UofL Writing Center

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Archive for the month “July, 2016”

There’s More than One Way to Build a Writing Center – A Visit to The Writing Cafe at Plymouth University

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Writing Centers – around the world – can be found in all kinds of locations, both physical and institutional. We’re fortunate at the University of Louisville to have a large and prominent new space on the ground floor of the main Library and to have the institutional support of departments and administrators across the university. Other writing centers have to find other ways to create spaces and identities for themselves when the university around them may not yet have figured out how much it needs a writing center – or even what one is. Recently, when I attended the Writing Development in Higher Education conference at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, I had the opportunity to visit and learn about one of the more exciting and innovative approaches to creating a writing center that I have seen  – The Writing Cafe.

The Writing Cafe is exactly what it sounds like. Located on the top floor of one of the


The Writing Cafe at Plymouth University

academic buildings, it is a place where writers (from both the university and community) can come to get a cup of coffee, have a writing consultation, attend a workshop, or just have a communal, social space to write. It’s a warm, welcoming space that combines the relaxed ambience of a coffee shop with conversations about writing. Even a brief visit made it clear that it was a place that was fostering and sustaining a culture of writing on campus and in the community – which is part of the essential role of any writing center. It certainly tempted me to get a coffee and hang out and write rather than going to the next conference session (but I did go to the next session….)

What makes The Writing Cafe so exciting for people doing Writing Center work, however, is not just the space itself. The story of how Helen Bowstead and Christie Pritchard created and put together The Writing Cafe is instructive – and inspiring – for people wanting to establish a writing center or just find a new way of thinking about how a writing center might inhabit a different kind of institutional and social space. Faced with a university that was reluctant to provide the space and furnishings for a writer center, they came across the abandoned cafe space and convinced the university to let them renovate and


Literacy artifacts at The Writing Cafe

use it. They furnished it with cast-off tables and chairs they scavenged from around campus – as well as abandoned literacy artifacts of, such as an old typewriter, globe, and camera. Their explicit goal was to drawn on “coffee-house culture” to create a place that was social and informal, but also generative and engaging. They also had the ongoing support of the Learning Development team at Plymouth University. People coming to The Writing Cafe don’t make appointments, but just drop in to talk with the consultants who are on call at that time. Unlike some writing centers, they have decided not have appointments or keep records of consultations, so that the atmosphere and experience remains one that is more focused on nurturing a community of writers and less focused on assessment and evaluation of writing. The goal is not only to help people with their writing, but to give them an experience that helps them feel different about writing. Writing Cafe has been a huge success – primarily publicized through word of mouth among students.

Of course, this model doesn’t work for every writing center, but it is a reminder that there are other approaches and values that can be supported in writing centers in addition to


What happy writers have written on the board at The Wrting Cafe

just helping people with the draft in front of them. The idea of a space that offers writers a different emotional experience about writing, and that emphasizes the importance of conversation and the social nature of writing, is refreshing and exciting in a time when universities in many countries are increasingly focused on assessment and evaluation of writing. The Writing Cafe treats student writers – and all writers – like authors with something to say. Finally, The Writing Cafe is an example of what can be done, in a time of shrinking budgets, if you can be creative and work with what you have at hand. As someone interested in the idea of writing centers as “enclaves” of different practices, I was glad I got the chance to find out about this place.


What does OWL mean to you?: Creating New Web-Based Resources for the Writing Center

Cassie Book, Associate Director

The University Writing Center is always open to improving our online resources and services for on campus and at-a-distance students, faculty, and staff. Currently, we offer virtual tutoring, a robust website, social media, (this) blog, and several online resources such as our Writing FAQs, but we understand that technology and student-needs push us to revise and add. I recently had an opportunity to research Online Writing Labs (OWLs) and reflect on our center’s online resources for a graduate course in Online Writing Instruction (OWI). Moreover, as a project for the course, I developed a new resource, a video workshop, “Writing a Literature Review,” to add to our current collection of six video workshops. This blog describes my development process and briefly connects it to research on OWI and OWLs.

I choose to create a video workshop on literature reviews because it is a logical need for graduate students. Moreover, the Writing Center already has an established in-person workshop on Literature Reviews, co-hosted with the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies (SIGS). While we (humbly) think our in-person workshops are great, it is inevitable that some students are unable to attend due to timing or access to campus. Some students’ learning styles may also be better suited to a video with pause, rewind, and captioning tools. So, it makes sense to create online, access-anytime video workshops. However, creating online resources that also are accessible and not just a one-way stream of information (imagine: videos with talking heads or a 100% lecture-based course), is not the easiest task. I’d like to share how pedagogical goals, technology, and accessibility needs shaped the final product of the video workshop I created.

For those who have not viewed the workshop, this paragraph briefly describes it. The workshop is approximately ten minutes of video-recorded PowerPoint slides defining a literature review and offering strategies for research and writing. As you might expect, it has an audio voice-over. The visual components are are text, images, animation, and captioning. The interactive component is multiple-choice and open-ended questions that appear on the screen periodically. These questions do not have correct answers; instead, they ask the audience to connect a concept to their own context, provide customized suggestions, or jump to a more relevant section of the video. I also created a text-only script to accompany the video link on our website.

Though the learning outcome for the workshop is fairly straightforward, that the audience understand the conventions and components of a literature review as part of a larger project, simply presenting decontextualized information is not a good teaching strategy, regardless of the setting—an on campus or online classroom. Kelli Cargile-Cook, professor of English and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech, argues for pedagogy-driven online education in contrast to technology-driven. Even in an online space, content delivery should be more interactive, “similar to dialogic onsite classrooms” where “instructor and students provide course content” (59). Our Writing Center staff present in-person workshops with interactive delivery, but the nature of the online, accessible by anyone at any time, video workshops makes the issue of real-time response, impossible for the medium. In order to allow pedagogy to drive the development instead of the technology, I employed the free version of Zaption. Zaption allows the presenter to insert questions into a video hosted by YouTube with the outcome being a self-directed video lesson. Although Zaption seems to be intended as a venue for self-paced quiz-based courses, I created more of an interactive space by creating questions without “correct” answers.

Because it was important to have a text-only script as a component of my final project, I began drafting and story-boarding in a Google Doc. After I completed a draft, I moved to PowerPoint because I was preparing to create the video with audio voice-over to host on YouTube before importing into Zaption and adding the interactive questions. I thought I had a good script draft before moving to PowerPoint, but I encountered issues such as repetition and text-heavy explanations. I wrote as I would speak, not as I would present key words and concepts on slides, ideally using movement, images, and figures to demonstrate concepts. I moved back and forth between the PowerPoint and the script, making sure that both covered the same material. For example, the description of the purpose of literature reviews, in the script was: “A literature review has two related purposes. First, to evaluate existing research related to your topic and second to position your argument within the existing research.” Adapting this to PowerPoint, I employed a “SmartArt” graphic and an animation to show the relationship between the two purposes. A balance with several citations appears with the first purpose as the slide’s title. Then, the second purpose appears in the gap between citations (fig. 1).

slide owl

Figure 1. PowerPoint slide four. The slide first appears without the box “2. To position your argument within the existing research.” The arrow indicates how the text moves onto the screen.

I tried to build in access into the design from the beginning, as Sushil Oswal, in “Physical and Learning Disabilities in OWI,” recommends. Oswal directs teachers and course designers to, “Always place accessibility at the beginning of all planning; it should remain an integral part of all subsequent course design and delivery processes” (282). I created a text-only script to include as a link next to the link to the Zaption video on our website, but I adapted the text script to exclude references to what the audience might be “seeing” on screen. I also used YouTube’s captioning feature, which allows me to type the audio and auto-sync the timing. For the ten minute video, it took me about 45 minutes to create captions. I also had multilingual users in mind because there are many international graduate students at the University of Louisville who visit the Writing Center.  In “Multilingual Writers and OWI,” Susan Miller-Cochran recommends “that instruction in writing should be clear, and that oral and/or video supplements also should be provided” (298). I explained the purpose and objectives clearly at the beginning and summarized them at the end, which should be helpful to most all learners.

Although I designed my video workshop, “Writing a Literature Review,” with the tools and intentions I outlined here, that does not mean that the outcomes will be as I anticipated and carefully planned. Usability studies with OWLs, such as Allen Brizee, Morgan Sousa, and Dana Driscoll’s in their research with the well-liked Purdue OWL, remind OWL developers that users are the ultimate authority to the effectiveness of a learning object, tool, or lesson. To complicate matters further, Zaption just announced that it was bought out and is shutting down in September. The availability of tools, especially free open-access tools, is a reality for OWI and OWL. Losing Zaption is not good news for us if it happens that the Writing a Literature Review workshop is well-liked.

So, what do you think? Do you like the interactive questions? Do they get you thinking? Or are they distracting? We will keep the workshop available on our website as long as possible, but we will be exploring new options for our video workshops to create accessible virtual learning experiences . Your recommendations can be helpful to us as we move forward with refining our online resources, so please comment here or email writing@louisville.edu with suggestions!

Works Cited

Brizee, Allen, Morgan Sousa, Dana Lynn Driscoll. “Writing Centers and Students with Disabilities: The User-centered Approach, Participatory Design, and Empirical Research as Collaborative Methodologies” Computers and Composition 26 (2009): 107-121. Print.

Cargile-Cook, Kelli. “An Argument for Pedagogy-Driven Online Education.” Online Education: Global Questions, Local Answers. Eds. Kelli Cargile Cook and Keith Grant-Davie.
Farmingdale, NY: Baywood. 49-66. Print.

“FAQ: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions.” Zaption. Zaption, 2016. Web. 16 May 2016. (https://www.zaption.com/faq)

Oswal, Sushil K. “Physical and Learning Disabilities in OWI.” Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction. Eds. Beth Hewett and Kevin Eric Depew. Fort Collins, CO: WAC
Clearinghouse and Parlor Press, 2015. 253-289. Web.

Miller-Cochran, Susan. “Multilingual Writers and OWI.” Foundational Practices of Online
Writing Instruction
. Eds. Beth Hewett and Kevin Eric DePew. Fort Collins, CO: WAC
Clearinghouse and Parlor Press, 2015. 253-289. Web.

Update September 30, 2016: I migrated this workshop to a YouTube video because Zaption is shutting down. – Cassie 


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