The history of online writing centers is a history of doubt. I experienced those reservations in 2009, when, in addition to traditional face-to-face peer tutoring, I launched my own online peer tutoring program and began training undergraduates to respond to student submissions.
The purpose of this article is to share lessons learned in setting up three different peer online writing centers in three different contexts (EFL, Generation 1.5, and ESL). In each center the focus was on the language learner as a peer online writing advisor and their needs in maintaining centers “for and by” learners.
Like many writing center directors, I was hesitant to introduce online tutoring. However, because of limited physical space on campus, the internet provides the only room for growth available to us—a problem faced by many writing centers (Carpenter 2). The inevitability of online growth is also supported by the increase of tertiary-level online and blended courses being offered at most post-secondary schools.
Beth L. Hewett’s The Online Writing Conference addresses three under-represented yet significant areas of online writing instruction (OWI): the theory and practice of textual exchanges, the nature and substance of dialogic interactions, and the wisdom of depending on traditional face-to-face writing theories and pedagogies to drive the work of OWI.
In an attempt to organise a model that can be used for improving needs analysis efforts, this dissertation concludes that writing centres can benefit by: (1) using custom online asynchronous platforms; (2) collecting more and varied information; (3) using reports educationally; and (4) effectively training and positioning tutors to conduct needs analysis.
In what follows, I briefly situate this conversation about distance tutoring within the rhetorical canon of delivery. Then, I describe my own experiences tutoring in a graduate writing center (GWC) at Penn State University as a way to add experiential examples to Grutsch McKinney’s discussion of Skype and Google Documents (Google Docs).
This document describes OWI principles and example effective practices for teaching writing in the online learning contexts common in postsecondary education.
Although text-based communication has become the primary way institutions of higher learning deliver and receive information, Hewett (2010) observes that clear communication in text-based, online environments is challenging even for the most experienced online instructors and tutors:
When I first started thinking about sophistry, I had trouble understanding the vehemently low regard in which their contemporaries held the sophists. In trying to wrap my brain around the sophistic reputation, I found myself looking for the sophists’ contemporary parallel and in so doing, I recalled my own consternation regarding the ever-expanding field of online education.
Keywords: asynchronous, synchronous, email, video chat, accessibility, grand narrative, group tutoring, online instruction, pedagogy, relationships, student perspectives, talk, training