Becoming a Student-Ready Writing Center: Flipping the Paradigm to a Multi-modal Service Model

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

To be a Student-Ready Writing Center, we revamped our programming to include a wider variety of service types.  These new modes for offering learning support include synchronous and asynchronous online tutoring, a help desk phone line, online chat for quick questions, and a variety of modes for feedback.



Anne E. Raines serves as the Director of the Writing Center and Supplemental Instruction Program at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Extended Abstract

Visiting the writing center for a face-to-face writing consultation can be challenging for today's students: schedules are busy and one-on-one consultations can be intimidating. Operating from a long-standing methodology of hour-long appointments scheduled well in advance, the writing center I was hired to direct last August seemed to be stagnant.  With a philosophy of taking services to the students and delivering them in ways easily accessed, I maintained the original appointment-based model but undertook an overhaul of the center’s programming to broaden options for students.

While asynchronous review of student’s writing was available, feedback encompassed only written text via email or embedded comments in the document. Striving to deliver a more personal review and move toward a model that incorporated more immediate reaction to the writer’s text, we added voice recordings to the client feedback.  Using recordings, tutors could ask questions, think through ideas, and respond to writing on a wholly different level. Taking the idea another step, we began recording short videos to deliver with the reviewed paper. The tutors use the videos to introduce themselves, offer feedback, and wrap up the tutorials and have increased their connections to writers using the asynchronous review service.

A natural next step was to add synchronous online tutoring to services offered on campus.  Allowing the writer and tutor to discuss the text via an online system such Blackboard Collaborate or software program enabled interaction similar to that achieved in face-to-face tutorials without the tutor and writer sitting in the center itself.  Veteran tutors initially resisted the addition of a synchronous model, but newly hired staff gravitated to the model and developed a methodology that has been successful enough to entice veteran tutors to try their hand as well.

Observing consultations scheduled for an hour and lasting only fifteen minutes, I realized we needed an express service for students as well.  Those writers with only one or two questions or a need for a jumpstart to a paper could be helped via an online chat feature that allowed them to submit a question and receive a brief response from the tutor.  Building from this idea, we offered an option for students to contact the help desk via phone or email to ask a question of an idle tutor or submit a quick question.

To overcome the obstacle of an appointment-only mindset, we developed an additional appointment model to accommodate walk-in writers. Using an web-based text notification application, much like the system in many restaurants, we have students sign in, study nearby the tutoring location in the library, and text them when their tutors are available to work with them.

Learning new ways and means to provide services to students has enabled our writing center to become Student-Ready meeting students where and how much of their lives are led--online and in quick bursts of energy and interaction.   Moving the center from a decades’ old philosophy of “build it and they will come,” we have figuratively relocated the center to the places easily accessed by students and removed barriers in the process. Planning ahead is not quite so necessary when it comes to appointments; walking-in is now an option. The stress-inducing risk inherent in a one-on-one review of one’s writing can be approached through a less stressful online consultation--even asynchronously if that is what the student feels most comfortable with. Quick consultations in the express line are encouraged and accomodated. The center is ready for the student rather than requiring the student to be ready for the center.  The paradigm is flipped.

This presentation will showcase new center programming and highlight tools used to enhance delivery of services.  Conference participants will be able to try the chat feature, web-based text notification system, and view examples of best practices from online tutorials.  Finally, conference participants will see how far student services can be accelerated with effort, imagination, and collaboration --despite no additional funding.