The Change Lab: Collaborating, Cooperating, Coordinating

Join your Writing Center colleagues from around the country (and maybe even the world!) for a day of active collaboration at Portland State University on March 15, 9am-6pmThere’s no better way to kick-off your CCCC adventure!

Why do writing center scholars go to professional conferences? To share the findings of our scholarly work, sure. But, many of us also go for the chance to engage with our peers from other institutions–to learn together, to problem-solve, and to plan for the future in ways we cannot do alone. The IWCA Collaborative at CCCC offers the writing center community an opportunity to spend a full day of working together–not to share what we’ve already done, but to help each other with what still needs doing. We will begin and close the day with plenary sessions, so you can meet other writing center administrators and tutors. Across the day, you will choose from among concurrent sessions all of which will have you actively engaged with other scholars.

This year, the Collaborative takes our inspiration from the “Change Lab” concept developed by Finnish scholars in the field of work psychology. We were drawn to this concept because of its focus on collaborative, data-responsive, and transformative problem-solving; we see the work writing center scholars do together at the Collaborative and in the field as similarly focused. It’s our hope that participants in the 2017 Collaborative will embrace the opportunity to engage in collaborative discussion and learning in order to develop concrete, actionable plans they can put into action in their home writing centers. Let’s get something done!

What exactly is a Change Lab?

The Change Lab is a method for collaborative problem-solving in a workplace or work network. For Collaborative participants, our workplaces are our own writing centers, and our work network is our international community of writing centers, or, the field of writing center studies. In a Change Lab, practitioners in the workplace collaborate in the analysis of an existing activity (or network of activities) and develop plans to transform the activity. A Change Lab approach allows participants in a workplace to:

  • examine the past, present & future of a work activity;
  • co-construct a model of the problems with the activity, rooted in the activity’s  history and theoretical model;
  • co-create a new vision of the theory and practice of the activity;
  • collect the ideas and tools necessary to transform the activity;
  • and plan next steps for both implementing and assessing the new activity.

As the above suggests, goals of the Change Lab are not just to change a practice—how work gets done. Instead, participants in a change lab re-envision—beyond the current “rules” or practices–a new conceptual model for their work. Through expansion that often crosses boundaries and reveals contradictory and differing voices, communities of practice “embrace a radically wider horizon of possibilities than in the previous mode of the activity,” which transforms both existing conceptual frameworks and practices to effect change and new understanding (Engstrom, 2001).Through both “close embeddedness and reflective distance from work,” (Engeström, Y., Virkkunen, J., Helle, M., Pihlaja, J. & Poikela, R. 1996), participants increase their own transformative and collaborative agency based on their new understandings and shared vision for the future of their work (Virkkunen, 2006).

Examining an academic workplace (such as a writing center) through a collaborative, data-informed, and reflective model like the Change Lab approach, embodies Dewey’s (1927) argument that our ways of thinking about the nature of the work of education need to be experimental, in that they emerge from real-world questions or observations; are subject to regular, well-designed observation and assessment; and are flexible enough to respond to what we observe in our daily practices.


Download the Collaborative program here.


Membership in IWCA is required to register for an IWCA event or to submit a proposal. To register, log into your IWCA account and locate the “Available Conference Registrations” box on the right-hand side of the webpage. Click “Register for this Conference” and follow the prompts to complete registration. Nonmembers must first set up an account by clicking the “IWCA Members” tab on the IWCA website. On the welcome home page, click the link in the first bullet point message to become a member.

Early Bird rates ended February 28. Rates for March 1-March 15 are:

Professionals: $150
Students: $110

Some registration scholarships will be available. Keep an eye out for emails from IWCAmembers.org for details.


This year’s Collaborative will be held at Portland State University, in the Smith Memorial Student Union (second & third floors). PSU is in walking distance of some CCCC’s hotels, and is a 12-15 minute light rail ride on Max from others.

To get from the Oregon Convention Center to PSU on light rail, you would take the Green Line south, toward PSU/urban center. Exit at the SW 7th & Mill stop. To return, you would take the Green Line north from the SW 6th & Montgomery Station, toward Clackamas town center.

Light Rail fares are $2.50 for 2.5 hours, or $5 for a full day pass. You can buy a ticket at the station, or use their app on your phone. The Trimet website can help you with Max, as well as bus services.

PSU’s interactive campus map is a handy resource, too, for when you arrive on campus. It has information about transportation (including Max), parking, food, buildings, and more!

All rooms in the conference space will be equipped with free Wifi, laptops, projectors & screens.


(retained for archival purposes–proposals were accepted through December 16, 2016)

Proposals for sessions will be accepted through December 16, 2016.

We invite Collaborative participants to think of each other as partners in a Change Lab and propose collaborative sessions that facilitate research-based developments and development-based research. You might approach this conference as collaborative problem-solving—the co-chairs’ goal is that every participant will leave the conference with a concrete take-away, like data collected from other participants; a new method of research or assessment to try; a refined research question or instrument; or a new perspective and a practical application for that perspective back home.

We are asking you to consider the above description of expansive learning and the Change Lab, and propose a session inspired by the concepts of collaborative data collection, analysis and transformative action. You might take your inspiration from a stage in the Change Lab process:

  1.   Tracing the roots of a challenge, problem or contradiction in the workplace:

In your writing center, or in your view of the broader field, what are the current challenges, problems or contradictions? How can we collaborate to discover the roots of these problems in past practices or in past concepts, models or theories about writing center work?

  1.   Modeling and analyzing current activity:

How do we know what’s happening in our writing centers?  How do we know what’s working?  What’s not working? How can we engage each other and our tutors in analyzing the complex activity system of the writing center? What current “rules” or practices need rethinking—and how do we know that?

  1.   Envisioning future models:

What new models or visions of writing center work do you need—or do we need—in order to address current problems? How do we make our new visions concrete—what are our next steps? What does transformative strategic planning look like for writing centers? What kinds of assessment do we need in order to measure the effects of our transformations?

Remember, we are hoping that all participants leave with action-oriented takeaways, so the session you propose should be highly participatory, and should benefit both your participants and you! Finished projects are not the best material for this conference—think of the Collaborative 2017 Change Lab as part of your own experimental approach to writing center work. To stick with this focus on collaborative action, the session types for this year’s Collaborative are all highly participatory. If you have questions about any of the session types, or you want some feedback on your early ideas before you propose a session, please contact either/both Jennifer Follett (jfollett@ycp.edu) and Lauri Dietz (ldietz@depaul.edu).


All sessions will be scheduled for 60 minutes.

Round tables

Facilitators lead discussion of a specific issue, scenario, question or problem. This format might include short remarks from facilitators, most of the time is devoted to active and substantive engagement/collaboration with attendees prompted by guiding questions. At the end of the session, we suggest facilitators help participants summarize and reflect on their take-aways from the discussion, and think about how they will translate these take-aways into action.


Facilitators lead participants in a hands-on, experiential activity to teach tangible skills or strategies for data-collection, analysis, or problem-solving. Successful workshop proposals will include a rationale for how the activity can apply to a variety of writing center contexts, will involve active engagement, and will incorporate an opportunity for participants to reflect on the potential for specific future application.

Works-in-Progress (WiP)

These sessions will be composed of roundtable discussions where presenters briefly (10 minutes max) discuss their current research, assessment, or other writing projects and then receive feedback from other researchers including discussion leaders, other WiP presenters, and other conference-goes.

Lab time

A lab time session is your opportunity to move your own research forward by either collecting data from participants or by using participants’ feedback to hone data collection instruments. You could use lab time to pilot and receive feedback on survey or interview questions on the type of writing center population you intend to study. You could use lab time for data collection–to distribute a survey, run a short focus group, or interview a tutor. You could use lab time for data analysis, by asking writing center colleagues to test the appropriateness or reliability of your coding. In your proposal, please describe what you want to do, how many and what kind of participants you need (Undergraduate tutors? Writing Center Administrators? etc.). If seeking participants among Collaborative attendees, will need to have institutional IRB approval as well as Informed Consent documentation for them.

Collaborative writing

In this type of session, facilitators guide participants in a group writing activity intended to produce a co-authored document or set of materials to share. For example, you might collaborate on a multi-writing center position statement (like a statement on inclusive language practices). Or, you might develop a protocol and list of resources for a writing center assessment project. You could also facilitate the production of separate, but parallel pieces of writing–for example, you could have participants revise or craft missions statements for their centers, then share feedback with each other. Successful proposals for collaborative writing sessions will focus on a writing project on which substantive progress is achievable during the session, and will include plans for continuing or sharing the work with the larger writing center community after the conference.