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Introductory chapter to the book: Writing Centres in Higher Education: working in and across the disciplines.
This is a pre-print version. For the full version please see the book, available here:
Cite as: Dison, L. and Clarence, S. 2017. Introduction. In Clarence, S. and Dison, L.
(eds). Writing Centres in Higher Education: working in and across the disciplines.
Stellenbosch: SUNPress, 5-16.
Laura Dison and Sherran Clarence
Shannon Carter, in her essay ‘The writing center paradox: talk about legitimacy and the
problem of institutional change’, writes:
The writing center is made up of a series of rhetorical spaces in which tutors and
students attempt to negotiate academic projects assigned by and evaluated by
individuals who are not directly associated with/involved in the writing center’s daily
activities. We represent the student, not the teacher. We represent the system, not the
student. We represent neither, and we represent both. (2009:136, emphasis added)
This essential tension is at the heart of much writing centre work both in South Africa, the
context for the chapters in this volume, and globally. We are there for the students, we are
there for the university, and we are also there for ourselves. How to balance and manage these
tensions, these pushes and pulls that make our work both interesting and challenging in a
rapidly changing higher education context, is a question all writing centre directors,
coordinators and consultants/peer tutors1 must confront and grapple with.
This edited collection reflects critically on two central tensions, or pushes and pulls,
under a broader question: how do writing centres, which traditionally tend to sit outside of
academic disciplines, enter into the disciplines to work with both students and lecturers in
context-relevant, collaborative and useful ways? In other words, how do we get from the
outside in, and make our contributions count when we get there? These tensions are thus:
working in both generic and specific ways as regards writing and literacy development to
navigate disciplinary knowledges and skills; and grappling with new modes of knowledge
production and text creation to push our own pedagogic boundaries further, doing the
‘pedagogical work’ that promotes ‘good writing in English’, and recognising Academic
Literacies as an emerging discipline in the changing university.
Before detailing the arguments this volume makes about writing centre work inside
and across the disciplines and the tensions and challenges this presents, we will begin with a
brief background of writing centre and academic development work within the South African
context. With this in view, we will move on to consider the ‘philosophy’ (Bell 2001)
underpinning writing centre work within this context, and other global contexts - our broad
epistemological, ideological, and ontological underpinnings and values. Details on the
chapters included in this volume are woven into this discussion and reflection on how this
volume contributes to the broader field of writing centre and academic literacies work in
higher education.
Writing centres within academic literacy development in South Africa
At this point we would like to briefly trace the development and growth of writing centres
within the South African context. Part of this context and history is analysed critically in
Fatima Slemming’s and Pamela Nichols’ chapters, which echo this book’s claim for a need
for theorised research within and from writing centres, and for enhancing lecturers’ awareness
of educational theories that underpin approaches to curriculum development, teaching and
The first writing centres in South Africa opened their doors in the mid-1990s.
Located largely within academic development units, such as the former Academic
Development Centre (ADC) at the University of the Western Cape, and the Academic
Support Programme (ASP) at Wits University, writing centres were closely aligned with
academic student development work that was focused on disadvantaged, underprepared,
predominantly black students coming into higher education during the transition from
apartheid to democracy in the early to mid-1990s (Nichols this volume; Slemming this
volume; Thesen and van Pletzen 2006). The standard way of thinking about academic writing
and literacy development work during this time was remedial in nature, aimed at bridging the
gap that existed between these students’ prior schooling and the expectations of higher
education literacies and learning. It was informed by a deficit perspective on the part of the
universities who funded these writing centres, by a sense that these students did not have the
right kinds of ‘capital’ (Bourdieu 1986[2011]) - cultural or educational. As a result, they
needed to be given additional time and support through a writing centre or academic writing
course to gain this capital in order to participate in the dominant communicative practices
within the university.
Research in the United Kingdom in the mid to late 1990s, within a context that had
been grappling since the 1980s with the challenges of widening access to higher education,
referred to this deficit-led approach as a ‘study skills’ approach to literacy development (Lea
and Street 1998). This influential study showed that remedial, add-on attempts to bridge
between what underprepared students bring with them to university as educational capital or
competencies, and expected competencies, were often approached from a position that saw
becoming literate as gaining discrete, value-free skills, easily transferrable once mastered.
Essentially, a ‘study skills’ approach to literacy development gave rise to additional
writing courses offered mainly to disadvantaged black students deemed to be ‘at risk’ of
failure, largely as a result of poor prior schooling. These students, who spoke English as an
additional language, were constructed as lacking learning and language skills, conceptual
knowledge and the ability to think critically (Boughey 2010). These courses taught them how
to write generic argumentative essays, how to construct parts of an essay such as paragraphs
and introductions, how to reference their sources accurately, and some also taught requisite
skills like note-taking in lectures, mindmapping or essay planning, and basic grammar and
comprehension. In several universities across South Africa these kinds of courses persist and
tend to still view the medium of instruction as “the barrier to students’ success in their
disciplines of study” (Jacobs 2015:134). More recently, there have been shifts in the thinking
behind these approaches to literacy development, but they remain outside the formal
curriculum and focus on language support for academic purposes rather than on the
disciplinary nature of academic literacy practices.
Subsuming and extending the ‘study skills’ approach, Lea and Street’s study revealed
another level at which universities could work to develop and improve students’ ability to
consume, create and critique knowledge more effectively in their disciplines. This approach
moved beyond deficit constructions of underprepared or “non-traditional” (Lillis and Turner
2001:57) students, and viewed literacies, instead, as being influenced by and situated within
specific social or practice-based contexts. Simply put, each discipline forms a community of
practice (Lave and Wenger 1991) and each community uses particular genres (Swales 1990)
or kinds of texts to communicate, create and critique knowledge claims. Thus, to become
literate in creating and utilising these texts, and join the community of practice as legitimate
participants, students need to be socialised into the community, and into the particular as well
as more general rules their community follows in creating, consuming and critiquing
The ‘academic socialisation’ approach (Lea and Street 1998) built on the ‘study
skills’ approach but also challenged and extended it in important ways, debunking deficit
conceptions of literacy development as necessary only for underprepared (largely black and
poor) students in South African universities. Rather, this approach inducted students into new,
and strange communities of learning, including but not limited to students whose home and
school backgrounds were less congruent with the forms of writing privileged by universities.
Boughey (2010:10) discusses this ‘second phase’ of academic development as “indicative of
what might be termed a ‘social turn’ involving a movement away from a focus on individual
behaviour and individual minds to a focus on the social and the cultural” aspects of learning
in higher education.
Writing centre work has been firmly influenced by an understanding of literacy
development as academic socialisation. The move from study skills to socialisation in
teaching students to respond to assessment and learning tasks with appropriate forms of
research, reading, and writing shifted writing centres from an association with autonomous
skills teaching to a stronger association with notions of writing as a practice and a process that
recognises ways in which literacy practices vary between academic disciplines. Four chapters
in this book in particular have indicated the importance of students developing their writing
competence over time through embedded disciplinary support (Chapters seven through ten).
Working within a paradigm of writing as different forms of social practices, and
writing centres as spaces that work with students and lecturers to unpack, demystify, and even
contest elements of these practices, writing centre consultants/peer tutors have a challenging
role to play. Rather than trying to ‘teach’ students generic writing skills or give tips on
writing a ‘good’ essay, writing peer tutors/consultants are required to play the role of writing
advisor and peer mentor who can offer students writing guidance, probe their thinking and
question their clarity of response to specific tasks they are working on. Hathaway (2015:3)
describes this shift in thinking and learning as relocating the ‘problem’ away from the
students and their supposed inadequacies to the task with its complexities and opaqueness”.
This shift also references the third approach advocated by Lea and Street (1998): the
‘academic literacies’ approach.
The ‘academic literacies’ approach that shapes a great deal of writing centre work
currently, both in South Africa and in contexts like the UK and Australia, emerges in several
of the chapters in this volume including those that demonstrate the value of working with
lecturers to enable students to engage with the academic literacy practices valued by different
disciplines. Subsuming and building on the ‘academic socialisation’ approach, an ‘academic
literacies’ approach seeks to go beyond simply inducting students into disciplinary
communities of practice, taking their literacy conventions, practices and ways of knowing as
given. Rather, it seeks to give students access to both the means to work within those
communities of practice successfully and the means to eventually critique, challenge and
change their knowledge-making practices over time. An ‘academic literacies’ approach shifts
the focus from students’ texts to the practices behind the creation of their texts, and how these
practices contribute to the development of students’ emerging scholarly identities as they
become familiar with the discourse requirements of new writing environments (Gourlay
Fundamental to an ‘academic literacies’ approach is the “ideology of
transformation” (Lillis and Scott 2007:7) that seeks to push back against dominant and
‘commonsense’ approaches to creating, assessing and critiquing texts in a range of modes.
This approach asks us - lecturers, writing centre tutors/consultants and students - to think
carefully about what we are doing, why, and how, and to locate our practices firmly within
the social contexts within which we are working. It asks us to question these contexts and
their literacy practices, as well as the social, economic, political and cultural factors that
influence and shape them. Several chapters in this volume explore ways of moving beyond
the demands of university writing to “a profound re-orientation in terms of what knowledge
itself is and how it is constructed” (Hathaway 2015:5).
New writing centres, old tensions
Writing centres in South Africa, moving into the 2000s, saw both the higher education and
schooling sectors undergoing significant curricular and organisational changes. The latter half
of the first decade of the 21st century also saw several new writing centres established across
the country, especially in former technikons (now universities of technology). The
establishment of these writing centres signalled a recognition that widening access had not
necessarily resulted in enhanced success for many students, and that students across the
university needed additional time and support in becoming proficient and confident writers.
However, this growth in writing centres in South Africa has resurfaced the tensions referred
to at the beginning of this introduction. If these new writing centres have been and are being
established and supported by universities working from a paradigm of skills development and
language support as being key to (certain) students’ literacy development, then who are these
writing centres for? How do they carve out and hold a role for themselves underpinned by a
different paradigm, one that perceives academic literacy practices and processes as socially
and contextually informed and not easily mastered outside of the formal curriculum as
discrete or autonomous ‘skills’?
In the past 15 years, the university mergers and changes in the higher education and
schooling sectors have raised several important questions around transformation and
management of education in South Africa, echoing similar debates and questions in other
parts of the world. With this has come recognition that writing centres have become firmer in
their stance on writing as a social practice that needs both writing ‘composition’ and context-
dependent input. These questions relate to the two main tensions this book reflects on:
working in both generic and specific ways and grappling with new modes of knowledge
production and text creation. We will now move on to explore the structure of this book, and
the ways in which the chapters respond to and explore these questions.
Structure of the book
Part I: Theorising and extending writing centre practice in the university
The chapters in Part I show that rather than working with texts and literacies normatively -
socialising students into working with them in ways that take them for granted, or treating
them as hegemonic and unchangeable - an ‘academic literacies’ approach challenges us to be
conscious of what we are socialising ourselves and students into through our writing centre
work (Jacobs 2014; Lillis and Scott 2007). It challenges us to consider what transformation in
our current context means, and how our work from writing centres can contribute to
transformative moves in higher education teaching and learning. Our view, which supports
that of several authors in the book, is that integrated approaches have assisted staff in
improving their teaching practices as they clarify and make explicit the conventions and
requisite skills for the discipline. The chapters raise a number of questions about the nature of
the disciplines themselves and why particular academic literacy practices and genres are
Part I presents six chapters that analyse how writing centres in different contexts are
pushing the boundaries of writing centre practice in the university. They ask us to consider
questions of knowledge - what knowledge students are asked to consume and to create, and
whether and how they are encouraged to critique both the consumption and creation processes
within their disciplines as social contexts. They also ask us to consider questions of inclusion
and voice: whose voices are heard, whose are silenced and how can a multitude of voices be
expressed and nurtured from within the curriculum and alongside it? Writing centres,
although without a formal curriculum of their own as Nichols (this volume) points out, have a
vital role to play in questioning the assessment tasks students come to consult about. and in
building a culture of writingwithin the university (Ganabcsik-Williams 2011:250). They
can reflect back to the disciplines their assumptions and choices regarding knowledge in the
curriculum with a view to both critiquing and supporting necessary changes.
In their chapters, the authors in Part I all look at ways of making meaning and
knowledge in new ways that can extend students’ learning beyond the confines of their
university coursework. A central issue is how we develop writing consultants/peer tutors
capacity to work with students who are struggling with the kinds of assessment tasks they are
being asked to write, and the kinds of reading and research they have to engage with. Writing
centres, if they are to be truly free, just and caring spaces, cannot ignore students’ resistance
to the kinds of knowledge they are asked to consume and create. They must grapple with a
tension between socialisation and critique - helping students to work out the rules of the
meaning-making game in their disciplines and how to better play by them is often precisely
about socialisation (see Clarence, Huang and Archer, both this volume). An ‘academic
literacies’-informed approach becomes valuable, if we can balance helping students to
become more confident and able writers with helping them to see and be appropriately critical
of the social context in which their writing is being assessed.
The opening chapter looks at the role of educational theory in developing teaching
proficiency. Fatima Slemming argues that lecturers need to be aware of educational theories
that underpin approaches to curriculum development, teaching, learning and assessment. The
process of writing consultants/peer tutors becoming aware of relevant theories in a deliberate
way, through reflective practice, is a useful model for thinking about educating emerging
academic lecturers and practitioners in higher education. In Chapter two, Pamela Nichols
demonstrates how writing intensive courses at the University of the Witwatersrand are
moving writing centre theory and philosophy from the periphery outside of the disciplines
closer to the disciplines and to ways of teaching students to know and act on that knowing.
Writing intensive approaches have become tools for creating systematic and holistic
responses to student learning as opposed to ‘bolt-on’, remedial models of support. The author
reflects critically on the role of writing intensive courses, mediated by writing fellows, in
creating more democratic and free spaces and practices that can contribute to university
Chapter three explores a novel approach to analysing writing consultations that
focuses on how knowledge about writing is made over time. It investigates how non-
discipline-specific peer writing tutors can enable students to think about their writing, both in
terms of the immediate assignment and future writing assignments through activating
students’ longer-term learning about academic writing. Sherran Clarence illustrates the use of
an analytical tool drawn from Legitimation Code Theory, to move between contextualised
writing requirements and the more generalised notions of how writing conveys ideas,
knowledge and meaning in different genres. Ultimately, the chapter argues, following Chapter
one, for a theorised approach to peer tutoring in writing centres, and proposes one way of
enabling theorised, reflexive and conscious tutoring practices.
Hervé Mitouma-Tindy, in Chapter four, argues for an approach to writing support
using Vygotskian theory; in particular, the chapter positions writing centres as ‘zones of
proximal (academic) development, and writing centre consultants/peer tutors as the ‘more
knowledgable others’ students can approach for help. Using this kind of theorised
underpinning for writing centre work may enable tutors to see their role as peers in a different
light, and encourage them to work more collaboratively with students, further challenging the
notion of tutors as experts and students as unknowing novices that need to be “socialised”
into the dominant ways of being in the academy.
Also working with peer tutors, Cheng-Wen Huang and Arlene Archer reflect on their
methods of facilitating writing consultants/peer tutorsunderstanding of the multimodal
academic argument as ‘difference’ in a digital age. This approach broadens an understanding
of argument restricted to traditional written texts. They argue that writing centres, on their
own with students and in partnership with disciplinary lecturers, need to work more
effectively and creatively with forms of text other than writing.
Adding an international view to questions of transformation and writing centre
policies and practices, Nicole Bailey’s chapter questions the issue of language: what
languages we write in, and what effect an insistence upon ‘standard’ forms of English may
have on students feeling included or excluded from their own education experience.
Connecting her American context with a writing centre context in the Western Cape, Bailey’s
chapter troubles the notion of having one (better) form of a language in which to write, and
shows how beneficial multilingual language policies and practices can be within writing
centres, and the wider university.
While Part I sets the tone for the book, laying out ‘bigger picture arguments for
current and future writing centre work, Part II brings us back to the issue of context,
reminding us that contextual positioning and factors always influence what we can do, and
how we can do it. These chapters unpack case studies of writing centres working in and
across the disciplines in South African universities at present.
Part II: Case studies: negotiating practices in the disciplines
One of the most valuable contributions writing centres can make within the current climate of
change across universities in South Africa, and in other contexts such as the UK, Canada and
the United States, is by giving students a louder voice at a micro level. Writing centres,
ultimately, are there for the students; this is the core constituency we represent. Through one-
on-one, small group and workshop discussion and meetings, writing consultants/peer tutors
shine the spotlight on students: on the writing they are working on, the struggles they are
experiencing, the learning they are doing, and the ways in which they are trying to make
sense of their disciplines and the university requirements more generally. As many of the
chapters illustrate, listening to what students and peer tutors have to say about their writing
processes on a daily basis gives us a profound and valuable insight into what the most
important constituency within higher education really thinks about the education and work
they are participating and engaging in.
The key question posed and answered in the chapters constituting Part II is how to
engage students optimally in knowledge-making within disciplinary and professional fields.
Emmanuel Ekale Esambe and Nosisana Mkonto’s chapter looks at writing in professional
disciplines, and the ways in which collaborative partnerships between the writing centre and
different professional disciplines have yielded positive results in helping both lecturers and
students to demystify and unpack disciplinary writing practices. These authors attempt to
understand how students develop writing in the two very different disciplines Dental
Sciences and Personnel Management at a university of technology. They use action research
and Photo Voice to work in collaborative pedagogical spaces with lecturers and to understand
students’ realities, showing how an innovative approach to opening up space to talk about
writing gives students a louder voice in their context.
Similarly Sharifa Daniels, Rose Richards and Anne-Mari Lackay discuss the
development of a decade long partnership with the Department of Engineering at
Stellenbosch University, in which they reflexively created and updated an integrative
‘Collaborative model’ to help students ‘enter the academic conversation’ in a compulsory
communication module in Engineering. Their chapter highlights the affordnaces and
constraints of working from a space outside of the formal curriculum and discipline, but
shows ultimately the value a writing-focused perspective can add to writing in the disciplines.
Thembinkosi Mtonjeni and Puleng Sefalane-Nkohla further explore writing within
the disciplines in their chapter, using the conceptual tool of metadiscourse to unpack students’
meaning- making in an applied science subject, Environmental Health. They argue that using
a metadiscourse analysis enables them to find a way into disciplinary ways of learning, in this
case in the sciences, and that this initial analytical lens can provide writing centre
practitioners with a way of engaging students (and their lecturers) pedagogically about the
specifics of the discourse and rhetoric of science writing.
In the final chapter in this part of the book, Kabinga Jack Shabanza critically analyses
how writing centres in his context have responded, through small group consultations, to the
high dropout and failure partially attributable to increasingly large class and reduced time for
individual or small-scale consultations with students in the disciplines. He engaged students
and writing consultants/peer tutors in focus group discussions to facilitate an understanding of
the affordances of these small group writing tutorials for enabling students to critically and
collaboratively reflect on their disciplinary contexts and genres. The author highlights the
importance of developing students’ meta-discourses in the disciplines through reflective
processes as a means of bridging the pedagogic distance of traditional, large lectures that are,
for many students, alienating and difficult to navigate.
Part III: (Re) evaluating writing centre work
The two final chapters present alternative ways of evaluating the ‘impact’ of the work of the
writing centre.
Akisha Pearman’s study explores the role of videos in informing students and the
wider university community about the diversity of writing centre stakeholders, practices, and
approaches. She argues that writing centres in South Africa can utilise an alternative mode to
print, such as video, to publicise their work with students, to promote their vision and
mission, and also to further challenge the ways in which they evaluate their impact on the
university community they serve. Her chapter also highlights, connecting with Chapter five,
how visual modes and methods of engaging with meaning-making are becoming more
common in higher education, challenging writing centres to be open, rather than resistant, to
multimodal forms of making knowledge about their work.
Finally, Laura Dison and Belinda Mendelowitz elaborate on how in-depth focus
groups as a mode of evaluation have provided their writing centre with valuable insights into
students’ experiences and frustrations with writing in transitional spaces’ as they attempt to
develop their authorial ‘voice’. Their analysis of focus group feedback raises critical
questions about student deficit in a context of transformation as students are inducted into
normative assessment practices. The findings of the qualitative evaluation practices they are
using shed light on existing models of embedding writing centre work in the disciplines, and
how we make sense of the ways in which both peer tutors and students experience our input.
Writing centres and transformation: pushing our boundaries further
Since May 2015 there have been rolling student protests across our campuses in South Africa
under the broad coalition of #FeesMustFall. These protests call for a diverse range of changes
to be made within the university and society as a whole. Basically students want ‘business as
usual’ to be disrupted to the extent that universities start asking difficult and painful questions
about student access, success and participation in higher education, and through honest
reflection, begin to see the gaps, problems and shortcomings of the system and make change a
reality in a range of ways. This is an umbrella notion of transformation at a systemic level,
and it is necessary and urgent within the South African context, although calls for
transformation and ‘decolonisation’ of education systems have echoed in other contexts as
well, such as New Zealand (Reid and Jones 2014), Canada (Lamb 2015), the UK
(NUSConnect 2016), and India (Menon 2016).
Writing centres, as an established part of many universities within South Africa, are
part of this system, yet cannot be immune to students’ calls for change given the social
realities regarding prejudice and violations of human rights. The book as a whole challenges
normative writing and assessment practices and proposes that we reflect deeply on curriculum
transformation within our different institutional contexts. We need to re-consider what role
we play in ensuring that we are using our influence, research, “practice wisdom” (Bamber
2014:np), and skill to the best effect in creating and sustaining greater social and academic
justice on our campuses.
Our central focus is arguably the students - our writing consultants/peer tutors and the
students they work with on a daily basis - and providing them with “free” (Chapter two this
volume) spaces in which they can be met as peers grappling with an assignment or writing
task, and supported with integrity and care. Writing centres have a clear and valuable mission
and vision related to specific goals around literacy development and support within the larger
academic teaching project of the university. We can assist in the development of students’
capacity to become more confident and proficient in their own writing practices. We can give
their struggles to become academically literate in their disciplinary contexts a voice, a face,
and necessary recognition as we foreground the relationship between writing and thinking.
Our role is located primarily within the formative space where students are given tools to
reflect critically on their own outputs in a non-judgemental environment (see Chapters five;
seven; ten; twelve, this volume).
However, writing centre work has grown in reach in the last decade, and many more
writing centre practitioners are extending their pedagogic approaches into disciplinary
collaborations and partnerships that are bearing fruit (see Part II of this volume). These show
that subject specialists have become more aware of the nature of macro and micro level
writing processes in their disciplines. Furthermore, writing centre practitioners have begun
making inroads in disciplinary assessment practices in terms of the formulation of assessment
tasks, the extent to which assessment criteria are made explicit, and how feedback is mediated
and implemented2. As discussed earlier in this introduction, recent writing centre work tends
to be underpinned by an ‘academic literacies’ ideology of transformation, and an
epistemology of literacy as a social practice (Lillis and Scott 2007, influenced by social,
cultural, political and disciplinary concerns and factors.
Nevertheless, we are also there for the university. Writing centres, even those with
private or donor funding, are housed within universities, and are staffed, supported and
funded to varying degrees by university management. We cannot, therefore, ignore the wider
institutional contexts in which we work, and the political, cultural and economic pushes and
pulls within those contexts. Thus, in the current climate around higher education in South
Africa, and globally, where students are asking for different kinds of change, writing centres
need to re-align themselves to consider the implications of transformation, and grapple with
how the changes that are beginning to occur in the wake of student protests will affect them.
Writing centres are in a unique position, through the feedback, conversations, and
evaluations they elicit and have access to, to give students a clear and present voice in
conversations on their campuses about proposed changes to assessment, evaluation,
curriculum and pedagogy that are currently taking place in a range of fora. We can continue
to challenge and change deficit discourses about students and their learning needs that persist
in many of these conversations by showing, through the work we do across and within the
disciplines and within our own spaces, that all students need time and support in becoming
academically literate in both generic and discipline-embedded ways. We can continue to
challenge ‘content vs skills’ dichotomies through the partnerships we create with disciplinary
lecturers and tutors that enable them to take on their students’ writing development with
greater confidence and ability. We can, through scholarly research, contribute to larger
conversations about the kinds of literacy development and support needed to facilitate
students’ ongoing lifelong engagement with new and emerging forms of text, so that they can
contribute to their professions and fields in meaningful ways.
As this edited collection illustrates, context is key in determining the kinds of work a
writing centre can and should do in a university. To represent students well, we need to know
who we are working with, what their learning needs are, and how we can adapt and grow our
resources to meet these needs. Not all writing centres can work in the same ways within their
differing contexts, and some are able to push their boundaries harder and further than others
at this point, as the collected chapters may illustrate. We believe, however, that we can agree
on the valued and vital role writing centres can play in providing spaces for slower,
thoughtful and research-led conversations about writing in order to build comprehensive
writing provision for all students. Moving into the future, writing centres will need to
increasingly venture beyond their four walls into other spaces - within and across the
disciplines - to challenge their own pedagogical approaches and those of others; in doing so,
writing centres can continue to play an invaluable role in articulating the role of writing
development in turning student access into mastery and success.
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1 Both terms are used in South African writing centres and throughout the book. Certain
writing centres have retained the terms ‘student client’ and ‘writing consultant’ while others
have rejected these in favour of ‘student writer’ and ‘peer writing tutor’. These terms may
indicate uncomfortable connections for some authors between the notion of consultants and
clients and the managerialistdiscourse pervasive in global higher education at present, or
pressures to comply with funding requirements. We use both terms here, and authors will use
and explain their preferred terms in the context of their chapters.
2 One of the key demands in the transformation negotiations with students at the universities
of the Witwatersrand and Cape Town, for example, has been around the implementation of
fair and unbiased marking and feedback practices. The writing centre can play a role in
making lecturers aware of the impact of their approaches in inhibiting or facilitating learning,
thinking and writing.
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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.
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For decades, writing centre practitioners have contested and protested against the demeaning characterisations of their pedagogic space. The Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s (CPUT) Writing Centre has endured stigmatisation as a “clinic”, “laboratory”, “fix-it shop”, and “remedial agency for removing students’ deficiencies in composition” (Archer and Parker 2016, Drennan 2017, Moore 1950, North 1984). Although writing centre practitioners and theorists have described these centres as hubs for nurturing and enhancing students’ intellectual and linguistic capacities in order to engage and master disciplinary literacies and genres while contributing to the transformation of educational projects, such a value tends to be misrecognised – by both lecturers and students at CPUT – as focusing on improving grammatical competence. This article contributes to the discourse of redefining the writing centre as a space with unique transformational pedagogies in the context of a university of technology, namely CPUT.
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Writing centres are a well-established aspect of student academic support in many universities around the world. As much as there is significant commonality in their espoused ways of working, and theoretical and ontological underpinnings, writing centres work in a diverse range of national and institutional contexts. At times, the pressures from their contexts-both ideological and practical-can work to shape the day-today nature of writing centre work that moves away from, rather than towards, their espoused ways of working. This gap between "theory" and "practice" in writing centres is the focus of this paper. The paper argues that acknowledging and characterising the nature of this gap in different writing centre contexts is vital, and needs to be taken on honestly and critically. This may better enable writing centres to act more consciously as a "critical conscience" in university spaces increasingly vulnerable to narrow, uncritical notions of 'safe' spaces for student development and growth.
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Difficulties students experience in attaining the required discipline-specific academic literacy practices were frequently described by the lecturers interviewed in this study as arising from low levels of student motivation. Motivation was vested in the student as an individual attribute, rather than as a factor of the broader context. The student discourses analysed in this study, however, indicated that identity formation played an important role in the extent to which students adopted the literacies of the academy. Students were clearly invested in adopting the practices necessary for membership in new social groups in the higher education environment, but they did not, in general, identify with the academic literacy practices that perform a gate keeping function for success in higher education. These literacy practices were perceived by the students as being confusing, difficult to access and, at times, as alienating from the African identities they valued.
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Student transitions into the university are often conceived of via an apprentice-type model, or as entrance into a 'community of practice'. This paper disputes the applicability of these models to the indeterminate and opaque nature of student experiences of academic writing, and proposes that emotional destabilization and struggles around identity are a normal part of both transitions and writing. With reference to student text/visual journals and in-depth interviews, it argues for extending the notion of 'threshold concepts', proposing academic literacies as 'threshold practices' which can lead to a reinforced sense of identity as a student. It concludes with implications for practice.
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Academic literacies research has developed over the past 20 years as a significant field of study that draws on a number of disciplinary fields and subfields such as applied linguistics and sociolinguistics, anthropology, sociocultural theories of learning, new literacy studies and discourse studies. Whilst there is fluidity and even confusion surrounding the use of the term ‘academic literacies’, we argue in this paper that it is a field of enquiry with a specific epistemological and ideological stance towards the study of academic communication and particularly, to date, writing. To define this field we situate the emergence of academic literacies research within a specific historical moment in higher education and offer an overview of the questions that the research has set out to explore. We consider debates surrounding the uses of the singular or plural forms, academic literacy/ies, and, given its position at the juncture of research/theory building and application, we acknowledge the need for strategic as well as epistemological and ideological understandings of its uses. We conclude by summarising the methodological and theoretical orientations that have developed as ‘academic literacies’, conceptualised as a field of inquiry, has expanded, and we point to areas that merit further theoretical consideration and empirical research.
Indigenous health workforce development has been identified as a key strategy to improve Indigenous health and reduce ethnic inequities in health outcomes. Likewise, development of a culturally safe and culturally competent non-Indigenous health workforce must also occur if the elimination of health inequities is to be fully realised. Tertiary education providers responsible for training health professionals must face the challenge of engaging the Indigenous learner within health sciences, exposing the 'hidden curriculum' that undermines professional Indigenous health learning and ensuring tertiary success for Indigenous students within their academy. This chapter summarises recent developments, research and interventions within the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland that aims to address these challenges by re-presenting Indigenous student recruitment, selection and support, re-presenting bridging/foundation education and representing Maori health teaching and learning within the curriculum.
Scholarship on writing centers often relies on validation systems that reconcile tensions between equality and plurality by privileging one over the other. According to feminist political theorist Chantal Mouffe, neither absolute equality nor absolute plurality are possible in any democratic system, a conflict she calls "the democratic paradox" and insists is the essence of a "well-functioning democracy" that supports pluralistic goals. The following article argues that a similar logic shapes writing center work and, therefore, any attempt to promote change must likewise embrace the democratic paradox as it manifests itself in the writing center: "the writing center paradox." © 2009 by the National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved.
This conceptual paper attempts to map the terrains of academic literacies work as it has evolved over the past twenty or so years in South Africa. In mapping these terrains, one of the areas the paper considers is how the dominant ‘skills’ Discourse continues to frame the way in which academic literacies work is implemented in South Africa. Drawing on the New Literacies Studies the paper also explores how academic literacies as a body of work defines itself, as well as the range of conceptualisations thatinform such definitions. The paper then turns to a consideration of how different contextual agendas drive academic literacies work in different ways across the higher education sector in South Africa. The paper then goes on to explore the different frameworks that academic literacies work in South Africa draws on to theorise this field, as well as some of the premises underlying our thinking and informing our practices, such as: generic and disciplinary-specific approaches to academic literacies development; the role of collaborative partnerships between academic literacies and disciplinary specialists; and how to shift from tacit knowledge of the norms and conventions of disciplines to explicit teaching of these norms and conventions. Drawing on academic literacies research emanating from the United Kingdom, the paper then argues for a shift from normative to transformative approaches to the development of academic literacies in South African higher education. Finally the paper turns to the question of knowledge and its place in debates about how to develop academic literacies. My conclusions point to the need for a shared ontology within which to frame academic literacies work and research in South Africa. I am suggesting that by placing knowledge at the centre of how we understand our work, we might move closer to such a shared ontology.
This paper argues that all students, whatever their linguistic identities, can benefit from an explicit and structured introduction to academic writing. It argues that this tuition should no longer be seen as support, and therefore marginalised, but as a transformative process of acculturation that needs to be located in the mainstream of the university. For illustration, it examines a course that does precisely this and which, in a radical departure from other practices, is embedded in the curriculum as a requirement. It discusses the theoretical contexts of the course and shows how the content and methodology is underpinned and informed by new understandings of the cultural, linguistic and epistemological aspects of acquiring academic literacies.
This article addresses the issue of student writing in higher education. It draws on the findings of an Economic and Social Research Council funded project which examined the contrasting expectations and interpretations of academic staff and students regarding undergraduate students" written assignments. It is suggested that the implicit models that have generally been used to understand student writing do not adequately take account of the importance of issues of identity and the institutional relationships of power and authority that surround, and are embedded within, diverse student writing practices across the university. A contrasting and therefore complementary perspective is used to present debates about "good" and "poor' student writing. The article outlines an 'academic literacies' framework which can take account of the conflicting and contested nature of writing practices, and may therefore be more valuable for understanding student writing in today's higher education than traditional models and approaches.