NEWCA 2020

April 4-5, 2020
University of New Hampshire, Durham

Writing Centers as Communities of Practice

Discussions about community often involve a focus on consensus. In writing centers, this can include an emphasis on uniform practices, texts, and values, often within the context of their own institutions. At the same time, many writing centers develop practices that aim for subversion and develop their own “communities of practice” apart from the academic institutions where they might often be housed. 

In Around the Texts of Writing Center Work: An Inquiry-Based Approach to Tutor Education, our keynote speaker, R. Mark Hall describes communities of practice as having “a history of shared goals, meanings, and practices. They constantly reproduce themselves as newcomers join the community, take up its practices, and, eventually, replace old-timers. In this way, communities of practice are dynamic systems” (19-20). The tension between consensus and subversion contributes to the system’s growth, but may also disrupt our traditional understanding of a community as always harmonious.

At NEWCA 2020, we will consider how the term “community of practice” can challenge long-standing ideas of and deepen our conversations about the concept of community. We want to explore how (or whether) community can exist beyond and across institutions, and how those communities and practices may be defined. We want to face the ways our deeply-held notions about writing, our alliances, our identifications create multifaceted and sometimes unrealistic expectations of community and collaboration. We aim to explore the “dynamic system” of communities of practice in and beyond the boundaries of our own centers and in relation to other communities.

Questions to consider
We invite you to explore, challenge, and/or re-imagine conceptions of community and/or practice from a variety of stances:

Separate writing centers

  • How do writing centers define themselves as a community? OR What defines a community in a writing center context?
  • How does your center define “valued practices”? How do we come to those values within a community?
  • How have your center’s valued practices changed over time? Why or why not?

Individual and group identities within your writing center

  • How do communities define themselves through their practices?
  • How do individual identities develop and change through a community of practice? How are communities of practice shaped by individual identities?
  • How are group identities developed, secured, and/or challenged through communities of practice?
  • How does the community of practice change because of individual identities?

Other institutional partners (libraries, content tutoring, faculty, departments, administration)

  • How do we communicate our value within the institution?
  • In what ways do constituencies on your campus share or challenge your center’s values/goals/mission? Are these communities in conflict, in harmony, or both? What happens at these intersections?

Community partners outside of campus (community programs, other schools)

  • How do we develop sustainable partnerships off-campus?
  • To what extent do our communities of practice connect across arbitrary institutional boundaries?
  • In what ways do community partnerships share, extend, challenge, or change the ways we view our institutional values/goals/missions?
  • If you are part of a community writing center, how have you defined your goals and practices?
  • How could the work of non-profit organizations and community activist groups, outside of writing center work, inform writing center work?

Other institutions

  • How do local communities of practice distinguish themselves from their peers?
  • What expectations are placed on us locally in connection to other types of institutions? (Two-year/four-year, research/teaching, private/public)

NEWCA and other affiliates of IWCA

  • How do we continue to challenge and develop, yet sustain, our sense of community across regional and national professional organizations?
  • Do our professional organizations continue to reflect and develop the values and goals of the field?

The fields of writing centers and writing studies

  • How do writing centers and writing studies intersect and inform each other? In what ways do theories align and/or conflict from one field to the other?
  • How do wider notions about what we value in writing center studies influence individual communities of practice?
  • In what ways do writing centers create community through their methodologies? Do our methods for research create or further fragment our sense of community

Proposals Due: December 9, 2019 by 11:59pm