UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Tutoring Online

Adam Robinson, Associate Director

I was reading back through our blog, thinking about what to write, and I realized that we haven’t talked about our Virtual Writing Center (VWC). Established in 2004 by Carol Mattingly, Chris Ervin, and Chris Carter, the VWC has undergone many changes over the years. But the basic structure has stayed the same. Writers visit our website, fill out an electronic request form, and either ask to meet with a consultant in a live chat or receive feedback via e-mail. Just like in our physical WC, our VWC consultants work with any U of L writer, and like our physical WC, our VWC stays busy.

When I first began consulting for U of L’s Writing Center in 2006, I worked in both the physical WC and VWC. To be honest, I didn’t like Virtual consulting at first. I’d say the time constraint was my biggest source of frustration. I was restricted to working with a paper for 50 minutes, the same appointment time length as our physical sessions. However, unlike a face-to-face session where the writer and tutor negotiate a reasonable agenda for the session, I didn’t have a writer by my side to help me prioritize how I might approach a long document or a document in its early, rougher stages. And given that my advice could only be communicated through what I typed and given that the writer wasn’t present to confirm that he or she understood my feedback, I had to take a great deal of time to type out my comments—even the simplest of concepts sometimes required a lengthy explanation.

But once I got enough Virtual consultations under my belt, I really started to like Virtual tutoring. From a consultant’s perspective, it’s a job with flexible hours and a flexible work location. The work can be done basically anytime and anywhere. And while I found it difficult at first to have to spend so much time being certain that I was being clear with my written advice, I felt more confident in some ways in the advice I was giving in my Virtual consultations as I was able to prioritize and think through the ideas I was relaying to the writer. I felt in control of my response, contrary to some face-to-face sessions, where the fast paced dialogue between me and the writer sometimes led to me saying things in ways that I didn’t mean to say them. And over time, I began collecting my Virtual responses, sharing some of my favorite pieces of advice with multiple writers—I guess I was working smarter not harder in that case. And my VWC work improved how I responded to writing in the composition classes that I occasionally taught as my VWC experience helped me learn how to be thorough as well as selective with my comments.

The writers submitting to the VWC like the service too. For many of them, a Virtual appointment is the most convenient option given their busy schedules. And for other writers, using the VWC is the only option—students taking U of L courses in Panama aren’t exactly in a position to visit our main library for a face-to-face appointment. Others like that they can save our written comments and return to them when writing future papers. If a writer feels that a consultant has made a muddy concept clearer, that writer can save that feedback and return to it whenever that concept starts to feel muddy again. And I know from talking with writers who use the VWC that they also like the opportunity to privately reflect on the feedback their consultants have given them.

Virtual consulting is an exciting part of writing center work because new, improving and simply changing technologies may allow for different types of Virtual tutoring. And for our specific Writing Center, I find Virtual work interesting because there are questions that we still need to answer and there are improvements that we can still make. For example, we want to give effective, thoughtful response. What constitutes good feedback in an e-mailed response?—a question that Becky Hallman, a former U of L consultant, effectively addresses in her recently defended MA Thesis. Or we always encourage students visiting the physical Writing Center to work with a consultant multiple times for any given assignment, taking time to work through the entire writing process, from prewriting to drafting to revising to editing—not necessarily in that order. How can we get students to work in a similar fashion in the Virtual realm, especially regarding prewriting? What about the dialogue that happens in the face-to-face setting that to me is the bread and butter of WC work? And what about the flip side of things? What can a Virtual session do that a face-to-face session can’t? What unique features of VWC sessions can we identify and improve upon? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about Virtual consulting. What experiences have you had either as a consultant or user of virtual services?

Opening Doors: Another Year Begins in the Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

My New Year’s resolutions always take place in late August. Like many of us in on university campuses, my yearly cycle begins with the new academic year. It is in August that the annual campus rituals, of new students arriving and new announcements going up on bulletin boards, signal the chance to begin again, to have a new set of experiences. It’s a time that I find myself reflecting on the year just completed and thinking about what I want to accomplish in the year ahead. Sometimes these are explicit promises to myself – such as making sure I get that article revised by the end of September. Sometimes my resolutions are more implicitly contained in the revising of course syllabi or the rethinking of policies for the new year. Either way, the resolutions and rituals that mark the start of the academic year are always restorative and energizing to me.

In the Writing Center one of our important rituals takes place when the new group of consultants show up for the coming academic year. On Thursday we all met as a group for the first time at the Writing Center Orientation to get to know each other and to plan for the year ahead. Eleven new graduate students will be working in the Writing Center this year.

Writing Center Orientation 1

Writing Center Orientation

They are a diverse group of people – from cooking enthusiasts to dancers to sports fans to rock climbers to world travelers to musicians. Some grew up in Louisville, while others grew up on the other side of the globe. Yet while their backgrounds and interests distinguish them from each other, their love of writing and their desire to teach others to be stronger writers is what brings them all to the Writing Center. Work in a Writing Center, to be successful, must be grounded in an ethic that draws from principles of service, care, empathy, patience, and respect. Only when consultants approach working with students from these principles, can the consultants and students work together to create more effective, critical, and creative writing. I told the new Writing Center consultants the other day that a Writing Center works best when it functions for both the staff and student writers as a site of inquiry, collaboration, and respect. From the conversations with the new consultants at Orientation it is clear that these are people who will be able to help student writers build on their strengths, and learn not just how to write a better paper, but to be better writers overall.

The commitment of these new consultants to helping others with their writing is impressive and makes it clear that we should have yet another successful – and fun – year in the Writing Center. It is a year that I hope will build on the successes of 2011-12. Among the highlights of the past year for the Writing Center were the following:

  1. We had 4866 visits to the Writing Center in the most recent academic year, including visits to our Virtual Writing Center and to our new office downtown at the Health Sciences Campus
  2. Writing Center staff conducted 70 presentations about our services and 26 in-class workshops on writing issues.
  3. We held our first Dissertation Writing Retreat. Ten Ph.D. students representing four different colleges and six different disciplines spent a week in the Writing Center working on their dissertations and receiving individual consultations with Writing Center tutors,
  4. We have a new Assistant Director position to focus on working with graduate student writers, paying particular attention to the needs of international students. Tika Lamsal will staff the position and split his hours between the main Writing Center and the office on the Health Sciences Campus. In addition the Writing Center, in collaboration with the Graduate School conducted a series of writing workshops for graduate students on both the Belknap and Health Sciences Campuses.
  5. Writing Center staff worked with a number of University programs, giving presentations and conducting workshops, including the Porter Scholars, A&S Advising, UofL Athletics, the Career Center, the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program, Family Scholar House, the Delphi Center, and the International Center. The presentations given by the Writing Center staff resulted in many students then visiting the Writing Center for the first time.
  6. During the 2011-12 academic year a number of Writing Center consultants presented their scholarship at conferences including the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Southeast Writing Centers Conference, the Kentucky Philological Association Conference, and the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing. In addition, Assistant Director Barrie Olson had a piece accepted for the Writing Lab Newsletter.
  7. Our exit survey indicated a high level of satisfaction with the Writing Center, by both quantitative and qualitative measures. Highlights included:
  • In answer to the statement: “My Writing Center consultation addressed my concerns about my writing project,” more than 96% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (74%) or “Agree” (22%).
  • In answer to the statement: “What I learned during my Writing Center consultation will help me with future writing projects,” more than 92% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (65%) or “Agree” (27%).
  • In answer to the statement: “I plan to use the Writing Center again,” more than 93% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (81%) or “Agree” (12%).
  • In answer to the statement: “The Writing Center staff were welcoming and helpful,” more than 97% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (80%) or “Agree” (17%).

Writing Center Orientation

On Monday morning, at 9 a.m., we will open our doors at the University Writing Center to begin another academic year. When we open those physical doors, we are also opening other kinds of doors. For the students, faculty, and staff who visit the Writing Center we hope to provide the kinds of response and suggestions that will open the doors to realizing the full potential of a piece of writing. For the consultants in the Writing Center we want to open doors to becoming effective teachers of writing. For the University community we hope to open the doors to being a positive focus and force for all the writing, in all its many forms, that takes place on campus.

In the weeks to come you will see more blog posts from other members about the Writing Center staff. People will be writing about their experiences in the Writing Center, but also about their experiences as writers and their thoughts about writing in general. So stop back by and join the conversation about writing and writers.

We’ve had a good year, but I expect to have an even better year to come.

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