Tag: student response

Writing Centers and Twitter: How We Use this ‘Weird’ Space and How Students Perceive It

Jennifer Marciniak, Assistant Director, University of Louisville Virtual Writing Center

When I use Twitter, I use it for a wide variety of information. My interests are varied, and, therefore, my Twitter feed bounces from what’s going on in higher education to the latest trade rumors in Major League Baseball.  I get the Groupons and other “slick deals” of the day, as well as headlines from oil and gas industry newspapers and blogs that commiserate with one another on the newest objections to hydraulic “fracking.”  You’ll even find Usain Bolt tweeting photos of himself at post-Olympic parties alongside updates regarding The Walking Dead and Grimm.  Yes, my Twitter feed is eclectic, to say the least.

However, interspersed among all these posts are those from writing centers at other universities. My position in the Virtual Writing Center at U of L demands I keep up with what’s being discussed in terms of online writing and writing centers as a whole, and for someone who is a perpetual headline-skimmer like me, Twitter is hard to beat. In terms of writing centers, there are the regular business-oriented tweets like University of Wisconsin –Madison’s call for students: “New badgers: stop by the UW-Madison Writing Center for individual writing instruction, group workshops & more!” Then there are “emergency tweets,” like University of Central Missouri Writing Center’s last minute change in plans that was cross-posted to UCM’s main Twitter feed for maximum effectiveness: “@UCentralMO writing center has temporarily been moved to Humph 119 Conference Room. Hopefully we will be back in #humph116 later today.”  These types of Tweets are basic bits of information that students need to know in order to find and understand the Writing Center’s “place” at the University.

While most writing centers use Twitter to get the word out, there seems to be only so much a Writing Center can do to get people to follow their feed, or in terms of Facebook, “like” their page. Even when considering how the Uof L Writing Center could benefit from Twitter, I really couldn’t think of anything past the above UW-Madison and UCM examples. But further research shows that some writing centers are starting to push against the business-oriented Twitter post, and are starting to get more creative with what they tweet.  West Virginia University uses Twitter to post helpful blogs and videos like this one for students to refer to once they leave the writing center: “New blog post about interpreting instructor feedback.” Others are using more visual forms of marketing to promote their services. The University of Kansas sometimes uses internet memes to market their center, such as this most recent one with a viral photograph of a marathon runner: “Even Ridiculously Photogenic Guy knows the power of the Writing Center.”  The meshing of academic and social discourse arguably shows the writing center’s willingness to reach into dimensions utilized and accepted by the demographic toward which the center needs to market.  Writing centers can also do more than just report available tutor times and promote writing workshops. Memes are visual and often shared and/or retweeted across the social media genres. Because the University of Kansas meme was also cross-posted to Facebook, the University of Kentucky Writing Center, a “friend” of the University of Kansas Writing Center, shared the meme with social media friends and followers, who will most likely share as well.  I just retweeted it myself.

Some of the most remarkable writing center tweets are not even by the writing centers, but instead the students themselves. Student voices are by far the most heard on twitter when searching the key term writing center, out-tweeting writing centers 2-to-1.  Many are positive, giving props to what the center has to offer. One student, Michelle W, tweeted of her writing center experience: “Coming to the writing center and there’s candy, play dough, and markers on the tables #lovecollege.”  Another said, “The writing Center about to be My bff today.” Sometimes, though, student tweets show us that as Writing Center personnel we need to be aware of our actions and comments. Chelby KC tweeted about her not-so-hot experience in her writing center: “I love how there are a ton of people on the walk-in waiting list for the writing center and there are 5 staff members standing around.”  Others, like this tweet by Scuba Steve, are just a bit more in need of interpretation: “Idk why my Professor wants us to get our papers checked by the Writing Center…we’re in college for a reason #smh.” There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? Okay, well, publicity that displays a multi-faceted response to the Writing Center’s necessity to student learning, anyway.  And while you would never hear me advocate Team_Marti’s choice to my students, the value of one-on-one assistance sometimes warrants some balancing of priorities: “I shoulda skipped this class x went to the writing center. Tuh !”

This is just a sample of how writing centers use Twitter and what people are saying about writing centers on Twitter. While it does give us an idea of how we can use this particular social networking site to market our writing center services, it is important to consider questions of oversaturation and too-much cross-posting, as well bordering on “creepy treehouse” syndrome. Another question to ask is do we even need it? Will it be another social networking tool that fades into the ether? Some writing centers have not updated their Twitter feeds in months, begging the question of whether or not it was deemed effective or possibly not used as effectively as it could have been, and therefore abandoned.

I know what I use Twitter for. If you use Twitter, I would like to know your thoughts on how your university programs, office and services (like the writing center) use Twitter. Do you think it is effective or intruding on your personal space? What do you wish the University would use it for? If you do not use Twitter, I would really like to know about your aversion to it. The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 2010) describes Twitter as a “weird space” – that people either do not use it, or they go “all in.” That’s a pretty spot-on description, in my opinion. On my Twitter feed today actor Neil Patrick Harris was tweeting pictures of his dinner while mere seconds prior a digital media scholar posted an expletive-filled retweet about hating Blackboard. And that was about five minutes after Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps tweeted yet another picture of him holding a huge fish on some island in the Indian Ocean. “Weird” is right.

Jennifer Marciniak is a 3rd year PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition at U of L. She is the Assistant Director of the U of L Virtual Writing Center. You can follower her on Twitter at @tululoo.

Opening Doors: Another Year Begins in the Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

My New Year’s resolutions always take place in late August. Like many of us in on university campuses, my yearly cycle begins with the new academic year. It is in August that the annual campus rituals, of new students arriving and new announcements going up on bulletin boards, signal the chance to begin again, to have a new set of experiences. It’s a time that I find myself reflecting on the year just completed and thinking about what I want to accomplish in the year ahead. Sometimes these are explicit promises to myself – such as making sure I get that article revised by the end of September. Sometimes my resolutions are more implicitly contained in the revising of course syllabi or the rethinking of policies for the new year. Either way, the resolutions and rituals that mark the start of the academic year are always restorative and energizing to me.

In the Writing Center one of our important rituals takes place when the new group of consultants show up for the coming academic year. On Thursday we all met as a group for the first time at the Writing Center Orientation to get to know each other and to plan for the year ahead. Eleven new graduate students will be working in the Writing Center this year.

Writing Center Orientation 1
Writing Center Orientation

They are a diverse group of people – from cooking enthusiasts to dancers to sports fans to rock climbers to world travelers to musicians. Some grew up in Louisville, while others grew up on the other side of the globe. Yet while their backgrounds and interests distinguish them from each other, their love of writing and their desire to teach others to be stronger writers is what brings them all to the Writing Center. Work in a Writing Center, to be successful, must be grounded in an ethic that draws from principles of service, care, empathy, patience, and respect. Only when consultants approach working with students from these principles, can the consultants and students work together to create more effective, critical, and creative writing. I told the new Writing Center consultants the other day that a Writing Center works best when it functions for both the staff and student writers as a site of inquiry, collaboration, and respect. From the conversations with the new consultants at Orientation it is clear that these are people who will be able to help student writers build on their strengths, and learn not just how to write a better paper, but to be better writers overall.

The commitment of these new consultants to helping others with their writing is impressive and makes it clear that we should have yet another successful – and fun – year in the Writing Center. It is a year that I hope will build on the successes of 2011-12. Among the highlights of the past year for the Writing Center were the following:

  1. We had 4866 visits to the Writing Center in the most recent academic year, including visits to our Virtual Writing Center and to our new office downtown at the Health Sciences Campus
  2. Writing Center staff conducted 70 presentations about our services and 26 in-class workshops on writing issues.
  3. We held our first Dissertation Writing Retreat. Ten Ph.D. students representing four different colleges and six different disciplines spent a week in the Writing Center working on their dissertations and receiving individual consultations with Writing Center tutors,
  4. We have a new Assistant Director position to focus on working with graduate student writers, paying particular attention to the needs of international students. Tika Lamsal will staff the position and split his hours between the main Writing Center and the office on the Health Sciences Campus. In addition the Writing Center, in collaboration with the Graduate School conducted a series of writing workshops for graduate students on both the Belknap and Health Sciences Campuses.
  5. Writing Center staff worked with a number of University programs, giving presentations and conducting workshops, including the Porter Scholars, A&S Advising, UofL Athletics, the Career Center, the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program, Family Scholar House, the Delphi Center, and the International Center. The presentations given by the Writing Center staff resulted in many students then visiting the Writing Center for the first time.
  6. During the 2011-12 academic year a number of Writing Center consultants presented their scholarship at conferences including the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Southeast Writing Centers Conference, the Kentucky Philological Association Conference, and the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing. In addition, Assistant Director Barrie Olson had a piece accepted for the Writing Lab Newsletter.
  7. Our exit survey indicated a high level of satisfaction with the Writing Center, by both quantitative and qualitative measures. Highlights included:
  • In answer to the statement: “My Writing Center consultation addressed my concerns about my writing project,” more than 96% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (74%) or “Agree” (22%).
  • In answer to the statement: “What I learned during my Writing Center consultation will help me with future writing projects,” more than 92% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (65%) or “Agree” (27%).
  • In answer to the statement: “I plan to use the Writing Center again,” more than 93% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (81%) or “Agree” (12%).
  • In answer to the statement: “The Writing Center staff were welcoming and helpful,” more than 97% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (80%) or “Agree” (17%).
Writing Center Orientation

On Monday morning, at 9 a.m., we will open our doors at the University Writing Center to begin another academic year. When we open those physical doors, we are also opening other kinds of doors. For the students, faculty, and staff who visit the Writing Center we hope to provide the kinds of response and suggestions that will open the doors to realizing the full potential of a piece of writing. For the consultants in the Writing Center we want to open doors to becoming effective teachers of writing. For the University community we hope to open the doors to being a positive focus and force for all the writing, in all its many forms, that takes place on campus.

In the weeks to come you will see more blog posts from other members about the Writing Center staff. People will be writing about their experiences in the Writing Center, but also about their experiences as writers and their thoughts about writing in general. So stop back by and join the conversation about writing and writers.

We’ve had a good year, but I expect to have an even better year to come.