ChapterPDF Available

Writing in the academy: Collaborative writing development with students and lecturers at the UWC Writing Centre

Authors:

Abstract

Writing and reading critically are core academic practices that many South African tertiary students struggle with throughout undergraduate study. This is partly due to a lack of competency in English as a first language, and partly due to a lack of preparation at primary and secondary school level. Critical reading and writing practices need to be developed simultaneously, and contextually. The Writing Centre at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) is currently exploring ways to make itself a more relevant and focused part of the University’s teaching and learning interventions and strategies, and to make it more responsive to the multiple reading, writing and language needs of students. Influenced theoretically and practically by New Literacy Studies and Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) approaches, the Writing Centre is working to position itself as part of a teaching and learning environment that develops and supports both student writers and disciplinary lecturers. We aim to do this by foregrounding, theorising, researching and building a culture of writing intensive teaching that imagines and uses writing as a tool for learning, thinking and evaluation, as well as for assessment. In order to become a significant part of teaching and learning in higher education more generally, Writing Centres will need to work increasingly with lecturers to address the writing and reading needs of students in a supportive, critical and collaborative space that better serves the needs of both parties.
1
FINAL DRAFT: not for citing.
For citation copy: Clarence, S. 2011. Writing in the academy: collaborative writing
development with students and lecturers at the UWC Writing Centre. In Archer, A. and
Richards, R. Changing Spaces. Writing Centres and Access to Higher Education.
Stellenbosch, SUNPress, 101-114.
Abstract: Writing and reading critically are core academic practices that many South
African tertiary students struggle with throughout undergraduate study. This is partly due
to a lack of competency in English as a first language, and partly due to a lack of
preparation at primary and secondary school level. Critical reading and writing practices
need to be developed simultaneously, and contextually. The Writing Centre at the
University of the Western Cape (UWC) is currently exploring ways to make itself a more
relevant and focused part of the University’s teaching and learning interventions and
strategies, and to make it more responsive to the multiple reading, writing and language
needs of students. Influenced theoretically and practically by New Literacy Studies and
Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) approaches, the Writing Centre is working to
position itself as part of a teaching and learning environment that develops and supports
both student writers and disciplinary lecturers. We aim to do this by foregrounding,
theorising, researching and building a culture of writing intensive teaching that imagines
and uses writing as a tool for learning, thinking and evaluation, as well as for assessment.
In order to become a significant part of teaching and learning in higher education more
generally, Writing Centres will need to work increasingly with lecturers to address the
writing and reading needs of students in a supportive, critical and collaborative space that
better serves the needs of both parties.
Keywords: access; academic development; academic literacies; discourse; staff
development; student support; Writing Centre, Writing Across the Curriculum.
Introduction
There is contestation in the field of student writing development in higher education. One
debate concerns whether or not writing can and should be taught outside of the
disciplines in which the writing needs to be done. There is also still debate about whether
2
or not ‘writing courses’ or writing places (that tend to divorce the actual practice of
writing in the disciplines, and the disciplinary content and value systems that informs
what is written and how it is written) have a valid place in higher education. Academic
writing is not a generic skill that can be taught, and then applied uncritically or unadapted
across the disciplines with students ‘picking up’ the implicit disciplinary rules and
conventions as they move between different disciplinary spaces (Coffin et al., 2003: 3).
Academic writing is, in fact, a social as well as knowledge practice that is informed by
the values and academic conventions of particular disciplines and the ways in which
knowledge is constructed and disseminated by these disciplines (see Lillis, 2001).
Furthermore, viewing academic writing as a practice as opposed to a ‘skill’ allows us to
move away from seeing student writing as an individual act done by an ‘autonomous,
socially neutral’ person using language as a ‘transparent medium of communication’
where the meaning just has to be uncovered by the writer, and where literacy is
‘universal’ (Lillis, 2001: 31). Instead we can more accurately understand student writing
as ‘a social act’ that uses language to make meaning and construct identity, and that is
done in socio-historically contested academic spaces where literacies are ‘numerous,
varied and socially/institutionally situated’ (Lillis, 2001: 31).
Learning to be a capable, thoughtful and critical thinker, reader and writer is a
challenging process that develops over time, and must happen at a disciplinary and
departmental level, with all teaching staff actively engaged in academic literacy practices.
Boughey (2002), drawing on the work of Street (1984, 1993, 1995), argues that academic
literacy is a set of ‘social practices’ and this means that ‘the way in which meaning is
derived from, or encoded into, print is perceived to be dependent on factors such as the
way individuals perceive themselves in relationship to the texts they encounter and on the
value they ascribe to those texts in their daily lives’ (3). Literacy is always ‘multiple’:
there are many ‘literacies’ which students need to become familiar with in the academy
(Gee, 1994: xviii). This ties in with Burke’s argument that writing is an inherently social
practice, and one cannot think about teaching it or doing it without also thinking about
the context in which one teaches and writes, and the factors informing that context, such
as ‘complex intersections and inequalities of age, class, dis/ability, ethnicity, gender, race
and sexuality’ (2008: 200). This is the notion of literacies used in this chapter.
3
It must also be added that writing is a knowledge practice informed by the content
that is being drawn on in the writing tasks, that influences the form and purpose of what
is written. It is clear then, that a support structure such as a Writing Centre or English for
Academic Purposes (EAP) course, functioning in a space outside of this disciplinary
context, cannot fully develop students as practitioners of the academic literacy practices
and ways of knowing and making knowledge in a deep and meaningful way. But, this
does not mean that there is no role for Writing Centres and academic literacy
practitioners in higher education environments.
Writing is a powerful tool for thinking and learning about disciplinary content, as
well as a necessary means of assessing content knowledge. This view of writing in the
academy is not a new one Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) started in the 1970s
in the United States, building writing intensive courses and campus wide writing
programmes in many universities and colleges (Maimon, 1992) and there is a wealth of
research and scholarship, as well as experiential knowledge, on the role writing can and
does play in helping students to learn in a more engaged and critical way. Yet, the
practices in many university classrooms and lecture halls do not necessarily or
extensively reflect this theoretical and experiential knowledge. There is a gap between
what academic lecturers and tutors think students need to do to develop as competent
writers and thinkers, and what these lecturers and tutors are doing to help students
achieve this goal. A Writing Centre, focused as it can be on holistic student writing
development, can reach out to academic lecturers to begin to close the gap, and grow
from knowledge to practice through collaboration and joint production of research and
scholarship. Writing Centres cannot act alone, or apart from the disciplinary contexts in
which students write, because, as Boughey, Street and Gee would argue, these
disciplinary contexts have specific literacy practices that students must be socialised into,
and this involves learning to write effectively (Boughey, 2002; Gee, 1994; Street, 1995).
Further, student writing development within a space like a Writing Centre can
only be sustainable if the Writing Centre is working to consolidate and extend the literacy
and writing development already embedded in the disciplines. Partnerships between
Writing Centres and disciplinary lecturers and tutors are needed to ensure that student
4
writing development is more holistic, and more sustainable in the long term. Focusing on
the work currently being done by the Writing Centre at the University of the Western
Cape (UWC), this chapter will argue that Writing Centres have a valuable role to play in
collaborating with academic lecturers to develop more writing intensive teaching
methods and materials. It will also contend that there is a need for Writing Centres to
work collaboratively with students as well, to guide their own writing development
across all faculties and disciplines.
A brief background of the UWC Writing Centre
UWC initiated the Writing Centre Project in 1994, as part of a broader Academic
Development Programme (ADP) designed to give the larger numbers of non-traditional
students from disadvantaged schooling backgrounds entering the University the
necessary support in navigating and negotiating the new academic environment in which
they found themselves (Leibowitz et al., 1997). The idea behind the ADP was to provide
students with what Morrow (1993) termed ‘epistemological access’ to the institution
inducting students into the new academic discourses in which they were required to work,
in order for them to reproduce primarily written work of an acceptable standard. Many
students accepted at UWC, then and now, speak English as an additional language
(EAL). Many UWC students come to the University from socioeconomically
disadvantaged households, finding the gap between high school and first year large and
difficult to bridge on their own. Building this bridge for themselves is the first hurdle they
encounter on moving into the academic environment and discourses. A second, and
significant hurdle, is the ways in which these discourses are communicated to students
once they are in the Higher Education (HE) environment. Teaching staff often believe
they are transparent in making their assessment criteria, expectations and requirements
known to students, while students often struggle to decode the academic conventions they
are required to conform to, and so struggle to produce acceptable written work (Lillis &
Turner, 2001). This seems to be an especially challenging process for EAL students from
less advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds (Lillis, 2001).
The Writing Centre, as it is at present, aims to support students with their writing
tasks, in order to help them produce work of an acceptable standard through assisting
5
them in decoding and making sense of these academic conventions and assessment
criteria. It is a walk-in centre where students can bring drafts of their work to trained
writing consultants for a one-on-one consultation, and in this respect works similarly to
the way it has worked since 1994 (see Leibowitz et al., 1997). Students are also referred
to the Writing Centre as part of specific relationships created with course convenors and
lecturers. They are invited to approach the Writing Centre for assistance, and brief the
writing consultant/tutor on the assignment task and criteria before referring students. In
these cases the lecturers receive detailed feedback on the group of students they have
referred, and how they were assisted with the consultant/tutor. The Writing Centre
provides its writing tutors with ongoing training as well as an initial block of orientation
and training before consultations with students commence.
Resources are an ongoing concern in terms of hiring and retaining qualified and
experienced tutors. All the tutors employed at present are MA and PhD candidates, with a
great deal of relevant experience. However, they are paid from a limited pool of funding
that pays a low hourly rate; lower than senior postgraduate students should be paid for
tutoring work. This means that most of the tutors have to find other tutoring work to
make ends meet, as well as do their own research. Each tutor works a maximum of
twenty hours per week, and none of the tutors are presently involved in planning and
running writing workshops on campus, as time and budget constraints do not allow this.
This creates extra work for the co-ordinator, and hinders tutor development in the
necessary areas of planning and facilitating writing workshops, and collaborating with
lecturers on writing development in the disciplines. This then restricts the extent to which
the UWC Writing Centre can support students in their disciplines in interactive
workshops, beyond the one-on-one consultations. It also limits the extent to which we
can become involved in collaborating with lecturers and tutors on student writing
development.
The Writing Centre has undergone several changes since 1994, under the
leadership of different co-ordinators. It is difficult to say with any authority how the
previous co-ordinators approached their work with students and academic lecturers.
Apart from the initial few years of the Writing Centre, little concrete documentation
exists to tell us about the theoretical and practical underpinnings of Writing Centre work.
6
However, from a report written in evaluation of the Writing Centre in 2003 by the UWC
Academic Planning Unit it does seem that the Centre was operating without a coherent
plan for its long-term role in student writing development and teaching support and
development. While well-organised and clearly passionate about reaching out to students
at all levels using a ‘process approach’ to writing, there was a clear sense of the Centre
experiencing ‘mission drift’ and straying too far from its ‘core business’ by trying to take
on too many projects in response to individual requests for help (Wood, 2003). The
concern, in 2003 was that there was no clear mandate given to the Writing Centre.
Without any permanent appointments, or structured institutional support and guidance,
the Centre would remain in this drift, and lose its ability to have an impact on students, or
on academic lecturers. Much has also changed, institutionally, since 2003. The Division
of Postgraduate Studies now provides writing support and development to all
postgraduate students and their supervisors and lecturers, allowing the Writing Centre to
focus on the undergraduate student community. There is also a new Strategic Plan for
Teaching and Learning, incorporating the introduction of Graduate Attributes into
existing and new curricula. There is a clear institutional commitment, and need, to create
a defined mandate and role for the Writing Centre as it adapts to these changes, and to
support the work it is doing into the future. This is exciting, as there is now scope for
changing the way in which the Centre can and will try to work with students, and
especially with academic lecturers.
The response to the Writing Centre since it has resumed work with students in
August 2009, after being closed for a semester, has been very encouraging. The numbers
of students coming to the Centre, and academic lecturers reaching out for advice and
assistance has increased monthly, especially since the beginning of the 2010 academic
year. The writing tutors have consulted with 446 students in the first semester, with
21percent of these students coming back for follow-up appointments (UWC Writing
Centre, 2010a). Three lecturers have explicitly approached us for assistance on behalf of
these students, and the initial feedback from the writing tutors to them has been well-
received. It has also resulted in further requests for similar relationships in the second
semester with the same, and new, lecturers. It is clear from this response that there is a
great need for the Writing Centre at UWC. For the present co-ordinator and academic
7
leadership there is, therefore, a need to create a firm mandate for the Writing Centre, to
align the work it does with the current Institutional Operating Plan, the plans for teaching
and learning and the embedding of Graduate Attributes into existing and new curricula. It
is also necessary to think very carefully in terms of resources about how to plan for the
present and build towards the future of the Writing Centre as a relevant and useful partner
in the writing development of UWC students.
Key to this process is an understanding of what the Writing Centre can practically
do, in terms of resource and personnel availability and in terms of its institutional role
and mandate. Key to this process too, is realising the limitations of the work any Writing
Centre can do in terms of impacting on student writing development, and sustaining this.
As Archer notes, in writing about student writing interventions at the University of Cape
Town (UCT) Writing Centre: ‘[s]tudents write in a range of courses, get feedback, do a
range of reading, and it would be difficult to ascertain the extent to which one or two
visits to the Writing Centre could impact ‘on their writing within this larger context’
(2008: 249). She adds that Writing Centre practice at UCT, and this is also true for UWC
and indeed most Writing Centres in South Africa, is rather ‘ad hoc’, with students coming
for once-off consultations with writing tutors, while a smaller portion of these develop
and maintain a long-term relationship with the Writing Centre and writing tutors (Archer,
2008: 249). However, having recognised that it is difficult to determine the exact impact
a Writing Centre intervention or consultation can have on students’ writing in terms of
improving it, one can (as Archer has done), indicate clearly that the Writing Centre plays
an important role in helping novice academic writers to locate their own voice and clarify
their position in relation to the texts they are reading, and drawing from in their writing.
Writing tutors make the writing process a less solitary and anxious one; and the Writing
Centre can help students to develop a meta-awareness of their writing, and can help them
to improve their writing through a critical and supportive evaluation of the written work
as a response to a particular task or set of assessment criteria (Archer, 2008). This sense
of the Writing Centre as a safe, non-judgemental space in which to develop their own
confidence and ability has been echoed by UWC students in recent focus group
interviews (UWC Writing Centre, 2010b).
8
Working with student writers and academic lecturers at UWC
The current practices of working with student writers and academic lecturers and tutors at
the UWC Writing Centre are influenced by New Literacy Studies, and the WAC
movement. In terms of working with students, we are informed first and foremost by the
view that writing is indeed a practice, rather than a generic skill, and that it always
happens in a social and disciplinary space informed by certain values and ways of
knowing and disseminating knowledge (Archer, 2008; Lillis, 2001). Writing tutors do not
correct or edit students’ work, but rather ‘provide [them] with an audience prepared to
draw their attention to the academic norms of writing’ (Bharuthram & McKenna, 2006:
497). Writing tutors thus approach students’ writing by looking first at issues like
whether or not the student has correctly interpreted the task; the way in which the
relevant ideas and concepts have been discussed in response to the set task; the internal
coherence of the written work; the way in which the student has structured the written
text in response to assessment criteria and departmental guidelines. Tutors ask questions
of students, and each consultation is conversational as opposed to didactic. The student is
being encouraged to think through their own work with the guidance of the tutor, who
can explain and intervene where necessary to help the student understand more clearly
what is required of their writing, and how to go about fulfilling the requirements more
consciously (Goodman, 2010). Surface errors like poor grammar, spelling and
punctuation are referred to and examined only after the writer can express their ideas
more clearly, and in such a way as to allow students to learn to find the errors in their
own work and make corrections on their own. This is mainly achieved through pointing
out a small sample of common errors, explaining why they are problematic and then
working through examples with the student that will enable them to make further and
future corrections independently. Even though many lecturers and tutors complain chiefly
about students’ inability to write in full sentences, and their poor grammar and spelling,
we find that very few students have a genuine inability to produce a sensible piece of
written work. The majority of students we consult with at the UWC Writing Centre need
assistance with task analysis, and directing their answer towards the task in a more
focused and relevant way, with clear reference to source texts (UWC Writing Centre,
2010a).
9
In terms of writing as a social practice, the Writing Centre offers students a
supportive, ‘all-inclusive writing environment, where all students, irrespective of their
levels of writing proficiency, can come and benefit from conversing with peer tutors for
whatever writing problems they encounter’ (Xudong, 2009). As Harris eloquently argues,
a Writing Centre provides ‘a focal point, a place for writing on campus, a center for
writing.... Here is a place where writers write, where they talk, where there is institutional
commitment to writing, where...collaboration is a normal part of writing and that writers
really do write for readers’ (1992: 157-158). Through the conversational approach, the
writing tutors meet students at the point at which they are in their writing process,
whether they are doing a task analysis before reading or writing, or whether they are
polishing a final draft before submitting it. Regardless of the disciplinary background of
the tutor or student, the two can have a conversation that provides the student with a
critical reader that can see their written work in a different light, making visible and clear
some of the missteps or misunderstandings that the student may have made. The student
can then begin to work out, with the tutor as a guide, ways to redraft the work so that it
responds comprehensively to the task or assessment criteria.
Taking the concerns of the lecturers and tutors along with the concerns the
students bring to the Writing Centre, there seems to be a correlation of sorts. When
students bring their work into the Writing Centre, they fill in a form that allows them to
indicate (by ticking boxes), what they would like to work on in their consultation. This
form was in place prior to this year, but has been adapted to suit the present needs and
orientation of the Centre as we try to find out more about what students need assistance
with. There are boxes for ‘language use – grammar, punctuation, spelling, vocabulary and
style’ and plagiarism and referencing. There are also boxes that address the structure
and coherence of what is written, reading and research, as well as task analysis. A
preliminary survey of these forms thus far in 2010 seems to indicate that students ask for
help in two main areas: working on coherence and structure (and the way in which they
have used evidence and research); and polishing the final draft. Slightly lesser concerns
are task analysis and referencing and plagiarism. The help given by the writing tutors
based on their assessment of the written work in relation to the task indicates that
students are assisted in two key areas: clarity of ideas; the linking of ideas and concepts
10
across paragraphs; and logic of argument, including assignment plan, and structural
conventions. Far fewer students than those who ask for help polishing their drafts receive
this help because tutors report that few students are at the final draft stage when they
come to consult. Many need to be encouraged to go back to task analysis, clarifying their
ideas and structuring their writing more coherently (UWC Writing Centre, 2010a).
According to tutor feedback thus far, it seems that the students who fall into this category
are unable to see these errors in their work, and struggle to articulate their difficulties
with academic writing. This is especially the case with first year students, who have yet
to become familiar with their disciplinary contexts and often misunderstand or miss
altogether their lecturers’ and tutors’ expectations of their written work.
Speaking to lecturers and tutors about their students’ writing reveals, anecdotally,
that the chief concerns seem to be language use and plagiarism and referencing, followed
by structure and coherence. In terms of the statistics gathered thus far, students seem to
require more assistance with understanding their task correctly, and responding in an
appropriately structured written task containing well-researched content; rather than
polishing their grammar or correcting their referencing. This reinforces the sense of a gap
between what the academics see as the main problems with student writing, which seem
to focus on students’ use of English as a formal language of instruction, and the actual
writing needs of the students, which relate to the deeper issues, like understanding and
responding accurately to the task. This gap is a central part of how and why the Writing
Centre wants to work at UWC into the future.
It is fairly clear that the way in which the Writing Centre currently works with
students is not very different from the way in which it has done so in the past, and our
practices are closely aligned with many other national and international Writing Centre
practices, like the Stellenbosch University and University of KwaZulu-Natal Writing
Centres and the London Metropolitan University Writing Centre as cases in point. What
is new, for the UWC Writing Centre, is the way in which we want to reach out to
academics, and work with them to change the way in which literacy practices are
understood and taught within the disciplines, with a particular focus on writing
development. The ambitious goal is to develop, with academics as partners, a campus-
wide WAC approach to encourage academic lecturers not currently doing so to use
11
writing for learning, evaluation and thinking in their classrooms as well as for
assessment. The starting point is to approach a few interested lecturers and slowly and
steadily build a community of practice which will take on its own momentum and
become a part of the institutional culture of teaching and learning over time. Practically,
the Writing Centre has started doing this by collating short reports on groups of students
linked to certain courses who have come into the Centre for help. This feedback is sent to
the lecturer for their information and hopefully action in some cases, and to establish a
wider network of relationships between disciplines and the Writing Centre. This approach
has thus far achieved positive responses from the lecturers concerned, and is a building
block in the overall process of creating these collaborative relationships. Two new
potential relationships between the Writing Centre and course convenors have developed
lout of this practice thus far. The Writing Centre will become involved in these courses in
the second semester, jointly working on ways in which to create more space for students
to write in different ways, for assessment and learning. The challenge is to keep the
momentum going, so that the concept builds and becomes wider practice over time,
without trying to over-extend the Centre’s limited personnel and financial resources too
soon. And so that the faculties and lecturers will take on full responsibility for these
courses and the students’ writing development within them; with the Writing Centre as
partner in, rather than driver of, these disciplinary ways of working.
For the UWC Writing Centre, working on a WAC approach means working
collaboratively with lecturers over time to develop more writing intensive courses, a key
feature of WAC. WAC proponents define the movement loosely as encouraging a culture
of ‘writing to learn and learning to write’, with an understanding that WAC programs or
approaches are not ‘additive, but transformative they aim not at adding more papers ...
but at changing the way both teachers and students use writing in the curriculum’
(McLeod, 1992: 3). Central to this approach is an understanding of what students need to
write in particular disciplines, how they need to write, and the purpose of what is written
in terms of the objectives and outcomes for the course (Nichols & Brenner, 2009). In
spite of much literature on WAC and using writing as a tool for learning and not just for
assessment, much of the writing being done by students in higher education is high-
stakes, meaning it is for assessment and there are marks attached. There is a clear sense,
12
from the UWC Writing Centre’s engagements with lecturers and tutors thus far, that low-
stakes writing writing that is not for marks and used as a tool for processing and
evaluating information as a way of learning and understanding it - is not highly valued or
readily used. This is largely because lecturers fear that they will not be able to monitor
whether students are learning effectively as a result of having large classes and no time to
read and comment on all students’ work, and that students will not come to class and do
the writing unless there are marks attached. Neither of these arguments is particularly
convincing, even though lecturers and tutors with large classes and heavy teaching loads
do have some reason for concern about setting more writing tasks for their students.
If we accept academic literacy as a set of social and knowledge practices, with the
insight that academic literacy proficiency is only achievable over a lengthy time period,
which goes beyond simply learning and mastering certain cognitive skills, then we need
to need to accept that all disciplinary lecturers are academic literacy practitioners, not just
those who work in EAP-type courses or Writing Centres. Accepting this and
implementing teaching and learning strategies that recognise it are two different matters
for many academics though. Thus, in order to achieve success in this area, the Writing
Centre needs to tread carefully to strike the right balance between offering support and
ideas, and being more closely involved in the development of different kinds of writing
intensive interventions in different departments and disciplines.
A starting point here is to acknowledge the resource and teaching constraints
placed on UWC staff. Many academics, especially those teaching first year students, who
need much of the writing development help, teach large numbers of students as many
as 400 in a first-year politics module, and as many as 650 in a first-year law module. It is
thus challenging to engage students in a more interactive teaching process that attempts
to model academic behaviours students need to master, like engaging deeply with
readings and unpacking arguments to assess evidence and the validity of claims. Many
lecturers feel immense pressure to cover a certain amount of content in a limited amount
of time. This means that many feel less able to interact with the class because often
students are under-prepared for lectures as they struggle to engage with the course
readings and materials, and many also feel too intimidated to speak up in large class
settings, so interacting can be a slow process. Academics also need to engage in
13
increasing amounts of administrative work, and feel great pressure to conduct research
and publish in their areas of interest and expertise. All this means that many academics
could truthfully acknowledge that they are under-resourced and even unwilling to take on
a greater role in building an institutional culture of academic literacy as a set of ongoing
social practices, rather than skills that can be learnt apart from the content.
A Writing Centre can work with lecturers to provide them with valuable support
in terms of discussion about the objectives of writing in their courses and disciplines, and
to assist in the development and collation of materials and other resources that can
practically help them to support and develop their students’ writing. In this way, a
collaborative relationship can grow and begin to critically examine the assumptions and
objectives underpinning the kinds of writing tasks that are set for students, and the way in
which the questions and assessment criteria are phrased and communicated to students.
As outsiders to the discipline, writing specialists can ask questions that will encourage
lecturers to think about why their students write what they do, and how they assess what
is written. Lecturers can also be encouraged and supported in thinking through how they
learnt to become confident and proficient writers in their discipline and to take some of
these insights into their own teaching and engagement with students all part of the
process of making the tacit knowledge and practices more explicit (see Jacobs, 2007).
Writing can be used effectively as a tool to deliver, think about and learn, as well as to
assess, content knowledge, and there is a clear space emerging at UWC for lecturers to
work with the Writing Centre to re-imagine ways in which to use writing.
It is possible to bring low-stakes writing into lectures and tutorials regularly in
ways that will benefit students, and that will not necessarily create more work for the
lecturers and tutors. For example, designing lectures so that there is a clear summary that
can be made of each one, and asking students to take the last ten minutes to write one
paragraph summarising what they understood as the key points of the lecture, or asking
them to write down three questions they have related to the content or readings referred
to in the lecture, can be very simple and useful ways of getting students to write in a
focused way. Even in large classes, lecturers and tutors can take this work in and read a
percentage of the total, as a way of monitoring what students are taking away from
lectures and tutorials. In this way the content and style of the lectures and tutorials can be
14
adjusted as the course progresses, taking the students’ own reflections as part of the
teaching and learning process. Talking to students about the purpose of this process, and
highlighting the value to them in terms of their learning, and the writing they will
eventually do for assessment, can go some way to ensuring ‘buy-in’ from the students.
Having these discussions will also go some way to making explicit some of the tacit
dimensions of the discipline (Jacobs, 2007), like the importance of being able to
summarise a core text, reading, or lecture, or the value attached to writing in a clear and
focused way that expresses an idea or set of ideas accurately.
Working from within Writing Centres in South African universities
I would like to suggest here that there are two ways in which a Writing Centre can play a
role in developing a meta-awareness of writing practices in the institutions in which they
are located, in the thought processes of both disciplinary lecturers and students. Students
need to develop their reading ability and level of comprehension in order to do effective
research before they can think clearly about their own position or opinion on a given
topic they are being asked to respond to. Once they are able to read strategically and with
understanding they can decide on a position and find evidence and explanation to justify
that position. Only once those practices have occurred can they begin to write back to the
task and meet the assessment criteria. Thus, one cannot view a Writing Centre’s role as
only focused on developing students’ writing and nothing else. One could ask, then, how
a Writing Centre would work differently or uniquely compared to academic literacy
specialists already working in the faculties at various levels; how would a Writing Centre
make a unique contribution?
Bharuthram and McKenna argue that ‘[m]ost lecturers are hired for their content
knowledge’ and ‘are often unaware of the extent to which academic literacy is specific to
the academy and that it comprises fairly significant differences across disciplines’
(2006:497). They further point out that by the time most academics become lecturers,
they have absorbed the literacy practices of their disciplines to such an extent that these
have become ways of being in the world. It can, therefore, be difficult for academics to
step back and ‘see’ these practices from the perspective of their novice students or those
outside of their discipline (Bharuthram & McKenna, 2006). Jacobs, drawing on various
15
writings from New Literacy Studies and Rhetorical Studies, argues in a similar vein that
‘knowledge of disciplinary discourses has a tacit dimension, which makes it difficult for
experts to articulate, and therefore difficult for students to learn’ (2007: 869). Data from
Jacobs’ research shows that the ‘rhetorical’ processes through which disciplines
communicate ‘domain content’ are rendered largely invisible to students, while emphasis
is placed rather on developing content expertise that these processes are thus ‘tacit’
(Jacobs, 2007: 870). This tacit knowledge, according to Jacobs, is acquired through being
inducted or socialised into particular disciplinary ‘communities of practice’ (Jacobs,
2007: 870; see also Bharuthram & McKenna, 2006; Boughey, 2002), and the literacy
practices of academic disciplines ‘are best acquired by students when embedded within
the contexts of such disciplines’ (Jacobs, 2007: 870).
However, in spite of these claims, Jacobs in particular questions the premise that
disciplinary lecturers must be the ones to teach these literacy practices to their students
(2007: 870). She argues, as do Bharuthram and McKenna, that while disciplinary
lecturers may indeed have content expertise, and know the tacit knowledge and practices
that have become ‘ways of being in the world’, many are not able to ‘see’ these invisible
dimensions and unpack these literacies in ways that make them explicit and overtly
learnable for the students (Jacobs, 2007: 871; Bharuthram & McKenna, 2006: 497). Thus,
Jacobs (2007) argues for a collaborative pedagogical approach, where academic literacy
practitioners work from outside the discipline to make the tacit elements of the discipline
explicit to the lecturers working inside the discipline, so that both parties can work
together as equals to explicitly embed the teaching of these literacy practices into the
curriculum. She argues that through these collaborations, academic literacy practitioners
can help lecturers to develop a meta-awareness of the ‘generic structures and discourse
patterns’ of their disciplines, and that through developing this meta-awareness, lecturers
can begin to have a critical understanding of the importance of, and ways of, teaching
discipline-specific literacy practices (Jacobs, 2007: 872). One of the key literacy practices
is writing.
If we look at the disciplinary lecturers first we can see that there is indeed a space
for a Writing Centre to work collaboratively to create meta-awareness around writing in
the disciplines. At UWC, in the faculties where teaching and learning specialists are
16
employed to work with disciplinary lecturers to create awareness around teaching and
learning and academic literacy issues, like critical reading, writing and research skills, it
is often the case that these specialists are in some ways disciplinary insiders. The concern
with this positioning of these specialists is that they would, certainly in Jacobs’ thinking,
be more likely to perpetuate the tacit dimensions of these disciplines by not making these
fully apparent to either disciplinary lecturers or students. It is the contention of this
chapter that a Writing Centre has a unique voice, and can be positioned in one or both of
two ways within an institution like UWC. The first is to collaborate with the faculty-
based teaching and learning and academic literacy specialists as ‘co-outsiders’ if you like,
and therefore with the lecturers indirectly. The second is to carve out a role and mandate
to work with disciplinary lecturers by bringing them into the process of co-building and
sustaining a WAC approach to writing intensive teaching and learning. Regardless of
how it is positioned in relation to faculties and lecturers, a Writing Centre can and should
continue to play a valuable role in providing students with a supportive and critical
academic space in which to further their reading and writing development, and in which
well-trained peer tutors can make the writing process less solitary and intimidating (see
Archer, 2008). This is the second way in which Writing Centres can work within South
African universities (as has been discussed in the previous section).
It is likely that there will be resistance from lecturers and tutors within academic
literacy and academic development programmes and departments to collaborate in the
development of a WAC approach. This approach would ideally see their role shift from
being lecturers working almost completely outside the disciplines in more generic
‘skills’-type courses that they can create and own, to being collaborators and facilitators
who would advise on and even co-create courses with disciplinary lecturers, but which
the lecturers would ultimately be responsible for teaching and assessing. There will also
likely be resistance from disciplinary lectures who do not necessarily see themselves as
either willing or able to bring what many of them see as ‘skills development’ into a
content-governed classroom space, that already feels overburdened. The challenge is then
how to build a bridge between the two spaces, and create room for collaboration and joint
curriculum development that benefits the students, first and foremost, in terms of
enabling greater epistemological access (Morrow, 1993: 33) and also greater retention
17
and throughput, and that also benefits the academic lecturers, who will likely have more
engaged and confident learners in their classrooms and lecture halls, without threatening
their sense of academic identity or adding to their workload significantly.
Conclusion
This chapter has discussed ways in which a Writing Centre can be a part of this bridge-
building process, and how it can make a unique and valuable contribution to the
development of undergraduate student writing across the disciplines. Using the current
revisioning and restructuring of the Writing Centre at UWC as a case study, and drawing
on current and recent research into academic literacies and Writing Across the
Curriculum and in the disciplines, this chapter has argued that a Writing Centre is an
important tool in developing both the capacity of academics to bring writing into their
classrooms in new and innovative ways as a tool for learning, thinking and assessment,
and in developing the capacity of student writers through one-on-one consultations in a
safe and supportive extra-disciplinary space.
It is important to reiterate that the UWC Writing Centre is part of a wider
community of teaching and learning, as any Writing Centre in a higher education
environment is. Writing Centres should not be the sole initiators and drivers of faculty
and departmental writing programmes, or writing intensive courses, although they most
certainly have a valuable role to play in co-creating and co-sustaining these initiatives. As
has been pointed out, there are gaps between what students consider to be their writing
difficulties and concerns, and what disciplinary lecturers and tutors consider to be their
students’ writing concerns and problems (although there are indeed overlaps). There is a
role for the Writing Centre at UWC to step into this gap to work with both students and
lecturers to foreground, theorise, research and sustain an environment that focuses on
writing as a social and knowledge practice that must be embedded in the content and
context of the disciplines in which it is done.
Informed by a New Literacy Studies as well as a WAC approach, the Writing
Centre provides students with a voluntary, walk-in place where trained peer tutors
support and encourage their development as student writers. The tutors work from the
position of critical but non-judgmental readers who guide students to help them
18
understand and critique their own writing as they develop an awareness of the academic
conventions they are being asked to adapt to. Alongside this student support, the Writing
Centre aims to extend its promising work within faculties and departments where it can
support and collaborate with teaching and learning and academic literacy specialists who
in turn work in collaboration with lecturers and tutors, or collaborate with lecturers and
tutors directly. Working in either way, the goal is to build sustainable communities of
practice that will critically evaluate the aims and objectives of writing in the disciplines,
and work creatively and in partnership with the Writing Centre to bring different kinds of
writing into the teaching and learning spaces to enable students to write to learn, and to
learn to write more effectively.
There is room in higher education institutions in South Africa for Writing
Centres. They are an invaluable part of an institutional response to the learning needs of
students, and the teaching requirements asked of lecturers. However, a narrow and
limiting conception of a Writing Centre as a remedial space where ‘weak’ students can
have their writing problems ‘fixed’ or have their work corrected for grammar and
spelling mistakes disables conversation and collaboration between writing specialists and
academics, and between writing tutors and students. A Writing Centre can only provide
the kind of support both students and academics need and desire if it can position itself as
a place for the consolidation and extension of academic behaviours and practices around
writing that are already, continuously and collaboratively being developed and practiced
in content and context-embedded teaching and learning environments. Thus, Writing
Centres need a clearly defined and institutionally supported and resourced mandate that
enables them to play a unique and sustainable role in the development and innovation of
writing development and research in South African universities.
References
Archer, Arlene. 2008. ‘Investigating the effect of Writing Centre interventions on student
writing’, SAJHE, 22:2, 248-264.
Bharuthram, Sharita. and Sioux McKenna. 2006. ‘A writer-respondent intervention as a
means of developing academic literacy’, Teaching in Higher Education, 11:4,
495-507.
19
Boughey, Chrissie. 2002. ‘“Naming” students’ problems: An analysis of language-related
discourses at a South African University. Academic Development Centre, Rhodes
University [Online]. Available at:
http://eprints.ru.ac.za/1107/01/boughey_naming_students_problems.pdf.
[Accessed 29 July 2009].
Burke, Penny Jane. 2008. ‘Writing, Power and Voice: Access to and Participation in
Higher Education’. Changing English, 15:2, June, 199-210.
Business Day. 2009. ‘Student studies: Universities need to address proficiency gaps’.
Business Day [Online]. Available at:
http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=78415. [Accessed 6 May
2010].
Coffin, Caroline et al. 2003. Teaching Academic Writing. A Toolkit for Higher
Education. London and New York: Routledge.
Gee, James. 1994. ‘Introduction’ in Social Linguistics and Literacies. London: The
Falmer Press.
Goodman, Kenneth. 2010. Workshop for UWC writing tutors on the role of the question
in a writing consultation. 18 January 2010. University of the Western Cape,
Belville, Western Cape.
Harris, Muriel. 1992. ‘The Writing Center and Tutoring in WAC Programs’ in Susan H.
McLeod and Margot Soven (eds). 1992. Writing Across the Curriculum. A Guide
to Developing Programs. London: Sage.
Jacobs, Cecilia. 2007. ‘Mainstreaming academic literacy: Implications for how academic
development understands its work in higher education’, SAJHE, 21:7, 868-879.
Leibowitz, Brenda, Kenneth Goodman, Peter Hannon and Andrea Parkerson. 1997. The
Role of a Writing Centre in Increasing Access to Academic Discourse in a
Multilingual University. Teaching in Higher Education, 2:1, 5-19.
Lillis, Theresa M. 2001. Student Writing. Access, Regulation, Desire. London and New
York: Routledge.
Lillis, Theresa and Joan Turner. 2001. Student Writing in Higher Education:
contemporary confusion, traditional concerns. Teaching in Higher Education, 6:1,
57-67.
20
Maimon, Elaine P. 1992. ‘Preface’ in Susan H. McLeod and Margot Soven (eds). 1992.
Writing Across the Curriculum. A Guide to Developing Programs. London: Sage.
McLeod, Susan H. 1992. ‘Writing Across the Curriculum: An Introduction’ in Susan H.
McLeod and Margot Soven (eds). 1992. Writing Across the Curriculum. A Guide
to Developing Programs. London: Sage.
Morrow, Wally. 1993. ‘Entitlement and Achievement in Education’. Studies in
Philosophy and Education, 13:1, 33-47.
National Benchmark Tests Project. 2009. ‘Report on the February 2009 Pilot Tests –
University of the Western Cape’. Presented to UWC staff by Prof. Nan Yeld on
22 July 2009.
Nichols, Pam and Liz Brenner. 2009. Workshop on creating writing intensive courses.
17 November 2009. Spier Conference Centre, Stellenbosch, Western Cape.
Street, Brian. 1995. Social literacies: Critical approaches to literacy in development,
ethnography and education. London: Longman.
UWC Writing Centre. 2010a. Composite report for semester one. 31 May 2010.
UWC Writing Centre. 2010b. Focus group interviews. 4 May 2010.
Wood, Tahir. 2003. ‘Review of the UWC Writing Centre 2003’. Academic Planning
Unit, University of the Western Cape.
Xudong, Deng. 2009. ‘The Case for Writing Centres’. Centre for English Language
Communication, National University of Singapore [Online]. Available at:
http://blog.nus.edu.sg/eltwo/2009/08/12/the-case-for-writing-centres/. [Accessed
13 October 2009].
... In order to provide students with opportunities, instead of emphasising the finished product of writing, educators need to focus on the process of writing and the skills this fosters. Writing functions as an 'important tool for thinking and learning about disciplinary content, as well as a necessary means of assessing content knowledge' (Clarence 2012a). By means of writing and rewriting, as well as providing students with constructive feedback with which they are required to engage, students are guided to reflect critically on their performance and development (Tsui 2002:748). ...
... One of these is the perception that the writing centre serves as a remedial centre where students' language 'deficiencies' can be 'fixed' (Archer 2010), thereby functioning as an extension to existing academic development initiatives (Archer 2012). This perspective is grounded in the 'study skills' view of student writing, which maintains that writing constitutes a number of atomised skills that can be taught in isolation and applied across the curriculum (Clarence 2012a;Lillis 2001;Street 2004). Another issue, linked to this perspective, is that students do not visit the writing centre as often as necessary to develop their academic writing skills. ...
... The one-on-one service provides students with opportunities to discuss and negotiate meaning, in accordance with the academic literacies approach to student writing. Content lecturers and tutors might know what kind of writing is expected in their particular field, but they are often unable to isolate the particular writing conventions of the disciplinespecific discourse and communicate these to students (Clarence 2012a;Lillis & Turner 2001). Boughey (2005:287) asserts that by making the rules and conventions regarding what 'count[s] as knowledge', the great divide between student and lecturers could be bridged. ...
Article
Full-text available
Writing functions as an important tool that spans various spaces in higher education. Moving away from a ‘skills approach’ to writing, this article argues that the writing centre serves as an intermediary between students and academic lecturers. The article discusses how the current practices at the writing centre promotes the development of writing as a key construct that spans a number of spaces in higher education. The article draws on the collaborative initiatives with two different disciplines. The data collection on stakeholders’ responses indicates that a more structured, purposeful writing-intensive approach needs to be undertaken within the disciplines in order to address institutional objectives of access and success in higher education.
... A writing centre is a space that aids the improvement of student writing. According to Clarence (2011), a writing centre is a space that focuses on the holistic development of a student's academic writing. She argues that writing centres play a key role in cooperating with academic lecturers to advance nuanced writing-intensive teaching methods and materials. ...
... The holistic development of a student is central to the guidance offered by tutors to students across all disciplines and faculties. Clarence (2011) uses her own experiences at the UWC Writing Centre to show the extent of collaboration with students and with lecturers. Denny (2005) posits that the power of the tutor during the consultation should be used in a manner that recognises the identity of the student. ...
... The writing centre is also a walk-in space, usually found at tertiary institutions, to which students are able to bring their tasks and assignments for consultation. Clarence (2011) contextualises this walk-in space as a physical space with an administrative structure that supports the receipt and assignment of drafts to tutors, and the preparation and conduct of peerled writing tutorials. This emphasises the extent to which writing centres are recognised as physical spaces. ...
Article
Full-text available
Writing centres play a vital role in guiding students in their academic writing. Central to this role is their physical location at tertiary institutions, where students usually walk in and schedule appointments with writing tutors. The recent #FeesMustFall protests saw the temporary closure of universities across South Africa. As a result, the functionality of the writing centres as physical locations was disrupted to the detriment of student development. This article evaluates the application of the principles that underscore the operation of physical writing centres as online spaces. First, it evaluates the writing centre as a physical space, and the resulting shift to an online space as a result of the #FeesMustFall protests. Secondly, with the methodological aids of Critical Interpretative Synthesis and my personal reflections as a tutor, I analyse the possible application of the principles that guide physical writing centres to the online environment.
... Rather, the type of formative feedback students receive should build their self-esteem and empower them (Skead and Twalo 2011). Clarence (2011) cautions against feedback which is judgmental and which discourages interaction. ...
Article
Full-text available
Since its inception in 1994, the University of the Western Cape's Writing Centre has been on the margins, viewed as an add-on to central learning and teaching activities at the university (Archer and Richards 2011, Clarence 2011). In this article, we use the constructs of place, space, and power to explore the decentering of feedback on students' writing from the face-to-face, physical location of the Centre to the formative assessment space in a module. We reflect on the Centre's engagement with a formative online feedback intervention conducted by a lecturer within a Bachelor of Education Honours course. Writing centre tutors participated in providing formative feedback on nested, scaffolded tasks leading to a long essay, using the feedback function of the Turnitin platform. The space of engagement with students moved from the face-to-face, physical writing centre location to the online space. We found that the development of the academic writing and feedback literacies of writing tutors, students, and the lecturer were developed through sustained and responsive online and face-to-face communities of praxis. In this process, there was a partial decentering and recentering of the role of the Centre, enabled by technology and the integration of the development of academic literacies within the course curriculum. The sustained engagement between the lecturer, tutors, and writing centre coordinator played an essential role in the effectiveness of the intervention. However, in order to further develop the feedback literacies of students, the online feedback needs to be complemented with additional face-to-face interaction. We argue for both a decentering and recentering of the role of writing centres towards supporting departments in the integration of academic literacies development into curricula. One of the ways of doing this is by using technology to expand capacity in order to give students feedback on their writing within a blended learning environment that focuses on formative assessment.
... These included, for example, difficulties with knowing how to respond appropriately to different components of an essay topic, even if guidelines were provided. Other examples included being unfamiliar with the basic components of an academic essay; activities involved in planning for writing, such as using pre-writing techniques to generate and organise ideas for writing or selecting; analysing and incorporating suitable literature in their writing; the need for referencing sources in academic writing; not having models of writing that could assist them to formulate introductions, academic arguments, and conclusions to their academic writing; and making sense of lecturer feedback (Clarence 2011, Deyi 2011, Leibowitz and Parkerson 2011. At the time, my only strengths in these areas included the fact that I was a capable student writer who could express my ideas in writing fairly well, and I enjoyed applying my technical skills of academic writing to my own studies. ...
Article
Full-text available
The aim of this article is to explore how aspects of a Social Realist theoretical framework could be understood in relation to my professional development as a writing centre consultant and manager. I share the view that a Social Realist framework could enable consideration about processes of developing or extending knowledge about ourselves in relation to cultural and structural phenomena in society, and may explain how or why changes occur or remain unchanged in socio-cultural settings. The research question that this article sets out to address is: How can my internal reflexive conversations help explain my professional development? I begin the theoretical framing for this paper by means of a brief introduction to Critical Realism (Bhaskar 1998, 2008, 2009). This is followed by a discussion of Social Realism (Archer 1995, 1996, 2000, 2007, 2010). I present introductory explanations of the major concepts used in the Social Realist theoretical framework, namely 'structure', 'culture and 'agency', and I explain related concepts necessary for analytical sense-making. The article focuses on the concept of 'agency' (Archer 2007, 2010), at which point the concepts of 'reflexivity' and 'internal conversations' are discussed. The research approach used is qualitative research, utilising an autoethnographic methodology developed from ethnographic records of my professional life over a period of 25 years. I use mini-narratives based on self-interviews as the research method. Part theoretical explanation, part reflexive account, this article attempts to convey a narrative about how I have used Social Realism to make sense of aspects of my development as a writing centre practitioner-researcher in South African higher education.
... Rather, the type of formative feedback students receive should build their self-esteem and empower them (Skead and Twalo 2011). Clarence (2011) cautions against feedback which is judgmental and which discourages interaction. ...
Article
Full-text available
Since its inception in 1994, the University of the Western Cape’s Writing Centre has been on the margins, viewed as an add-on to central learning and teaching activities at the university (Archer and Richards 2011, Clarence 2011). In this article, we use the constructs of place, space, and power to explore the decentering of feedback on students’ writing from the face-to-face, physical location of the Centre to the formative assessment space in a module. We reflect on the Centre’s engagement with a formative online feedback intervention conducted by a lecturer within a Bachelor of Education Honours course. Writing centre tutors participated in providing formative feedback on nested, scaffolded tasks leading to a long essay, using the feedback function of the Turnitin platform. The space of engagement with students moved from the face-to-face, physical writing centre location to the online space. We found that the development of the academic writing and feedback literacies of writing tutors, students, and the lecturer were developed through sustained and responsive online and face-to-face communities of praxis. In this process, there was a partial decentering and recentering of the role of the Centre, enabled by technology and the integration of the development of academic literacies within the course curriculum. The sustained engagement between the lecturer, tutors, and writing centre coordinator played an essential role in the effectiveness of the intervention. However, in order to further develop the feedback literacies of students, the online feedback needs to be complemented with additional face-to-face interaction. We argue for both a decentering and recentering of the role of writing centres towards supporting departments in the integration of academic literacies development into curricula. One of the ways of doing this is by using technology to expand capacity in order to give students feedback on their writing within a blended learning environment that focuses on formative assessment.
... Theoretical frameworks were drawn from the New Literacy Studies, which embed literacies in the context of social practices (Gee, 1990;Heath, 1983;Lea and Street, 1998;Prinsloo and Breier, 1996;Street, 1984Street, , 1995The New London Group, 1996), and makes particular use of the academic socialisation model (Lea and Street, 1998), the transformative ideology of the academic literacies approach (Lillis and Scott, 2007;Lillis et al., 2015), and research on collaboration between academic literacies practitioners and lecturers in the academic disciplines (Boughey, 2012;Butler, 2013;Clarence, 2011;Jacobs, 2007bJacobs, , 2010Jacobs, , 2013Jacobs, , 2015. Throughout, the article engages with writing centre scholarship, both in South Africa and further afield. ...
Article
Full-text available
This article describes, analyses, and reflects on the conceptualisation and establishment of a Writing Lab at a South African university's Faculty of Health Sciences. Drawing on the theoretical framework of New Literacy Studies, the academic literacies approach, and South African writing centre scholarship, the analysis revealed that the conceptualisation of the Writing Lab was primarily informed by the academic socialisation model but has since shifted to encompass a more transformative ideology; opening spaces where students' own knowledges and literacies practices could contribute to new forms of thinking and representation in the academy. We argue that the shift was facilitated by collaboration with disciplinary lecturers, the faculty's Primary Health Care ethos, and the Writing Lab's engagement with a large postgraduate population, leading to the Writing Lab's participation in new forms of knowledge-building that could contribute to the creation of decolonised spaces and shifts in institutional culture.
... Theoretical frameworks were drawn from the New Literacy Studies, which embed literacies in the context of social practices (Gee, 1990;Heath, 1983;Lea and Street, 1998;Prinsloo and Breier, 1996;Street, 1984Street, , 1995The New London Group, 1996), and makes particular use of the academic socialisation model (Lea and Street, 1998), the transformative ideology of the academic literacies approach (Lillis and Scott, 2007;Lillis et al., 2015), and research on collaboration between academic literacies practitioners and lecturers in the academic disciplines (Boughey, 2012;Butler, 2013;Clarence, 2011;Jacobs, 2007bJacobs, , 2010Jacobs, , 2013Jacobs, , 2015. Throughout, the article engages with writing centre scholarship, both in South Africa and further afield. ...
Presentation
In 2013 a literacies mapping project was conducted in the Faculty of Health Sciences which found that, although there was some teaching of literacy practices in individual courses, overall there was a lack of structured, consistent, accessible support within the faculty. While most universities have writing centres, few have faculty-based centres which can offer specialised and integrated support for teaching and learning. The Faculty of Health Sciences Writing Lab was conceptualised as unit through which contextualised, embedded support and capacitation of staff and students could be enabled. The Writing Lab, initially funded by a Teaching Development Grant and now funded by a University Capacity Development Grant, has been enormously well-received and demonstrated surprising growth and success in the first three years. In 2015, we conducted 416 individual writing consultations for 169 clients, and 29 workshops with a total of 990 participants, while in 2017 we conducted 567 consultations for 250 clients and 75 workshops with 3308 participants. Based on feedback, 93% of participants felt they had learned something useful that they could apply to their writing, and 88% stated they would recommend Writing Lab workshops to others. What this increasing demand, client fidelity and positive feedback implies, is that faculty-based support is not only necessary, but highly valued. However, beyond these offerings, it has been our integrated and collaborative approach that has underwritten our success.
... The greater number of comments by the WCCs could be regarded as unsurprising, in the sense that responding to conventions could be seen to be the domain of the writing centre. ClarenceBharuthram & McKenna 2006;Clarence 2011)—and yet, in this study there were a significant number of instances where lecturers commented on this. It might well be the case that the lecturers who provided feedback to these students were unusual, in that their practices and understanding had changed over the course of this programme, or, conversely, that the assumptions of what lecturers do requires more careful scrutiny. ...
Article
A study was conducted on postgraduate health science education students’ participation in a 360-degree feedback exercise, in which students received comment from the lecturer as assessor, a peer and a writing centre consultant. Students found the experience of receiving feedback from multiple sources useful. The kinds of feedback they described were analysed within the categories: lessons learnt; interaction; and the affective domain. Many of the key trends in the literature on feedback were affirmed. However, several prevailing assumptions, for example that academics do not comment on language or the use of writing conventions, were called into question by the study. The key differences between the three different sources of feedback were found to be the forms of interaction, and what these different ways of communicating and interacting made possible with regard to student learning. Recommendations for further study regarding feedback and the collaboration between disciplinary specialists and writing centre consultants are made.
Article
In a writing centre, learning takes place during conversations between the writing-centre tutor and the student. This interaction is an integral part of writing-centre research and is the focus of this largely qualitative study which employs a politeness lens. There is very little research that specifically addresses praise as a positive politeness strategy. This study attempts to fill this gap by analysing video-recorded consultations to determine how tutors in a writing centre utilise the positive politeness strategy of praise. Findings indicate that while tutors exploit a range of politeness strategies, praise is used more often than any other strategy and is utilised significantly more when commenting on higher-order concerns, which is in line with the writing-centre literature. The benefits of this study include insights into how such analyses can be used to better prepare and equip writing-centre tutors for the work they do.
Article
Full-text available
Writing is one of the main means of assessment in tertiary institutions and helping stu-dents with writing could improve their overall academic performance and could ensure that students proceed to graduation. More and more, Academic Development initiatives are being 'driven to demonstrate their "success" by substantiating the rhetoric of their mission statements with researched evidence of performance' (Yeld and Visser 2001, 6). This article describes in detail one study investigating Writing Centre interventions by looking at improvement in assessed writing in the context of the curriculum. The context-embedded nature of the methodology coheres with an 'academic literacies' approach to student writing (Lea and Street 1998), rather than a skills-based approach. The study was achieved through interviewing forty first year students on their perceptions of the Centre and its influence on their writing; looking at consultants' comments; looking at grades; comparing independent assessments of the students' first and final drafts. This multi-faceted approach enabled a holistic and contextualized picture of student writing to emerge.
Article
Full-text available
Writing is one of the most important and useful pedagogical tools available to instructors to help students achieve a variety of goals central to sociological instruction, including critical thinking and the development of students' sociological imaginations. This article provides specific guidelines for creating writing-intensive courses and writing assignments that are integral to achieving pedagogical goals. it also includes some strategies for managing and teaching such courses.
Article
Full-text available
This paper discusses the implementation of a project in which a writer–respondent intervention was used to develop the academic literacy practices of students. Writer–respondent projects are based on the idea that detailed developmental comments and questions on students’ draft writing can assist them in acquiring the peculiar norms of academic literacy. Respondents do not edit or correct students’ work, but provide students with an audience prepared to draw their attention to the academic norms of writing. Details of the manner in which the implementation occurred are presented. Findings from an analysis of the feedback from students and lecturers reveal that the drafting–responding process was successful. Reflection on the entire process points to possible shortcomings and thereby informs on improvement in future implementations.
Article
Acknowledgements Introduction Section 1: Literacy, Politics and Social Change Introduction 1 Putting Literacies on the Political Agenda 2 Literacy and Social Change: The Significance of Social Context in the Development of Literacy Programmes Section 2: The Ethnography of Literacy Introduction 3. The Uses of Literacy and Anthropology in Iran 4. Orality and Literacy as Ideological Constructions: Some Problems in Cross-cultural Studies Section 3. Literacy in Education Introduction 5. The Schooling of Literacy 6. The Implications of the New Literacy Studies for Pedagogy Section 4: Towards a Critical Framework Introduction 7. A critical Look at Walter Ong and the 'Great Divide' 8. Literacy Practices and Literacy Myths Index
Article
This article draws on research into the role of academic literacies within a range of disciplines and its implications for academic literacy teaching in Higher Education. The study explored ways of transforming current academic literacy teaching practices with a view to developing better synergy between the academic literacies that are taught and the disciplinary knowledge that students are accessing. The study examined how academic literacy practitioners and subject lecturers at a university of technology constructed their understandings of an integrated approach to the teaching of academic literacies. With a focus on the changing role of lecturers and academic literacy practitioners, the article briefly contextualises the study by sketching some of the background and outlining the methodology. The nature of disciplinary discourses is then theorised in relation to the findings from the study. Finally the article presents a theoretical model for the teaching of disciplinary discourses, and considers the implications of the theoretical model for academic development work generally, and for higher education broadly.J South African Journal of Higher Education Vol. 21 (7) 2008: pp. 870-881
Article
A report on the evaluation of the University of the Western Cape's Writing Centre discusses its initial 2 years of operation. The evaluation considers the appropriateness of a writing centre as a means to facilitate access to the academy in a context of a lack of resources and mass student need for support. Seven questions are considered, relating to: a needs analysis; the processes which occur in the project; impact of the project on the consultants; impact on the students; impact on lecturers; the modus operandi of the model; and its cost effectiveness. The evaluation demonstrates that a project which deals directly with student learning can only have a limited impact on students' access to academic discourse, given the variety of factors which influence student learning. It illustrates that the success of such a project depends on a variety of factors including institutional funding, change and curricular development.