May 2, 2014

The Writing Center, Social Networking & Communities of Practice

In The Everyday Writing Center, the authors couch the everyday disruptions of writing centers within the context of Etienne Wenger’s community of practice to suggest “the ideas and concerns that may have once belonged to or originated with one of us [become] collective matters or moments of possibility” (Geller, Eodice, Condon, Carroll, and Boquet, 2).  Such collective moments of possibility can also extend outside the traditional, face-to-face borders of the writing center via social media platforms like Twitter and blogs. While The Everyday Writing Center focuses on traditional in-center interactions, this article extends the conversation outside these borders and suggests that writing centers might utilize social media like blogs and Twitter to create, build, or support writing communities of practice. Centers can envision a new sense of the writing center: one that engages in the practice of writing on a much larger scale and emphasizes the value of writing as a social practice.

The Writing Center, Social Networking and Communities of Practice

Etienne Wenger describes a community of practice as a group of people that share interests, crafts, or professions. Wenger mentions that through the process of sharing information, those associated with the community exchange ideas to develop their own understanding and knowledge about a particular practice.  Communities of practice can exist in many spaces, whether online or onsite.

Wenger defines the structure of communities of practice as adhering to the following three components: (1) domain, (2) community, and (3) practice. The community of practice has a shared realm or domain of interest. Within the domain, members of the community engage in what Wenger calls “joint activities” and share information that “enable them to learn from each other” (Wenger). Interaction amongst participants is responsible for fostering community, not simply the dissemination of information. The community of practice must be practitioners who develop a “shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice” (Wenger).

Communities of practice can also manifest in an online environment, beyond geographical or physical locations. Wenger advocates that online communities of practice might increase the “possibilities for community and [call] for new kinds of communities based on shared practice” (Wenger). If communities of practice can function in an online capacity, then social networking might provide a platform for communities to exist, especially within the writing disciplines. Social networking allows individuals with similar interests and/or expertise to share knowledge and further practice within a domain-centric community. Practitioners of writing thrive via social networking, and connect via blogging and Twitter to discuss and promote writing as a process, craft, theory, teaching, tutoring and more.


Blogs align with Wenger’s idea of a community of practice since they support a domain (topic); generate a community of subscribers communicating through comments, and share relevant content within a profession or niche. The PCCC Writing Center blog publishes posts that discuss writing best practices such as WAD, WAC, writing center theory, and writing instruction best practices. For example, the blog post “Better Writers, Not Just Better Writing–Even Online,” explored how writing centers supports online writers through online tutoring, LibGuides, and portfolios (“Better Writers, Not Just Better Writing–Even Online”). The blog post also asks its audience to comment on how they were making decisions on writing center policy, procedure, and even budget, as it applied to supporting students online.

The blog also promotes guest posts by outside practitioners of writing and writing center theory such as writing center directors, tutors, publishers and traditionally published and self-published writers across genres. Typically, an email is distributed via the writing center listserve and a call for submissions is tweeted through the Twitter stream. Rather than wait for people to submit ideas for guest blog posts, reaching out to experts in the field is also a way the blog produces guest spots. “An Interview with Muriel Harris,” in which Harris talked about the Purdue OWL best practices, its humble beginnings, and what's next for the online lab received 709 views within one week of posting, and brought an unprecedented amount of traffic and credibility to the blog (“From Local Center to Global OWL”).

In addition to offering tutoring tips within the walls of the center, the blog allows the Writing Center to create content relevant to writers across the spectrums. In February 2013, the PCCC Writing Center partnered with Claudia Serea, a Romanian-born poet, to develop the first annual National Writing in Translation Month (“National Translation Month”). Serea edited a month-long series about the craft of translation and included poetry translations from Romanian, Arabic, Persian, Russian, and Bulgarian. National Translation Month fostered communication with scholars beyond the college’s community, and opened the conversation about writing to writers across genres. Traditionally, writing in rhetoric and composition asks its audience to enter into a conversation. Such conversation promotes a community of practice in the sense that it allows social interaction between writer and reader, playing on the traditionally social nature of the writing process.

The social nature of the writing process allows for a community of practice to prosper via blogging. Kathleen Kitao and Namie Saeki talk about the social nature of the writing process in their article the “Process and Social Aspects of Writing: Theory and Classroom Application.” Both Kitao and Saeki suggest that writing emphasizes an “initiation-response-evaluation pattern of discourse between teachers and students” (86).  The process approach to writing includes various stages of revision in an effort to create meaning for an intended audience: the reader. The reader and writer are in a dialogue where the writer expounds meaning and the reader translates and internalizes meaning. Hence, writing is a social process (Kitao and Saeki 86). Both parties are engaged in all three aspects of a community of practice: (1) shared interest in process, (2) a community of writers involved in the process, and (3) clear practice of the writing process. 

Blogs allow for that same type of conversation only to a larger audience of practitioners within the writing community thereby transforming ideas of traditional theory and supporting the social nature of writing. Before the idea of blogs even existed, Eric Crump observed that MUDs might transform “our thinking about relationships, our connections with and affinity to others, and the influence and persuasive power of online communities on how we think” or view traditional theory (Crump 177).   For example, in a recent guest blog post, Diane O’Connell, a veteran New York publishing professional who had a successful career at Random House, wrote about crafting compelling characters when writing novels. While this post might seem outside the realm of writing center related content, it may generate student and community interest in writing as a craft and creative endeavor as opposed to a simple academic requirement.

Blogs also decentralize the writing center as Melinda Baer suggested in her article “Using Weblogs in Your Writing Center.” I agree with Baer that blogs transform the idea of physical space, allowing students, faculty and tutors to participate in “writing centers’ discussions on their own terms” (2). Blogs permit writing centers to make information available and accessible at any time and in one concentrated space even after office hour’s end. Baer adds that such availability and accessibility of content eliminates “excuses for not participating” in writing center discussions (2).

Blogs promote the exchange of ideas, which is reflected in its content and accessibility. The more writing centers communicate to the larger community, the more meaningful the conversation (about writing) becomes with writers across spectrums contributing to the conversation. By varying blog content and creating a common space for discussion, writing centers might show they are open to an exchange of knowledge not limited to tutoring writing, but to the methodology and pedagogy of teaching writing, the writer’s craft (creative and critical), and professional writing thus becoming a part of an expanded community of practice.

Final Thoughts

Social networking is riddled with writing centers looking to delve outside the boundaries of the center and the classroom. Writing centers can take advantage of social networking to build a writing community of practice, thereby promoting their value, claiming their space in a global community, and reinforcing writing as a social process. Muriel Harris wrote in her article “Preparing to Sit at the Head Table: Maintaining Writing Center Viability in the Twenty-First Century” that in order to maintain our viability “we have to look beyond our campuses to see where the rest of the world is headed” (13). While she wasn’t referring to social media, she does suggest that writing centers look outside their boundaries to determine opportunities for intellectual and physical expansion. Social media allows writing centers to contribute to center scholarship and discussion beyond physical space as well as connect to a wider periphery, conceptualizing Wenger’s communities of practice and the social and interactive nature of writing. Writing is the basis of communication and social media is its obvious extension, permitting centers to expand writing as a discipline outside just academic concerns.

Baer, Melinda. “Using Weblogs in Your Writing Center.” The Writing Lab Newsletter. 31.2 (2006):1-4. Writing Lab Newsletter Archive. Web. 19 March 2009.

Crump, Eric. “At Home In the MUD: Writing Centers Learn to Wallow.”  High Wired: On the Design, Use, and Theory of Educational MOOS. Eds. Cynthia Ann Haynes and Jan Rune Holmevik. 177-190. University of Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Print.

Harris, Muriel. “Preparing to Sit at the Head of the Table: Maintaining Writing Center Viability if the Twenty-First Century.” The Writing Center Journal 20.2. (Spring/Summer 2000):13-21. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

Kitao, S. Kathleen, and Namie Saeki. "Process And Social Aspects Of Writing: Theory And Classroom Application." Annual Reports Of Studies 33.1 (1992): 86-102. ERIC. Web. 11   Mar. 2013.

Wenger, Etienne. “Communities of Practice: A Brief Introduction.” Communities of Practice. N.p. June 2006. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.