Pencil or pen : the permanence of the writing center on the accountability watermark
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT REQUEST OF AUTHOR.] University writing centers have been around since the 1970's with the intent of assisting students in conducting writing assignments for their matriculation through college. The writing center paradigm has remained a program in the shadows, a condition which left the writing center to view itself and its tasks within its own belief system. However, in the advent of higher demands for matriculating students to be able to write within this global context, the writing center has become a key focus of both administrative personnel and the general populace who voice their demands through the form of educational policy. This study, using a Utilization Focus Evaluation (UFE) structure, contributes to writing center pedagogy through focusing on two primary objectives. The first element sought to discover whether the Southeast Missouri State University Writing Center was a student-services program or a learning-centered program based on its labor skill differentials and associated policies. References to technocratic characteristics throughout this research are identified within post-secondary education programs as student services whereas the use holistic characteristics are identified as a learning-centered approach in the postsecondary program vernacular. An identification of the Writing Center could then serve other writing centers at various institutions in determining their own identity since the writing center paradigm is consistent through all institutions. The second primary objective was to determine how the Writing Center was perceived by its user-constituents. This constituency was broken down into two categories: internal and external user constituents and then further categorized as direct or indirect user-constituents within the internal or external category. This study contributes to writing center discussion by examining perceptions of how the writing center is identified both internally and externally. This approach discovers areas of conflict between how the writing center program sees itself and how it is viewed by the population that interacts with it. These two primary elements became the cornerstone of discovery as they most accurately reflected the overall concerns of primary and secondary stakeholders involved in the UFE. These concerns were further broken down into five primary research questions which were then correlated with UFE procedures. From this correlation, three primary research methods were applied to gather data that would serve to address the two primary objectives and the associated stakeholders' concerns while providing representation of all user-constituents within the study. These three methods included historical documentation, single-focus observation, and dialogical-focus group interviews. Formative and summative committee input methods served as supplementary methods to the three dominant methods as a means of increasing reliability of the study. Historical documentation included an analysis of all written policies directing the Writing Center, as well as documentation regarding the Writing Center's planning and execution, including self-evaluation reports and specific forms and accountability reporting generated by the Writing Center. The single-focus observation method served this study in recognizing continuing patterns of interaction within the Writing Center as well as an opportunity to study both the cultural and physical aspects of the Writing Center facility. Dialogical-focus group interviews provided informal group input regarding perceptions of the Writing Center by encouraging open dialogue that was analyzed through descriptive analysis and coding techniques. The emerging perceptions were then compared to the findings resulting from the historical documentation and the single-focus observation methods to increase reliability of the resulting findings and recommendations. These findings and recommendations resulted from this study's focus upon the five primary research questions and the two overarching primary objectives that demanded the UFE strategy for accurate determination since the program was already in motion. The discussion of accountability played a major role in this research because accountability practices and associated pressures would have a strong affect on writing center identification. Internal self-identity as a learning-centered program is clearly challenged by external user-constituent perceptions that view the Writing Center as a student services program. Data analysis emerging from all three of the primary methods indicate that in terms of Writing Center procedures, environment, and interactions between Writing Center staff and University students all bear a student-service technocratic perception. This condition led to the key finding of this study and influenced the recommendations that conclude this study. The existing debate within the writing center paradigm as to whether the traditional ideal view or the pragmatic view is correct, will not address the actual situations that post-secondary writing centers face as accountability factors increase due to more attention regarding post-secondary student writing skills. Therefore, this study attempts to bring the debate out of its academic realm and introduce an understanding of writing program identity and the influence of use-constituent perceptions that can be applied toward program modifications. This study offers the conjecture that in order to generate a uniform learning-centered holistic perception that exists within the internal writing center program, the Writing Center will have to adopt a strong student-services approach in order to achieve a perception and identity that is both internally and externally harmonious.
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