Reflecting on the digital transformation: a praxeological perspective on writing center work during COVID-19

Doris Pany-Habsa

Writing Center of the University of Graz, Austria

This year’s EATAW conference opened up a wonderful opportunity to revisit the foundations of teaching academic writing in the light of the pandemic. The conference organizers invited us to think about a series of apparently simple but in effect far-reaching questions. When I read the call for submissions there was one question that in particular appealed to me. It was: “What has changed recently?” This question was an eye-opener for me, because it made me realize that, in our writing center at the University of Graz (Austria), we were so busy adapting to the new situation caused by the pandemic that we had not managed to make time to think about the implications and the significance of the transformations under way. So I decided to take the chance the EATAW conference 2021 offered, and I started to think about the meaning of the changes we had gone through during the pandemic. For the conference, I put down some first and of course very approximate thoughts and ideas. When I presented them at the EATAW conference, the panelists seemed to receive them with interest, and therefore, I would like to share these ideas with the EWCA community here.

My blog post begins by briefly describing the situation in our writing center when the pandemic reached Austria. It will, then, go on to outline the innovations we introduced due to the pandemic. Finally, it concentrates on one central aspect of our digital transformation and suggests an interpretation for that aspect that draws on the so-called practice theory or praxeology.  

The pandemic reached our writing center

The pandemic reached Austria more or less at the beginning of the summer term 2020. We still had most of the scheduled workshops ahead of us. I remember that we perceived the situation as very ambiguous. On the one hand, we felt a strong urge to assist students in this difficult situation. We wished to stay in contact with the students, and we wanted to continue the dialogue with them because we always conceived direct interaction with our tutees particularly crucial. For that reason, we considered simply moving online with our workshops and counseling sessions. On the other hand, we had almost no experience with the online tools we would need to achieve this.  We were also totally aware that there was a fundamental difference between holding workshops online and holding them in a face-to-face setting. In brief, we realized that we were an extremely ‘analogue’ writing center before COVID-19 and that it would take us some time to familiarize ourselves with the digital mode. 

Therefore, we finally decided to take a step back and to cancel our workshops in the summer term. Instead, we developed digital resources students could use asynchronously. We created a series of learning videos explaining writing techniques for the different stages of the writing process, e.g. for developing a research question, for structuring the paper, etc. Whenever we completed a video, we published it on the writing center’s website so that students could access it as quickly and easily as possible. That was the main thing we did during the first semester of the pandemic. For the second semester of the pandemic, the winter term 2020/21, we designed online workshops for relatively small groups of participants (max. of 15), which we delivered through Big Blue Button – so we were able to have group work in breakout sessions – and into which we integrated the learning videos. Since then we have continued doing this.

The praxeological perspective

As I mentioned above, my first ideas about the significance of the changes triggered by the pandemic are inspired by practice theory or praxeology. For all those who are not familiar with this theoretical approach, we can briefly say that it is a loose but nevertheless definable movement of social thought that has taken shape since the 1990s and was advocated by theorists like Theodore Schatzki in the US and Andreas Reckwitz in Germany. The various proponents of praxeology share the conviction – here I quote Schatzki – that “the social is a field of embodied, materially interwoven practices centrally organized around shared practical understandings” (Schatzki, 2001, 3). The important point here is that, when we analyze practices, we do not look at people’s intentions or knowledge, but we look at things people do under certain material conditions, conditions that embrace spatial arrangements, artefacts and media. By analyzing what people do, practice theorists try to discover the shared practical understandings that underlie people’s actions. In this regard, a central praxeological assumption is that those practical understandings do not have the status of explicit knowledge but are rather implicit and not fully transparent to the subjects who perform the practice.

We used to be a very ‘analogue’ writing center

Without doubt, we formed and performed new practices of writing center work during the pandemic without being fully aware of the meaning and the significance inherent to them. By now taking a closer look at some micro-practices that we developed around our new learning videos, I try to get a little closer to the implicit significance of our digital transformation.  

At this point, it is necessary to emphasize once more that we used to be a very ‘analogue’ writing center before the pandemic. Actually, we made very little use of digital media. Of course, we used Power Point presentations in our workshops, and we had a digital course management system, but in our core activities, we always tried to have a very direct and conversation-based contact to our tutees. Perhaps the best way to make this clear is by describing the following setting: Before the pandemic none of our materials were available online for download. Instead, our material used to be accessible to tutees in a rotating shelf that we put in front of our office, which can be seen in the photos.

Figure: Photos of the entrance to our writing center and the rotating shelf with our material (Photo: Doris Pany-Habsa)

When someone came to the writing center to take some material, it was possible for us to hear that person from the office and, whenever possible, we stood up to welcome them and started a little conversation to find out what kind of support or material could be useful for them. A practice theorist would probably say that we created a spatial arrangement that required physical co-presence between writing tutor and writer. We created this setting, the practice theorist would continue, out of the underlying conviction that the best way to support writers is by talking to them. Or in other words: Our practice of writing center work was logo-centrically oriented in a very strong way.

The digital transformation of our writing center work

In the pandemic, we were forced to leave this old-fashioned logo-centric practice, and we had to jump right into a digital-based practice. As I mentioned, we developed learning videos that we made available on our website. By doing this we created a situation that was right the opposite of the old one: Our material was now accessible to potentially everybody in the whole world. In theory, that was wonderful and made us very proud, but in practice, we did not hear or see any of the people interested in our material, and we could not talk to them at all. That changed when we started with our online workshops. The workshops always included a theoretical part, where we provided information using our learning videos, and a practical part, where the students did group work in breakout rooms. While our on-campus workshops were held by one or at most two tutors, the first online workshop was held by all of the four tutors who work in our writing center.

That may seem exaggerated, but we all were very curious about the new setting and wanted to be involved in the new experience. Actually, we continued to keep that configuration of four tutors; although, it is not very efficient in terms of deployment of human resources. The main reason why we liked to participate in the workshops all together was probably that, by doing this, we could closely accompany the group work in the breakout rooms. And by taking part in the breakout rooms, we could see and hear the students, and we could finally talk to them again. So it seems that, within the new digital arrangement, we wanted to rebuild a logo-centric nucleus that should somehow manage to preserve our underlying core conviction that it is best to support writers by talking to them.

But where does this imperturbable conviction of ours come from? Let me close by sharing the suspicion I have: Generally, we can say that the average European public university funds a writing center because it hopes that the writing center will help students to pursue and complete their studies quickly and efficiently. So from an institutional perspective, we can say that writing centers are made possible by an instrumental logic of efficiency. This, however, is not the logic we would like to see as the basic principle and motivation for our work. I would even dare to say that this applies not only to our writing center but to very many of them. Instead, we like to think of our work as a practice that empowers people not just in an instrumental sense. Apart from efficient writing habits, we hope that our students will develop insight into the social situatedness of writing, into the agency and the ethic responsibility that writing skills bring about. We could say that it is somehow our hidden agenda to make our students aware of these aspects of writing. And since our university certainly would not let us publish a learning video or a manifesto that explains the above mentioned social and ethical dimensions of writing, it seems that we have to hold on to creating logo-centric spaces in which we can transmit these dimensions in personal face-to-face conversations.  

This blog post is based on a presentation held on July 7, 2021 at the EATAW Conference.

References

Reckwitz, Andreas (2003). Grundelemente einer Theorie sozialer Praktiken. In: Zeitschrift für Soziologie 32 (4), 282–301.

Schatzki, Theodore R. (2001). Introduction: practice theory. In: Schatzki, Theodore R. et al. (eds.): The practice turn in contemporary theory. London/NY: Routledge, 1–14.

Author

Doris Pany-Habsa is the director of the Writing Center at the University of Graz, Austria. Originally trained in Literature and Cultural Studies, she holds a PhD in Romance Studies. Her research interests are interdisciplinary writing research, writing pedagogy and writing center work. Latest publications: Knaller, Susanne; Pany-Habsa, Doris; Scholger, Martina (eds.) (2020). Schreibforschung interdisziplinär. Praxis – Prozess – Produkt. Transcript; Pany-Habsa, Doris (2021): „,Wir Schreibbewegten sind ja frohgemut, daß wir Gutes bewirken‘. Zum kreativen Schreiben der Schreibbewegung“. In: JoSch 22 (02/2021), in press.

Lots happening with EATAW!

Firstly, their website was down and a new website is now up. You are being encouraged to renew your membership as the database was lost when the website went down. Go here to renew your membership: https://www.eataw.eu/

Secondly, their call for papers has been extended to February 7th. The theme is THE RESIDENCE OF WRITING SUPPORT (AND RELATED RESEARCH). Visit their conference site for details: https://www.eataw.eu/

A Message from Mimi Herman, Vice Chair, Association of Writers and Writing Programs Board of Directors

This was addressed to the board, but may be of interest to some of our members. This was posted to the EWCA board on January 15th, much too late for any savings from early registration or for calls for papers. Seems the main message was that the AWP has advertising space for sale, which might be of interest to some of you. Please, take a look. Some of you may be interested in attending.

Greetings from AWP—the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. We are the US’s professional association of creative writers and writing programs and represent over 50,000 individual writers, 550 academic creative writing programs, and 150 writers centers and conferences. I am reaching out to you today about our annual conference and bookfair, the largest annual gathering of creative writers in North America.

In response to the  COVID-19 pandemic, this year AWP is moving forward with all-virtual conference, 3-7 March 2021. This offers the opportunity for writers from around the world to participate. Our keynote speaker is US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. The conference will feature 250 readings and panels and over 20 featured events.

Held annually since 1973, AWP offers artistic exposure, professional development and access to opportunity for writers and teachers of writing at all stages of their careers.  For example, in 2019, writer Jasmin Iolani Hakes was able to attend her first AWP conference. “AWP changed my life,” she writes, “I got an email about submitting a general query to the agents that would be there through Writer to Agent.  I figured it would be good practice.  Three agents requested a meeting, and the third ended up being my unicorn.  My novel sold at auction in the fall and comes out with Scribner next spring!” 

This year, we’ve identified an exceptional online platform to bring the AWP experience into the virtual space. One opportunity of our new virtual reality is the ability to connect across great distances, and we very much hope writing organizations like yours might encourage participation from your members, building bridges between international writing communities.

I’ve attached the #AWP21 sponsor guide (find here:

(https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/schedule_overview)

which details packages that offer marketing benefits, cost effective registration packages, and exhibit spaces. We’d also like to offer you and/or your members access to special sponsorship packages developed for our institutional members that offer the ability for a large number of your students or staff to attend at a very reasonable cost. These are outlined below:

Sustaining Benefactor

$3,000 Package: 

30 Registrations 

Sponsor Listing on AWP’s website & conference platform

Sponsor listing in 4 issues of The Writer’s Chronicle

Additional 3 months post-conference access through 3 June 2021

Option for evening virtual reception

Sustaining Sponsor

$4,500 Package: 

50 Registrations 

Sponsor Listing on AWP’s website & conference platform

Sponsor listing in 4 issues of The Writer’s Chronicle

Additional 3 months post-conference access through 3 June 2021

Option for evening virtual reception

$950 Student-Only Add-On

25 Registrations 

Additional 3 months post-conference access through 3 June 2021

As an AWP attendee over many years, I can’t tell you what an enriching and rewarding experience this unique conference of creative writers truly is.  Please look over the sponsor guide and let me know if you have any questions or if I can help in any way. 

In the difficult times we are all facing, AWP is very excited to have the opportunity to bring the international literary community together for four days of extraordinary learning and exchange. Here is a link to the schedule of accepted panel events: 

https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/schedule_overview.

We will also be offering some VIP sponsor events and look forward to sharing those details. 

I hope you will consider how your organization and/or members might join us, and please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or if I can be helpful in any way.

With all best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

Yours,

Mimi Herman

Vice Chair, AWP Board of Directors

Spider Ghost Town

Dr. Joseph Essid, Writing Center Director, University of Richmond posts student essays about how the COVID-19 pandemic changed their lives on his Spider Ghost Town blog.

Students of Joe’s class undergraduate Writing Consultants training class “describe the hopes and trauma of what has probably been the most unsettling event in our scholastic lives. There’s a lot of good advice there for writings centers, as well as a record of a semester badly interrupted and a world changed.”

Find the link here. Enjoy the read.

2020 EWCA Conference Postponed


Dear EWCA Community:

Our Board met recently to talk about whether we should cancel or postpone the conference or whether we should try to hold an online conference. After a long and serious deliberation, the EWCA Board has made the difficult decision to postpone the Conference 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.  The date of the conference is too close, and we still cannot assure that it can go forward. Also, it is difficult to have a synchronous online conference as participants and members are from all over the world.

We feel very sorry, and we are also sad. We’ve been very much looking forward to  welcoming all of you to Graz and to create a space for our community to come together, to talk, to discuss and to celebrate.

We are planning on holding the conference in Graz in 2022. We considered holding the conference in 2021, but with everything so up in the air, it is not possible to predict whether everyone concerned would be in a position to travel by summer 2021. We intend to keep the same topic as was announced for the 2020 conference, so everybody who already had an abstract accepted is welcome to join us and to deliver their presentations, workshops or roundtables in 2022, exact dates to be confirmed. Others who were unable to submit for various reasons will have the chance to answer a call for papers that will be forthcoming by the end of 2021.

How to keep in touch?

We are a community of practice, and our community is very international. I fondly remember all the beautiful conferences and meeting people from all over the world. Meeting friends and sharing our knowledge, ideas and questions.

We have not met for a long time, so we are thinking about how we can keep in touch until we meet again.

We have the listserv, and we will soon open a new the Facebook group and we have our blog https://www.ewcacircular.eu/.  These are our digital instruments for keeping in touch.

We would like to share our stories and publish the stories in our blog: https://www.ewcacircular.eu/

We would like to invite everybody to present their writing center and to tell us a bit about your writing center and the challenges you are facing during the coronavirus pandemic. Please write a text for our blog, videos and pictures are also welcome to hand in. We will publish you story on our blog.

Please write to the board if you are interested in sharing a story: board@writingcenters.eu

Finally, the postponement of the conference poses another issue that we would like to address in this announcement. As you all may know, the election of the board traditionally happens every two years at the EWCA Conference. However, because we have not met since 2016 at the conference in Łodz, our Board and our Chair have are already been in office for four years . As we are unable to hold elections for the EWCA Board and EWCA Chair until 2022, we decided to work without a Chair, working as a unit instead as an ad interim committee (Lawrence Cleary, Franziska Liebetanz and Doris Pany) and we are also thankful to have Elif Demirel and Annemieke Meijer with us.

Warm regards, Franziska Liebetanz, Doris Pany an Lawrence Cleary

Special Edition of WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Stories and Reflections on the Impact of Covid-19 on Writing Center Work

The editors of WLN would like to create a space to gather and record your reflections and impressions on how Covid-19 has impacted your writing centers. We recognize the devastating impact that the virus has caused to writing centers as staff fall ill, budgets are cut, positions are furloughed. We do not yet know when or how this pandemic will end or what lessons we will learn, both in the short and the long term. But we are certain that writing center professionals will want to reflect upon, learn from, and understand how we experienced this moment and its impact on our services, users, and our futures. We also know that writing centers will prevail and in some situations emerge stronger with renewed clarity of purpose or strengthened value to the campus community.  For this special issue, then, we are interested in capturing your reflections on any potential positive outcomes that have or may emerge from the impact of Covid-19 plus new solutions, approaches, and/or strategies that have worked for you.

 We are inviting short submissions of 500-750 words from directors, tutors, and even frequent writing center users. Please submit them through the WLN website: wlnjournal.org, by August 1, 2020, and choose “other” as the type of submission.

 Here are some possible prompts:

  • How has your care for tutors and writers changed since COVID 19 emerged? What long-term effects of this care do you predict will last in your writing center?
  • What new methods, processes, or tools have you adopted that you would not have if COVID 19 did not occur? How has this changed the way your writing center now operates? How does this change impact the ways you will offer tutoring in the future?
  • What is the best outcome you have experienced from COVID 19? How has this changed you, your center, your tutors?
  • How has COVID 19 changed the way you educate tutors? Will these changes be temporary or long-term pedagogical shifts?
  • How has COVID 19, or thinking in terms of infection control procedures more generally, impacted your relationship to the physical space of your writing center?
  • When your writing center returns to its physical space, what will you change, add, or revise after experiencing being online as the only way to interact with writers? For example, will you add or continue to have online accessibility?

•     What has been your experience with online technology, and what would you recommend and why?

•     What tutoring adaptations have you and your tutors made when tutoring online? Why?

  • For writing center users: how has your experience with the writing center been enhanced through online interaction? Or how has the writing center helped you through the shift to online learning as a consequence of Covid-19?
  • If you have tested or used multiple platforms, such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, FaceTime, etc., what are the various advantages and/or disadvantages?

———————–

Muriel Harris

Professor Emerita of English
• Writing Lab Director (retired)
• WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship, Editor-in-Chief
harrism@purdue.edu

WLN Mentors Needed

Professor Chris LeCluyse at Westminster College, Utah, is organising mentors for writing centre staff interested in publishing articles about the work they do in the Writing Center Newsletter.

Professor of English at Westminster College, Utah

Chris writes: The WLN mentor match program is intended to bring writers working on articles for WLN together with experienced mentors who know a thing or two about writing center work and publishing. Mentors give feedback to writers submitting to WLN to help them develop articles for publication. Mentors actively engage in goal-setting with the mentee.  

Mentors also work with writers who may be interested in writing but aren’t sure what to write about or where to begin.  In other words, a WLN mentor does much the same work as tutors in a writing center.

If you would like to be a WLN mentor, please fill out the online application form at http://bit.ly/WLNMentorApp.

E-mail questions to Chris LeCluyse at clecluyse@westminstercollege.edu.

One thing in common: Our love for writing (consultation and centers):

Inaugural European Writing Centers Association Summer Institute 2019

Originally published in the SEPTEMBER 18, 2019 issue of SCHREIBZENTRUM VIADRINA

Writing centers are popping up worldwide. As more and more institutions of higher education see the need to support writers, writing and writing to learn, they are opening writing centers. However, those tasked with trying to establish writing centers, most often have to learn their business by doing and in relative isolation.

To provide professionals and academics within Europe who are seeking to develop writing centers a sustained opportunity for professional development, the European Writing Centers Association offered its first Summer Institute August 19th-23rd at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) in Germany, directly at the German-Polish border. Thirty participants from 16 different countries participated. They were invited and accompanied by five experienced Writing Center leaders from Germany, Ireland, and the USA.

Because a central aspect of writing center work is the philosophy of collaborative learning, the Summer Institute was designed to be a truly interactive and participatory learning experience. All topics were delivered to allow all participants to share knowledge and experiences with each other. Together with their leaders, they enhanced their understanding of the following topics:

.       Peer writing tutor education
.       Working with faculty and administration
.       Demonstrating impact: Writing center assessment and more
.       The Writing Center budget
.       Grant writing for writing center projects
.       Possible exchange programs (e.g. Erasmus)
.       Working with multilingual students
.       Writing center research and publication
.       Writing center sustainability

Participants also had ample time to network and to socialize as they walked together to our lodgings in a student hotel across the lovely Oder River that marks the border between Germany and Poland. They shared snacks from their home countries during our daily coffee breaks and spent time each day in small mentoring groups.

Collaboration on writing centre work

To celebrate our hard work at the closing of the Institute, participants created and staged writing circus characters in a Writers‘ Circus, “a very creative and great way to end our time together”, as a participant expressed it.

The feedback of participants was overwhelmingly positive and many expressed how they were looking forward not only to going back to their writing center work, but also to continuing the networking informally and through future summer institutes. The Summer Institute, one participant summarized, “showed me the incredible connections you make with people from all around the world, because we have that one thing in common: The love for writing – and writing consultations and centers!”

Feedback for European Writing Centers Summer Institute 2019

Annual Dartmouth Summer Seminar for Writing Research

Annual Dartmouth Summer Seminar for Writing Research

Save the dates! July 26 – August 7, 2020

Hanover, NH, USA

“The Summer Seminar was one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my career.” (previous participant)

A detailed announcement and the seminar application will be available by October 1st – applications due December 15th 2019—but here is a preview:

The 2020 Dartmouth Summer Seminar for Writing Research is designed for writing faculty from all types of higher education venues and contexts who are beginning to work on data-driven research about writing in a variety of higher education contexts, and who would like an intensive, high-powered two weeks to work on that research, review approaches and methods, consult directly with experts, and network long-term with a cohort of other researchers from around the world. Guided interaction about participants’ projects is offered in the months leading up to the Seminar. The Seminar itself offers a quiet, resource-rich environment, coursework, small-group discussion and exchange, individual consultation with Seminar leaders, time to work alone or in groups on research projects, and a concluding presentation to the group with feedback from team leaders. 

We encourage both individuals and research groups or teams to apply.

The Seminar coursework covers a range of topics, including data segmenting and coding, statistical analysis, effective literature reviews, research ethics, and so on. Special-interest topics are presented based on participants’ projects.

If you’ve been asking yourself any of the following questions, this is the seminar for you:

• How do I turn an interest into a viable data-driven investigation?

• I am very comfortable with my usual research approach, but would like to develop new data-driven research abilities; can you help? 

• What data do I collect for my research study? How do I collect them? 

• What should I look for when I analyze the data? What is the deeper phenomenon I am looking for? What is a good site for investigating it?

• I would like a writing research group within which to work—how can I find that?

• Everyone seems to be talking about “coding” these days—how can I learn more about it?

• What methods are the best for the questions I would like to answer?

• Where can I learn more about how to select a sample, how to create a worthwhile survey or interview, and how to calculate statistical significance?

• Should I conduct a pilot study first? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a pilot study (including funding)?

• Why does my research question keep changing?

• What’s the best way to present and publish my research?

Contact Christiane Donahue at Composition.Research.Seminar@Dartmouth.Edu with any questions. fffffffffffff