The role of the Writing Centre in negotiating inclusive learning spaces in the context of Covid-19
Keywords:communities of practice, inclusive learning, students, tutors, Writing centres
The Covid-19 pandemic catapulted higher education institutions to shifting their teaching, learning and assessment practices. Universities globally were abruptly forced to close their doors and adapt to digital learning platforms with the intention of meeting students’ learning needs. In a University of Technology (UoT) context such as the Durban University of Technology (DUT) in South Africa, the university had to relook the way it interacted and engaged with students. Writing centres at universities in South Africa have evolved and have led to the development of opportunities for collaborative learning underpinned by humanistic principles and interconnectivity in teaching, thinking and learning. Traditionally in the writing centre, students grow and develop in an informal way by face-to-face interactions in a physical space with tutors, peers and writing practitioners. However, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the writing centre has shifted to virtual learning platforms in order to continue creating inclusive and flexible learning spaces to foster criticality and academic and social resiliency in students. This paper explored how the writing centre as a vibrant community of practice (CoP), with the use of digital platforms initiated innovative tutoring techniques to contribute to creating a safe, enabling learning environment for students during these uncertainties. Paulo Freire’s idea of a Humanising Pedagogy (1970) and Lave and Wenger’s (1991) concept of communities of practice were used to gain insights into the contextual dynamics that shape a writing centre’s practice as the centre conceptualises how to respond to the ‘new normal’ in higher education. This paper asked a fundamental question about learning approaches and what is most valuable, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Data collection included written reflections from eight writing centre tutors from one writing centre site and surveys with 20 student users. This enabled an understanding of their perceptions and experiences of using the writing centre remotely, within a qualitative, exploratory inquiry. The findings revealed that the writing centre acknowledges the socio-economic difficulties faced by students and sees the value of CoP and a humanistic approach in its work in assisting students in coping with challenges and the realities that currently confront them. It found that tutors are central to contributing to transformative, multi-modal learning, and the writing centre can serve as a vehicle for promoting and sustaining inclusive learning environments and new ways of supporting students during uncertain times such as the pandemic.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Nereshnee Govender
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