On October 16 to 19, 2019, over one thousand peer writing tutors, writing center directors, and other parties interested in writing center theory and practice attended a the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) in connection the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) annual conference. These two distinct conferences are usually held separately, by occasionally come together to further promote the work of writing centers and peer tutoring in writing.
Peer tutors from Wittenberg University in Ohio, not only had the opportunity of attending the joint conference, but also took part in pulling it off, since their writing center director, Mike Mattison, was NCPTW’s chief conference planner. Below are reflections from four of the Wittenberg peer writing tutors.
I am a sophomore at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. I am currently an English major and I intend to add a major in Communication and a minor in Journalism. I am an advisor at Wittenberg’s Writing Center, which is ultimately what led me and my fellow researchers to the IWCA-NCPTW Conference this October.
For the conference, I would say that my main goals were to present, obviously, as that’s what we were there for, but also to learn more information relevant to our research topic. Though our research is mostly complete, I personally wanted to go to sessions that related to our topic in order to hear what others are saying about it, and to see if there was anything we were missing or anything we could add to our research. Many of the sessions I attended had to do with synchronous and asynchronous tutoring, but the writing centers that do asynchronous tutoring do not do it in quite the same way as we do, so there was less direct correlation. One thing I learned from a session that stood out to me was about power dynamics. It got me thinking, how do power dynamics look different in asynchronous tutoring, and specifically in our way of doing asynchronous tutoring? Does this have an effect on writer agency, a topic we worried about because of our definition of effectiveness? This is something I’d never thought about before, and I think it would be useful to look into.
Another thing I learned is that even if you end up at a completely random session, you will still get something out of it. Emily and I went to a session with three presenters with very loosely related topics, and it was easily the most interesting one I went to of the whole conference. If my memory is correct only two of the three scheduled presenters actually showed up, but this didn’t matter. One of the presenters was a high school teacher and writing center director who discussed all of her different roles and the overworking of not just her, but most Chicago public school teachers. I hadn’t even known the Chicago schoolteachers were on strike, so this presentation was eye-opening.
One big aspect I noticed at not just this conference but the other writing center events I’ve been to (ECWCA, the Naylor Workshop) is the friendship and comradery that abounds. Everyone is friendly, kind, and helpful, whether they’ve met you before or not. It truly feels like a community. You can meet and have a conversation with someone once, and the next time you see them that connection is not forgotten. I feel like I have mentors and friends I could reach out to, and I am very appreciative that I’ve had the opportunity to go to multiple writing center events and build these connections.
My time at the 2019 IWCA-NCPTW conference was filled with tasty frittatas, valiant swim attempts (yes, I found out the hard way that the pool was closed), and some really wonderful conversations with some of the brightest minds in the writing center community. As an undergraduate researcher and writing center tutor, I continue to find myself baffled by the receptiveness of writing center veterans in panel sessions and in casual conversations. It would be remiss of me to not acknowledge the few times where I stood back and wondered if I was authorized to be voicing my opinion in this field that is still very much new to me. However, I cannot stress enough the powerful way hierarchy was diminished at this conference. Not only did veterans invite my commentary, but it was clear that these folks seriously valued the input I was able to give, regardless of the time I have spent in a writing center.
As a college student who is graduating next school year, this conference also helped me consider possible avenues for future employment. I am currently an English major and, prior to the conference, I was unsure of what my minor would be. After attending a very well-organized workshop on Journalism in writing centers, I have decided to take a few Journalism classes next semester in the aspirations of possibly pursuing that subject for my minor. Additionally, through my experience conducting research for this conference, I have decided that I would like research to be an aspect of my future job. Getting to develop my future career alongside individuals praised for their scholarly achievements has truly been a humbling experience for me.
At the conference this year, I was also blessed with the wonderful opportunity to showcase the research I have been conducting with my co-researchers and my writing center director. Not only has this experience enabled me to grow tremendously as a writer and as a tutor, but our research into the effectiveness of comments in asynchronous email sessions has put my co-researchers and I alongside other famed writing center researchers exploring elements of online research. Being able to analyze the benefits and drawbacks of asynchronous and synchronous sessions with writing center directors and other undergraduate researchers was one of my greatest take-aways from this conference.
Finally, even though I am from Columbus, this conference allowed me to develop a deeper appreciation for the city I call home. It was so wonderful to watch folks from all over the world get to experience some of the restaurants and scenery I have had the privilege of enjoying since I was a little girl. It takes a powerful team to host a conference of this magnitude and I can confidently say that I have nothing but the highest respect for all of those involved in the process.
IWCA-NCPTW 2019 was my second writing centers conference, and for a second-year undergrad, that’s pretty impressive! Not to toot my own horn or anything—just an acknowledgement of the whirlwind introduction I’ve had to the field of peer tutoring in writing. And, throughout it all, I’ve felt so welcomed in this community. From chatting with people during panels to meeting big-name authors, this conference offered me opportunities to expand both my knowledge and my interest in writing centers as well as build connections—who knows, they may come in handy someday.
Just like I was at my first conference, ECWCA 2019, I came out of IWCA-NCPTW amazed by the sheer breadth of topics people are exploring within writing centers. It seems like a narrow domain: peer tutoring in writing. But the conference offered a metric ton of panels, workshops, and posters looking at our work through every topic I could think of—and more. From the Lesbian Avengers to the complete restructuring of the writing classroom, the panels I attended gave me more to think about than I ever could have imagined.
In a lot of the sessions I attended, I felt fairly out of my depth; sometimes I even felt like the presenters were speaking a completely different language. But that language, which was often from a discipline I’m not familiar with or a facet of writing center literature that I, in my year and a half in the field, simply haven’t encountered yet, was revealed to me throughout the presentation. For example, in one of my favorite sessions, I learned about the intersection between students’ literacy and the assemblage of mundane objects that signify their circumstances. Before that panel, those would’ve been a bunch of mumbo jumbo words, but I left with reading recommendations and interest in a topic I hadn’t even known about until that very moment. And the best part: that session wasn’t even a presentation of research. It was a precursor to it, in which the presenter talked through the ideas she’d had through working in a couple of different writing centers and how they might eventually become research of some sort.
Those presentations, the ones that were powered simply by the inspiration that someone felt, were some of my favorites, and they illustrate to me again the openness of the writing center community. Just as writing centers work with student writers on brainstorming as much as on final drafts, IWCA-NCPTW welcomed proposals of all varieties. Some, like Jay Sloan, came with fully collected and analyzed data, prepared to discuss results and implications. (Side note: Attending Jay Sloan’s presentation was hands down one of the coolest moments of my life to date. Not only did I get to exist in the same room as one of my writing center and queer theory heroes, but I also heard him present data from a study I participated in!) Other presentations came in medias res, showing us the messy, time-consuming, evolving process that research truly is. And some people came simply to talk through ideas and inspirations they’d had in the centers—showing the growing that this amazing field is doing right under our noses.
Thanks to IWCA-NCPTW, I have a better idea of not only the breadth of writing centers but also the possibilities available for anyone who has even thought about a career in writing or academia, especially me.
I attended and presented at the 2019 IWCA-NCPTW conference in Columbus, Ohio in the middle week of October. Although this was my first IWCA-NCPTW conference, I have never experienced a convention quite like this one, and I would recommend attending a conference of this magnitude to anyone and everyone.
The conference lasted a total of five busy days- all of which were jam packed with speeches, interactive sessions, lectures, poster presentations, networking opportunities, and even a musical! Because there was so much to do and so many people to talk to and in the heart of Ohio, I honestly had a hard time deciding where I was going to spend each hour of my time. Since I was going to be presenting at the conference about the impact of Wittenberg’s scholarly program First Year Research Award, I was curious as to whether or not other schools had programs similar to my university’s, and if not, if I could spark the flame for schools to follow suit by discussing the benefits of the program and my accomplishments that came because of it. I am the type of person who loves to have options, and this conference’s spread definitely had a lot to pick from, so I knew I was going to find the right sessions for me and my interests. I just wanted to be around people who had the same passion and curiosity for writing center work that I do.
One session that I attended during my conference experience was, “The Art (and Heart) of Replication: A Small College Writing Center, PW-TARP, and the Benefits of Alumni Outreach” and it was presented by a director and students at Transylvania University. This presentation showcased what it meant to be able to recreate a study done by experts in a smaller scale setting as well as discussed the treatment and training of current and former tutors. While they were analyzing their case, they mentioned that something that was extremely important to their past and present tutors were their wages, which only existed if the student-tutor had a session penciled in. As a tutor who does get paid by the hour and not the session, I could not believe that this was reality for other students. There is so much time and effort that tutors spend inside the center doing productive work that it is completely unfair for them to not be paid. However, after the heated debate and disbelief settled in the room, everyone understood that it was a function of politics and power, and one solution could be to have incentivized programs where students can work with professors on cases and research, which in turn may increase university retention rates. Although I had knowledge and personal experience with the topic of this discussion, anyone who was in attendance did not have to have the professional background- just the passion to make writing centers better places!
Writing center focused conferences, like the IWCA-NCPTW, give people a chance to discuss where writing centers are now and a platform to plan the path for the future. It made me incredibly proud to be able to contribute to the current conversations and to be a part of the betterment of something that helps others to become stronger individuals.