Editor’s note: We would like to thank Dr. Denise Stephenson, Faculty Director of the Writing Center at MiraCosta College, Oceanside (California), for providing this piece. If you would like to share your writing center’s experience during COVID-19, please submit via WLN.
Dr. Denise Stephenson
For years I had wanted to offer online feedback on Sundays. Even though working on Sundays is allowed at my campus, working from home for our type of staffing was against board policy. Additionally problematic is that we work in a library and opening it would be challenging, if not impossible. While it’s true that the building could remain closed and staff could work there, it would be unfriendly in many ways, and so absurd that I had never set it up. After all, our service at the time was asynchronous, a service with a paper, prompt and focus points uploaded by the student and a screen-capture video link with voice-over suggestions and explanations of 2-3 next steps returned by writing coach via email. There was no reason to be on campus to provide an asynchronous service which only required a computer with a microphone and a relatively quiet place to record. And yet we found that between closing on Saturdays at 5 pm and opening Monday at 8 am our inbox of asynchronous appointments would fill up, sometimes even running into Tuesday. Due dates ranged from Sunday to Tuesday, and yes, some of those students were a little late with their requests, but they realized they needed input. We’re a community college; we want to reward that realization not penalize them for procrastinating. Besides, don’t college students everywhere write on Sundays? It’s when due dates loom large. In the end, I didn’t have to challenge the board policy, a shelter-in-place order from our governor delivered it to my door—the place I’ve been living and working for the last several months.
When the center suddenly went remote in mid-March, with a single week provided by the college for set-up, I opened up Sunday hours immediately. Before the COVID 19 pandemic, we offered in-person services at three different campuses in addition to asynchronous online feedback. As I put the writing center which had taken 16 years to build on-campus into a virtual environment in a single week, I knew I had too much staffing for a single point of service. I wasn’t being asked to reduce; my campus leaders were exceedingly kind to our staff in keeping everything stable throughout the remainder of the semester. But the crisis provided opportunity if I was willing to grasp for the brass ring. Perhaps I could spread out our hours across the full seven days. This would help many of our students, especially since they often have the misfortune of being what we now call essential workers who don’t necessarily work 9 to 5 Monday to Friday jobs.
My student staff were especially interested in Sunday hour offerings previously not available. I even accidentally scheduled staff to work on Easter, and students showed up! I was thrilled when that didn’t generate a bureaucratic nightmare, but I think payroll was barely holding on. Putting payroll processes into electronic format was complicated by being in the midst of a changeover to a new electronic system that was three months from being ready.
This summer, I again asked my limited staff to make Sunday hours available. We’re offering both synchronous and asynchronous appointments which nearly book-up every Sunday—a much higher fill rate than during the week.
This fall we will be entirely remote again. I plan to have a four-hour evening drop-in studio available on Sundays where students can get feedback or work in the virtual company of others. We’ll also continue to offer both types of appointments over an additional 4 hours on Sundays. And finally, we’ll offer a Sunday night workshop one of my coaches is calling Zoom-in and Write where students can say what they’re working on, write for a chunk of time, and then share what they accomplished.
I’ve spoken with my dean, and he’s supportive of this expansion of time offerings. With any luck, the fill-rate that I can report from this COVID-19 gift of an experiment will persuade the powers-that-be to allow us to continue Sunday work from home, even when it’s safe to return to campus.