

Monday, February 9, 2015

International Writing Centers Week

Show us your support!

Monday, Feb. 9: Show us your staff!

Tuesday, Feb. 10: Show us your space!

Wednesday, Feb. 11: A day in the life of your center

Thursday, Feb. 12: Research and publishing spotlight

Friday, Feb. 13: Put your center on the map

Saturday, Feb. 14: Love your center!

We have a chance to win a pizza party! Let's do this!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Feedback about Feedback: How Do You Handle This in Sessions?

In my WRT 329 class, I worked on a project that dealt with feedback to students on their writing. While it primarily focused on feedback in a professor-student sense, I found some parallels to the kind of feedback that we give at the writing center, so I thought I’d share some insight.

The article itself is called “Across the Drafts” by Nancy Sommers. This particular article is an amendment of an earlier article where she claimed that the power of feedback rested primarily on the instructors. She urged writing instructors to stray away from the infamous marginal comments, which consist of broad, universal statements and suggestions such as “this is too vague” or “expand,” and she thought that instructors needed to utilize feedback as an “extension of the teacher’s voice” and an “extension of the teacher as reader” (p. 155).

However, in “Across the Drafts,” she adopts a new mantra of the student-professor relationship that serves more like a partnership. A student needs to be ready to receive and apply such feedback from his instructor, and likewise, the instructor needs to try to appeal more towards the writer and not necessarily the writing. I find that this relates to one of our mantras of helping the overall student as opposed to the individual paper.

Even more specifically, Jeff Sommers wrote an article about different kinds of audio feedback. I think this relates more to us at the writing center since we give live feedback while we read our clients’ texts, which is essentially what audio feedback does. Sommers concluded that there are three main types of feedback labeled retrospective, synchronous, and anticipatory. Retrospective comments link the teacher’s comment with previous interaction with the student, synchronous comments include responses that take the role and perspective of the reader, and anticipatory comments extend to offer insight and advice about future writing.

Personally, I find that I use Jeff Sommers’ comment categories every day, which, according to him, is a good thing. If I saw the client before, I’ll make a note of how they improved from last time or how it’s similar to something they already worked on. Similarly, I often take the role of the reader and audience and tell clients “as a reader, this is what I perceived and this is what I gathered,” and likewise, I ALWAYS try to offer them tips or strategies that they can utilize for both the paper at hand and also for their future writing assignments.

While reading these articles and other of similar stature, I really started to think about the entire feedback concept. It’s a really important thing, especially in the field of writing, and it’s something that occurs somewhat naturally and subconsciously but that can also be controlled and monitored.

So, how do YOU all conduct feedback and commentary? Do you find Jeff Sommers’ groupings to fit into what you do? Do you think there’s maybe a different category of feedback on which we could focus?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Blog Post: Helping Arabic Students with Articles

Working with our international students can be difficult when our consultants are not sure what differences exist between the client's first language and English.  Recognizing error patterns helps, and knowing how to help the client relate English rules back to their original grammars helps even more.

With that in mind, I have worked out one solution for our Arabic language clients.  As many consultants may have noticed, our Arabic clients, like our Chinese clients and those with some other first languages, often have difficulty knowing where to use articles (a, an, the) in their English writing. They believe that their language does not use articles, but that is not precisely true.  In Arabic, most nouns begin with “al,” as in “al asad,” which means “the lion.”  Arabic students think of the “al” as part of the noun, so they do not think of it as an article.  Consultants may have noticed that many Arabic surnames also begin with “Al,” and that their names are often written as single words; this is because they think of the first two letters as part of the word.

I have talked with several Arabic students about this.  In each case, when I told them that English nouns are usually preceded by articles, they were confused.  When I told them that English nouns are usually preceded by articles, in the same way that most Arabic nouns begin with “al,” however, each one expressed dawning understanding.

If an Arabic client seems to be struggling with when and where to use articles in English, it might be helpful for the consultant to draw the client’s attention to this parallel between Arabic and English.  Dealing with the difference between a/an and the is another matter, but getting the client in the habit of using articles is a good start.

This is just based on personal observation and experience, but I hope it is helpful.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

M-W-C-A, It's Fun to Go To The M-W-C-A...

Hello Everyone!

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go with six other lovely ladies to the M-W-C-A, the Michigan Writing Centers Association Conference at Grand Valley State University. It was a great conference to attend for our first time, one I will recommend to anyone because of its informative, yet less formal approach. Everyone was very professional and appreciative of others' work in different writing centers. I especially liked learning about other writing centers and their services, and have recognized how the OUWC has grown to new heights in the past years. The following are descriptions and comments about the sessions I attended for those of you who want to know more about the conference:

For my first session, I attended, "I thought you were an expert?" by consultants from the writing center at Michigan State University. It was a basic presentation that focuses on students' perspectives and assumptions as they come into the writing center. Although it was interesting to hear about different scenarios others have encountered in their writing centers, I was hoping for more tips and instruction from the presenters. I feel that OUWC consultants are prepared for these types of situations.

My second session was titled, "Collaboration 2.0: Working with Technology in the Modern Writing Center," which was presented by a group of consultants from Mattawan High School. I must say that this was my favorite session as I was very impressed by the presentation and how the students carried themselves. Even though they had only experience in working in a high school writing center, they still had iPads, explained how they used Google Docs, and even showed us some different apps they use in their center. The presentation was conducted by using Prezi, they looked at their notes off of the iPads themselves, and they even made handouts and broke us up into discussion groups to analyze the pros and cons of technology in the writing center. Some things I found interesting in that we might want to apply to our practices: iTunes U - you can post forums, forms, readings, or discussions that others can view later. iBrainstormer app - an interactive brainstorm web-making tool that can organize and color code a student's brainstorm. Overall, I just think this presentation was very impressive by these young high school students.

Session #3 was composed of two presentations...1. "Beyond Grammar: Reviving Discussions of Rhetoric in Tutoring Sessions" 2. "Under Pressure: Removing the Paper to Empower the Student." The first presentation was given by a consultant from Cornerstone University and she discussed the basics of rhetoric (ethos, pathos, logos, etc.). Even though I thought it was a good presentation, I knew most of the material from my Major in Writing/Rhetoric at OU. The second presentation was given by consultants from Grand Valley State University and it discussed different tips to do when a student is so overwhelmed with the paper in front of them. Both said to take it away and focus on different aspects of the paper. Again, a great presentation, but I believe that most of our training sessions in the OUWC prepare our consultants for these types of situations.

Session #4 was also composed of two presentations... 1. "Making the Connection: Tutors Working as Liaisons to Underserved Departments" 2."Writing Centers Collaborating with Social Media." Both presentations were given by different consultants from Saginaw State University and the first presentation discussed how to get departments that may not know/use the writing center more involved. They both gave examples of what they did in their own departments to get students to use the writing center: one did surveys and the other had meetings with faculty and staff. They also came up with a five stage collaboration process: recognizing needs, initiating conversations, becoming a liaison, facilitating action, what's next? I thought it was a good presentation and maybe we could do the same with some departments on our campus? The second presentation, honestly, I was not very impressed. I think that the presenter was ill prepared and confused about some of the things that were in her presentation. I thought it would be about using different kinds of social media to get the writing center out there. However, she just showed different examples of pictures and asked us if we would post it on Facebook or not and because they all dealt with some kind of discriminatory action, we said no to all of them. However, she paused a minute and told us she did post some of them. I think a lot of people were confused in her reasons why.

The last session I attended was titled "A Pic is wrth 1K Wrds: 21st Century Stories and Strategies" given by the Associate Director of the Michigan State University Writing Center. It was a fun session. We talked about what "diversity" means in our community/campus, department/discipline, and our writing center. We also talked about the "multi-modal center." She posted different TRUE examples of scenarios in their writing center and in groups we had to come up with a way to help the student. Some include: how to create a website or podcast, how to organize a poster, or reviewing a powerpoint or prezi. My all time favorite however, a student once came in to get help organizing and using the appropriate tone to send a break-up text. I know, right? But, I think maybe we can have a few small training sessions about helping students with some of these things.

But all in all, I thought the conference was very informative and worth attending. Hope to hear that more are going next year!