Chats and Webinars–an online writing center discussion

In a previous post,  Dr. Sarah Prince and Beth Nastachowski, MA, of Walden University started a discussion about online writing centers. In addition to starting a new discussion group–the OWC email discussion list–they’re happy to share some thoughts about two of their successful online services: chat and webinars.

Because Walden offers its paper reviews asynchronously, offerings like synchronous chat and live webinars not only provide students with supplemental writing instruction but also give them the rare opportunity to interact in real time. The chat service is designed to quickly answer students’ writing questions while they are actively constructing their drafts. In contrast, Walden Writing Center’s bimonthly webinars offer more in-depth instruction on topics ranging from scholarly writing, style and grammar tips, and practical writing skills. Although these services aim to serve students at different points during the writing process, they both were created with the same goals in mind: to provide human connection and real-time writing instruction to distance students engaged in what can often feel like an isolating writing process.

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Chat Service Overview

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-17-41-amWe use a live Chat feature through LibApps to give students a chance for live interaction and an opportunity to get questions answered immediately. Our Chat widgets are embedded on our writing center’s homepage and in slide-outs on every page of our website to make Chat accessible in multiple places. Because online students often crave immediate, personalized support, this service’s goal is to reach students who may not be inclined to e-mail us with their inquiry (though our policy is to answer all e-mails within 24-hours) or to try to search through our web content.

Before the current successful iteration of Chat, we piloted chat a few times with limited success. It originated as a pilot called Tutor Talk in the summer of 2013 in a separate platform that was not integrated with our website. It was at one set time each week and targeted undergraduate students only. When this pilot did not gain interest, we opened it up to all students toward the end of 2013, but we still had little participation. Finally, when we discovered that our current platform had the option for Chat, we revisited it in early 2015. We offered it at varying times on varying days of the week, and we also were more intentional with the way in which we marketed it (when we had targeted advertising in an all-student communication, we had better results.) Now, in 2016, we’ve had anywhere from 150 to almost 400 students use the Chat service each month (the numbers vary depending on term starts, student communications and advertising, etc.)

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