UofL Writing Center

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Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Looking Forward – and a Last Look Back – As We Get Ready For a New Year in the Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director, University Writing Center

When I talk about working in the Writing Center to new consultants at our orientation, I make the point that the work we do has to be grounded in an ethic of care, an ethic of service, and respect for students. I never feel like this is a hard sell – people who didn’t already feel this way don’t usually apply to work in a Writing Center – and this year was no exception. After a day of conversation with the new group of consultants, I realized that they were all deeply committed to these ideas when they walked through the door.

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2013-14 UofL Writing Center Consultants

Working in a Writing Center is always a matter of striking balances. You need to listen to students and ask questions that help them discover for themselves how best to   improve their writing, while not withholding expertise and advice that will give them insights on how to revise their work. You need to be patient and not rush writers in a session, but you also can’t waste time and not get anything accomplished. You need to attend to the concerns writers identify during a session, but also bring up other issues you see in their work. You need to be friendly and reassuring, but also professional and honest. What struck me about the new group of consultants at our orientation was how quickly they identified these issues of balance on their own, and the productive conversation we began about how best to draw on these various qualities when working with students.

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Writing Center Orientation

A number of our new consultants come to us already having worked in other writing centers or as teachers, and all of them have the talent and enthusiasm necessary to be effective writing teachers. They bring a diverse set of interests and backgrounds to their work. Yet all of the new consultants understand, from the beginning, that our goal in the Writing Center is to not only help students with their immediate writing projects, but also help them develop skills and strategies writers that will benefit them throughout their university lives and beyond. Some of the new consultants are native Louisvillians, while others come from places including California to Virginia to Georgia. We talked at orientation about the ways that the Writing Center works with all writers in the UofL community – students, faculty, and staff – on any writing project, at any point in the writing process. I left orientation excited about the year ahead and confident that UofL writers will gain a great deal from visiting the Writing Center this year.

A Last Look Back

While late August is always a time of excitement as the new academic year begins, it also is a moment when we can take a last look back at the year we just completed. We had an exceptional year at the Writing Center, thanks to a great group of consultants and assistant directors and especially thanks to the work of Associate Director Adam Robinson.

A few of the highlights of the 2012-13 academic year were:

 Writing Center Consultations: The Writing Center had a successful year of more than 5,400 consultations on the Belknap and Health Science Campuses and through our Virtual Writing Center. This was a 10 percent increase in visits over the previous academic year.

 Exit Survey Results: Our exit survey indicated a high level of satisfaction with the Writing Center, by both quantitative and qualitative measures. Highlights of the survey are:

  •  In answer to the statement: “My Writing Center consultation addressed my concerns about my writing project,” more than 96% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (70%) or “Agree” (26%).
  •  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” (64%) or “Agree” (28%).
  •  In answer to the statement: “I plan to use the Writing Center again,” more than 96% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (78%) or “Agree” (18%).
  •  In answer to the statement: “The Writing Center staff were welcoming and helpful,” more than 97% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (78%) or “Agree” (19%).
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Writing Center Orientation

 Presentations and Workshops: During the academic year, Writing Center staff conducted 75 in-class workshops on writing issues (and increase of 51 over 2011-12) and 76 presentations about our services (an increase of 15 over 2011-12).

Dissertation Writing Retreats: The Writing Center held two Dissertation Writing Retreats during the spring and summer of 2013. In the May retreat, funded by SIGS, 14 Ph.D. students representing four different colleges and nine different disciplines spent a week in the Writing Center working on their dissertations. In July the Writing Center collaborated with College of Education to hold a retreat on three consecutive Saturdays, in order to provide opportunities to graduate students from that college who work full-time jobs. Nine students took part in this retreat.

 Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing/Health Sciences Campus: In Fall 2012, the Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing was established. This full-time GTA position (20 hours/week) is dedicated to the support of graduate students, paying particular attention to the needs of international graduate students on both the Health Sciences and Belknap Campuses.

 Writing Center Blog and Social Media: The Writing Center Blog, to which all members of the staff contribute posts during the year, was viewed more than 5,000 times in 2012-13.  In addition, the number of visits to our Facebook page and our Twitter account have both grown substantially during the past year.

 Campus Outreach: Writing Center staff worked with a number of University programs, giving presentations and conducting workshops. These programs included the Porter Scholars, A&S Advising, UofL Athletics, the Career Center, the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program, Family Scholar House, the Delphi Center, E.S.S.E.N.C.E, Housing and Residence Life, First Year Initiatives, the Dental School, Student Affairs, Information Technology,TRIO, Ekstrom Library, and the International Center.

Now, to Look Forward

The accomplishments of the past year are things that we’re eager to repeat – and build on – in the year to come. We’re all eager for the year to get started and to work with all writers in the UofL community.

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Experiences, Advice, and Inspiration from First Year Cardinals: A Collaborative Blog

Last Thursday, the University Writing Center participated in the Office of First Year Initiatives Night at the Museum event. In the past, this event has been held at the neighboring Speed Art Museum, but since the museum is currently under construction it was moved to Ekstrom Library, where the Writing Center also happens to be located. We were excited to be involved in this event which, like many others in the week before school starts, aims to familiarize first-year students with campus, build community, and get everyone ready for the Fall semester.

There were many features available throughout the event, including a magician, a fire show, a scavenger hunt and others. DSCN1679On the 3rd floor in the Writing Center, in addition to the caricature artist, students were able to make videos about their experiences with writing, help decorate banners promoting what they believe about writing, and help write a collaborative blog post for this blog. To get the words flowing, we did offer some topic suggestions asking students to reflect on their best experiences with writing or advice about writing.

The night was filled with stories of papers, like this one:

My best writing experience was when I finished my 14 page Extended Essay for the International Baccalaureate Program in 2 freaking days. When results came in I received a 7 (the highest possible grade)!!! YAY!!!

And this one:

The best writing compliment I ever received was an accusation of plagiarism. That may sound a little mixed up, but it really was. Because what my teacher said to me wasn’t “you cheated” or “this isn’t yours” but rather “you couldn’t have possibly written this well”. And when I finally convinced him I had, he told me that it was essays like mine that showed that his class truly mattered.

By far, though, the most popular theme of the night was “best writing advice”:

Don’t use clichés!

Try as many different writing styles as possible. Try outlining, but if it doesn’t work you can always try something else! You never know when you will find a method that works for you. Most importantly, ASK FOR HELP!

When you finish a paper, read it backwards to catch spelling errors.  Then, make sure to have someone else read it.  They’ll probably see errors that you missed!

Be brief.DSCN1676

Make your diction sophisticated enough to be intelligent but simple enough to be practical.

Get rid of the fluff.

Don’t use “be” verbs!

If you use garbage words (nice, good, bad, like, ect.) I’m judging you.

Don’t use a semicolon unless you know how to use it. Seriously.

Write what you feel, when you feel it. Edit later.

In addition to the circulating stories of experiences, compliments, and advice, some students took the opportunity to listen to their inner muse and offer a demonstration of word play.

Poetry is

Like

Fight Club.

T h e r e       a r e      n o      r u l e s.

(except if it’s iambic pentameter, then there are rules. Sorry)

I wish I could speak English. I know incredibly close to no English. No English. No English. At all. Ever. 2+2=*

Everything is either everybody’s fault or nobody’s fault. Connections are limitless. Such is the madness of life and the living.

And, as ever, we should remember:

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Here at UofL,

The possibilities soar,

Proud to be a Card.

And:

I thank you are the best.

Compiler’s Note: The participating students all chose not to include their names. The Writing Center would like to thank all the students who visited us at the Night at the Museum event as well as those who participated in the collaborative blog, videos, and other activities. Thanks also go to First Year Initiatives for organizing this event and including us.

Just Three Saturdays: Comparing Dissertation Writing Retreat Models

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

Last weekend the Writing Center wrapped up our third Dissertation Writing Retreat. Much like the previous two dissertation retreats we’ve held, this one offered doctoral candidates the opportunity to have dedicated writing time and resources as well as time each day with a writing consultant. Unlike our previous retreats, we did not meet every day for a week; instead we met three Saturdays in a row. The difference in scheduling offered a unique experience that offered a different set of advantages than the week-long retreat.

First, the week-long retreat—which is a common model for these kinds of events—is useful to writers because it can be particularly helpful for breaking out of a rut and for developing daily writing habits. Our director, Bronwyn Williams, wrote during our first retreat about what the week-long model can offer. Some of our clients for the May retreats came in with the goal of finally wrapping up a chapter or with starting a chapter. Writer’s block is a common concern. In fact, this past May when I served as a consultant for the retreat that is exactly the place I was in, and I was hoping that like our writers I would be able to find the key with scheduled time each morning to write. We also work with writers during the week to develop daily goals or practices that will encourage them to do some writing every day. Hopefully these practices will continue once the week is over.

Certainly we have had good feedback from participants in the past two retreats. We’ve heard repeated calls for more retreats and more support for doctoral candidates in the form of writing groups and writing spaces. The School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies has responded to some of these call, as this semester they are starting Dissertation Writing Accountability groups. And, of course, the Writing Center always welcomes those who simply want to use the space to write or work during our open hours.

While we’ve had good feedback about the week-long retreat, and plan to continue offering them, sometimes circumstances call for some flexibility. A number of those interested in the May retreat were unable to attend because they work full-time jobs during the week. Many of these students were candidates in the College of Education and Human Development, and with the support of their college, we are able to design a Dissertation Writing Retreat that would meet all day for three Saturday in a row. Like our previous retreats, participants wrote in the morning and then, just before lunch, a short presentation was given on a dissertation writing strategy. In the afternoon, participants met with a consultant to talk about parts of their dissertation, writing strategies, or other writing related topics.

Ashly_Version_3The biggest advantage to meeting across three weeks—in this consultant’s opinion—was that there was a higher likelihood of developing habits. One hope of the week-long retreat is that repeated practice for five days, with support and peer supervision, will plant the seed of a habit. For the participants in this retreat, they had at least two weeks to practice and then report back about their effectiveness. There wasn’t as much direct support, but the accountability for progress was a little higher since they had a week to make progress between meetings rather than just an evening. One habit that I worked on with two of the participants was the practice of doing some writing or work every day that related to the dissertation. These women had busy lives—teaching, raising families, and other commitments—but they also worked hard to do even fifteen minutes of dissertation work every day. Of course, it wasn’t easy and some days that fifteen minutes didn’t happen. For the most part it did though, and I have confidence that they will be able to keep it up.

This is certainly not to say that one scheduling style for a dissertation writing retreat is better than another. Instead, I would argue here that each schedule works toward a different set of goals and has different expectations. Perhaps the week-long model is better for getting a burst of motivation and production that can get the ball rolling (again, sometimes) while the three-week model is more effective for establishing not just sparking habits. As the Writing Center moves forward and continues to host these retreats, we will be exploring these early thoughts and more. So, stay tuned; there’s more to come.

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