Tag: Online Writing Center

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.

Behind the Scenes at the Virtual Writing Center

Cassie Book, Associate Director

DSCN3703

As the University Writing Center’s (UWC) Associate Director, I’m always interested in ways to move from practice-based questions to research and practical improvements. The goal of a recent research project was to improve the overall Virtual Writing Center experience for both writers and consultants. During my day-to-day experience in the UWC, I noticed that some writers (the students, faculty, and staff who use our services) had difficulty locating Virtual Writing Center appointments on our online schedule. The “Virtual Writing Center” broadly encompass our website and synchronous (live chat) and asynchronous (written feedback) online tutoring. We offer both forms of Virtual appointments to Distance Education students and those who cannot visit for a face-to-face appointment. In addition to noting that some writers couldn’t find the Virtual Writing Center appointments on our online schedule, other writers accidentally scheduled a live online chat session when they really wanted asynchronous written feedback on their draft. These were not trivial issues. If not corrected, they result in a writer not getting the help they wanted or losing valuable appointment time.

I developed a research project based on “user-experience” (UX) methodologies that would allow me to investigate where the breakdown in usability and/or communication occurred. The most important reason why it is important for writers to be able to successfully use the technology writing centers employ is accessibility. For instance, in physical writing center spaces, stairs leading to an entrance could be a barrier for a writer using a wheelchair or crutches. In online spaces, the clunky setup of online scheduling systems could create barriers to accessing writing centers. Understanding how writers use our UWC’s online scheduling system would help us redesign elements of the system to make it as welcoming and usable as possible for all potential users.

To understand how our website and schedule confused writers, I recruited six UofL students who have never used the Virtual Writing Center and conducted usability tests and interviews. A “usability test” is not really a “test;” it simply provides scenarios for study participants to undertake (such as, “schedule an appointment in the Writing Center; you want the kind of appointment where you do not physically have to go to the Writing Center”) while a researcher (me) observes them. My follow-up interviews asked the students to discuss their perceptions of the scheduling process and the website. Finally, also I observed three Virtual Writing Center consultants as they worked and conducted a focus group about their use and perceptions of the technology. I collected and analyzed the data on the usability tests, interviews, observations, and focus group to create a picture of what was happening “behind the scenes” of the Virtual Writing Center. For example, to analyze the usability test data and interviews, I simply looked for patterns. One pattern I noticed was that most participants did not stop to read the instructions on our website before attempting to schedule an appointment. My data overall showed me how consultants and writers used the technology, which was valuable for me as an administrator wanting to improve their online experiences.

After I analyzed the data, I developed a list of recommendations for changes to the website and scheduling system based on my findings. We’ve already put in place several improvements! These include: redesigning the Appointments webpage using icons and new resources, such as a new Frequently Asked Questions about the Virtual Writing Center. We also added disclaimers and visual clues on the Appointment page and online schedule to grab writers’ attention to let them know where to find the Virtual Writing Center schedule (see below). We changed the names of the Virtual appointment types to more logically descriptive names. Now the choice between “Written Feedback” and “Live Video Chat” in the Virtual Writing Center is, we hope, clearer. We also revised some of the training for our Virtual Writing Center consultants to ease their anxieties about using technology to communicate about writing. If our consultants aren’t 100% comfortable with it, we can’t expect the writers to be.

announcement uwc wconline
The revised announcement on our Ekstrom Library location schedule, which uses visuals to capture users’ attention.

I would like to make two points to conclude. First, I believe that integrating user-experience perspectives into writing center practices benefits both writing center administrators, to make more informed design decisions, and writers, to more easily access centers. Writing centers (alongside other entities in education) can get easily excited about a new innovation or tool, but we need to also think critically about the impact on students, especially in terms of accessibility. Writing center theory already values writer-centered practices and user-experience studies build on that foundation. Second, a major tenant of user-experience research is that it should be ongoing, so our work is not done! We will continue to collect data on how our writers and consultants use our technology and use those insights to make adjustments to practice.

This research was funded by the Christine Cozzens Research Grant from the Southeastern Writing Center Association and will likely appear in more detail in a future publication.