„One thing in common: Our love for writing (consultation and centres)“ Inaugural European Writing Centers Association Summer Institute 2019

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 where delivered to allow all participants to share knowledge and experiences with each other. Together with their leaders, they enhanced their understanding on the following topics:

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

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 centre 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 on thing in common: The love for writing – and writing consultations and centres!“

Feedback for European Writing Centers Summer Institute 2019

Writing Centers in Motion EWCA Conference 2014

Special welcome from Viadrina President Gunter Pleuger for participants from South Africa

Special welcome from Viadrina President Gunter Pleuger for participants from South Africa

Thank you all for this successful conference! It has been a great pleasure and honour to host you here at European University Viadrina on the river Oder, on the German-Polish border right at the heart of Europe. During our conference from July 19th to July 22nd 2014 we could welcome you, over 200 people from 36 nations, to present, discuss and share their thoughts, ideas and opinions about this year’s main motto “Let’s peer across Borders, Writing Centres in motion”. A motto encouraging us to cross all kinds of borders: the borders of our many different home countries, language and cultural borders and not least, the metaphorical borders of the different discourse communities and writing cultures. The motto further involved peering into writing centre work as an idea of collaborative learning: A method situated right in the centre of writing center theory and practice. With a pre-conference peer tutor day, a peer tutor presentation track, workshop track and keynote, we could also gather many peer writing tutors from all over the world and so make the conference a collaborative learning event. Especially our youngest researchers so had the chance to gain some experience at an international conference and to socialise with people from all over the world.
On four days the Campus has been busy as a beehive with writing enthusiast even though subtropical summer temperatures gave us a bit of a hard time. However, as our conference team and our many helpers provided everyone with water and refreshing tissues, no one bothered too much.
Many of you enjoyed the possibility to connect with one another at our idyllic Conference Barbecue at Ziegenwerder, well prepared against cheeky insects. Others joined a trip to explore the city of Frankfurt (Oder) or took part in our history trip to „Dokumentationszentrum Alltagskultur der DDR“ in Eisenhüttenstadt.
We hope you had a great time participating at the conference with the academical programme we provided and the leisure time activities, we offered to give you the possibility to relax in between. We hope that you could share your ideas and visions, got inspired by each other’s research, could enrich your networks and make some new friends.
The only thing left to say regards writing centers increasing importance across the globe, stressed by your many different home countries: A rising interest in our work can make us all proud and encourage our growing community to keep developing. We are strikingly in motion!

Please scroll down for some impressions from the conference our Peer Tutors would like to share with you:

The Contribution of Peer Writing Tutors to the sustained Development of Writing Centers

It was a huge honour for me to present the process and results of my empirical research for my master thesis as a keynote at the EWCA conference 2014. My research was on the subject

Participants could post each other messages in the "conference post office"

Participants could post each other messages in the „conference post office“

of “The Contribution of Peer Writing Tutors to the sustained Development of Writing Centres“ which I conducted from September 2013 till April 2014. I developed a prezi-presentation for the international EWCA 2014 audience focusing on the background information (research questions, aim, hypothesis, and research method), the research process (data collection and analysis) and the results. The presentation is available on request. The German speaking audience can find my master thesis published here: http://opus.kobv.de/euv/volltexte/2014/92/pdf/Masterarbeit_Poloubotko.pdf

I was very moved by the elaborate introduction of Dr. Katrin Girgensohn concerning my five-years work at the writing centre at European University Viadrina and my engagement within the EWCA as a researcher and board member. Moreover was I truly touched and overwhelmed by the positive response to my keynote presentation. The standing ovation still feels like a dream. It was great to have the support from all the peer tutors which I got to know at different (peer tutoring) conferences and during the European Peer Tutor Day 2014. It was really fantastic to be in charge of organising the Peer Tutor Day and a pre-conference event for exchange and networking among peer tutors from writing centres worldwide. (For more information on the Peer Tutor Day please see another blog article.)
Anja Poloubotko

A new Method for collaborative Writing

While we tend to think that it is difficult (or at least challenging) to write a piece of text together, a group of writing tutors from Goethe Universität at Frankfurt (Main) presented an

Keynote speakers Paula Gillespie, Brad Hughes and Harvey Kail

Keynote speakers Paula Gillespie, Brad Hughes and Harvey Kail

interactive workshop to experiment with a new, self-invented method. At first, we brainstormed about what collaborative writing means (for example working on the same text together, rather than writing a chapter each), and reflected on experiences, we may have had. Next, we shifted to the experimental part of the workshop: splitting up in groups of two, we received instructions to write a page of text in any style we would like (news article, diary entry, poem, fairytale…) about how we imagine our ideal writing centre to look like, therefore only using three main ideas. Key to the exercise was the time limit of 30 minutes, during which each pair of authors had to organise themselves around which type of text to write, writing the actual text and editing a final version.
When sharing our texts back in the group, we discussed our experiences and found that this method could come in useful for future collaborative writing projects. We were surprised to find that we were able to get a lot done in the short time provided!


Short Impression of the Workshop „When Tutor meets Tutor“

gd foyer

conference participants arriving

Being a Peer Tutor myself, I completely enjoyed taking part in the workshop. The two Workshop leaders started by explaining how the idea for pursuing this topic has come into their minds: At the Writing Center of the European University Viadrina, where both of them are working, it sometimes happened, that no student at all was attending the writing consultation. Hence they decided to use this time to have a tutoring session for and by themselves, i.e. a peer to peer writing consultation. They realised that this could be quite fruitful and interesting so they decided to share their experiences with us. During the Workshop we got together in pairs and had a peer-to-peer- writing consultation on our current writing projects.
In the end we summed up, that this is a really interesting experience due to our different backgrounds and due to the consciousness that we were consulting another peer tutor, who probably knew as much about writing methods and strategies as ourselves. It was different but really helpful!
Maike Tjaden

My Favourite Project

Keynote speaker Swantje Lahm

Keynote speaker Swantje Lahm

From all the interesting and inspiring presentations I listened to during the EWCA conference, there is one project I immediately thought of, when a colleague asked me to write a comment for this blog. The presentations name was „How I Write, Ireland“, a contribution by the University of Limerick in Ireland. It consisted of a series of interviews with prolific Irish writers in which the authors answered questions concerning both their individual writing process in general and the strategies they used to reach a particular writing goal.
The University of Limericks Regional Writing Center provides not only the interviews’ video recordings but further transcripts and possible outlines for a teachers lesson. That way, the interviews can be used as a learning tool by both, staff and students. Further, the Writing Center wishes to collect some data about how teachers use the interviews in their attempts to help improve students writing.
While giving information about the project in their presentation “How I Write, Ireland: Sharing the Experiences, Processes, and Strategies of Prolific Writers“, Lawrence Cleary and Aoife Lenihan were showing some sequences of the interviews. Even if these tiny snippets have only been providing the audience with small insights in the interviewees writing processes, they were really interesting for me. I was surprised to hear from professor Tom Moylan that he – after numerous published works – is still struggling with his role as a writer, feeling that his working-class background keeps him from really belonging to the scientific community he is actually writing for. This made me think of my own experiences as a student and a Peer Tutor: A lot of students feel insecure when discussing their writing projects with their lecturer – a person they expect to know everything, while they consider themselves to know nearly nothing. For this reason some of them choose to dismiss their own ideas and strictly follow the lecturers impulses instead. Doing so, they are disempowering themselves from pursuing their own style and developing new ideas and thoughts. Likewise, a lot of them, at times including myself, consider themselves to write for credit points only instead of writing for an academic audience. They simply feel to young and inexperienced to contribute to the world of science – following these trains of thoughts, a lot of them do not recognise the actual worth of their writing. In my view, this is a pity and I am sure that a lot of ideas get lost due to a lack of self-confidence from student writers. To show them that even their professors face similar problems during the writing process could be one way to improve students confidence with their work and to consider themselves as members of the academic community. At the same time, the project offers them the opportunity to hear about strategies that might help them during their own writing process. To conclude, I really like this project and I think the concept can provide students with a lot of ideas that are worth to think about.
Anne Kirschbaum

50.000 Wörter in einem Monat?!

Es ist November und das ist traditonell der Monat, in dem sich zigtausende Menschen aus aller Welt der Herausforderung stellen, einen Roman in einem Monat zu schreiben. Der National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo) kann sicherlich als das größte Schreibspiel der Welt bezeichnet werden – und als das erfolgreichste. Davon zeugen nicht nur die vielen Autorinnen und Autoren, deren im November entwickelten Romane mittlerweile von bekannten Verlagshäusern publiziert wurden, sondern davon zeugen auch die vielen, vielen Menschen, die den nanowrimo einfach als Inspirationsmonat und Kreativitätsquelle nutzen. Die von sich sagen wollen: „I am a writer. I write books.“ Und nicht: „I want to write a novel somtime.“

Im Schreibzentrum der Viadrina haben wir den nanowrimo schon öfter zelebriert. So boten wir als nanowrimo-space regelmäßig offenen Schreibraum für alle Viadrina-NovelistInnen. 2008 gab es im Schreibzentrum ein Seminar, in dem 15 Studierende Romane verfassten und 2010 versuchten wir uns sogar gemeinschaftlich an einem Viadrina-Krimi, für den wir mit 14 Leuten einen Plot entwarfen, den wir dann im November aus verschiedenen Perspektiven ausschmückten.

In diesem Jahr versuche ich zum ersten Mal, den nanowrimo als akademischen Schreibmonat zu nutzen. Dieser Versuch hat verschiedene Ursachen. Zum einen hat nanowrimo-Gründer Chris Baty als Keynote-Speaker bei der Konferenz der European Writing Centers Association 2012 einmal mehr gezeigt, dass literarisches und akademisches Schreiben mehr Gemeinsamkeiten als Unterschiede haben, wenn man den Schreibprozess betrachtet. Zum anderen hat das Schreibzentrum der Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main in diesem Jahr den November einfach zum Academic Writing Month erklärt und nutzt den nanowrimo dafür, Studierende und Promovierende in einem Schreibmarathon zu unterstützen. Und dann gibt es auch noch ganz persönliche Gründe: Ich komme momentan noch weniger als sonst zum akademischen Schreiben. Wir etablieren an der Viadrina gerade Peer Tutoring in verschiedensten Bereichen und arbeiten dafür im neu gegründeten Zentrum für Schlüsselkomptenzen (Arbeitstitel) eng mit dem Career Center, dem Zentrum für Interkulturelles Lernen, dem Sprachenzentrum und den Fakultäten zusammen. Das ist ein spannendes Projekt, über das wir demnächst an dieser Stelle mehr berichten werden. Es ist aber auch sehr zeitaufwändig und so lagen die Forschungsergebnisse meines USA-Aufenthalts auf Halde. Das ist schade, denn die 16 von mir geführten Experteninterviews mit Schreibzentrumsleiterinnen und -leitern sind nicht nur bereits transkribiert, sondern auch schon systematisch kodiert. Was nun anstand, war eine intensivere Beschäftigung mit den Daten und ein schriftliches Festhalten meiner Zwischenergebnisse. Die intensivere Beschäftigung läuft bei mir nur über Schreiben – das weiß ich aus früheren Forschungsprojekten. Daher also der Versuch, es mit dem 50.000-Wörter-Limit von nanowrimo zu versuchen, um mir die Zeit dafür bei mir selbst zu stehlen.

Und es funktioniert! Ich vermelde stolze 20.002 Wörter in 11 Tagen, knapp 40 Seiten. Dass es so gut funktioniert liegt auch daran, dass ich Zitate einfügen kann aus meinen Interviews und daran, dass schon viel gedankliche Vorarbeit beim Kodieren gelaufen ist. Ich merke aber auch (mal wieder), dass das schreibende Denken in Gang kommt. Ich stelle Zusammenhänge her und entwickele Ideen, die nicht entstanden wären, wenn ich mich nicht ans schreibende Denken gemacht hätte.

So funktioniert es zur Zeit bei mir: Ich beschreibe die Kategorien, die ich beim Kodieren meiner Daten entwickelt habe. Ich stelle zunächst einfach dar, was ich da aus den Daten entwickelt habe. Durch das Beschreiben entstehen dann neue Einsichten. Darüber hinaus erlaube ich mir, schriftliche Selbstgespräche zu führen. Unter der Überschrift „Forschungsjournal“ schiebe ich Passagen ein, in denen ich darüber reflektiere was ich gerade mache oder wie ich voran komme (oder auch nicht voran komme). Diese Wörter zähle ich mit und das ist gut so, denn meistens entwickele ich dadurch nochmal neue Ideen. Zumindest aber motiviere ich mich zum Weiterschreiben.

Kurzum: Für zumindest einen Monat im Jahr ist der nanowrimo für mich eine Möglichkeit, die Schreibzentrumsarbeit mit dem eigenen Anspruch an kontinuierliches Schreiben zu verbinden. Zur Nachahmung empfohlen – ob literarisch, biografisch oder akademisch!

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