Cameron Sheehy, Vanderbilt University
Writing centers are a common service to support students in their writing at most colleges and universities in the United States and, within recent years, have become increasingly popular abroad given the global trend to internationalize educational institutions. But what are writing centers like in countries outside the United States? In this article, I review literature on writing centers in Japan to better understand how one EFL context adopts—and adapts—the U.S. writing center model. The findings of this literature review explore obstacles and opportunities that may occur in tutor-tutee interactions and writing center administration. This knowledge is key for personnel in EFL contexts seeking to create and implement writing centers based on those in the American context.
Keywords: writing center, Japan, English as a foreign language (EFL)
When someone walks into the writing center at a college or university in the United States, they are likely to find a common scene: Two students—one a tutor, the other a tutee—sit together at a table, or perhaps in a cubicle. The two read the tutee’s paper together as the tutor asks questions about structure, thesis, or word choice. It resembles more a conversation between classmates than a lecture from professor to student. But what about writing centers in other countries? Is this a common scene too?
Within recent years, writing centers have become more prevalent at colleges and universities in countries where English is not commonly spoken, known as English as a foreign language (EFL) contexts. Often supported by governmental grants, stakeholders in EFL contexts have sought to internationalize their educational institutions by creating programs conducted entirely in English, promoting increased matriculation of international students, and encouraging students and faculty to publish their works in English (LaClare & Franz, 2013; Okuda, 2019b). To support these goals, colleges and universities have turned to the writing center from their American counterparts as a model. One such country where colleges and universities are adopting the U.S. writing center model is Japan.
Although the first reported writing center in Japan was founded on an American military base in Tokyo in the 1930s (McMillan, 1986, as cited in McKinley, 2011), it was not until 2004 that a Japanese college or university established a writing center to support students’ English writing (Johnston, Cornwell, & Yoshida, 2010). Since 2004, supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), numerous Japanese educational institutions have independently created their own writing centers. These writing centers organized across institutions for the first time at the Japan Writing Center Symposium in 2008 and then formed the Writing Centers Association of Japan in 2011 (Fujioka, 2011). According to the Writing Centers Association of Japan (2022), as of December 2022, there were a total of eighteen writing centers as members. Thus, the history of writing centers in Japan is relatively short, and research on them is limited (Fujioka, 2011; Nakatake, 2013). While there has begun more effort to research writing centers in Japan, there is still work to be done.
The purpose of this literature review is to explore current research on writing centers at Japanese colleges and universities to better understand how one EFL context adopts—and adapts—the U.S. writing center model. The most recent literature review on this topic that I found is from approximately a decade ago (see Nakatake, 2013); therefore, this literature review seeks to expand previous research by including more recent scholarship into the discussion. By revealing both obstacles and opportunities in adopting the U.S. writing center model in Japan, the findings of this literature review have implications for writing center personnel who may seek to establish writing centers in other EFL contexts.
For the purpose of this literature review, it is important to define the U.S. writing center model. As it is conceived today, the U.S. writing center model came into existence during the 1960s and 1970s when legislation passed to allow more students from diverse and marginalized backgrounds to attend colleges and universities (Boquet, 1999). Although recent writing center scholars argue that writing centers arose at the time to standardize these students’ language (Mendenhall, 2022), contemporaries viewed their work as a form of academic support. Regardless of its motivations, however, the writing center movement expanded across the United States and with it—at least among writing center scholars—a new philosophy reflecting the diverse needs of students regardless of their backgrounds.
In the landmark essay “The Idea of a Writing Center,” Stephen M. North (1984) defines the mission of writing centers as “produc[ing] better writers, not better writing” (p. 438). Framing the writing center movement more positively, this definition positions the writing center as a place to support students’ learning rather than simply improving the assignments they submit. Additionally, this definition is by far the most widespread definition of writing centers, being provided by the most cited article published in writing center scholarship (Boquet & Lerner, 2008). However, since the publication of “The Idea of a Writing Center,” scholars have examined this definition through a critical lens. North himself even returns to this definition in a response essay titled “Revisiting ‘The Idea of a Writing Center,’” where he contends that perhaps a singular mission across all writing centers is not possible as it ignores the nuances of local contexts (1994). Many scholars reject North’s retraction though, invoking the continued salience of supporting students’ learning (Boquet & Lerner, 2008). In “After ‘The Idea of a Writing Center,’” Elizabeth H. Boquet and Neal Lerner (2008) likewise disagree with North’s retraction but qualify their argument by calling on writing centers to expand their mission beyond one “grounded in the words of one theorist, from one article, from one line” (p. 185). This debate within scholarship on the mission of writing centers continues to inform writing center work and the U.S. writing center model.
Muriel Harris (1986), an influential writing center scholar and North’s contemporary, expands upon his definition of the mission of writing centers by exploring it through pedagogy in her book Teaching One-to-One: The Writing Center Conference. Returning to the scene that opens the paper—one largely developed from my own experience as a writing center tutor at an American university—the influence of her work becomes clear. Two students sit at a table or cubicle to read the paper together: writing centers use peer collaboration. The tutor focuses on questions about things like structure, thesis, or word choice to develop the tutee’s thinking: writing centers use process-oriented writing instruction. The two have a conversation instead of a lecture, as the tutor asks the tutee questions instead of giving them answers: writing centers use nondirective approaches. However, although this pedagogy reflects the ideals of the U.S. writing center model in theory, other scholars complicate it when put into practice.
In the article “‘Our Little Secret’: A History of Writing Centers, Pre- to Post-Open Admissions,” Boquet (1999) juxtaposes the portrayal of the writing center as a pedagogy in scholarship against reality, where it functions as a place for students to better meet institutional expectations. Thus, while my conception of the U.S. writing center model aligns with this theoretical portrayal, interactions between tutors and tutees are more complex. For example, Therese Thonus, a prolific researcher in the field of writing centers, complicates peer collaboration within tutor-tutee interactions, asserting that there is no consensus in perceptions of tutor roles but that they occupy a continuum between teacher and peer, even contending that nondirective approaches may not be as effective with students who speak English as a second language (ESL) (2001). This research on ESL students is especially relevant for writing centers that support students in programs conducted entirely in English but who may not speak English as a first language, such as those in Japanese colleges and universities. Ultimately, tensions within theory and practice currently exist within the U.S. writing center model and thus have an influence on its adoption in other countries too.
It is also important to identify why I used Japan as the country for this case study. First, Japan exemplifies the global trend in higher education toward internationalization by offering English-medium instruction (EMI) programs. MEXT in Japan supports this trend through its Global 30 and Top Global University projects (Morizumi, 2015). According to Annette Bradford, Yukiko Ishikura, and Howard Brown (2022), there are as many as eighty-seven full-EMI programs and partial-EMI programs at more than forty percent of Japanese colleges and universities. As part of this trend, many of these educational institutions are adopting writing centers to support students’ English writing (Okuda, 2019b). Many of these colleges and universities are currently modifying the U.S. writing center model within their own contexts, and thus Japan is a helpful example for investigating how one EFL context adapts the U.S. writing center model for its specific needs. Such knowledge has key implications for colleges and universities in EFL contexts that may seek to establish writing centers. Second, Japan has a developed network for writing centers, including the Writing Centers Association of Japan and research journals that publish articles on writing center scholarship. Thus, there is sufficient literature to explore how Japanese colleges and universities have adopted and adapted the U.S. writing center model. By using Japan as a case study, I explore more specific obstacles and opportunities in one context that may reveal potential obstacles and opportunities in other contexts.
Before delving into my methodology, findings, and discussion, I will reflect on my own background and how it relates to this literature review (Kanuha, 2000).
First, I will reflect on my position as an insider to the U.S. writing center model. I have worked as a writing center tutor at an American university as both an undergraduate and a graduate student, and I have previously conducted research on writing centers, even presenting at the International Writing Centers Association’s annual conference. Therefore, as previously mentioned, I have my own conception of the U.S. writing center model based on my experience. I acknowledge that this conception may not match others’ experiences and thus remains complicated within both theory and practice.
Second, I will reflect on my position as an outsider to Japan. Although I have experience taking classes on Japanese language, culture, and history and interacting with members of both the Japanese and Japanese-American communities professionally and personally, I am not Japanese nor have I been to Japan. Thus, for this literature review, I rely on the works of other scholars, who likewise have varying connections to and experiences with the Japanese context.
Thus, these positions influence the ways in which I review the literature, create themes, draw implications, and write about this topic.
To accomplish the purpose of this literature review, I asked the following question: What obstacles and opportunities arise when adopting the U.S. writing center model at Japanese colleges and universities that offer EMI programs? To answer this question, I conducted a systematic search for literature related to the topic. After reading the studies I found, I used qualitative coding procedures to create themes from their findings.
I used two methods to find studies. First, I searched keywords into three databases: MLA International Bibliography, Education Full Text, and Education Resources Information Center (ERIC). I chose MLA International Bibliography for its inclusion of journals related to writing center scholarship, such as Writing Center Journal and WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship. I chose Education Full Text and ERIC for their inclusion of journals related to education and second language writing. The keywords entered into each database were as follows: (“writing center” or “writing centre”) and (“Japan”). The former accounted for variant spelling, while the latter ensured that results included the country of focus for this case study. Table 1, below, provides a more detailed explanation of the number of studies found and included from each database.
Table 1: Database Search
|Database||Number of Studies Found||Number of Studies Included|
|MLA International Bibliography||2
(Cassidy et al., 2012; Johnston & Ochitani, 2008)
(#1) Cassidy et al., 2012
(#2) Johnston & Ochitani, 2008
|Education Full Text||15
(Thomson, Tanaka, & Morikoshi, 2021; Harwood & Koyama, 2020; Andersson & Nakahashi, 2019; Okuda, 2019a; Okuda, 2019b; Fabiani & Alemany, 2017; Ballard, Glowzenski, & Harris, 2016; Takeuchi, 2015; Thompson, 2014; Ruegg, 2013; LaClare & Franz, 2013; Mull 2013; McKinley, 2011; McKinley, 2010; Johnston & Ochitani, 2008)
(#3) Okuda, 2019a
(#4) Okuda, 2019b
(#5) Takeuchi, 2015
(#6) LaClare & Franz, 2013
(#7) McKinley, 2011
(#8) McKinley, 2010
[Duplicate: Johnston & Ochitani, 2008]
(Okuda, 2022; Okuda, 2019a; Rosalia, 2010’ Seror, 2011)
[Duplicate: Okuda, 2019a]
Removing two duplicate studies found in more than one database, this search resulted in nineteen studies. I then examined these nineteen studies for their relevance to my research question and excluded any studies outside of its scope. I first excluded non-studies like editorials or announcements (n = 3) and studies about non-writing centers (n = 2), writing centers for programs conducted in Japanese (n = 1), and Japanese students in writing centers at non-Japanese colleges and universities (n = 1). Moreover, because my research question focuses more on the traditional operations of writing centers, I also excluded studies about more specific problems, such as shifting writing centers from in-person to online (n = 3) and interactional concerns between tutors and tutees (n = 1). Thus, after excluding unrelated studies, this search resulted in eight studies.
Second, I mined the reference lists from these eight studies to find more relevant literature. I examined the studies included in the reference lists at both the title- and abstract-level and selected ones that mention both writing centers and Japan. I then mined the reference lists from any new studies found using the same criteria until I found no more. Table 2, below, provides a more detailed explanation of the studies included and from which reference lists they were first mined. This examination resulted in eighteen new studies. However, from these eighteen studies, I excluded studies found only in Japanese (n = 3); summarized in a later study by the same authors (n = 6); and unable to be found online, such as handouts or presentations (n = 3). This exclusion process resulted in the net addition of six studies mined from others’ reference lists. Thus, the final number of studies included in this literature review was fourteen.
Table 2: Reference List Mining
|Round||New Study Found||Found In|
|1||(#9) Fujioka (2011)||Okuda (2019a)|
|(#10 ) Johnston, Yoshida, & Cornwell (2010)||McKinley (2011)|
|(#11) Nakatake (2013)||Okuda (2019b)|
|Johnston (2006) [excluded]||McKinley (2011)|
|Johnston, Cornwell, & Yoshida (2008) [excluded]||Okuda (2019a), McKinley (2011), McKinley (2010)|
|Johnston & Swenson (2005) [excluded]||McKinley (2011)|
|Moneyhun (2007) [excluded]||Cassidy et al. (2012)|
|Sadoshima, Shimura, & Ota (2009) [excluded]||Okuda (2019b)|
|2||(#12) Gally (2010)||Nakatake (2013)|
|(#13) Hays (2010)||Nakatake (2013), Fujioka (2011)|
|(#14) Yasuda (2006)||Johnston, Yoshida, & Cornwell (2010), Johnston, Cornwell, & Yoshida (2008)|
|Hays & Narita (2011) [excluded]||Fujioka (2011)|
|Johnston (2005) [excluded]||Johnston, Cornwell, & Yoshida (2008)|
|Johnston (2009) [excluded]||Fujioka (2011)|
|Sadoshima (2006) [excluded]||Johnston, Yoshida, & Cornwell (2010), Johnston, Cornwell, & Yoshida (2008)|
|Sadoshima (2011) [excluded]||Fujioka (2011)|
|Yoshida, Johnston, & Cornwell (2010) [excluded]||Fujioka (2011)|
|3||Hays (2009) [excluded]||Hays (2010)|
After conducting the literature search, I read through the fourteen studies included and used qualitative coding procedures (Saldaña, 2016) to conduct a thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). First, I used in vivo coding procedures to highlight phrases in each study that related to my research question. After rereading these initial codes, I categorized them based on similarities using descriptive coding procedures. I then consolidated the codes through three stages, resulting in two primary themes. Table 3, below, provides a summary of my analytical approach.
Table 3: Thematic Coding
|English Language Education||Literacy Backgrounds||Tutor-Tutee Interactions|
|Japanese Academic Writing Instruction|
|Lack of Peer Collaboration||Teacher-Centered Culture|
|Lack of Nondirective Approach|
|Linguistically Imbedded Cultural Hierarchy|
|Education Legislation||Motivations||Writing Center Administration|
|Needs of Universities|
|Goals of Stakeholders|
|Reputation of Writing Centers||Campus Integration|
|Lack of Writing Programs & Writing Across the Curricula|
In reviewing the literature, I found two primary themes about what obstacles and opportunities arise when adopting the U.S. writing center model at Japanese colleges and universities that offer EMI programs: (I) those that emerge in tutor-tutee interactions and (II) those that emerge in writing center administration.
Theme I: Tutor-Tutee Interactions
The first theme to emerge from the literature is obstacles and opportunities present in tutor-tutee interactions. As described in the theoretical framework and aligning with a more positive framing of the writing center movement, a unique historical and cultural context conceived the U.S. writing center model as part of the education system to support the specific needs of their students. Like the United States, Japan has a unique history and culture and thus a unique student population with specific needs. These needs may or may not differ from those of students in the American context. Thus, this begs the question of how the U.S. writing center model fits into Japanese colleges and universities, especially within tutor-tutee interactions.
Scholars suggest that Japanese students may be underprepared for the English academic writing expected of them. Since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, English language education in Japan has focused primarily on translation skills and grammatical knowledge reinforced by a culture of strict high-stakes testing (McKinley, 2010). Such a curriculum leads numerous scholars to suggest that Japanese students are uninterested in English or do not value it (LaClare & Franz, 2013; McKinley, 2010). Further, Jim McKinley (2010) describes English language education as speaking-focused with very little writing instruction. This lack of writing instruction, moreover, is not exclusive to English learning. In an essay that synthesizes research on Japanese students’ literacy backgrounds through secondary school, Sachiko Yasuda (2006) argues that students’ difficulties in English academic writing may result from a lack of development in their Japanese academic writing. Writing in Japanese schools tends to be product-oriented, prioritizing the final assignment to be without errors over developing students’ competence. However, two scholars in the early 2010s note the beginnings of a shift toward process-oriented writing instruction in Japanese schools (Fujioka, 2011; McKinley, 2010). No study in this literature review published since 2013 mentions students’ literacy backgrounds or English language education, so there is not enough information to discuss how this shift has developed or its impacts into the following decade. One possible solution offered by numerous scholars to this lack of academic writing skills is hosting skills-based workshops at writing centers (Fujioka, 2011; LaClare & Franz, 2013; McKinley, 2010). In McKinley’s (2011) study, the writing center at Sophia University implements workshops that receive positive evaluations by students, as shown through survey results. However, English academic writing is not the only potential obstacle for writing centers at Japanese colleges and universities.
Numerous scholars indicate that Japanese students are unfamiliar with writing center pedagogy. Although Mayumi Fujioka (2011) and Hinako Takeuchi (2015) mention the beginnings of a shift toward increased peer collaboration in the Japanese education system, it is still primarily teacher-centered (Hays, 2010; McKinley, 2010). This teacher-centered culture in schools manifests in students’ perceptions of the teacher-student relationship and expectations of instructional practices, namely that teachers tell students what to do and think. Thus, the U.S. writing center model that prioritizes peer collaboration and nondirective approaches may be new to Japanese students. A primary example where this tension arises is in the tutor-tutee relationship, though not all writing centers in either Japan or the United States have students as tutors. Accustomed to a teacher-centered culture, Japanese students may yield authority to the tutor during conferences, seeing them as a teacher-like figure (Cassidy et al., 2012; Nakatake, 2013). Further, other scholars extend this teacher-centered culture as exacerbated by Japanese culture. In an essay discussing their experiences working as writing center codirectors at Osaka Jogakuin College, Scott Johnston and Masanori Ochitani (2008) suggest the presence of a cultural hierarchy embedded within the Japanese language may complicate the peer dynamic. In the Japanese language, speakers distinguish their relationship to someone by adding a suffix to their name. While George Hays (2010) raises the theoretical benefits that this suffix-present hierarchy may have between upperclassmen—called -senpai—and underclassmen, this distinction effectively displaces tutors and tutees’ status as peers. Moreover, tutors do not seem to agree with Hays’ (2010) sentiment. In an essay analyzing different facets of culture at writing centers, Tom Gally (2010) reports how tutors at the writing center at the University of Tokyo feel conflicted when they do not know which suffixes to use. The tutors recommend using -san, a standard suffix that indicates respect without being higher or lower and is used in many relationships, including between classmates or strangers. Thus, peer collaboration becomes difficult.
Despite these concerns, however, some scholars argue that peer collaboration in writing centers may benefit Japanese students, especially because it is an EFL context. A survey conducted at Sophia University reports that students who visit the writing center are more receptive to peer feedback than students who do not (McKinley, 2010). In interviews with students who use the writing center, Hays (2010) finds that students preferred peers rather than faculty as tutors. However, the sample size in both studies is small, each including data from only one writing center. Moreover, nonnative English-speaking tutors may serve as role models to the peers with whom they work (LaClare & Franz, 2013; Nakatake, 2013). From surveys and interviews with both tutors and tutees at the writing center in an undisclosed Japanese university, Tomoyo Okuda (2019a) finds that students’ evaluations of nonnative English-speaking tutors depend more on their expectations of what a writing center does rather than language proficiency. For example, students who expect the writing center to be a place to receive grammar corrections regard nonnative English-speaking tutors as less helpful than their native counterparts, whereas those whose expectations better match the philosophy of the writing center movement evaluate tutors equally regardless of linguistic background. The study does not indicate, however, whether students experience increased motivation in their English learning because of working with these tutors, which may be implied from previous studies. Further, this peer collaboration even benefits tutors who, as Maiko Nakatake (2013) suggests, can gain teaching experience. Overall, there exists a lack of consensus on the specific implications of peer collaboration in writing centers at Japanese colleges and universities.
Outside of peer collaboration and process-oriented writing instruction, the instructional practices that writing centers use are also significant. Some scholars argue that more directive approaches—to supplement nondirective approaches—may be necessary in an EFL context like Japanese colleges and universities that offer EMI programs. Most scholarship on nonnative English-speaking students at writing centers takes place in the United States where there already exists a debate about striking a balance between these approaches. Differing from this ESL context, however, EFL contexts lack immersion in English and, with it, opportunities to passively gain language awareness; therefore, scholars recommend directive approaches to overcome potential gaps in English language education (Gally, 2010; Nakatake, 2013). In discussing directive approaches, two scholars (Gally, 2010; LaClare & Franz, 2013) echo the ongoing debate in scholarship by questioning whether writing centers ought not provide services that students either expect or desire, namely line editing and copy editing. These services may be challenging given that tutors want to focus on global concerns like structure or argument instead of local concerns like grammar or word choice (Johnston, Yoshida, & Cornwell, 2010; Nakatake, 2013). To address this challenge, Hays (2010) and Yasuda (2006) suggest accompanying directive approaches with explanations or prompts for students’ own self-correction to engage their English learning, yet Hays (2010) still qualifies this suggestion, stipulating that correcting local concerns only matters when they obscure meaning. Thus, there also exists a lack of consensus on the best instructional practices for students at writing centers at Japanese colleges and universities, and more research within EFL contexts is required both in Japan and more generally.
Adopting the U.S. writing center model at Japanese colleges and universities presents obstacles and opportunities in tutor-tutee interactions. Japanese students may not be prepared for English academic writing because of their literacy backgrounds and experience with English language education. Moreover, because of a prevailing teacher-centered culture in schools resulting from Japan’s unique history, culture, and language, Japanese students may be unaccustomed to peer collaboration, process-oriented writing instruction, and nondirective approaches. However, paralleling current scholarship on the U.S. writing center model, writing centers in Japan too have tensions within theory and practice. Thus, given Japan’s unique context, the U.S. writing center model presents both problems to overcome and possibilities to improve students’ learning.
Theme II: Writing Center Administration
The second theme to emerge from the literature is obstacles and opportunities present in writing center administration. Like writing centers at American colleges and universities, writing centers in Japan are part of educational institutions. Thus, the various stakeholders outside and within these institutions, such as the government, university administrators, faculty and staff, and students, play a role in the creation and implementation of writing centers.
As mentioned in the introduction, one of the primary motivations behind Japanese universities’ adopting the U.S. writing center model is to internationalize. Using a methodological framework called policy borrowing, Okuda (2019b) analyzes interview data and documents to investigate how different stakeholders influence the creation of a writing center at a Japanese university. MEXT (i.e., the government) awards a research university a grant for its efforts to internationalize their institution. This grant motivates university administrators to create a writing center to increase research publications in English, while academic faculty and staff are responsible for implementing it. Okuda (2019b) also indicates how an institution itself—and members of the institution—influences the creation and implementation of writing centers. Multiple scholars support this claim (Hays, 2010; LaClare & Franz, 2013). Hays (2010) explains how one university’s faculty members call for the creation of a writing center in response to growing numbers of students who request corrections on their English academic writing. Elton LaClare and Tracy Franz (2013) describe a similar experience at another university but connect the call for a writing center to the university administrators’ push for faculty and students to publish and present at conferences in English. Furthermore, in juxtaposing his trip to the International Writing Centers Association’s annual conference with his experience as a writing center director in a Japanese university, Gally (2010) explores how the “organizational culture” (p. 75) of the U.S. writing center model may conflict with that of Japanese colleges and universities. In fact, he suggests that writing centers may be at odds with the context itself because of differences in their philosophies.
This tension can also be seen in writing centers’ struggle to achieve legitimacy in Japan. Many scholars make note of this struggle from their own experiences as administrators or tutors. For example, Peter Cassidy and colleagues (2012) discuss the difficulties they face in garnering support from students for their student-run writing center. Similarly, McKinley (2011) argues that a prevailing image of the writing center as a place for remedial learners decreases its rate of use. This image likewise appears in the beliefs held by both students and faculty, as shown in Johnston, Hiroko Yoshida, and Steve Cornwell’s (2010) study. Hays (2010) even suggests that factors like a writing center’s location or publicity affect its outcomes. It is difficult, therefore, for writing centers to promote the mission as defined by North (1984) and expanded by Harris (1986).
To better promote this mission, some scholars recommend that writing centers work across departments within their educational institutions. Multiple scholars call on writing centers to take the helm in collaborating with faculty to create writing programs built upon process-oriented writing instruction across the curricula (Fujioka, 2011; McKinley, 2010; Yasuda, 2006). One method to achieve this is for writing centers to host workshops to target many students at once, as previously mentioned in two studies (LaClare & Franz, 2013; McKinley, 2011). Further, both Hays (2010) and Okuda (2019b) describe how faculty at their respective universities were and are vital in creating and implementing their writing centers. This institutional influence on writing centers is quite apparent in the various forms that they have taken.
In the same way that writing centers are put into practice differently throughout the United States, no writing center in Japan is the same to one another. One study (Johnston, Yoshida, & Cornwell, 2010) compiles research from previous studies to report how different colleges and universities in Asia create and implement writing centers. The participants include Osaka Jogakuin College, Waseda University, Hokusei Gakuen University Junior College, Columbia University Teachers College Tokyo-campus, and Kanda University of International Studies, as well three non-Japanese universities. Johnston, Yoshida, and Cornwell (2010) find that while the colleges and universities all share the writing center movement’s philosophy, factors like tutors and training, hours and session format, administration, and size all differ. Moreover, Hays (2010) even describes transforming the writing center at one university into a language learning center that offers various multimodal materials. Ultimately, like their American counterparts, Japanese colleges and universities modify the U.S. writing center model in different ways.
Beyond tutor-tutee interactions, writing centers at Japanese colleges and universities also experience obstacles and opportunities in writing center administration. For example, various stakeholders influence the creation and implementation of writing centers. Policies from the government affect what university administrators want writing centers to do. Writing centers must meet the demands of the educational institutions to which they belong and produce results, whether producing said results acts contrary to the philosophy of the writing center movement or expands the mission of writing centers. The perceptions of faculty and students, input of faculty, and even logistical concerns can affect the creation and implementation of writing centers. Moreover, scholars argue the significance of writing centers in collaborating with other stakeholders within colleges and universities to achieve their mission. Thus, while these obstacles and opportunities in writing center administration are not unique to Japan as they occur in the United States too, their emergence still requires consideration of factors unique to the context.
As a case study of one EFL context, the above findings on what obstacles and opportunities arise when adopting the U.S. writing center model at Japanese colleges and universities that offer EMI programs reveal implications for educational institutions in other EFL contexts that may seek to establish writing centers. Namely, these institutions must adapt—not just adopt—the U.S. writing center model. Given the obstacles and opportunities present in tutor-tutee interactions and writing center administration in Japan, writing center personnel can consider their potential presence at writing centers in other countries too, as well as how factors unique to the context may influence them. However, there also exist some limitations to these findings and thus a need for more research.
The distinction between adopting and adapting is important to the creation and implementation of writing centers in EFL contexts. As previously explored in the theoretical framework, the U.S. writing center model is not unified. Between theory and practice, opinions among scholars still vary regarding the mission of writing centers and its interactional applications. The findings of this literature review showcase how these tensions emerge in a new context. Using one country—in this case, Japan—as a case study illustrates how historical and cultural factors within a context play a role in the adopting and adapting of the U.S. writing center model. While some obstacles and opportunities are not unique to writing centers in Japan, considering how they emerge regarding the country’s unique history, culture, language, and student population reveals how other EFL contexts may also consider them. Furthermore, even within a country, diversity exists within this process of adopting and adapting.
Adapting becomes even more critical considering scholarship on the motives behind the writing center movement. Echoing such concerns in a now-retracted article, Brian Hotson and Stevie Bell (2022) argue how the exporting of the U.S. writing center model to other countries may work as a form of neocolonialism. While none of the studies included in this literature review discuss this idea, it is especially relevant for EFL contexts. An uncritical adoption of the U.S. writing center model may result in the forwarding of the ideals of the American context elsewhere and strengthening its hegemony, especially given the rise of EMI programs. Therefore, colleges and universities in EFL contexts should not uncritically adopt the practices present in the American context but rather adapt them to their needs.
Because of the focus of this literature review on exploring how Japanese colleges and universities adopt and adapt the U.S. writing center model, these findings are particularly relevant for personnel from writing centers in Japan, as I provide specific obstacles and opportunities for their context. Considerations include, for example, students’ lack of preparation in Japanese academic writing and disinterest in English learning, the teacher-centered culture of the education system, MEXT’s influence through policies, common misconceptions of the purpose of writing centers by both faculty and students, and ways to forward the mission of writing centers outside the writing center itself. Such personnel can use this information when creating and implementing writing centers.
Although Japan is the country of focus, the findings—or more generally the categories in the axial stage found in Table 3, above—may apply to other countries. Given the global trend to internationalize educational institutions, this literature review outlines how one EFL context adopts and adapts the U.S. writing center model as an example for personnel from writing centers at colleges and universities in other countries. More general considerations include, for example, students’ literacy backgrounds, the historical and cultural context of the education system, language, motivations from various stakeholders, and the integration of writing centers into the broader campus community. Working with faculty outside writing centers to create writing programs with standards for writing across the curricula is likewise useful for integrating English academic writing skills into universities, specifically peer collaboration and process-oriented writing instruction. Such personnel can use this information as a guide when creating or implementing writing centers in their own countries.
It is also important to note the limitations to this literature review. While conducting the literature search, I only searched three databases. To include more studies, I mined sources from within reference lists of found studies; however, some studies on the topic may still be missing from this literature review. As previously mentioned, I did not include studies found only in Japanese (see Sadoshima, 2006; Sadoshima, Shimura, & Ota, 2009), nor was I able to locate all the studies found while mining reference lists (see Hays & Narita, 2011; Moneyhun, 2017). Within the existing literature, there is no empirical research on writing center administration since 2010. Fujioka (2011) and Nakatake (2013) both mention the lack of empirical research on this topic as well. Moreover, most studies included in this literature review do not distinguish between the needs of Japanese students and those of international students who matriculate to Japanese colleges and universities that offer EMI programs, nor the potential diversity within these groups. Thus, there exist gaps in knowledge.
Therefore, one possibility for future research is gathering empirical data about how different Japanese colleges and universities create and implement writing centers, similar to Johnston, Yoshida, and Cornwell’s (2010) study. More research needs to be done across institutions and with attention to students of diverse backgrounds. Further, most empirical research in these studies uses a sample from one university’s writing center to draw conclusions, so it is difficult to see trends across institutions. Student populations are not monolithic and thus their differences may have implications on how these educational institutions best serve students’ needs. Finally, the findings are based on the Japanese context, and thus more specific implications and research on writing centers in other countries may be necessary to fully understand what obstacles and opportunities arise from adopting and adapting the U.S. writing center model.
The purpose of this literature review is to explore current research on writing centers at Japanese colleges and universities to better understand how one EFL context adopts the U.S. writing center model. Japan serves as the country of focus because it follows the global push to internationalize educational institutions through EMI programs and has a burgeoning community for writing center scholarship. By reviewing literature found on this topic, I reveal how factors unique to the Japanese context shape the creation and implementation of writing centers in colleges and universities, despite findings that remain common throughout all writing centers regardless of what country they are in. Problems to overcome and possibilities to improve students’ learning emerge in tutor-tutee interactions and writing center administration. While the findings are specific to Japan, these considerations reveal key implications of what obstacles and opportunities may arise while adopting and adapting the U.S. writing center model for writing center personnel who seek to establish writing centers in both Japan and other countries, specifically EFL contexts. Colleges and universities should not adopt the U.S. writing center model uncritically but rather adapt it to account for the respective context’s unique history, culture, language, and student population.
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