Editor’s note: We would like to thank Duane Theobald, Coordinator of the University Writing Center at the University of West Georgia, for providing this piece.
One of the “grand narratives” Jackie Grutsch McKinney and other scholars have identified is the idea that writing centers serve all students (Grutsch McKinney, 2013). As these scholars point out, however, many centers fall short of this goal. At the University Writing Center at the University of West Georgia (UWG), we were one of the centers falling short in this area. We had only offered face-to-face consultations prior to COVID-19 requiring major shifts throughout higher education.
In March 2020, our university moved completely online for the remainder of the spring semester. This forced our center to triage and assist students with their work via email submissions. We soon realized that there might be a more streamlined and accessible approach to our asynchronous online work through our learning-management system (LMS) called CourseDen, a D2L product. Nearly every student and faculty member at UWG access CourseDen regularly for components of their courses, making it an ideal platform to host our online services. By the start of our summer sessions in June 2020, our center had made the move toward operating out of a location inside D2L. This work was accomplished in collaboration with our Center for Teaching and Learning. After weeks of creating submission drop boxes that students could use to submit their work, providing links to writing resources (both for students and our consultants), and loading all students into the course, we were ready to launch our online services.
Despite some trepidation from me, my professional staff, and our consultants, the results of our LMS experiment were both encouraging and surprising. We nearly doubled our number of consultations summer-to-summer, and we served more students from across our campus community. While we primarily serve undergraduate students in humanities-based courses, we saw undergraduates from other courses and served a large number of graduate students. This latter population has always eluded our grasp–as most graduate students at our institution are either partially or completely online. On the whole, this trial worked so well that we kept it as a mode of operation for the recent fall semester and plan to keep it beyond the pandemic.
Now, let’s loop back to the idea of writing centers serving all students. Our center still has a good portion of our population, both undergraduates and graduates, that don’t utilize our services. However, with our LMS location, our center is certainly on the way. Despite all of the challenges and complications that COVID-19 has thrown at higher education, writing centers in particular have the ability to come out of such a time with fresh ideas and approaches for how we reach and serve students. These ideas and approaches might not be perfect; however, what we do is vital to student success and the students are always worth it. During such a stressful season of our lives, let’s take the important work of the writing center to the students where they are. If we approach this task with an open mind, the return on investment will be significant for everyone involved.
If you’re considering this approach to your center’s online services or curious how to get started, here are some helpful tips:
- Before you begin setting up your LMS location, consider what your LMS’ capabilities are and how you can utilize them. Do you just want drop boxes where students can submit assignments for asynchronous review? Would you like to add in resources that students can use as they write?
- If your center operates on a one or two-person professional staff, planning and mapping out your tasks is important. This kind of set-up work inside an LMS location is time consuming, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.
- Consider how you’ll use your online location to market to your campus community. Ideally, all students will be enrolled in the location each semester. If all students are enrolled in your LMS location, this means any announcement, video, etc. that you create and post should appear via a notification on students’ LMS homepage when they log-in. Allow your communication to reach as many students as possible, and you’re more likely to see diversity in the submissions your center receives.
- Double-check all of your work before the location is launched and functional. Of note, make sure the submission drop boxes for asynchronous paper review have all of the essential elements they need (title, instructions for submission, due date, etc.). Doing this on the front end will make overall functionality of your LMS location easier for your staff and the students you serve.
- Provide resources for your consultants to use regularly–especially if they’re new to asynchronous work. Also, don’t reinvent the wheel here; reach out to your writing center colleagues for suggested readings, guides, etc.
- Be prepared for hiccups and small issues to occur. This is inevitable and occurred a few times during our summer and fall 2020 trials. As long as you address the issues with the students you serve and communicate any changes with your staff and consultants, you should be just fine.
Grutsch McKinney, J. (2013). Peripheral visions for writing centers. Utah State University Press.
About the author: Duane Theobald is Coordinator of the University Writing Center at the University of West Georgia. He holds a BA in English (with a Georgia Teaching Certificate for English, Grades 7-12) and an MA in English (concentration in Film Studies)–both from the University of West Georgia. He currently serves as the Georgia state representative for the Southeastern Writing Center Association and is a Past President for the Georgia Tutoring Association. His scholarly interests include Writing Center studies, post-secondary pedagogy, film as literature, and American literature (primarily early and modern). He resides in Bremen, GA, with his wife, Kate, and daughter, Hailey.