Because our use of writing fellows and writing fellowships is more expansive than an initial denotation suggests, we use an array of terms in use, such as embedded tutor, professional tutor and faculty consultant. Our use of several synonyms is based, additionally, on an international survey we conducted and close study of how schools use these terms in similar ways.
When I became editor of the WAC Clearinghouse’s WAC Fellows webpages I believed updating the pages would be a task not requiring a lot study or time, but I was wrong on both counts. When I began, I posed a question for a title: What and Who Are Writing Across the Curriculum Fellows and Fellowships? This sent me on a journey exploring some basic and not so basic questions.
What I discovered is that we have wide-ranging understandings and applications of synonymous or near-synonymous terms and practices that could, perhaps should, fall under the umbrella of WAC/WID fellows and fellowships. When I applied this reasoning and a methodology to other ostensibly similar terms and experiences we use in the field, as I will lay out in the following discussion, WAC/WID fellows and fellowships are much more widespread than we realize. While this view will be developed, a further consequence of there being so many separate, disconnected entities is that they are seen and understood as individual and disconnected, resulting in weak connections for a broader scope, practice, and recognition of WAC/WID fellows and fellowships. Consequently, a broader understanding of the impact and practice that WAC/WID fellows and fellowships has made nationally and internationally had remained mostly invisible.
WAC/WID Fellows and Fellowships Background and Definitions
I was keenly aware that many of the concepts and activities of WAC/WID fellows and fellowships captured the same beliefs, experiences, and activities from other analogous areas, though they do not use WAC/WID fellows or fellowships terminology. My exploration began with an examination of the subjects/nouns “fellows” and “fellowships,” with WAC and WID serving as adjectives, e.g., WAC Fellow or WID Fellowship. My search at this point was to see how precise, imprecise or off the mark I have been, as well as to explore significations that I may have been overlooking. I started with the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), focusing my search in the OED to definitions that were neither antique or obsolete nor meanings clearly outside of any connection, e.g., “A person who joins with another specified person in committing a particular crime or other wicked act; an accomplice” (OED), but rather definitions that fit the parameters of how we use the term.
Under Fellow I found, 1. “A partner, companion, or peer of another specified person, and related senses”; 2. “A person who shares with another specified person in a particular possession, office, undertaking, etc.; a partner, colleague, collaborator. Also: a person united with another specified person in pursuit of a common end; an ally”; 3. “A person who or thing which shares an attribute with another specified person or thing; a person or thing belonging to the same class or category as another.”
Under Fellowship I discovered, 1. “The fact or condition of participating in something with or of having something in common with another specified person. Also: that which a person has in common with another; a shared interest, sentiment, nature, etc.”; 2. “An association of people joined by a common purpose, undertaking, religion, interest, etc.; a community, a brotherhood; a club, a society.”
At this point my wish is that readers have begun to fill in and make connections to my thesis: WAC/WID fellows and fellowships are, or can be, much more than what we have imagined, and that they are more interconnected than we have realized. What stands out with these definitions is the notion of partner/collaborator/interest sharing/the pursuit of a common end/a person or thing belonging to the same class or category as another with participating in something or of having something in common and “An association of people joined by a common purpose, undertaking, religion, interest.” Coming into view now is that anyone who is a fellow is likely in a fellowship. These individuals believe in and work toward some common outcome, and they are together believing in a common, shared purpose and interest: Teaching writing.
My next task at this stage was to develop a working definition fusing the sets of information I had discovered:
First Draft of a Hybrid Definition of WAC/WID Fellow/Fellowship
A WAC/WID Fellow/Fellowship is individuals united in the belief that writing can be taught, that writing should be taught in all disciplines, that there are informed pedagogies to achieve these, that they practice these approaches and beliefs over varying periods of unified study, and that, oftentimes, they are part of larger entities, such as the WAC Clearinghouse, a WAC program, a writing or communication program, if not several entities at once.
While I was happy with this hybrid characterization/definition I also realized that still ambiguous was an answer to, Who are the individuals? With a grounded definition and characterization of WAC/WID fellows and fellowships underway, my search guided me to two broad categories of who precisely these individuals are:
I developed a second draft of a hybrid definition applying “instructors” and “student tutors” to further tease out and enhance the definition:
Second Draft of a Hybrid Definition of WAC/WID Fellow/Fellowship
A WAC/WID Fellow/Fellowship is instructors and student tutors united in the belief that writing can be taught, that writing should be taught in all disciplines, that there are informed pedagogies to achieve these, that they practice these approaches and beliefs over varying periods of unified study, and that, oftentimes, they are part of larger entities, such as the WAC Clearinghouse, a WAC program, a writing or communication program, if not several entities at once.
This umbrella definition of WAC/WID fellow/fellowship is inclusive to what already is actively at work throughout the teaching writing world. However, I still needed to explore the notion of time, that is, is there a standard amount of time that a WAC/WID fellow/fellowship of instructors and student tutors must serve?
Since the OED did not discuss or use as example our WAC/WID fellow/fellowship of instructors and student tutors (surprise!), I decided the most informed route would be to see what our practitioners actually do and experience. As a background note, I had been working under the assumption, albeit misinformed, that the time frame for instructors was one year, although I had led fellowships lasting one year and others between 6-10 hours. I was wrong, and to be honest, I do not know how I originally latched onto that one year requirement as a sort of gold standard. What I discovered is that there are no consistent time frames.
Final Version of a Hybrid Definition of WAC/WID Fellow/Fellowship
A WAC/WID Fellow/Fellowship is instructors and student tutors united in the belief that writing can be taught, that writing should be taught in all disciplines, that there are informed pedagogies to achieve these, that they practice these approaches and beliefs over varying periods of unified study, and that, oftentimes, they are part of larger entities, such as the WAC Clearinghouse, a WAC program, a writing or communication program, if not several entities at once. There is no set amount of time that these fellows need to meet, either physically or digitally. The key is they all are involved in teaching writing to enhance writers’ writing abilities or enhance instructors’ and tutors’ teaching writing abilities.
Some Implications of an Evolved WAC/WID Fellow/Fellowship Definition
To call and include instructors and student tutors as WAC/WID fellows or as part of a fellowship, my next steps were to explore what exactly it is that these groups do, and if they adhere to the definition and principles of WAC/WID fellows and fellowships. In some senses this became an ethnographic exploration of the pedagogical and institutional practices of instructor and student tutors.
Because student tutors are most often employed in writing, assistance, and learning centers they are, more often than not, called tutors, yet even tutor or writing center may not be the terms schools use. Refer to What Are School Characteristics of WAC Fellows and Fellowships? and What Are Insights Into Writing Fellows and Writing Fellows Programs from Our National and International Survey?) for a wide array of examples.
Because writing tutors tend to work with students from across and within colleges on their campus on subjects and assignments that are clearly specific to disciplines, I have shared my thoughts on why we need to begin thinking of these WAC/WID tutors as fellows. Tutors who work with instructors and their students in their classes, sometimes called embedded tutors, and work in disciplines and classes outside their major, should include the WAC/WID adjectives to make clear the type of tutors, experiences, and approaches they employ. Moreover, tutors are often regularly trained in groups and cohorts over a semester, or year. These groups, for consistency and unifying terminology, when appropriate, should be called WAC/WID tutor fellows and WAC/WID instructor/faculty fellows, with all the groups serving in a WAC/WID fellowship.
Across institutions, I believe it is important to make better known some of our similar and overlapping terminology. As I hope I’ve shown here, such a unification is founded on an array of reasons. However, I further believe that in order to strengthen our local and national presence as WAC/WID writing instructors and programs, we need to make our terms more consistent so that we can better show what WE do across institutions and campuses. A first step, for clarification to upper-administrators, is to make them aware that the major difference is only one of terminology. What and how we teach writing is unified by our informed theories and pedagogies.