Literature Review

Writing Center professionals recognize the importance of helping to shape important conversations about writing and have responded in three ways: reaching out to colleagues across the curriculum; moving their work out into the community; and responding to writers' needs by extending services to cyber and digital spaces.

Working Across the Curriculum

The practice of collaborating with administrators and colleagues across the curriculum has been identified as being so essential to the work of writing center directors and scholars that an entire chapter of The Writing Center Director's Resource Book is dedicated to the concept. Lauren Fitzgerald and Denise Stephenson include advice in this chapter about how to talk to university administrators and faculty about the writing center's mission and how the writing center can (and cannot) help students. Carol Peterson Haviland wrote as early as 1985 that "Writing Center staff need to discover how their colleagues perceive writing and what functions of writing they want to incorporate into their existing courses. And, these discussions must continue frequently and candidly, in both the design and the implementation stages, to make certain that the projects are truly departmentally-based and are appropriate to the discipline" (6). This concept is so central to the current mission of Writing Centers that The Writing Center Journal re-ran Haviland's article in a 2003 issue. Other Writing Center directors have responded to this need to collaborate with their inter-disciplinary colleagues by creating programs to fit specific needs. For example, Janet M. Lucas intervened on behalf of L2 nursing students who were systematically failing out of the nursing program due to language problems. Lucas developed a series of faculty workshops to increase awareness of "of the idiosyncrasies of our language, how difficult it is to learn, and especially some of the differences between local and global concerns." She argues "writing center professionals would do well to consider providing more services than writing assistance. Support focused only on writing decontextualizes and compartmentalizes it into something separate from study skills, speaking skills, cultural knowledge, and identity construction. Providing ancillary support in these areas and especially with on-campus professional development opportunities for faculty to better understand ESL students, nursing or otherwise, re-imagines the writing center as not only a neutral space but as a liaison between faculty and students." Similarly, the Writing Center at the College of New Jersey sought to shape the conversation on writing taking place in the University's School of Business by collaboratively creating a writing manual for its students. The guide included, according to Diane Gruenberg and Nancy Lasher, "business writing format, types of writing used in business (analysis, evaluation, and synthesis), grammar and correctness, academic honesty and ways to avoid plagiarism, campus resources, and sample grading rubrics." And Sherrie Gradin, Jennifer Pauley-Gose, and Candace Stewart collaborated with a colleague in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to create a graduate writing group "in order for (those) students to begin developing their own rhetorical and writing abilities."

Working with the Community

Like the Texas HOPE Literacy Project mentioned in our webtext, writing centers have also placed themselves outside the university and directly into the community to meet the needs of writers not affiliated with or able to get to the university. Many Celebrations of Writing have extended those celebrations from the confines of campus to the towns and cities in which they are situated (The Denver Day on Writing; The Commerce Week on Writing in our own hometown), and Community Writing Centers are popping up all over the country. Elizabeth K. Rodacker and Kay Siebler started a center for the teaching of English Language in a community garden in Lincoln, Nebraska. They say of the writers their center serves: "This population desperately needs improved reading and writing skills so that they can make improvements in their lives and communities. How can these gardeners/students obtain these necessary language skills when many refugees/immigrants have inflexible work schedules and take non-credit evening ESL classes? Because these students didn't have a writing center at their disposal, they needed the writing center to come to them."

Working Online

As Joyce Kinkead and Jeanette Harris remind us, "the future of writing centers will, of course, be affected significantly by changes in the students they serve. Commuting, non-traditional, and technologically sophisticated students will increasingly demand distance-learning opportunities and online access to instruction, while larger numbers of international students will require ESL instruction. Thus, the writing centers of the twenty-first century will undoubtedly be more reliant on technology and need more second-language acquisition specialists." Most writing centers have responded to their call in the last five to ten years and have created online services that we see as being part of this activist spirit. Entire collections of scholarship have been devoted to the creation of Online Writing Centers (Inman and Gardner's The OWL Construction and Maintenance Guide) and the theorizing of such services (Inman's Taking Flight with OWLs: Examining Electronic Writing Center Work; Hobson's Wiring the Writing Center). Scholars are extending these conversations of opportunities for "wired writing" both for the use of technology to assist students with traditional texts and to work with students on digital or multimodal texts. On the issue of multimodal texts, Richard Selfe writes that writing centers (or as Dickie says, "Multi-Literacy Centers—MLCs") have a potentially important role to play in shaping the way the English studies disciplines attend to new literacies, new literacy environments, and the people who stream through our institutions. I believe that what MLCs have to say to English studies will be well received in disciplines across the humanities and the university. (116)