Peer-to-Peer: The Writing Center shares its challenges, experience and tips for success

Last March, when the global pandemic prompted the educational world to change in an instant, the first question that staff in the Writing Center asked themselves was, “How do we make tutoring work remotely – especially from an equity point of view?”

Turning to Google tools and Zoom, they tried to tweak an earlier version of online tutoring that the Writing Center had piloted in 2015-17, but so many tweaks were required that the result was what Writing Center LTA Beth Taylor-Schott calls “a complicated Rube Goldberg machine.”

Committed to finding a better solution, they turned to a platform called Accudemia. Accudemia is a cloud-based management system for academic centers that allows students to schedule their own appointments and provides the staff with real-time management of waiting lines, student visit tracking, traffic analysis and attendance reports, online chat, feedback collection via online surveys and other features. Training and adjustments have been essential, but things appear to be working well and a large number of students are turning to the Writing Center for writing support and to become better writers.

So while challenges will continue to be part of the remote learning environment, the biggest hurdle for making things work for the Writing Center seems to have been overcome. Beth Taylor-Schott credits the key to that success with running a pilot program during the summer when things were slower and there were fewer students, and with the collaboration of staff and a dedicated group of tutors. She also found the process of coming up with solutions to concrete problems and seeing them work to be enormously satisfying.

Another important factor is outreach. The Writing Center is using a three-pronged approach: (1) emails directly to faculty encouraging them to recommend students to meet with a tutor; (2) all-campus email announcements and (3) the Writing Center webpage. The webpage is one-stop shopping for:
  • Direct links for making an appointment and connecting with a tutor
  • A short video that demonstrates how to use the appointment system
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Information about how to connect with a tutor by phone.
  • Information about how to use Zoom even if your bandwidth is low.
  • An online chat window for questions about using the service or to ask a tutor a quick writing-related question.

Here are some tips the tutors shared with each other that all of us may find useful during this time:
  • Everyone is learning their new routines, including you, and you shouldn't worry about not knowing exactly what’s going on--nobody does at the moment!
  • Remember that nothing works the first time.
  • Create opportunities to practice. People need to practice things consistently over time in order to keep them in memory.
  • Things take time. Keep your timeline long and stay focused
  • Remember: you are capable of adapting.
  • It’s OK to let people know that you are adapting. And you should always give options for what to do if you are disconnected!
  • Don’t panic. Also, always log into Zoom before joining a session through Accudemia.
  • Don’t try to replicate face-to-face strategies in an online environment - you will be frustrated.
  • Support students to maintain their writing identity/voice - we are more accomplices than gatekeepers.
  • Be patient with yourself, things are going to be weird.
  • Always be prepared with a back-up plan when technology decides to stop working the intended way.
  • Remember that during remote learning there are many variables that may be out of our control.
  • Reach out to each other for support.
Remember: Someday we will all be on the other side of this pandemic, and according to Beth Taylor-Schott, “Will our practices be better after it’s all over? Absolutely!”