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Waxing Academic

After attending a few writing center conferences (both at the national and regional level), I see a startling trend. It seems writing centers have abandoned our pedagogy. Let me explain.
Think for a moment of the cornerstone values of writing centers: peer to peer interaction, discussion based learning, lots of probing questions, etc. Now, recall how many writing center conference sessions are run: lecture. Case in point: at the last conference I attended, three of the five the sessions I attended we lecture (one of them even consisted of the presented just reading from her work). If 60 percent of the sessions I attended we lecture, that means half the sessions had NO interactive learning in them. Clearly, these sessions are a stark departure from writing center pedagogy. Just imagine if we worked with students the same way we work with each other at conferences, never letting the writer speak and dictating all the answers!

I would think that our pedagogy ought to be reflected in how we run our conferences, which means I believe writing center conferences should be highly interactive: work shops, small group discussions, chances to challenge the ideas shared. One thing that struck me about the last conference I attended was how quite it was, which means no one was talking. If anything, writing center conferences, if they are displaying writing center pedagogy, should be one of the loudest places in town due to all the conversation!

So why do writing centers abandon our pedagogy when we get together at conferences? A good friend of mine thinks it is because writing centers, traditionally marginalized by academia, are attempting to appear more “scholarly” in the eyes of the university, and thus adopt academic rhetoric in the form of lectures. I offer a challenge to writing centers; instead of waxing academic, I propose we stick to our pedagogical guns. Studies consistently show lectures are one of the least effective learning environments; why not run our conferences in a way that best fosters learning – in interactive sessions?


  1. This is an issue I've been contemplating quite a bit because I feel the same way. I would love to go to a conference where each session was run in the style of the facilitator's writing center. I think you're right that much of it has to do with conference culture. But perhaps there are folks out there who really value the lecture style in conferences. I'm curious about some other perspectives...


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