In graduate school I was assigned to work as the Undergraduate Writing Center’s (UWC) Assistant Coordinator to fulfill part of my assistantship obligations. When I arrived, the Center’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) was available to a limited population of writers who could submit their work via Google’s asynchronous g-mail.
In the course of attempting to respond productively to papers well beyond my ken (and often feeling I’ve failed miserably), I gradually developed some ideas about how to approach doing e-mail tutoring outside my areas of expertise.
In a recent Kairos article, “Expanding the Space of f2f,” Melanie Yergeau, Katie Wozniak, and Peter Vandenberg make the case for online synchronous tutoring. Though arguments for online tutoring, synchronous or not, have been made frequently over the last fifteen years, what is different about this piece is an emphasis on what they called “audio-video-textual conferencing” or AVT tutoring.
This dissertation examines the theory and praxis of taking an expanded concept of the human-computer interface (HCI) and working with the resulting concept to design a writing center website that facilitates online tutoring while fostering a conversational approach for online tutoring sessions.
While OWLs (online writing labs) have been a presence for many years, online learning—and therefore online conferencing—in writing classes has not. Beth L. Hewett’s The Online Writing Conference: A Guide for Teachers and Tutors has joined this lively conversation at a critical moment. How does this book speak to the controversy? How does it speak to writing centers?
Yet as we work to keep our writing centers responsive to a student body that is increasingly savvy with technology and in some cases geographically dispersed, we look to electronic spaces to explore new options for writing center practice. The “virtual world” called Second Life offers such an opportunity.
Student writer accessibility to the tutoring service provided by the California State University, Sacramento University Writing Center (UWC) is limited by three main factors: the availability of funds for paid tutors, the number of intern tutors available, and the face-to-face nature of the service. This study addressed the third limitation by using collaboration software over the Internet to determine if online tutoring could be as effective as face-to-face tutoring and result in more students, particularly part-time and commuter students, taking advantage of UWC services.
When I began writing this essay, I had been a tutor for less than a year, and I was heavily immersed in both online writing center theory and Jerome McGann’s renowned 1983 book, The Romantic Ideology (as my primary field is British Romanticism). I began to use McGann’s theory regarding the Romantics’ “escapist” poetic language as a lens through which to inform my online tutoring practices, especially with regard to clients’ online writing styles.
For writing centers that have been involved in online tutoring, fundamental questions remain: When the writer is not present to answer questions, how should tutors respond? What does experience tell us works best? Although there are no easy answers, experience can be a good teacher. The tutors at my university learned a few lessons as we developed our online service:
The Writing Centre at Royal Roads University (RRU) relies on a flexible online writing lab (OWL) to support our students’ academic writing efforts. As a one-person center that supports approximately 2000 full-time equivalents, the Writing Centre website is a front-line service, not only to provide information and resources, but also to facilitate conversations between students, instructors, and me, the Writing Centre Coordinator.