Nationally, the approach to communication is changing, and many on-campus writing centers have made the switch to tutoring different forms of communication rather than just writing, Writing and Rhetoric Center Director Dawn Janke said.
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The Writing and Rhetoric Center plans to expand its services to help students communicate on different platforms, not just with writing.
The ultimate goal is to create a multi-literate center, where students can brainstorm for an assignment, get feedback on outlines and essays, unpack hard data, practice presentations and receive help on multiple levels, Writing and Rhetoric Center Director Dawn Janke said.
“It’s not just the written word anymore; it’s how written modes of communication interact with other modes,” Janke said. “A lot of writing experts these days are focusing on how — because technology shapes culture and shapes communication so strongly these days — we really need to expand the ways in which we help students communicate effectively.”
Currently, the Writing and Rhetoric Center focuses on writing, but aims to help students realize skills they have — beside grammar and punctuation — that will translate to other aspects of their lives, lead tutor and English senior David Llamas said.
“It tends to go beyond what professors are looking for on an assignment sheet, to go and provide them things beyond the classroom,” Llamas said. “We have an all-encompassing way of looking at the way students communicate, more ideas than getting an A on that paper.”
But nationally, the approach to communication is changing. Many on-campus writing centers have made the switch to tutoring different forms of communication rather than just writing, Janke said.
“A lot of what we call ‘multi-literacy centers’ are popping up, or writing centers are morphing into those kinds of centers, and I find that to be quite intriguing,” Janke said. “And I think it’s an important move, that our center is looking to evolving into that kind of space.”
A center focused on developing multi-literacy would help students work on skills not necessarily taught in their majors, University Librarian Anna Gold said. Some students might be proficient at analyzing data, but unable to translate and communicate it effectively, for example.
“I think the key is that not all students are equally literate in the same skills,” Gold said. “Our challenge in the library and Dawn’s challenge is to make sure that all of those skills are developed at a strong, basic level across all of our students, because they’re all important.”
Developing those skills would make students more valuable in their classes and future careers, Gold said.
“The kinds of jobs that our students want are going to be complex jobs,” she said. “They’re going to be complex socially, in terms of problem-solving; a blend of awareness and communication skills are going to be needed.”
Students can’t only focus on their particular field; in the increasingly competitive job market, Gold said students will have an edge if their knowledge spans many forms of communication.
“You can’t be that person who never learned how to do that thing, because you’re going to be sidelined,” she said.
The evolution of the Writing and Rhetoric Center, however, will take time, money and space — which are all in high demand on campus, Janke said.
“It takes a different infrastructure and a different training program, and all kinds of things that we might not exactly be prepared for tomorrow,” Janke said, “but I think that that is the direction in which we’re hoping to move.”
Writing and Rhetoric Center tutors are trained through a 4-unit upper-division English course, which mostly prepares them to help with essays. Recently, Janke, who teaches the course, has been introducing the potential tutors to the concept of multiple literacies. She said they are apprehensive but excited about the possible change.
Janke said she has talked to other units on campus that might be willing to share their expertise and help the center evolve in the future.
Kennedy Library currently shares space with the Writing and Rhetoric Center to provide additional hours for tutoring, and they are looking to make that partnership more permanent, Gold said.
“We are exploring whether a more long-term, permanent, more expansive space for the writing center in the library is architecturally possible, programmatically possible,” Gold said. “Without having surveyed our users, if space were not an issue, we’d leap to this and say, ‘This seems like the right thing to do.’”
“If we had some sort of green light that said, ‘Here’s your space, here’s your money, go have fun,’ it would happen,” Janke said.