Report from the 2014 IWCA Conference


The 2014 IWCA conference, held this weekend at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, Orlando Florida, was titled, appropriately enough, "The Wonderful World of Writing Centers." And much like DisneyWorld itself, it demonstrated that each kingdom contains its own sub-kingdoms, intersecting and connecting.

There is, for example, a world of writing center studies that focuses on high school writing centers. Amber Jensen, the IWCA Board representative for secondary school writing centers, brought 40 juniors and seniors from Edison High School to the IWCA--and they provided 6 presentations on their own research! There were several reports from high school writing center directors and tutors who brought to my mind the unique circumstances of these writing centers. Things that we don't have to think about in universities, like state testing and email access for students, consume a lot of effort for these pioneering writing center directors. Christine Crockett, of Claremont McKenna College, and Denise Stephenson, pointed out of of the cultural differences of High School Land. But just because this High School Land has its own risks and rewards, that doesn't mean it has no impact on college writing centers. For instance, Amber asked a general group of writing center directors, "How many of you would like to have tutors coming into your centers who already have experience with peer tutoring?" Yeah, sign me up for that monorail connection to High School Land.

Another exciting land that connects with our undergraduate writing centers is Writing Program Land. Doug Downs and Michelle Miley, both of Montana State University, joint presented about their institution's history of both the writing program and the writing center and the way that grants, directors, deans and mission statements tangled up their territory and responsibilities. Doug and Michelle meet weekly at a coffee shop to discuss their shared objectives and how to coordinate effectively. The term they have coined for this kind of work is "collaboricity" a portmanteau of "collaboration" and "reciprocity," in the sense of being, not boundary-less, but reciprocal in determining what those boundaries might look like. They stress the importance of avoiding the urge towards "intervention without invitation" in dealing with the many agents of writing at the university: WPAs, WAC coordinators, department objectives for writing, first-year composition programs, etc. Creating open, reciprocal relationships with this land is part of making the writing center part of the happiest place on earth.

A land that nestles, perhaps, inside of Writing Center Land is Training Land, and there were many excellent presentations about the importance of training. Patricia Morelli of the University of Hartford connects Training Land with Writing Program Land, because she has to provide training for ALL STUDENT TUTORS (!) in principles of professionalization. Our own Alanna Bitzel, from the athletics department, gave us a taste of some of distinct possibilities of this land when she discussed the importance of what she calls "process records"--self-reflective reports that her consultants do to create links between what they've done, why they did it and how they feel about it. Emery Ross, who gave a fascinating report on Metanoia, also supports the role of reflection in training, particularly, the reflection on missed opportunities to capture kairos.

There are many other lands we saw evidence of at the conference, including Educational Psychology Land, Sensoria Land, STEM Land, Identity Land and Affect Land, and, as in all great amusement parks, there was a sense of disappointment by the end of the conference that there wasn't enough time to explore all of these lands fully. Don't worry, though; we'll get the season pass.