Editor’s note: We would like to thank Şaziye Yaman, Berke Andiç, Dana Maan, and Alanoud Al-Shemali from the Writing Lab at the American University of the Middle East (Kuwait), for providing this piece. To contact the author, please email WritingLabAUM. If you would like to share your writing center’s experience during COVID-19, please submit via WLN.
The Writing Lab at the American University of the Middle East, in Kuwait, is a student-oriented space that encourages student engagement with experienced consultants to voice their writing related questions and concerns. The procedure for Writing Lab consultancy included students booking their 45-minute appointments online or having walk-in sessions for their essays, presentations, senior CAPSTONE projects, and any other written assignment. In line with the necessity to apply social distancing due to the changes that Covid-19 brought, following the first week of March, the Writing Lab started to adapt to student needs. The online transition experience was an opportunity to deal remotely with two types of writing sessions, which were email consultations and online consultations. The university followed the guidelines for online learning, therefore, initial consultations were provided via email. Consultations were carried out by indicating mistakes, giving feedback, and asking constructive questions to improve or understand the students’ writing process, through comments on the Word document the student had sent. Thus, the communication between the consultant and the students started. However, with the ever growing demand, a shift to using the BigBlueButton (BBB) software was made. Using BBB enabled the consultants to provide more in depth consultations through direct communication with the student(s).
Transition from E-Mail to BBB Consultations
Written communication, or audio and visual-based communication, made the online consultation sessions different from the in-person consultations carried out at the center. With the initial shift to email consultations, the lack of visual or physical cues, such as facial expressions and tone of voice, made it difficult for the consultants to understand the student and the meaning they might have had behind the text. However, this had two manners in which it could be approached. The first was, not being able to recognize non- verbal information, which led the consultant to giving limited or decontextualized feedback, resulting in more drafts and effort put in the paper to give the real meaning the writer intended. The second point was the verbal distance between the student and the consultant, which gave the consultant the chance to be more objective. On the other hand, face-to-face consultations created a better chance for a more subjective and humane connection. That is to say; only reading the paper and what was there, made the feedback generalized and to the point. Both the student and the consultant were participating in a content based session where there was no direct connection or communication with the student, only with the text itself.
Deeper Insight into BBB
As online learning was established as a norm throughout this period, virtual classrooms became the preferred medium. Therefore, the Writing Lab at AUM started offering BBB sessions. During these consultations, currently, the student uploads the paper as a presentation, then converts it so both the consultant and the student have the option to point out questions, highlight mistakes, and make visual comments using the presentation as a whiteboard canvas. These options allow the consultants’ feedback to vary from one request to the other. The feedback is tailored to student needs, which mainly revolve around grammar, APA formatting, content structure, and flow of ideas. Furthermore, to extend the fulfillment of the provided consultations, students are highly encouraged to book a follow-up session, to review the changed and edits that have been made based on the initial consultation. Using this platform, given the challenges that Covid- 19 has presented, has granted both consultants and students the chance to have the human connection as they would in a consultation at the Writing Lab.
Keeping the Momentum
During the transitions from the physical place of the Writing Lab, to email consultations, and finally to the BBB sessions; the consultants were able to remove previous mental barriers they might have had while adapting to this drastic change. These circumstances have envisioned a better chance at integrating online sessions to the existing, and more traditional, physical consultations. As a department, with the support of the university, the AUM Writing Lab was able to persevere in order to find the best possible solutions to carry on the university’s mission. Hence, students were still able to benefit from the Writing Lab services, to become better writers with a more holistic world view. Thus, the predominant global pandemic does not appear to be an obstacle towards the standards the AUM Writing Lab aims to maintain.