INSIDE Chico State
0 October 10, 2002
Volume 33 Number 4
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico






Provost's Corner

Briefly Noted

Staff Profile




On Board and Online

Mark Hall, English
Mark Hall, English
Photo by Kathleen McPartland

Mark Hall takes the lead for writing center

"Our primary goal is... to help student writers improve over the long term." ญญ Mark Hall

Mark Hall, recent Ph. D. in rhetoric and composition, student of popular culture and literacy, and fan and critic of Oprah Winfrey's Book Club (on which he wrote his dissertation), is the new director of the University Writing Center (UWC) and the On-Line Writing Center (OWC).

Hall liked what he saw as the potential for sharing administration of writing programs as he considered his choice to join the CSU, Chico English department in the winter of 2001. He just hadn't imagined that he'd actually be heading one so soon. This past summer, with less than a year in the department, he took over the UWC, and he helped launch the new OWC.

Hall, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Louisville in 2001, is an ardent supporter of the importance of writing centers in the teaching of writing at a university. He shares the belief with his composition colleagues that writing is a social process and that it develops best through dialogue with others. CSU, Chico's UWC provides writing assistance for students from first year to graduate in any discipline.

Hall coordinates a writing center that is staffed by undergraduate and graduate peer writing assistants who complete a semester-long course in tutor training. Assistants share the approach that writing is a set of socially meaningful practices and that writers improve by learning the specific context for each writing task, by talking with peers about their work, and by practicing writing over time. "Our primary goal is not to fix individual papers, but to help student writers improve in the long term," said Hall.

In addition to face-to-face writing assistance, the center offers the OWC via WebCT. The OWC makes services more widely available, particularly to nontraditional students who seek peer writing assistance in the evenings and on the weekends. Marta Welden, a student enrolled in English 231: Theory and Practice in Tutoring Composition, designed the OWC. (See related article about Welden on page 2.)

Thia Wolf, associate professor of English, coordinated the UWC for the last two years. Wolf approached Hall about taking over her duties last spring, when she decided to return to the classroom and create more time for her family. Hall was able to shadow Wolf through her work day -- a mosaic of classroom teaching, writing assistant coaching, program development, and administration. "While shepherding the growth of the center, Thia has developed sound tutor training protocols that join writing center theory and practice. If I only maintain and nurture the program Thia has put in place, I will do well this year," said Hall.

Hall's dissertation, "The 'Oprahfication' of Literacy: Reading Oprah's Book Club," is an exploration of values and assumptions about literacy that were advanced by the book club. He describes some of the ways literacy is already embedded in and embodies the practices, beliefs, and values of a culture. Winfrey shared her personal story in her role as "literacy sponsor" of the book club. ("Literacy sponsor," a term coined by Deborah Brandt in a 1998 article in College Composition and Communication, refers to agents who either enable and support literacy or withhold and suppress it -- and gain advantage from doing so.) Hall suggests that Winfrey's story can be heard as a literacy narrative (a rhetoric and composition term referring to the stories we tell about our reading and writing practices) of progress. This idea of advancement through literacy became an important underlying theme of Oprah's Book Club.

Hall rejects, however, the myth of literacy that holds that if someone can learn to read and write, it guarantees them a prosperous place in society. He just has to look around at the many people he knows for whom this hasn't been true. "Contrary to popular and scholarly wisdom, major cultural advancements often occur in times and places with remarkably low literacy levels. Likewise, high levels of literacy do not necessarily lead to economic and social prosperity," said Hall.

A good discussion of this point of view, said Hall, can be found in Elspeth Stuckey's The Violence of Literacy, in which she argues, "We believe the heart of education is literacy. In a society bound by such a mythology, our views about literacy are our views about political economy and social opportunity."

An article based on Hall's dissertation is forthcoming in the journal College English, and an essay, "Pratt and Pratfalls: Revisioning 'Contact Zones,'" is forthcoming in the book Exploring Borderlands: Composition and Postcolonial Studies, Andrea Lunsford and Lahoucine Ouzgane (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002).

For more information go to

Kathleen McPartland

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