Every two years, the writing center community converges at the International Writing Center Association Conference and National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing. The 2010 conference is happening now (Nov. 4-6) in Baltimore, MD.
DePaul’s UCWbL is well-represented this year; we have 11 people attending and 10 of them are presenting.
On the first day, UCWbLers Tom, Javaria, and Margaret lead a discussion session on the complexities of what collaboration means and looks like in Writing Centers. They began by pointing to the ways in which collaboration challenges power dynamics within a tutorial, the idea of “peer,” and the engagement with minimalist and directive tutoring approaches.
Tom, Javaria, and Margaret’s presentation as well as the ensuing lively discussion, raised many provocative questions for me. Here are some of the ones that I think are particularly pertinent for Centers collectively and tutors individually to wrestle with:
1. How is collaboration in a writing tutorial similar to/different from the collaboration students encounter in the classroom and workplace, where they are more likely to collaborate on group projects where everyone is a contributor to the final product? In other words, to what extent is collaboration a process and/or product?
2. How does collaborative learning conflict with academic integrity policies? (The university I attended for graduate school had to change their academic integrity policy to open a writing center and to allow peer review in writing classes.)
3. What role does expertise play in collaboration? In the tutor/writer relationship, is one person in a more “expert” role than the other? And, if so, how does the perception of expertise alter the outcomes of collaboration?
4. When has collaboration gone too far? When hasn’t it gone far enough?
In the discussion portion, Jenny Staben, the Director of the Writing Center at the College of Lake County, suggested that collaboration is constantly constructed and deconstructed. Part of our challenge is to allow for a dynamic, fluid understanding and use of collaboration. I think, for directors in particular, the challenge becomes how to train tutors to be flexible in their implementation of collaborative techniques. When should they give more? When should they pull back?
Another intriguing comment came from Janet Gebhart Auten, who directs the Writing Center at American University. She shared that her tutors rebelled against the word “collaboration” to describe their work with writers; instead, they prefer the word “cooperation” and rewrote their handbook and materials to capture the change. I’m also so impressed to hear of moments when tutors take ownership of their programs and help shape the community’s identity.
One of my key take aways from this engaging session is that it’s important for peer tutor writing communities to discuss and debate the terms we often take for granted as foundational to our work with writers.
So, what does collaboration mean to you? What other terms should we revisit?
I will continue to post about the perplexing, complicating, and rewarding issues rasied throughout the conference. Stay tuned!