Writing Centers & Intellectual Property

mboeshart's picture

Intellectual property discussions are ongoing in writing center work, though we may not always refer to these discussions using the term “intellectual property”. Ongoing concerns within the field about tutors appropriating student texts have led us to debate directive vs. nondirective tutoring styles and to cover the role of the tutor extensively in tutor training. However, one particular concern that has continued to grow in our particular Writing Center at Old Dominion University is the increasing number of group projects that students bring to the Writing Center. This is likely because of the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP): Improving Disciplinary Writing adopted by the university in 2012. The QEP encourages faculty to include collaborative assignments and projects in their courses. I’m not arguing that the collaborative writing is negative, but rather that it presents the Writing Center with new challenges concerning intellectual property. Currently, there is not an established practices among all Writing Centers about how to ethically deal with group papers.

Our current policy at the ODU Writing Center is that we will work with students on collaborative projects, but only if all members of the group can attend the tutoring session. We will work with individual students on the group project, but only on his/her particular portion. The main reason for this policy arises from Stephen North’s seminal article The Idea of a Writing Center. He writes, “our job is to produce better writers, not better writing” (438). In other words, the writing center is interested in helping students become better writers, and if those students cannot participate in the tutoring session, it is not really possible for us to help them become better writers. The policy also rises out of a concern that students who are not part of the tutoring session may have significant portions of their contribution altered without their consent. Other writing centers have differing policies. For example, some writing centers allow one student to attend a tutoring session as a representative editor of the group, though they explain that this type of appointment differs from their typical individual appointments. While most writing centers suggest that all members of the group attend a tutoring session together if possible, policies diverge from there.

Perhaps the difficulty in determining a policy that addresses the ethics of the situation comes from the way in which group projects are implemented and carried out. Student schedules, contribution, and investment in the project all play a role in the final product. For now, I think our policy reflects our writing center’s mission and addresses student needs, though in time it may require us to revise our policy. However as the demand grows for tutoring services for collaborative writing projects, the field will likely need to begin to address this issue directly on the writing center listserv and in scholarship.

Works Cited

North, Stephen M. "The Idea of a Writing Center." College English vol. 46, no. 5, 1984, pp. 433-46, http://www.jstor.org/stable/377047. Accessed 13 Oct. 2016.


Alex C. Nielsen's picture

A very useful, practical question

I think that this is a very useful way to consider IP in the Writing Center - using a ground-up perspective of how we teach and tutor ethically, from source use all the way up to the ethics of authorship.  While your overview of this challenge is grounded in the structure and reality of the Old Dominion University Writing Center and how the QEP has driven this issue to the forefront, I do believe that many institutions are currently witnessing the same.  I believe that writing support services of all kinds will have to grapple with the complexities of authorship earlier and more broadly in coming years.

The approach of the ODU writing center strikes me as particularly fair and well-grounded.  It provides a great model for how educators struggling with Intellectual Property can often find a solution by returning to their pedagogical ethos and the theory that drives it, as you and your center did with North.  Practical perspectives and models such as this help the writing studies discipline build a body of practices - and literature - to move forward with these increasingly difficult IP and authorship questions.