Over spring break, Writing Center Coordina-tor Rebecca Disrud took a long-awaited trip to Christchurch, New Zealand. While there, she spent a day touring the University of Canterbury (UC) campus and talking with Angel Nicholson, Team Coordinator (aka Director) of the Academic Skills Centre (ASC).
In spite of the name, the ASC functions much like American writing centers, and like the TLC, is housed on the second floor of the library building. The space includes several enclosed offices for the “peer learning advi-sors” (writing consultants), and a common area that bustles with students using the common computers and study spaces just outside the Centre.
In an academic year divided into twelve week semesters, UC students are allowed ten 40 minute writing conferences per year, but can also access an “on-call” (drop in) service for an additional 20 minutes per week—a big difference from UW Tacoma students’ ability to book up to one hour per day for writing consultations (although few actually use that much time). Rather than employing peer tutors and professional staff as is typical in many US writing centers, the ASC employs six “learning advisors” with graduate degrees (most have Ph.D.s). Alt-hough Nicholson was intrigued by the peer model, she implied that their centre prioritiz-es a very high level of expert instruction, and intentionally seeks out candidates from across disciplines – humanities, social sci-ences, and hard sciences.
In their work with students, these learning advisors focus on “process” and “analytical skills” rather than “content,” Nicholson said, noting that content was the professors’ job to teach. Interestingly, she implied that most of the professors spent little if any class time teaching writing form (e.g. literature review), so the ASC had developed “courses,” or workshop series, on topics like crafting a thesis, writing a literature review, etc. Their approach to tutoring parallels that typically found in US writing centers, prioritizing high-er-order concerns over style and mechanics, though they—just as we do—address those issues with students, as well.
Like a growing number of writing center ad-ministrators in American universities, ideas of equity and access for all students are also on the minds of those at UC—particularly in terms of first-generation students, racial minorities, and other groups who may not be as prepared for the academic rigor of the university as those who are white and mid-dle-class. Nicholson noted that the Maori and Pacifica students had a much lower student-advisor ratio than other students (for referrals to academic support services), and that these students also had reserved hours in the ASC.
Unlike American writing centers (especially UWT) who act to support and supplement what professors are already doing in their curriculum and classrooms, the ASC—with their highly professionalized staff and a fac-ulty focused on teaching content rather than writing processes—seems instead to be im-plementing writing across the curriculum for themselves. The ASC also employs teaching programs that go far beyond one-on-one tutorials or classroom workshops. They offer “embedded sessions” that are like in-class presentations that advisors tailor to each course, as well as something they call “pods,” or small student-formed groups meant to supplement their classroom edu-cation.
Although the ASC at the University of Canter-bury and the TLC here at UW Tacoma both opened in 2001, they are constantly chang-ing in response to the growth of their respec-tive institutions, a changing student body, and new and changing needs of faculty, using both data collection and reflection on experience. Here from the vantage point of their 16th anniversaries, it will be interesting to see what the future brings for both institu-tions.
~Rebecca Disrud and Margaret Lundberg