For my case study project, I have been examining the writing center as my object of study. Depending on the affordances of the various theories I have been seeking to apply, I have looked at the writing center broadly as a concept–a pedagogical principle of one-to-one writing instruction that focuses on helping students be better writers–and sometimes I have focused on the specific writing center that I coordinate. Writing centers are an important object of study for English studies because they support the writing taking place both in English classes and in classes across the university, thereby connecting them to Writing Across the Curriculum, which is major topic of study within the sub-field of Rhetoric and Composition. Additionally, writing centers often sit in a liminal space–sometimes associated with English departments and sometimes not. As more and more writing centers are moved into Learning Commons and Learning Centers, sometimes dislocating them from those in the field of Rhetoric and Composition, I think it becomes increasingly important to understand the connections and the value of these connections between the writing center and the field(s) of English studies.
Writing centers are an ideal object of study to examine as a network. They can be viewed as a discursive network, examining the connections between theory, ideal practices, and lore with localized practices. They can be examined as networks of activity and action, seeing how people systems and objects mutually influence the actions occurring within a space. Finally as a space they can be viewed as ecosystems, influenced by the people and things within them, as well as the larger ecosystem of the college. This last type of network is particularly interesting to me at this time because I am experiencing how outside environments can have a profound effect on the writing center. Another department at my institution has gone through immense upheaval this semester: being physically moved to a new space, being dissolved and integrated into another department, reemerging as a distinct unit–but this time being run by a single person. This upheaval unexpectedly impacted my writing center this month. My writing center is part of a larger Learning Center. Writing tutoring occurred in an office within that space that could accommodate two appointments at a time, thereby creating a distinct writing center space within the larger Learning Center.
However, just a few weeks ago this office space was reclaimed by the Dean’s office to use as office space for a staff member from this other department. This experience has really highlighted for me the value of a networked approach–seeing the connections and influences between a writing center and other aspects of the college. Ultimately the university is a large network and the writing center is a network working within it. Thus while understanding the nodes within a writing center is important, it is just as important to recognize how those nodes interact and are influenced by nodes within the larger university network.