The applicability of the writing center and online writing lab to Malaysian tertiary education : a dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
The importance of writing ability cannot be overstated, be it writing in the first or second language. Yet, students' lack of writing skills remains a constant complaint, especially in the contexts of English as a second language (ESL). In the quest for an intervening mechanism, Writing Centers (WCs) and Online Writing Labs (OWL), originating in North America, have proved effective. The success of Writing Centers seems to lie in their pedagogical approach of "improve the writer, not the writing" and the practice of non-directive and non-judgemental individualised student-centered one-on-one tutoring. This, then, motivated the present research to focus on the applications of WCs and OWLs in ESL tertiary education. The main research question examined is: in what ways are the theory and praxis of the WC and OWL applicable to ESL tertiary contexts of Malaysia? In establishing the applicability of WCs and OWLs to ESL tertiary students in Malaysia, this study conducts a series of thematic investigations on WCs and OWLs in North America, ESL students and writing in English for Academic Purposes and innovations in tertiary education, a case study on the status of English in Malaysia, and a survey on the writing needs and writing support in English at a Malaysian university. A comparison is also made among North American, European and Asian WCs and OWLs. The five investigations culminate in the formulation of a conceptual framework for the ESL WC approach and an action plan to implement the approach. The essence of the WC approach is in the application of writing centers as writing pedagogy, learner support and immersive language learning environments. The present research contributes towards the critical development and application of WCs and OWLs in universities in the Asian region where English functions as a second or foreign language. The initiative is also a pioneer innovation study in the field of WCs and OWLs for its application in Malaysian universities. Hence the study may contribute toward improved writing instruction, a new and comprehensive learner support system in the proposed WC framework, and the relevance of an immersive language learning environment.