Writing Excellence Initiative: Writing Boot Camps and Writing Groups for faculty and staff

Faculty and staff write productively in writing boot camps and writing groups.

This article is one in a series of articles showcasing the successes of Elon’s Writing Excellence Initiative, the University’s 5-year Quality Enhancement Plan to enhance the teaching and practice of writing in academic, professional, and co-curricular contexts.

One unique feature of Elon’s Writing Excellence Initiative is that in addition to helping students with writing, it supports faculty and staff with their own writing as well. As explained in the initiative’s original Quality Enhancement Plan, supporting faculty and staff writing is an important part of enhancing the culture of writing on campus:

“The more successful faculty and staff are with their own writing, the more effectively they can serve as role models for students. The more secure they are in their own writing abilities, the more confidently they will be able to teach students to write well. Equally important, the more attention Elon devotes to the writing abilities of all members of its community, including staff who have little or no contact with students, the better able we will be to create an institutional culture where writing is valued by everyone.”  

Two ways the Center for Writing Excellence has supported this endeavor is by offering faculty and staff Writing Boot Camps and organizing and supporting faculty and staff Writing Groups.

Writing boot camps are designed to give faculty and staff dedicated time to work on their writing on weekends and during academic breaks. The CWE schedules one-day boot camps throughout the year and into the summer, with additional boot camps scheduled by the Elon University School of Law. The goal of the boot camp is to offer faculty and staff with a quiet space to write, with lunch, snacks and coffee, so they have no distractions or interruptions. During the 2016-17 academic year, the CWE scheduled 14 boot camps, with an additional eight during summer 2017. Since fall 2015, 250 faculty or staff members have attended a boot camp.

Professor Nina Namaste, associate professor of Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, has attended several boot camps. She describes why she attends and how they have been useful to her: “I sign up for boot camps at least twice a semester to keep moving forward on my research projects. Writing boot camps have been exceedingly helpful, if for nothing else than to have space and time dedicated solely to writing. There is also something very powerful when one writes in a community because it makes the solitary writing process not feel so isolating–you know others are in the same boat.  For all these reasons I commit to those full days of writing during the boot camps.”

The CWE began organizing writing groups in summer 2016 as yet another way to build a culture of writing on Elon’s campus. Individual or groups may register to participate, and at the beginning of the process, participants are asked to discuss and make decisions about how their writing group will function. For example, groups decide how often they will meet, whether writing will be shared ahead of time or during actual meetings, and how feedback will be offered. Organized in a variety of ways to suit participants’ schedules and needs, writing groups all achieve the same goal of helping individuals set and meet their writing goals. To support writing groups, the CWE provides some guidelines and $300 for food or supplies. Forty-seven faculty and staff members have participated in the CWE-sponsored Writing Groups since fall 2016.

Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler, professor of Psychology and director of the Center for Research on Global Engagement, participated in a writing group this summer. Vandermaas-Peeler writes, “Participating in a writing group was beneficial for my work in several ways. At the beginning of the summer, we shared our writing goals, a process that helped clarify my plans and establish a timeline. Making my writing goals public was also an asset in terms of accountability. Writing in a social context provided a supportive environment in which to work, and facilitated our abilities to share frustrations or talk through challenges. Our group was multi-disciplinary, so we didn’t share much content and focused instead on process.”