Jennifer S. Ashlock, Southwestern Community College
Sharon E. Hay, Indiana University Bloomington
Ruth Ann Herstek, Penn State New Kensington
Rathan L. Kersey, Emory University
Michael T. MacLean, Athabasca University
Shelley R. Price-Williams, Northern Illinois University
When asked how NACADA Writing Groups evolved, Wendy Troxel, Director of the NACADA Center for Research at Kansas State University, shared two recollections. She first related her experience as a faculty member and the constant pressure to publish which led her to create supportive writing networks. The second recollection drew on her more recent experience of being an editor for the NACADA Journal and recognizing that support is needed for developing and nurturing more sophisticated academic writing skills.
With these narratives in mind, and her experience as a professor teaching research methods courses, Dr. Troxel shared, at the NACADA Region 7 research symposium, "wouldn’t it be fun to create better writers together across NACADA?” As luck would have it, Rhonda Dean-Kyncl was in the audience and came up afterward to talk with Wendy about a writing initiative. Dr. Dean-Kyncl holds vast experience as a professor of college composition and as an advising administrator. This was just the type of project for which she was searching. Rhonda shared with Wendy that she finally found how to wed the two things she was most passionate about: writing and academic advising. Wendy and Rhonda decided to create a writing program and, after many virtual meetings on Zoom and coffee shop meetings in Oklahoma, the NACADA Writing Group initiative was born. This NACADA Virtual Idea Development Group comprises one of two such writing support initiatives.
Communities of Practice
Shortly after formation, this group found itself operating as an efficient and committed community of practice, which is described as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2015). Formal communities of practice allow people to participate in structured frameworks where the learning involves participation (Smith, n.d.-b). Lave and Wegner (1991) described members of these communities as apprentices involved in apprenticeships. The idea of how members are situated in groups indicates that individuals think less about obtaining knowledge and more about their social participation. According to Smith (n.d.-a), “Learning is in the relationships between people” and it “does not belong to individual persons, but to the various conversations of which they are part” (p. 5). When learning occurs within the social relationships between people, information takes on relevance within communities of practice; without these social systems, there is no learning and little memory (Smith, n.d.-a).
Faculty Writing Groups as a Model for Virtual Idea Development
Scholarly production and practice-sharing can be a great challenge for advising practitioner-scholars as the demands of advising practice far outweigh the time available for developing research ideas and writing for the purpose of disseminating best practices to the field. Connection with others in the field can also be a barrier. Olszewska and Lock (2016) identified the following as challenges to productivity: time for writing, self-discipline, lack of support, and fear of rejection. Scholars and practitioners are not immune from the need for community and support nor the competing demands of their professional and personal time.
Factors of Successful Writing Groups
Particular factors yield a successful writing group. Many scholars have emphasized the involvement of senior faculty as beneficial to writing groups composed of predominantly junior faculty (Olszewska & Lock, 2016; Page, Edwards, & Wilson, 2012; Swaggerty, Atkinson, Faulconer, & Griffith, 2011). Trust prevails as a key factor to success (Olszewska & Lock, 2016; Swaggerty, et al., 2011). Olszewska and Lock (2016) also distinguished commitment, critical feedback, and structure as success factors. The authors characterized necessary conditions for sustainability: participation of all group members, effective facilitators, a balance of structure with individual needs of writers, and shared responsibility of the group by both group members and facilitators. Finally, Page et al., (2012) identified flexibility and celebration of productivity as important components to a successful group.
Establishing Trust & Respect
Members of the NACADA Virtual Idea Development writing group hold several unique, yet coinciding, reasons for participating. A common theme is the desire to connect and network with the wider advising community. Mike MacLean, Senior Program Advisor at Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada, stated: “My involvement with [the] Idea Generation and Idea Development groups has led to great relationships and invaluable feedback and discussion.”
With members working in a variety of institutions—universities, community colleges, branch campuses, online institutions—there is a rich array of perspectives and experiences from which to draw inspiration. Shelley Price-Williams, Instructor at Northern Illinois University, is working on projects addressing the broader topics of student success and advising. Therefore, she joined a writing group to receive “feedback and guidance from others in the profession of advising on an undergraduate or graduate level, regardless of academic setting or institutional type.” Members also view the writing group as a pathway to expand their professional roles and presence. Jennie Ashlock, TRIO Student Support Services at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, North Carolina, shared: “I hope to hone my research and writing skills so I may contribute to the growing body of scholarship on academic advising.”
Group members realize, however, that writing requires time and focus. Therefore, members also want assistance with developing ideas and seek the group’s support and accountability to stay on task. Sharon Hay, Associate Academic Advisor in the Center for Students in Transition at Indiana University Bloomington, said that “having a group of like-minded professionals, I am motivated to pursue these goals in a timely and accountable manner.” In a similar vein, Rathan L. Kersey, Program Administrator in the Laney Graduate School at Emory University, said, “When I heard about the writing groups, I felt it would be a wonderful way to collaborate with fellow burgeoning scholars. I was thrilled when the experience exceeded my expectations.”
In discussions, members request and offer each other constructive feedback and guidance. Writing in a silo is ineffective and frustrating, so members act as a sounding board for one another when the inevitable roadblocks appear. Ruth Ann Herstek, Associate Director of Advising at Penn State New Kensington, shared that “since joining . . . this group has become very important to me as a support system . . . for presentations and current and future writing projects.”
Critical Feedback & Accountability
The group established meeting guidelines during the first discussion. Members live in various time zones (EST, CST, MDT), so finding a time to meet was a primary issue. The group settled on 9am every other Thursday for 1 hour. Sharon Hay agreed to take notes and coordinate the meeting schedule, and Shelley Price-Williams set up the Zoom meeting platform.
At each meeting, a group member shared a writing idea or project. Five to seven days prior to their designated meeting day, the member sent the group an outline for pre-review. The goal at each meeting was to provide critical feedback along with suggestions for future research or publication. The meeting format was simple, focused, and within the allotted time to honor everyone’s schedules. When members could not attend, the member sent an email stating such. The group created an accessible Google drive, which contained shared documents and meeting notes.
Group Collaboration and Cohesion
As the group continued to meet, we decided to pivot to discussions about future articles in which we could continue to collaborate. This article is merely the first in a series we intend to produce. Our next article will focus on the various conversations we engaged in throughout the course of the year. Some of those conversations focused on the original mission of the group—helping one another write an article or craft a presentation proposal. As we continued to collaborate, however, our group went in very surprising (and welcome) directions. Whether it was celebrating one another’s professional successes, encouraging one another to seek new opportunities, or engaging in deep conversations regarding the nature of academic advising across the higher education landscape, the group continued to operate as a haven of collaboration long after every member presented on their scholarly ideas.
In our time together, we have realized Wendy’s vision of a supportive network in that we have become a model for a NACADA Writing Group. Our plan for a future article is to explore the history of writing groups and differing models of practice. We will highlight concrete ways in which this group established trust in a virtual environment. An informative narrative will disclose group conversations regarding the nature of academic advising. Finally, we plan to reveal some of the challenges of establishing and maintaining an ongoing working group of this type.
Jennifer S. Ashlock
Health Science Academic Advisor/Tutor Liaison
TRIO Student Support Services
Southwestern Community College
Sharon E. Hay
Associate Academic Advisor
Center for Students in Transition
Indiana University Bloomington
Ruth Ann Herstek
Associate Director of Advising
Penn State New Kensington
Rathan L. Kersey
IMP and MMG Programs
Graduate Division of Biological & Biomedical Sciences
Michael T. MacLean
Senior Program Advisor
Faculty of Business
Shelley R. Price-Williams
Department of Counseling and Higher Education
Northern Illinois University
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.
Olszewska, K., & Lock, J. (2016). Examining success and sustainability of academic writing: A case study of two writing-group models. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 46(4), 132–145.
Page, C. S., Edwards, S., & Wilson, J. H. (2012). Writing groups in teacher education: A method to increase scholarly productivity. SRATE Journal, 22(1), 29–35.
Smith, M. K. (n.d.-a). Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger and communities of practice. The encyclopedia of information education. http://infed.org/biblio/communities_of_practice.htm
Smith, M. K. (n.d.-b). The social/situational orientation to learning. The encyclopedia of informal education. http://infed.org/mobi/the-socialsituational-orientation-to-learning/
Swaggerty, E. A., Atkinson, T. S., Faulconer, J. L., & Griffith, R. R. (2011). Academic writing retreat: A time for rejuvenated and focused writing. Journal of Faculty Development, 25(1), 5–11.
Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015). Introduction to communities of practice: A brief overview of the concept and its uses. http://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/
Cite this article using APA style as: Ashlock, J.S., Hay, S.E., Herstek, R.A., Kersey, R.L., MacLean, M.T., & Price-Williams, S.R. (2019, December). Formation of the NACADA virtual idea development group: History, critical components, and future directions. Academic Advising Today, 42(4). [insert url here]