Editor’s note: As part of an ongoing discussion about writing centers and learning centers, I’m excited to hear from Kim Haglund, who has worked at College of the Canyons for 15 years. Kim currently serves as a coordinator in The Learning Center, particularly serving the Writing Center needs.
In the 1970’s, the Tutoring, Learning, and Computing Center (now The Learning Center, or TLC) at College of the Canyons opened its doors as an all-inclusive Learning Center. We have never had separate locations by subject area and have always shared space together. I coordinate the Writing Center portion which includes Writing in the Disciplines, Supplemental Learning, an Online Writing Lab and tutoring, and tutoring for Humanities, Social Sciences, and Modern Languages, while my counterpart coordinates Math, Science, and Engineering needs for our student populations. We have found that the open floor plan, extended operating hours, and inclusion of all subject areas has led to a “one stop” shopping model whereby students can sign in and out of areas in order to receive tutoring for any class they may be in, all in one location, which data reveals lead to recognition, metacognition, and replication of skills imparted to our students to meet our Mission Statement and SLOs. We have also found that students spend extended periods of time in The Learning Center, often switching from projects or classes, or group collaborations without having to travel across campus, and this accessibility is also part of equity for all students, illustrating the fluidity of one location and synthesis among courses. Students find it convenient, which leads to higher attendance, success, and retention as our data also reflects. Furthermore, Institutional Development Surveys have demonstrated both faculty and students find the location and the walk-in only paradigm the highest ranked of all our services.
There are several benefits for students, faculty, and staff to having the Writing Center housed within The Learning Center. Financially, we have one overall budget which we internally delegate based on attendance and need; however, campus-wide, we are not in competition for limited funds with boutique programs or other tutoring activities, and the lack of redundancy in offerings brings students to The Learning Center, with the exception of the grant-funded MESA Lab and specialized DSPS program (though we share tutors, training, and students with both). The coordinators and staff all have the same goal: To increase student success and retention and assist them with educational goals while promoting independent learning.
The coordinators participate in studies, committees, and campus activities as a group, and if one of us has a special program we would like to pilot, we meet about reallocating some funding among ourselves. We also share space to conduct Supplemental Learning Activities and work together to schedule rooms, staff (and at times share staff), train, and support our students as a group. Do we always agree? No. Do we always get along? No. But, the ability to work as a team with limited, shared resources it paramount; the biggest threat to reaching our goals for students are power struggles among us, State budgets and confines, or administrative issues.
Thankfully for us, we have robust support in upper administration. But again, interior management and collaboration is key. The Writing Center has a distinct identity within The Learning Center as the content may drive different practices among Math, Science, or Engineering. There are both positives and negatives associated with a Writing Center within a Learning Center, but the positives outweigh the negatives in terms of the overall Learning Center goals surrounding student success and retention. The Learning Center shares the same SLOs. We also share the same Mission Statement: “The mission of The Learning Center is to develop student skills, prepare students to be independent learners, create a community of learning, and develop a passion for teaching among student tutors”. Having one Mission Statement and set of SLOs positions us to have the same goal. How we go about reaching our goals, though, may be different.
What works for one subject may not work for another. Writing tutoring is done at times in groups, but generally is a one-on-one interaction whereas other areas in The Learning Center are not. The students coming in for math help may come as a group from the same class, working on the same problems, so group tutoring makes more sense whereas it does not as much in the Writing Center aside from Supplemental Learning workshops. Also, because we are housed together, we work with the same students and student populations (Athletes, DSPS, Adult Re-Entry, ESL, International Students to name a few), and those students understand the differences in service and policy among subjects. For example, the Math department launched an accelerated course sequence focusing on affective domain, and there is writing involved. Though these students traditionally see a math tutor, because they are also familiar with the Writing Center for other course requirements, they will come to seek help with the writing for their math courses. We also have ESL students who may struggle with word problems, and they often seek help from our ESL tutors with their math homework. Conversely, we have many students in the social sciences seeking assistance from math tutors with tables and data sets or specialized software. Perhaps because we have always been structured this way, students have no difficulty recognizing the Writing Center services from other services which leaves our identity intact, though under the umbrella of The Learning Center (TLC) since we offer more services than tutoring which are often course requirements.
Overall, TLC employs approximately 200 employees – a mixture of short-term (adult hourly) and college assistants, supervised by three coordinators who report to the Director. The ratio of short-term to college assistants fluctuates, but generally it is close to 50/50. Having so many employees has definite drawbacks for coordinators considering hiring, scheduling, evaluations, or payroll, but we also share employees which helps with the ongoing issue of students working too many hours among departments, training costs and needs, and collaborative projects. For example, I have a Supplemental Learning Clerk that I share with the GED Testing Center (also housed in TLC), and there are employees who tutor both math and writing. I also perform the tutor training for my staff differently than my counterpart for Math, Science, and Engineering, but the training for online tutoring in regards to the technological components are separate from content training, so we do that as a group.
There are many cost-saving ways to parse out content from overall training (including customer service, ESL, student populations) which we create, present, and budget, and schedule as a team. We also work together to market services, present at conferences, create instructional materials, and schedule space in our 40k square foot building. Many of the adjoining classrooms are scheduled by the Instruction Office for classes, so we are constantly working with that department and each other to plan semester offerings of Supplemental Learning activities and other TLC programs.
Initially, it can appear that housing a Writing Center within a Learning Center has many disadvantages; however, the advantages for students, staff, and faculty in convenience, success, retention, collaboration, and budgets outweigh the drawbacks. This model has worked on our campus for over 30 years, and I encourage others to look at the positives and possibilities within other campus climates to replicate this model.
Questions or ideas for Kim? Comment below! And stay tuned for our next writing center/learning center profile, coming later this week!