By Franziska Liebetanz –
Last year we have had a great opportunity to improve and to develop our Writing Fellow Program at the European University Viadrina. In 2007, Katrin Girgensohn founded our Writing Center. At this time only a couple of universities in Germany had Writing Centers and one was now located next to the Polish border in Frankfurt (Oder). In 2011 she went to the USA to visit American Writing Centers; mainly she spent her time at the Writing Center of the University Wisconsin-Madison. From Madison she brought the idea of a Writing Fellow Program back to our Writing Center. Due to our Mission statement, we thought this writing program in the disciplines would be a good contribution to our work.
Our mission statement says
The Writing Center is the umbrella institution for all activities that deal with the key competences of ‘writing’ at the European University Viadrina. It supports students and graduate students alike to communicate with confidence and persuasion, using writing as a medium for critical thinking. All writers, experienced as well as unexperienced, benefit from conversations about writing processes and texts. (https://www.europa-uni.de/en/struktur/zsfl/institutionen/schreibzentrum/Writing-center-mission-statement.html)
Writing Fellow Program
We believed that a Writing Fellow Program would enrich writing in the disciplines and the dialogue between students, teachers and writing fellows. Writing Fellows at our Writing Center are BA and MA tutors in writing who get an extra education in written feedback and writing across the disciplines. They fellow selected courses of each department at the Viadrina. They give written and oral feedback on two writing assignments for every student of a specific course. After the students revised their first draft, the teacher gets the revision and they can look over the first draft, the feedback and see the development of each student. Besides this process, the writing fellows and the teacher of the course are in contact, talking about the writing assignments, about writing in the disciplines and about writing in general. For more detailed information, please look at: http://wac.colostate.edu/atd/fellows/
Back to the History of our Writing Fellow Program
I would like to share our work process concerning our Writing Fellow Program. In Germany, the History of Writing Centers is still young and so we are still adopting writing-intensive programs from US American writing centers and we still have many programs to discover. Thanks to our cooperation with the Writing Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we could set up the first Writing Fellow Program at a German university in 2013 with the Writing Center of the Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main. After Brad Hughes, the director of the Writing Center of the University Wisconsin-Madison, and Stephanie White came to Germany in 2013 to introduce the program, we first started with a pilot project in cooperation with the faculty of Law at our University. A young and very engaged teacher worked with one writing fellow to improve their students’ skills to write a law brief. She was very happy content with the results and this successful cooperation confirmed our resolution to start a Writing Fellow Program across the disciplines at our University.
The last three years our Writing Fellows worked with the three departments of our university: the faculty of Social and Cultural Sciences, the faculty of Business Administration and Economics and the faculty of Law. After three years of work we have the impression that our Writing Fellow program fosters the collaboration between students, fellows and teachers, that our program integrates writing into the teaching and even more- that our Writing Fellow program gives the faculty, and in particular the teachers, the chance to see what our work is about. Suddenly it seems they understand our writing center work and philosophy. It feels like someone opened our eyes.
On one hand, it is not a surprise because the teachers are part of the Writing Fellow program and they work closely with the Fellows; they can see their student’s improvement in writing, they can talk about their teaching of writing and they have a partner to think about their writing components and their writing assignments. On the other hand, we always put much effort in explaining our work and we just didn’t expect that our Writing Fellow program will help so much as it does. I would say it is one big strength of the program to create understanding, to foster communication and collaboration between students, fellows and teachers concerning writing in the disciplines. It fosters the understanding of each other’s work areas. Our wonderful fellows already worked with a wide range of courses. They have been working with BA and MA students, with deans, professors and teachers. Our evaluation shows that the Writing Fellow program is a success. Of course, we also have to deal with challenges. Our program is an adaptation from the Writing Center of Wisconsin-Madison and thus strongly related to the Brown University model. To talk about the successes and challenges would also be an interesting topic but I would like to explain why the last year was such an important one for our Writing Fellow Program.
2015–The Year of Multiple Collaboration and Cooperation
In 2015 my colleague Anja Voigt returned back to work as the coordinator of the Fellow Program. She already did a great job translating all the materials we got from Brad into German for our intern use. She also had to adapt the materials and working processes for the context of our University and so somehow into the German education system. I would like to give one example that shows how writing center work could differ by different education system. In Germany BA and MA students have to write a “Hausarbeit”. It is a typical genre in Germany, similar to a research paper, with a research question and a method. A “Hausarbeit” is about 15 to 25 pages long. It called “Hausarbeit”- “Homework” because students normally are writing it during the semester break at home. So we have to make sure that this genre “Hausarbeit” will be included in our Writing Fellow working process and so this has to be represented in our materials.
Thanks to Anja’s excellent work, I knew I would have time to concentrate on developing our program in a wider range. We already had a very strong and well-working cooperation with the Writing Center of the Goethe University Frankfurt Main, especially with Stephanie Dreyfürst who is coordinating their Writing Fellow Program. We developed many materials cooperatively; we were discussing our experiences and we thought this program might be of benefit for other writing centers in Germany.
Fortunately, in 2016 we won together an award from the “Stifterverband”, a well-known German initiative, with our Writing Fellow Program. “Stifterverband is a joint initiative started by companies and foundations – the only one in Germany to be devoted entirely to consulting, networking and promoting improvements in the fields of education, science and innovation” (https://www.stifterverband.org/english). We got a lot of publicity and therefore the Writing Fellow Program was recognized beyond our two Universities. Our entire Writing Center team was very happy and this award was not only important for my colleagues and for me but also for our fellows. It is always an honor to receive an award and it makes you acknowledge your own work. This honor from outside the university triggered our energy to continue with our work. As you can imagine it is always a big pleasure to start a new program but it also means hard work for everybody.
Being Part of an Alliance Beyond the University
A few months later Stephanie Dreyfürst and I received the message that we obtained a grant for our Writing Fellow Program to be part of the community of practice “Bündnis LehreN”. This Alliance consists of the following institutions: ‘Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft’, the ‘Joachim Herz Foundation’, the ‘Nordmetall Foundation’, `VolkswagenStiftung` and the ‘Alfred Toepfer Stiftung F.V.S.’ LehreN is “Focusing on academic teaching. Providing platforms for the systematic exchange of experiences between protagonists with a long-term involvement.”(http://www.lehrehochn.de/en/das-buendnis/ziele/).
During the course of the year we have spent four sessions at a couple of days in a wonderful house close to the Baltic Sea. We improved our Writing Fellow Program and our cooperation. For example we shared our evaluation results, talked about what is working well and we talked about our challenges, we compared our materials and developed together new materials. We thought about ways to transfer our project to other universities in Germany. With participating colleagues from other universities and their excellent projects, we learned so much about transfer processes, communication and reform work at universities. I am very thankful for this opportunity and I appreciate the participation as an important step for my profession.
Part of the program was also a visit of our mentor. We have had a very experienced, professional and helpful mentor. He is the former president of the University of Bremen and the former Vice-president of the German rector’s Conference. In 2012 he received an award as ‘University Manager of the Year’. He came to our writing center to talk with the fellows, my colleagues and with the faculties. He taught me about politics at universities, which was indispensable for establishing our Writing Fellow Program.
During this time Stephanie Dreyfürst, Anja Voigt and I decided to publish our materials and experiences. We started to write a guide in German about the Writing Fellow Program. Our aim was to give other writing centers the opportunity to set up a Writing Fellow Program easily. So far, we have finished our first draft and we hope to publish the book this summer or autumn. We also developed an evaluation we could use at multiple universities to do research about the program and to be able to compare our results and do research.
Visiting Our Colleagues in the USA
Another event in 2015 contributed to the improvement of our program. I received a grant from LectureN and VW to travel to the US, to visit the Writing Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and to join the IWCA Conference in Pittsburgh.
I spent some wonderful time with my colleagues in Madison. Simone Tschirpke accompanied me, Stephanie Dreyfürst visited as well and Anja Poloubotko came from the Multilingual Writing Center.
We spent over a week visiting the Writing Center in Madison. It was a great and inspiring time. Brad was a wonderful host and he let us take part at so many writing center courses. We could talk to so many people: especially the writing fellow coordinators, the teachers who worked with writing fellows and with two fellows. For me it was fascinating to see: even though the program has already been running for years, our American colleagues seem to have the same enthusiasm about the program as we have. In Madison, they have many fellows and they work with many courses. It is a very well working program and I was even more convinced about continuing the program at the Viadrina.
At this point, I would like to thank everybody I met at the Writing Center in Wisconsin- Madison. I met so many very smart, friendly and warm people and I always felt welcomed.
Thank you so much for the wonderful time. It was a very sunny autumn and I remember walking with Brad around the campus talking about the University, sharing our experiences about Writing Center work and the Writing Fellow Program. I was very touched by Brad’s hospitality and his interest about our writing center, our university and us. Our writing center friendship began in 2011 when Katrin Girgensohn went to the US to do her research about writing center work. She was mainly at the writing center of Wisconsin- Madison and since this time, we have regular contact with the writing center of Wisconsin- Madison. I was very keen to meet all the people, to meet Brad again and to see the writing center and the university. Katrin shared a lot about the wonderful time she spent there with me. For me it was very interesting to see how such a big Writing Fellow Program could work. At the Viadrina it is much smaller; currently we work with six courses. Thanks to my visit, I got many ideas and I developed concepts about the structure of a very extensive Writing Fellow Program.
We also were visiting the Center for Writing-based Learning at the DePaul University in Chicago and the UW-Milwaukee Writing Center and the Norman H. Ott Memorial Writing Center at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During these visits, we also got so much inspiration about writing center work and about developing our writing fellow program. I would like to thank my colleagues in Chicago and Milwaukee for the inspiring conversations we had.
For setting up and developing our Writing Fellow Program, many aspects have been very helpful. First, I like to mention the cooperation with the Writing Center of Wisconsin. Thanks to Brad we have got all the materials we could work with and develop. We could always ask him for advice, we could visit his writing center to speak to all the writing fellow experts and we could observe the Writing Fellow Program. A big help is also the cooperation with the Writing Center of the Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main.
We share our materials and experiences. We develop materials and articles cooperatively. I would recommend an intense collaboration with another writing center, because you can reflect on your work more easily, and if you work together you can share and you don’t have to develop everything independently. The interest about our Writing Fellow Program from outside the university was as well very helpful. We could meet experts to talk about our program; we obtained help to develop it and to transfer our program to other Writing Centers. For example, the International Writing Center of the Georg August University in Göttingen will start a writing fellow program this year. A very well working team at my Writing Center was indeed the biggest part of the success of our Writing Fellow Program. I would like to say thank you to Anja Voigt, Simone Tschirpke, Katrin Girgensohn and to all the wonderful fellows.