Tag Archives: online writing centers

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNER SUPPORT AND THE MAKING OF AN INCLUSIVE WRITING CENTER


Chrissine Cairns, MA, Writing Center Tutor

The Kaplan University Writing Center is a dynamic and inclusive tutoring center staffed by experts in college writing, online writing instruction, and the delivery of personalized and multimodal tutoring services, webinars, and resources for adult students online.  Housed in the Academic Support Center on KU Campus, the Writing Center is accessible to every student taking courses at KU, undergraduate and graduate.  In 2014, the Writing Center celebrated its 10th anniversary, and today the Writing Center continues its mission as a free, academic support service for KU’s diverse online students writing across the curriculum and the globe.

When the Writing Center first opened, it established itself with a website, a Q&A chat, and a paper review service.  At that time, students and tutors communicated only in writing and with printable resources.  Then in 2008, equipped with its first full-time director and staff of professional writing tutors, the center had the potential to experiment with new educational technologies, audio and video tools, and reach more students with more personalized support.

I was one of those original tutors and the founder of the English Language Learner Tutoring and Outreach Program, one of two innovative Writing Center programs developed for students struggling with the basics of writing and standard English in the text-based online learning environment.  Together, the ELL Tutoring and Outreach Program and the Writing Fundamentals Program introduced the following specialized services and resources to the Writing Center’s traditional offerings:

  • Email outreach with a video welcome to the Writing Center,
  • One-on-one tutoring in an audio-enabled, Adobe Connect tutoring room,
  • Interactive writing workshops on college writing, grammar, and plagiarism prevention,
  • Video and written feedback on paper reviews with a 24-hour turnaround time,
  • Video tutorials on college writing and grammar topics, and
  • Faculty resources and referral initiatives.

Nine years later, these services and resources are the cornerstones of Writing Center support with improved access for ELL and Writing Fundamentals students and expanded access to all students.

In 2016, self-referral web forms were added to the Writing Center’s ELL and Writing Fundamentals webpages that connect students with a tutor and personalized video feedback within 24 hours if not immediately.  Time is one thing busy, adult students online do not have to spare, and the chance to help any one student may happen only once and in an instant, so ELL and Writing Fundamentals students no longer have to be referred by an instructor to receive video feedback.  ELL students had the additional obstacle of first having to self-identity as ELL to an instructor to be referred.  Today, every student who submits a paper for review receives personalized video feedback.

Today, not one or two but all 13 Writing Center tutors are trained and experienced to tutor ELL and Writing Fundamentals.  ELL and Writing Fundamentals students do not have to wait for an appointed time to work with one or two specialized tutors.  Over the past several years, all tutoring services, outreach, and resources in the Writing Center have been recreated to be inclusive and more accessible.  They are designed with the experience and expectation that students arrive to the center at various points in their degree or career path and bring with them unique educational backgrounds and diverse cultural and linguistic histories.

Today, with streamlined outreach that connects ELL and Fundamentals students with tutors more quickly and the innovative integration of the original specialty services with the center’s traditionally offerings, the Writing Center has bridged gaps on many students’ paths to learning success.  With all-student access to more tutors, more live tutoring hours, over 500 media-rich writing guides and archived webinars, and new study skills videos, the Writing Center is entering its next phase of growth as a far-reaching, versatile, and inclusive tutoring hub that provides substantive and personalized academic support to all students with the motto, “Every encounter matters.”  Visit the Writing Center by logging into KU Campus, or check out the Writing Center’s public-facing website at http://library.kaplan.edu/kuwc today.

Connections, Camaraderie, Collaboration in Colorado: Takeaways from the 2016 International Writing Centers Association Conference


Chrissine Rios and Amy Sexton, Writing Center Tutors

Writing Center tutors Chrissine Rios and Amy Sexton, along with Academic Support Center manager Melody Pickle, recently attended and presented at the 2016 International Writing Centers Association Conference that was held October 13-17 in beautiful downtown Denver, Colorado.  Chrissine and Amy presented a panel session titled Video Feedback for Effective Online Writing Instruction, where we discussed our long-term use of video feedback for asynchronous paper reviews.  Melody presented Online Motion: Using Forms for Dynamic Asynchronous Services, which overviewed the ways that our writing center uses forms to provide students easy access to our services and to track the ways that students use these services.  The three of us presented Leveraging Technology for Online Inclusivity together. In this presentation, we talked about our recent collaboration across the Academic Support Center to create a series of video tutorials designed to support the whole student by focusing on key skills like time management and reading comprehension.  Our participation in this conference, as well as our time together, allowed us to bring numerous takeaways, including increased connections, a stronger sense of camaraderie, a renewed commitment to continued collaborations, and treasured memories of the mile high city back to our virtual home offices.   

Connections

IWCA is an organization devoted to supporting the work of writing centers across the globe, and its annual conference is a great time to come together with folks who share the same goals and engage in the similar tasks of helping college writers improve within the setting of writing centers.  At the conference, we not only shared our work in an online writing center with others, but we also attended others’ presentations and networked.  We talked with people doing writing center work across the country and world, and we discovered that we share the same concerns, struggles, and triumphs.  We discussed creative ideas and strategies for working with student writers.  We connected with other professionals, including APA Style Expert, Chelsea Lee who writes for  The APA Style Blog, a resource very familiar to all of us as we often consult the blog and refer students to it.  We even modeled free tee shirts that representatives from APA Style Central generously provided.  

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Figure 1. Left to right, Amy, Melody, and Chrissine

Camaraderie

Like other employees in our Academic Support Center and throughout Kaplan University, we work from remote locations.  While we talk, meet, collaborate and communicate daily, we rarely see each other face to face.  We do not have the pleasure of chatting at the office water cooler, sharing dishes and snacks at potluck lunches, or attending festive holiday parties together.  In fact, this conference marked the first time that tutors Amy and Chrissine met in person!  Attending and presenting at the conference gave us an opportunity to spend time together and get to know each other a little better.  We shared meals, stories, laughs, and generally learned more about each other and our lives.  As a group of virtual employees, the chance to connect with each other in this way was priceless.    

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Figure 2. Amy and Chrissine are all smiles after a successful presentation.

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Figure 3. Amy and Melody pose before enjoying a delicious dinner at Denver ChopHouse & Brewery

Collaboration

A major theme of our Leveraging Technology for Online Inclusivity presentation was collaboration.  We presented on a resource development project in which the Writing Center collaborated with faculty and with Specialists from the Math, Science, Business, and Technology Centers.  Together, we produced a new video series for the Academic Support Center.  The project united each of the centers through a stronger collaborative relationship while the resources themselves unite students from across the disciplines with inclusive, study skills support.  As Amy and Chrissine described the key considerations for this collaborative video development project, attendees were surprised that Amy and Chrissine had never met in person before this conference.  But as longtime virtual employees, we have mastered the communication skills and technology needed to develop a strong collaborative and interpersonal relationship online, so for us, the real benefit of meeting face to face was not in seeing each other (although that was a treat!) but in being able to share our work with tutors and administrators from on-ground writing centers.  In fact, some attendees expressed their struggles convincing the leadership at their schools of the merits of online tutoring.  We hope to have served as good examples of what can be accomplished online, for we certainly walked away with a renewed sense of importance of our collaborations and how they contribute to the advancement of writing center pedagogy.   

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Figure 4. For this online crew, a strong collaborative relationship began long before meeting face-to-face.

City Scenes

When we were not busy presenting or attending other presentations, we enjoyed exploring the city.  The mile high city offers a wide variety of sights to see and places to visit.  From the Denver Pavilion to the Millennium Bridge to the majestic Rocky Mountains to historic restaurants and train stations,  Denver was a delight to explore.  

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Figure 5. Lunch at Denver Pavilions

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Figure 6. After dinner at the Denver ChopHouse in the historic Union Pacific building

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Figure 7. Denver Millennium Bridge

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Figure 8. Denver Union Station

(c) Chrissine Rios

Figure 9. Mountain view from the conference hotel

The IWCA Conference supplied us with valuable takeaways and connections that will inform and inspire our work ahead.  The conversations we had with tutors and administrators from writing centers at community colleges and universities big and small as well as with other online writing centers and related organizations like APA ignited a real sense of unity and purpose that is easy to lose sight of when we tutor one student at a time in our individual and unique centers.  It is that sense of unity and purpose that will propel us forward as we continue to collaborate, connect, and engage in the important work of supporting student writers.