Writing centre colloquium: first of its kind in South Africa

Posted on October 21, 2019

Writing centre colloquium: first of its kind in South Africa

Adelia Carstens and Avasha Rambiritch

 

The first writing centre in South Africa was established approximately 20 years ago at the University of the Western Cape. Since then, a number of other universities have established centres for writing support. The Humanities Writing Centre in the Unit for Academic Literacy at the University of Pretoria, which was established in 2014, is probably one of the youngest additions to this community of praxis.

The Unit for Academic Literacy felt the need to bring the members of this community together in one room to discuss challenges and successes in writing centre work, and to heed the call by various international writing centre scholars for research-driven practice.

A Scholarship of Teaching and Learning grant from the University of Pretoria enabled Prof. Adelia Carstens (Director of the Unit for Academic Literacy), and Dr Avasha Rambiritch (Head of the Humanities Writing Centre), to host a colloquium on the topic of Tutor training: the relationship between theory, lore and practice. History was made in that it was the first colloquium in SA to bring together writing centre directors and consultants from eight universities around a theme of common interest and concern: the University of Pretoria, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University, the University of the Western Cape, the University of Cape Town, the University of the Witwatersrand, and North-West University.

Colloquium delegates

The Colloquium was officially opened by the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Professor Vasu Reddy, who strategically positioned the colloquium within the framework of the University’s language policy and the 100th commemoration of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria.

The keynote speaker of the event was Professor Terese Thonus from the University of Baltimore in Maryland, in the USA. She adroitly connected the primary strands of the colloquium theme into her presentation titled Connecting research and best practices in tutor training in US and global contexts. Prof. Thonus emphasised that one way to think about crafting a tutor training program begins with the question, ‘What is a successful writing tutorial’? She added that “once the question about success is answered, centres can engage in backwards design to create appropriate tutor training programmes for specific contexts”. The presentation by the representatives of North West University demonstrated clear links with this theme.

The focus of the other presentations on the first day included the changing and diverse needs of students and the alignment thereof with the roles and identities of writing consultants (Wits); the need to account for the affective dimensions of postgraduate study in the training of writing tutors (Rhodes); showcasing how action research is a powerful tool for consultant training and development (UCT); intentional and apprenticeship training through participation by consultants in (disciplinary) communities of practice (UWC), which was summarised in the talk of the CPUT representatives as “onto-epistemological becoming which agentifies students' knowing, doing and being”; accommodating theory, technical issues, practice, and assignment-specific information sessions in tutor training, within a social justice framework (Stellenbosch); and demonstrating through systematic analysis of video-recorded consultations, using a frameworks from linguistic pragmatics) that directiveness in tutor talk is not the villain it is made out to be in much of the writing centre literature –  it can and does often stimulate cognitive elaboration around writing in tutees (UP).

The second day of the Colloquium was devoted to group discussions from which desiderata for tutor training in SA could be distilled. Dr Xena Cupido (CPUT) led the discussions, using the ‘World Café’ facilitation strategy. The questions answered by the various groups as they moved from station to station were focused on the knowledge and strategy needs of tutors; the internal and external priorities that inform tutor training; a delimitation of the community of praxis; theories informing tutor training; and types of research needed to answer these questions.

   

The keynote speaker of the event was Professor Terese Thonus from the University of Baltimore in Maryland, in the USA. She adroitly connected the primary strands of the colloquium theme into her presentation titled Connecting research and best practices in tutor training in US and global contexts. Prof. Thonus emphasised that one way to think about crafting a tutor training program begins with the question, ‘What is a successful writing tutorial’? She added that “once the question about success is answered, centres can engage in backwards design to create appropriate tutor training programmes for specific contexts”. The presentation by the representatives of North West University demonstrated clear links with this theme.

Prof. Terese Thonus (Picture by: Mrs Retha Alberts)  

 

The focus of the other presentations on the first day included the changing and diverse needs of students and the alignment thereof with the roles and identities of writing consultants (Wits); the need to account for the affective dimensions of postgraduate study in the training of writing tutors (Rhodes); showcasing how action research is a powerful tool for consultant training and development (UCT); intentional and apprenticeship training through participation by consultants in (disciplinary) communities of practice (UWC), which was summarised in the talk of the CPUT representatives as “onto-epistemological becoming which agentifies students' knowing, doing and being”; accommodating theory, technical issues, practice, and assignment-specific information sessions in tutor training, within a social justice framework (Stellenbosch); and demonstrating through systematic analysis of video-recorded consultations, using a frameworks from linguistic pragmatics) that directiveness in tutor talk is not the villain it is made out to be in much of the writing centre literature –  it can and does often stimulate cognitive elaboration around writing in tutees (UP).

The second day of the Colloquium was devoted to group discussions from which desiderata for tutor training in SA could be distilled. Dr Xena Cupido (CPUT) led the discussions, using the ‘World Café’ facilitation strategy. The questions answered by the various groups as they moved from station to station were focused on the knowledge and strategy needs of tutors; the internal and external priorities that inform tutor training; a delimitation of the community of praxis; theories informing tutor training; and types of research needed to answer these questions.

Colloquium delegates

After feedback had been given by the five group leaders, the participants took part in a “harvesting” session, where they freely responded to the questions ‘What stood out for you?’;  ‘What surprised you?’; and ‘What do we need to follow up on?’.

The responses to the survey conducted at the end of the Colloquium demonstrated the delegates’ appreciation of various dimensions of the colloquium, as well as their enthusiasm for similar future events dealing with topics such as researching writing centre practice, and writing centre policy and practice in multilingual contexts.

- Author Prof Carstens and Dr Rambiritch
Published by Sannah Gomba

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