Tag: online tutoring

Writing Center Tutoring in the Time of Pandemic: A Focus on Written Feedback as a Conversational Space

By: Olalekan Adepoju, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing

Writing centers, like many other private and public workplaces, felt the unprecedented impacts of the coronavirus pandemic as much of the work in the centers had to be readjusted for remote operations. In the wake of this pandemic and remote operations, writing center tutoring necessarily had to also take a different and creative turn to ensure that writers have a space to discuss their writing processes and concerns. Hence, instead of meeting face-to-face with consultants, tutoring was transferred online either synchronously (over videoconferencing) or asynchronously (via written feedback). Unsurprisingly, both approaches continue to record remarkable success as writers’ goals and concerns are satisfactorily addressed. It is, however, important to discuss the dynamics of the written feedback approach to ensure that both writers and tutors are maximizing the low-hanging opportunities this approach affords, especially seeing that it is the most used appointment option.

The written feedback approach, which mainly requires the tutor to read, review and provide written comments on writers’ draft bearing the writers’ concerns in mind, does seem to lack the dialogic exchanges that make for a typical, productive tutoring session. Nevertheless, this does not make the approach less productive. In fact, it appears that the peculiarities of written feedback in terms of its un-dialogic exchanges make the approach very effective in writing center tutoring. Written feedback approach allows writers to establish the writing concerns they require help with––as it would obtain in a face-to-face tutoring. (The appointment forms writers fill require that they provide a detailed description of their writing project and writing concerns). And this serves as the premise for the kind of conversation/un-dialogic exchanges the tutor engages in with the writers’ drafts.

In a discussion on how comments and feedback on writers’ draft can be viewed as conversational, Busekrus (2018) explains that the art of asking thoughtful questions is one significant tool for instilling a conversational lens in feedback. Questions like: “Can you say little more about how you managed this situation rather than just hinting at it?”; “I’m not sure how this sentence connects to the purpose of the paragraph. Could you make that connection clearer or move this sentence closer to paragraph 3, or what do you think?”; “would an example be appropriate here?” among others. Busekrus, quoting Kjesrud (2015), further describes conversational questions as including those framed as non-interrogative (give more information about this point.); leading (isn’t this approach too simple?); tags (The author does not give facts to support it, does she?); and open-ended (How does the author further this discussion throughout the book?).

A cursory look at these questions shows the tutor in a dialogic mode with an ‘imaginary’ writer as if it were a face-to-face interaction with the aim of extending the conversation to the writer for their thoughtful responses and opinion to the questions through revision. This goes to emphasize the point that, though asynchronous, a written feedback properly done not only helps the tutor engage in a productive exchange with writers (and their drafts) but also provides writers with viable nuances to help make revision to their drafts and avoid similar issues in subsequent drafts.

The written feedback approach, thus, provides a conversational space for both tutor and writer to converge and exchange valuable revision ideas: the writer, in their appointment forms, leads the exchange by pointing the tutor’s attention to primary areas of concerns while the tutor enters into the draft with these concerns in mind for their interaction with the draft, asking thoughtful questions. Since the success of the conversation depends greatly on how much detail the writer provides in their appointment form, it is recommended that writers are encouraged to see the written feedback approach as conversational.

As we navigate the unnerving period of this pandemic, written feedback approach seems to have afforded writing centers an opportunity of a different and creative approach for continuing in the task of producing better writers.

Work cited

Busekrus, Elizabeth. (2018). “A Conversational Approach: Using Writing Center Pedagogy in Commenting for Transfer in the Classroom.” Journal of Response to Writing, 4(1): 100–116.

How We Will Work With You Online During the COVID-19 Campus Closure

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

During this extraordinary moment when UofL courses have moved online, we, at the University Writing Center, have been working to implement a plan that will continue to offer UofL writers a way to get thoughtful responses to their drafts. All University Writing Center dscn2185consultants and administrative staff will be working from home. Below I will explain our plan to work with writers online and point you to other online resources about writing effectively that we have available for you. I will also offer suggestions for how to make the best use of online writing response. In the weeks to come we will offer more blog posts about how to work effectively from home and tips for completing your assignments successfully. Although the coming weeks will clearly often be a stressful and uncertain time for all of us, we maintain our commitment helping you with your writing in a spirit of collaboration and generosity.

The Details of Our Online Tutoring System

While the University is delivering courses online in the coming weeks, the University Writing Center will be offering only online appointments in which you upload a draft and receive written comments in response. You may use the University Writing Center or Virtual Writing Center schedules to make a written feedback appointment. Both schedules will be available for appointments starting Monday, March 16. For detailed instructions on how to make your appointment, including a how-to video, and what to expect from written feedback, follow this link.

Here are some details about how appointments will work during this time:

  • We will offer only written-response online appointments. There will also be no online live-chat appointments.
  • If you have a face-to-face appointment already scheduled between March 18-April 4 on either the University Writing Center or Health Sciences Writing Center schedules, your appointment will be automatically converted to an online, written feedback appointment. However, you will need to upload a draft to your appointment if you would like feedback. Please cancel your appointment if you do not want written feedback.
  • When you make an online, written response appointment, you must upload your draft by noon the day before your appointment, or your appointment will be cancelled and the time made available to other writers. We do this to make sure that as many writers are able to use appointment slots as possible.
  • Writers will be limited to two appointments per week during this period.
  • We also have online resources on our Handouts, Video workshops, and Writing FAQs to help answer your questions and concerns about writing.
  • If you have questions about how to make an appointment, please email writing@louisville.edu or call 502-852-2173.

Some Tips to Make the Most of Your Written-Feedback Appointment

If you have never made a written-response appointment with us before, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of the experience. In these appointments, because we can’t have a conversation with you during the appointment, there are some things you can do before and after that are helpful

When you make your appointment: In addition to uploading your draft, please upload a copy of your assignment prompt. The prompt is a huge help for your consultant in responding effectively to your draft. If you don’t have a prompt to upload, please tell us everything you can about the assignment or writing task you are working on. Along those same lines, the more detail you can give us on the appointment form about your top concerns about your draft, the more able we are to respond effectively to those concerns. If, rather than just list a few words, you can write a detailed note about your concerns, we’ll be better able to give you suggestions and advice to address your concerns.

When you receive your draft with comments: You will receive your draft with your consultant’s comments as an email attachment within one business day of the appointment’s start time. (You can also access your draft with comments from your appointment in the scheduling system.) Your consultant will write a note at the top of your draft that summarizes the suggestions and insights the consultant has about your draft and how best to approach revising your work. In the margins of your draft you will find more detailed questions about your draft and suggestions for revision. Keep in mind that, as with face-to-face appointments, our online appointments are 50-minutes long. Our consultants will comment on as much as they can within that 50-minutes. If they can’t reach the end of draft, they will note where they had to stop.

As you revise your writing: If you’re not sure where to start in using the written comments to revise your draft, we recommend out handout on “Using Written Feedback When Revising.” You may also find our other handouts that cover writing strategies from writing introductions to citation to grammar and usage issues helpful when revising.

Other Online Resources to Help You with Your Writing

We have a wide range of online resources to help you with your writing.

  • We have Video Workshops on issues such as citation styles and formatting and how to use sources effectively.
  • We also have more than 35 handouts online with advice about writing processes, grammar and usage, strategies for approaching different parts of a draft, and more.
  • We also have Writing FAQs that cover the kinds of questions that come up often in our work and offer you suggestions on how to approach common writing situations.
  • We will be using our social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Our Blog) to post ideas and resources about writing, and some things just to brighten the day.
  • Finally, over the past eight years, the consultants in the University Writing Center have offered, in their posts in this blog, a wide range of advice about writing issues. You can browse the blog for a lot of good advice and, in the coming weeks, we will highlight some posts we find particularly useful for writing advice.

In the Weeks to Come

We are all in uncharted waters with this current situation. We know that, as writers, you may at times feel stressed, isolated, and unsure how your assignments and courses are going to work now that they are online. Our consultants, who are also graduate students, are going through the same experiences and are both sympathetic to your situation –  and feeling some stress on their own. As always, however, we will respond to your work as thoughtful readers and do our best to offer you helpful suggestions, questions, and encouragement.

We have an special community in the University Writing Center, both among our staff and with the writers who trust us with their writing. The best way to get through this current extraordinary situation is with the support and help and empathy of others. We all need to show patience and generosity to each other. Even if we’re working in different places, we are still a community and still stronger together. We look forward to working with you in the weeks ahead.

Tutoring Online

Adam Robinson, Associate Director

I was reading back through our blog, thinking about what to write, and I realized that we haven’t talked about our Virtual Writing Center (VWC). Established in 2004 by Carol Mattingly, Chris Ervin, and Chris Carter, the VWC has undergone many changes over the years. But the basic structure has stayed the same. Writers visit our website, fill out an electronic request form, and either ask to meet with a consultant in a live chat or receive feedback via e-mail. Just like in our physical WC, our VWC consultants work with any U of L writer, and like our physical WC, our VWC stays busy.

When I first began consulting for U of L’s Writing Center in 2006, I worked in both the physical WC and VWC. To be honest, I didn’t like Virtual consulting at first. I’d say the time constraint was my biggest source of frustration. I was restricted to working with a paper for 50 minutes, the same appointment time length as our physical sessions. However, unlike a face-to-face session where the writer and tutor negotiate a reasonable agenda for the session, I didn’t have a writer by my side to help me prioritize how I might approach a long document or a document in its early, rougher stages. And given that my advice could only be communicated through what I typed and given that the writer wasn’t present to confirm that he or she understood my feedback, I had to take a great deal of time to type out my comments—even the simplest of concepts sometimes required a lengthy explanation.

But once I got enough Virtual consultations under my belt, I really started to like Virtual tutoring. From a consultant’s perspective, it’s a job with flexible hours and a flexible work location. The work can be done basically anytime and anywhere. And while I found it difficult at first to have to spend so much time being certain that I was being clear with my written advice, I felt more confident in some ways in the advice I was giving in my Virtual consultations as I was able to prioritize and think through the ideas I was relaying to the writer. I felt in control of my response, contrary to some face-to-face sessions, where the fast paced dialogue between me and the writer sometimes led to me saying things in ways that I didn’t mean to say them. And over time, I began collecting my Virtual responses, sharing some of my favorite pieces of advice with multiple writers—I guess I was working smarter not harder in that case. And my VWC work improved how I responded to writing in the composition classes that I occasionally taught as my VWC experience helped me learn how to be thorough as well as selective with my comments.

The writers submitting to the VWC like the service too. For many of them, a Virtual appointment is the most convenient option given their busy schedules. And for other writers, using the VWC is the only option—students taking U of L courses in Panama aren’t exactly in a position to visit our main library for a face-to-face appointment. Others like that they can save our written comments and return to them when writing future papers. If a writer feels that a consultant has made a muddy concept clearer, that writer can save that feedback and return to it whenever that concept starts to feel muddy again. And I know from talking with writers who use the VWC that they also like the opportunity to privately reflect on the feedback their consultants have given them.

Virtual consulting is an exciting part of writing center work because new, improving and simply changing technologies may allow for different types of Virtual tutoring. And for our specific Writing Center, I find Virtual work interesting because there are questions that we still need to answer and there are improvements that we can still make. For example, we want to give effective, thoughtful response. What constitutes good feedback in an e-mailed response?—a question that Becky Hallman, a former U of L consultant, effectively addresses in her recently defended MA Thesis. Or we always encourage students visiting the physical Writing Center to work with a consultant multiple times for any given assignment, taking time to work through the entire writing process, from prewriting to drafting to revising to editing—not necessarily in that order. How can we get students to work in a similar fashion in the Virtual realm, especially regarding prewriting? What about the dialogue that happens in the face-to-face setting that to me is the bread and butter of WC work? And what about the flip side of things? What can a Virtual session do that a face-to-face session can’t? What unique features of VWC sessions can we identify and improve upon? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about Virtual consulting. What experiences have you had either as a consultant or user of virtual services?