The Writing Center of Fall 2021: More Accessible Than Ever

Guest post by Writing Center Director, Dr. Jennifer Follett

In the past year, I have heard the narrative from different sources (students, parents, faculty, strangers in the grocery store) that college students got through AY 2020-21 with less support than they would have had during pre-pandemic years. The UD Writing Center’s usage statistics, however, challenge that claim, at least in terms of support for writing. Let’s have a look at the number substantive student contacts (i.e.–individual tutoring appointments, meetings with our writing fellows, and participation in a workshop, writing group, or writing retreat) the UDWC has recorded in the past few years:

AY 2018-19: 4,411

AY 2019-20: 3,990

AY 2020-21: 5,953

Holy smokes, right? Not only did our usage increase over 2019-20, it also increased significantly over the most recent “normal” academic year. Trust–I could not have been more pleased when I ran the numbers.

So what did we do in the Writing Center to not just continue but increase support for student writers? A few things: diversified the kinds of individual appointments students could make, changed the modality of our workshops and writing groups, and deployed more tutors as writing fellows (tutors attached to a particular course). I will tell you a little about those changes and what you can expect to continue to see (and what’s new to this semester!) 

Change 1: 3 Ways to have a writing center individual session

The Writing Center had begun offering some online options to supplement our in-person sessions in 2019 to be able to be more accessible to students enrolled in programs that meet on campuses other than the Newark Main Campus. In response to the pandemic, we accelerated those plans. We have been offering–and will continue to offer, no matter what the health situation is:

  • In-person sessions: In Memorial Hall or Morris Library
  • Real-Time virtual sessions: with video, audio, shared screen, and whiteboard
  • Asynchronous etutoring: students upload a draft and receive written feedback later

Students can read all about how these appointment types work on our  “appointments” and “writing center services” pages.

Change 2: Workshops and writing groups online

During the 2020-21 academic year, we moved all writing workshops and writing groups online, with great response from students. This has encouraged us to continue to offer these services online. Undergraduate and graduate students are welcome to attend our workshop series and graduate students can learn about our writing groups on our graduate services page. 

Change 3: Increased Writing Center Fellows program

Anticipating that learning online from home during the 2020-21 academic year meant new students would have fewer opportunities to meet and benefit from informal mentoring from more experienced students, the Writing Center deployed more tutors as Writing Fellows than we had in the past. A Writing Fellow is attached to one section of a course, and interacts with students both during and outside of class meetings. Their presence in online classrooms provided at least some of the social-academic modeling students would have gotten on campus, as well as making it seem both easy and beneficial for students to meet with the fellow for feedback on drafts. Research on this model of “embedded” tutoring suggests that students who worked with a Writing Fellow last year are more likely to opt to visit the Writing Center in future than they would have been otherwise. We hope to continue to offer Writing Fellows to faculty from across the disciplines in future.

What is next for the Writing Center?

We plan to continue to offer our changed services as long as we have takers. Currently, more students are opting for real-time online and etutoring appointments than in-person ones. Attendance is still strong at both virtual workshops and writing groups. We are always looking for new ways to reach students, though, so this semester we are piloting virtual drop-in hours on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays 7pm-9pm. Students can pop into a Zoom room with a tutor to ask a quick question or to share parts of a draft-in-progress. We hope that offering this service during evening hours when college students may be actually doing their writing will encourage them to think of us as a regular part of what it means to get that writing done. Your students can find the Zoom location on our main page

I hope you’ll help the Writing Center support student writing by telling students about what we do. To read more about how you can collaborate with the writing center (including 10 tips for helping students get the most out of our services) check out our pages for faculty

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