Writing Centers, Collaboration, and Cross-Pollination

What I saw in Randie’s center was not dissimilar to my own: accessible, compassionate people helping students in a multitude of ways. At the beginning of the day, a student from ENG 101 came in wondering how to tell good web articles from bad ones. Near midday, a student walked in wanting help writing an essay for a scholarship. In all cases, Randie’s group of “Stormtutors” (as he calls them, haha) were happy to leap into action, freely sharing their expertise and compassion.
— Matthew Kemp

On Wednesday, June 14, AUM Learning Center Coordinator Matthew Kemp visited The Writing Center here at Wallace Community College. The visit marked the first part of our collaborative research project; I am very much looking forward to visiting Matt’s center in the coming weeks.

Over the course of the day, Matt observed six tutoring sessions and saw The Writing Lab, an open computer lab with 100 individual stations, in full swing. As the quote at the start of this post makes clear, Matt noted many similarities between our centers.

Photo Credit: Phillip M. Pinyan

Photo Credit: Phillip M. Pinyan

In addition to a shared compassion for students, Matt brought along a tremendous amount of insight and experience. His valuable observations led to lively conversations on both the pragmatic and abstract challenges of our respective positions. From training new tutors and marketing to reaching out to new disciplines, we discussed many topics. Below are a few highlights from these conversations.

1. Frequent Assignments = One of the first things Matt noticed was my center’s new “101 on ENG 101” wall display. Our center sees many of the same types of ENG 101 essays over the course of a semester; therefore, I reached out to faculty members for stand-out examples of the main types of essays we see most frequently during tutoring sessions. Behind each of the signs, tutors can find several copies of sample essays with a brief note explaining why the sample essay is so strong. The essays are now part of our training program, allow tutors to have a quick reference on the fly, and serve as a supplement to our instructional video series. Matt and discussed the ways our respective training techniques strive to strike a balance between broad skill acquisition and targeted knowledge of specific assignments.

2. Dampening the Grammar Clamor = At one point during Matt’s visit, the center had three tutoring sessions happening at the same time. While we have arranged the tutoring stations in order to prevent a syntactical vortex from forming in the middle of the room, the center can get quite loud during peak times. In the past, we had a private tutoring station option for students; however, virtually no one utilized this option. I also am a huge believer in the rhetoric of space and am hesitant to divide up our welcoming center. Matt told me about sound-dampening partitions he uses on his center’s stations to help reduce noise without chopping up his space. I look forward to seeing the layout of Matt’s Learning Center and if these partitions can help me control our grammar clamor.

3. Multidisciplinary Centers = While surveying The Writing Lab, Matt and I discussed the history of our centers. From Title IIIs to QEPs (Quality Enhancement Plans), we truly spoke one another’s language. Matt shared the history of his learning center and offered many useful tips for establishing and maintaining a multidisciplinary learning center. He discussed the importance of making “friends across campus because you will need tutors from all major disciplines” and seeking tutors who “can do multiple subjects. For example, we have a Psychology major who tutors math, statistics, psychology, and writing. I don’t believe you can run a successful multidisciplinary center without having tutors who are flexible” (Kemp).

This ongoing conversation is especially crucial because my center currently works with students from over twenty disciplines, including nursing, physical therapy, welding, English, art, speech, and psychology. While we are not an official multidisciplinary center, we might very well become one in the future.

4. Unmediated Interaction = After last Wednesday, many of my stormtutors pointed out that Matt and I were more than a little similar. Nicknames and mentorship play a large part in both of our spaces. My team also pointed out how beneficial it was to interact with him directly. In our current multimedia age, new media possibilities allow for writing center practitioners to communicate across great distances through websites, blogs, social media, Skype, and other channels; however, Matt’s visit illustrates the importance of direct interaction with one another in our respective spaces. Yes, I am aware of the irony making this point in a blog post on my personal website.

The four highlights discussed above only scratch the surface! Stay tuned for more updates in the future.  I cannot wait to visit Matt’s center and continue to learn from my insightful colleague.


Works Cited

Kemp, Matthew. “Re: Our Centers.” Received by Randie Sessler, 19 June 2017.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Matthew Kemp