Writing Centers in Unlikely Places
One of the sessions I went to at the IWCA/NCPTW conference in Minneapolis featured Carol-Ann Farkas of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Susan Mueller of the St. Louis College of Pharmacy talking about the writing centers they direct in the relatively unusual setting of pharmacy education. I feel an allegiance to this topic because Carol-Ann is my successor at MCPHS, and the six years I spent there certainly taught me a great deal about writing across the health-care curriculum, about being a liberal arts faculty member at a non-liberal-arts institution, and about starting a writing center from scratch.
I've had the opportunity to write some about my experiences at MCPHS, including a piece on the history of writing at that institution, which you can find here at the LLAD archives. That was also my first foray into archival work, a kind of research that has pretty much taken over much of what I do for scholarship, whether that's tracing the history of particular writing centers or of students' use of writing to learn laboratory science. At the time of my research into MCPHS's history with writing, I was newly hired and wanted to get some grounding in the institution itself (you can see a timeline of writing at MCP here), as well as some idea of the precedent for work that looked like writing center work. That college has been graduating students since 1869, and I figured somewhere along the line someone made the move to help students become better writers through one-to-one tutoring. Thus, this piece of institutional history, which I initially wanted to use to broaden my knowledge and to communicate to faculty who were responsive to precedents, became more than a public relations ploy. I like to think of writing center research that way: what might start as a fairly simple attempt to answer a practical question or come up with some strategy can broaden into a piece of writing that's of interest to a wide audience. Another variation on this strategy is how much of my current research on the history of writing centers has broadended to encompass the history of the concept of laboratory methods of teaching, whether that means teacher-student conferences, science laboratories, or any other "experimental" approaches to teaching and learning. It all starts with writing centers, for me, one of the most enduring experiments in teaching at any educational level.
Tomorrow I'll end this week's blog entries with some idea of what I have learned about the history of teaching science in laboratory settings and how strikingly parallel that history is to the teaching of writing one-to-one. It all adds up to the idea of a writing center/writing lab in some places we wouldn't normally associate with those practices.