Lessons learned in Tallinn – a review on the EATAW Conference

A warm welcome

Welcome at the conference (Photo: EATAW 2015)

From 15.06-18.06.2015, the 8th Biennal Conference of the European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing (EATAW) took place in Tallinn. Hosted by the Language Centre of Tallinn University of Technology, 270 delegates from 40 countries were meeting to talk, discuss and work on a wide variety of topics in line with the conference theme of “Academic Writing in Multiple Scholarly, Socio-Cultural, Instructional and Disciplinary Contexts: Challenges and Perspectives”. Our Writing Center took part with eight delegates and as many contributions. With these, we covered a wide range of topics including visualisation techniques, multilingual writing groups, alternative writing assignments and tutor to tutor consultations. In this blog entry, some of our delegates would like to give a review on this event and to share their impressions, favourite contributions and insights from the conference.

Anne Kirschbaum

A promising future

EATAW conference, as always, was a great opportunity to meet people, to connect with colleagues and to learn about academic writing in other countries. It is wonderful to see how the European community that is dedicated to academic writing is developing. Representing a new generation of writing didacts, there were also many peer writing tutors at the conference. I was impressed how naturally they acted as colleagues and how self-confident and cleverly they were presenting. This shows that there is a promising future for the field of academic writing in Europe.

I heard a lot of stimulating presentations. For example, Julie Nelson Christoph from the Writing Center at the University of Puget Sound, USA, reported about her research on personal writing: What makes academic writing personal beyond obvious markers in the language of texts? She has investigated the academic texts of several researchers throughout their careers and then interviewed those researchers about their choices with regard to personal writing. A very inspiring workshop was held by Swantje Lahm from the Writing Center at the University of Bielefeld and Paul Anderson from Elon University, USA. They made us think about the local context of our work: How do politics, governmental decision, or local developments at our university foster or hinder our work? And how could we make use of this strategically?

As I was also presenting, I reported about a seminar based on the method of inquiry-based or research-oriented learning. Our students conducted empirical research to learn more about the quality-development of other students’ texts. Since this was a fascinating teaching experience for me and because I am very convinced of this method, it was great to have a broader audience for this topic. My other presentation was about our Writing Fellow program. Together with Stephanie Dreyfürst from Frankfurt/Main writing center and Franziska Liebetanz from our writing center, we were hosting a symposium about this topic. I was lucky enough to present preliminary results from an empirical study on written feedback that our Writing Fellows gave to other students. The study is a Master thesis, conducted by Jana Gutendorf, and I am really looking forward to reading and discussing the thesis later this year. It is so valuable to have intelligent students, that are so committed to writing center work that they dedicate their final theses to empirical research and contribute to this field. Jana’s thesis will help us to understand the Writing Fellow program in depth and develop support for written feedback on students’ texts. It will be published in our series “Schreiben im Zentrum”.

Katrin Girgensohn

Listening to the Keynote

Listening to the Keynote (Photo: EATAW 2015).

New ideas for establishing a fruitful tutor-tutee relationship

I am working as a peer tutor since the winter term of 2014/2015. One of the most important issues for me is establishing a good relationship between the student and the tutor in order to have a good basis for learning from and with each other, developing ones competences and seeing more perspectives of a discussed topic. That’s why I visited the impulse-speech “A working alliance: Framing the tutor-tutee relationship” of Monica Broido and Harriet Rubin from Tel Aviv University. It made me think about three essential issues to consider while having a one-to-one-session: a respectful and friendly partnership between tutors and tutees, an agreement on goals or expected outcomes and an agreement on activities and responsibilities, designed to achieve these goals. All these aspects are necessary for the work to be fruitful, balanced, and sustainable. At the beginning of each session, the tutor discusses with the tutee what he or she wants to work on. So during the consultation they are focused on what they want to achieve till the end of their meeting. This process of finding an agreement happens orally.

Furthermore I liked the idea of an activity that could be part of writing consultations: The tutor could go for a walk with the tutee in the case a student would like to do this to make sense of their thoughts. In my mind this is an appropriate and innovative way in order to combine ones mental and physical activity: When the tutee puts his or her legs in motion, the thinking process can also be innervated. Hence, new ideas for ones writing process and/or project can be explored, discussed and evaluated. This outdoor refreshment and different kind of conversation can lead to new thoughts. Besides during the talking process a certain level of mutual trust and connection can establish between the tutor and the tutee.

Diana Koppelt

Multilingualism – a valuable writing resource

As a peer tutor I was especially interested in other peer tutors’ perspectives on the field of supporting fellow students with their academic writing. That is why I will keep in mind the presentation of Özlem Alagöz-Bakan and Marco Linguri from the Writing Centers in Hamburg and Frankfurt/Main concerning multilingualism. Students coming from a language background that is different from the standard language in their academic surrounding are often regarded as problematic or in need of special support. Certainly, this can be the case and should not be underestimated.

However, Özlem and Marco support the view that this differing background can be a valuable resource for writing and that writers should consider their (foreign-) languages as a tool. They presented their small-scale study, in which students were encouraged to use different languages during the process of academic writing. In the preparation process, doing brainstormings, freewritings or other creative methods, this turned out to be easily adaptable. Not only bilinguals, but also monolingual writers used different languages within one text and found this fruitful.

What also became clear during the presentation is that multilingual-writing was not that easy for the non-creative, more formalized part of writing. One reason is that sources are read in one specific language, and the terms are not always easily transferable into another. But I do think that the use of multiple languages can still be very valuable. Why not translate an abstract into another language? The little insecurities and shifts in terms and language structure will provoke a reflection of what the writer actually wants to say. The text can than even be retranslated, in order to check how much the versions after being translated actually correspond. This method thus makes use of synonyms and the rich vocabulary pool of multilingual speakers.

But even languages that one has a lesser command of can be valuable: If a writer tends to write too widely and complicated, a peer tutor of writing might ask him or her to formulate in a rather insecure language, for example in French as learned in school. This can force them to express basic ideas and enforces the need to find synonyms. Just the fact that the writer is limited in his or her way of verbal expression can be fruitful to broaden perspectives on one‘s own text.

Pascal Bittner

Exploring logic and Estonia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn's old town

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn’s old town (Photo: Anne Kirschbaum).

The conference was a great chance to learn a lot more about Academic Writing and to connect with people from other Writing Centers in the world.

My colleague Anne Kirschbaum and I did a Workshop about Logic in Academic Writing. We were working on some basic argumentative structures like syllogism and logical fallacies. The aim of the workshop was to make more aware the logical structures most writers are already applying intuitively and to use this knowledge more consciously when producing their own texts. Related to this subject, I visited another interesting workshop conducted by Gamze Oncul from the School of Foreign Languages at Middle East Technical University Northern Cyprus, Turkey: “Teaching argumentation: The Toulmin model at work”. This Argumentation Model is based on the ideas of the British philosopher Stephan Toulmin. It is very helpful to plan and structure the different steps of an argumentative essay.

Besides the professional input, I had a great time with the other conference participants tasting Estonian food, listening to a choir singing traditional songs, trying to learn a few words in a lovely language-class and visiting the old town of Tallinn. All in all, it was an instructive and pleasant time!

Alma Klein

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