Engaging Peer Tutors in Voicing Insight from the Tutorial Process
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Writing centers are a very recent phenomenon within the United Kingdom (UK) and only one of a variety of institutional responses to what is widely held to be a decline in the standard of writing at university. Prior to the 1980s, UK Higher Education (HE) was an elite system serving only 5 per cent of the population and induction into academic discourse was implicit; writing was not taught, but assumed to be “pick[ed] up” through doing (Lillis 32). With successive government agendas set on widening access to HE, student numbers have since grown exponentially and, with a student body less versed in what is loosely termed “academic writing,” universities have responded by employing academic or academic-related staff to offer direct, and in most instances, generic learning or study skills support. The majority of British universities now have centrally funded learning centers and or language centers in which such staff are based, and Orr, Blythman and Bishop argue that it is to the mainstream status of their staff that such units owe their centrality (209) . Privileging the “life experience,” pedagogic range and knowledge of salaried staff over that of the peer tutor, and, more importantly, their power to affect institutional change, Orr, Blythman and Bishop view the arrival of peer tutoring to the UK as a threat to the “very centrality” of study support (209). Whilst rejecting Orr, Blythman and Bishop’s fundamental concern that peer tutoring will undermine the work of salaried staff, we do recognize that perceptions of status are critical in UK HE; this we see, however, less as a reason for silencing the peer tutor than as an encouragement to find ways to enable peer tutors to voice the insights that they too derive from their work.