Imagining and Developing Writing Centers: A Reflection on SWCA-KY 2013
What does a writing center look like? Does it look like rows of tables and desks? Couches? Computers and projectors and marker boards? Does it look like Legos and Play-Doh and glass walls and Ab-Ex décor?
The Noel Studio at Eastern Kentucky University does. This was the site of the SWCA-KY Statewide Fall 2013 conference, which I attended on Friday September 20th along with the rest of the U of L Writing Center delegation. Fitting that we should spend our day in a space that brings that aforementioned question to life, because broad questions of what a writing center looks like—in terms of space, technology, methodology, and campus finance—were on everyone’s minds.
Our ADs Adam, Ashly, Jennifer, and Jessica delivered a presentation on the U of L Virtual Writing Center, which serves students and faculty via email consultation or video chat. The description of our online pedagogy was not new to me, but it was really cool to hear staff from other centers weigh in. We discussed the challenge of identifying and addressing each writer’s needs without seeing a face or hearing a voice. (You can read more about our VWC here.)
In another session I attended, we discussed research questions on topics such as why students visit writing centers, how to increase visitor numbers, and how to best measure writing centers’ success. I spoke to one man who was part of team in the process of developing a writing center at Hazard Community and Technical College in Jackson, Kentucky; we discussed how a writing center can best serve the needs of students from disadvantaged economic backgrounds who are interested in trade-programs, nursing, and technical writing. The conference administrators encouraged all of us to develop our research ideas and submit abstracts for the SWCA regional conference in February 2014.
The conference’s keynote was a conversation with Kentucky singer/songwriter Daniel Martin Moore and EKU-alum/producer Duane Lundy, who discussed the collaborative aspect of creativity. Along with a few songs, Moore shared his thoughts on what makes for the best time and space for writing. If you’re in a hotel room in Costa Rica and the muse descends, Moore said, it’s time to clear your schedule and focus. Lundy, on the other hand, described the importance of creating a safe environment for experimentation and creativity while making records at his studio, Shangri-La. The two agreed that sometimes it’s best to take hold of whatever creative spark the situation offers, and sometimes it’s best to engineer the space and atmosphere to your advantage. They also discussed how technology has made the process of creating music much easier—that could mean smart phone recording apps, pitch-shifting programs, and even moveable walls. Drawing parallels between collaboration in the music studio and collaboration in the writing studio, Moore and Lundy emphasized that all creativity has its genesis in the bridges that art builds between people from different times, communities, and experiences.
In sum, I found that writing centers all over Kentucky are asking the same question—what should a writing center look like? How does technology fit in? How can we ensure our place in the university’s budget? How do we meet the needs of students from all economic backgrounds? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we change the perception of a writing center from fix-it-shop to build-it-studio? At EKU, it looks like comfy chairs and bright colors. At U of L, it looks like iPads and an increasing online presence. What does it look like at your writing center?