Kairos 17.3


Until the Writing Hub’s creation at the University of Sydney, rhetoric had not been the foundation of a program of study at an Australian university. This establishes the Writing Hub, a hybrid writing center and writing program that focuses on rhetoric as the cornerstone of effective communication, as the first of its kind in Australia. While this allows the Writing Hub to serve as a new model for writing instruction in Australia, it also brings with it specific challenges, the most significant being the need to break old habits in order to develop the habits of mind that enable students to adapt their writing and communication to an array of contexts and situations. For example, if students can hone creativity to achieve effective writing across disciplines, this is a far more valuable attribute than simply memorizing rules for correctness. While this may not be as great a concern for teachers in the US, where first-year university students may have encountered rhetoric in their high school curriculum, the situation in Australia is quite different.

Rhetoric is certainly not part of the Australian high school curriculum; on the contrary, high-school-level writing instruction is typically current-traditional in nature and often results in extreme skepticism of (if not downright resistance to) rhetorically driven writing instruction. As evidenced by formal and informal student feedback forms and in-class responses to writing assignments, most students who have been schooled in current-traditional approaches expect templates, formulas, and rules that will lead to the perfect essay. Of course, such instruction may work in a particular situation, but the student is unlikely to be able to transfer such practices to more diverse contexts. Other students, however, find rhetoric a refreshing change, and it is always exciting to see genuine discovery taking shape.

One approach has been to change habits by changing the environment in which writing occurs. The Writing Hub’s central faculty positioning, as opposed to being situated in a single academic department, encourages writing across different disciplines and modes, embedding rhetorical approaches across the curriculum. Moreover, the Writing Hub’s focus on transition and transferability between secondary, tertiary, and professional writing challenges students’ preconceived notions of writing, leading them to more reflexive habits of mind that transcend individual disciplines and incorporate all five canons of rhetoric.

We ask our students to invent or discover their assessment topics through a series of collaborations (including virtual exchanges with peers around the world) on a range of real-world issues in a cross-cultural context. For example, instead of setting a topic such as “Global Warming does/does not exist. Discuss,” we ask students to compile annotated bibliographies on topics that interest them—or write discovery paragraphs exploring their ideas and interests, and allowing the essay's thesis to evolve from these preliminary writing exercises. Working through the remaining canons, they edit, rewrite, and refine their arguments, using instructor-supported techniques of self-review, peer review, and collaboration in small group situations.


Introducing the University of Sydney Writing Hub (transcript available here)