Transferring Between Modalities


In a few short months, I will have to face a wonderful but terrible truth: peer tutors graduate. While I am proud in a way that I cannot express in words (interpretive dance or semaphore may come closer), I will no doubt shed many a tear.

Two of my peer tutors transferring to the University of Montevallo are planning on being roommates, which is the stuff of sitcom writers’ dreams! These same two peer tutors are currently in talks to continue their writing center careers at Montevallo.

Reflecting on their imminent transfer, I could not help but think of the SWCA 2017 Conference theme: Welcome to Today’s Multimodal Writing Center. I consider our center to be multimodal because we, to borrow a phrase from Lisa Zimmerelli’s keynote address at the conference, mobilize “the available means of persuasion.” Our modes are, however,  what many would classify as traditional: notepads of varying sizes, small whiteboards, and computers with a basic version of the Microsoft Office suite.

Writing center practitioners have written extensively of the importance of training tutors to be ready for new modes of composition. Michael Pemberton, for example, asks whether “writing centers should continue to dwell exclusively in the linear, non-linked world of the printed page or whether they should plan to redefine themselves – and retrain themselves – to take residence in the emerging world of multimedia, hyper-linked, digital documents” (105). While Pemberton focuses on hyperlinks, his question is one that applies to new media in general.

In her article “New Media Matters: Tutoring in the late Age of Print,” Jackie Grutsch McKinney responds to Pemberton and declares, “I believe the writing center is the place to tutor students with their new media texts. I think all tutors should be trained to work with these texts” (245). She rightfully points out that “traditional training practices” will not prepare tutors to work with “new media texts” (245).

Therefore, one could say that moving among centers, transfer students, including peer tutors, might find themselves being welcomed to multimodal writing centers that offer new modes of both composition and composition instruction.

While I know my peer tutors are more than capable of handling additional training, I want to spend a few moments focusing on two words from this year’s conference theme.  Educational classifications inadvertently highlight an interesting irony: non-traditionalstudents are usually more familiar with traditional modes of composition. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial for writing centers to “Welcome” students into a multimodal space that may be unfamiliar and daunting. Indeed, writing centers may be asked to play both a curatorial and instructional role when it comes to new media.

Also, new media and the new compositional possibilities they offer proliferate at different rates. What may be available at one institution may not have yet reached another.  “Today’s Multimodal Writing Center” implies a clear newness, a sense of something particular to the compositional possibilities of 2017. What these possibilities are “Today,” however, vary from center to center.

When I first started as a peer tutor at UC Irvine, multimodality was an emerging concept. I simply sat in a room with a notepad and a pocket full of hope.  In contrast, today it is up to us as writing center practitioners to make sure all of our students and tutors are aware of the modes they use daily as well as the new and emerging ones that await them in the future.

Works Cited:

McKinney, Jackie Grutsch. “New Media Matters: Tutoring in the Late Age of Print.” The Routledge Reader on Writing Centers & New Media, edited by Sohui Lee and Russell Carpenter, Routledge, 2014, pp. 242-256.

Pemberton, Michael A. “Planning for Hypertexts in the Writing Center . . . Or Not.” The Routledge Reader on Writing Centers & New Media, edited by Sohui Lee and Russell Carpenter, Routledge, 2014, pp. 105-116.


Photo Credit (for featured image): Phillip M. Pinyan