Only recently has the community problematized space, moving the dialogue from what a center should do to what it means when a center does. In this critical vein, we approach our review of writing centers as spaces that impact their participants. Our treatment of writing center spaces follows a continuum. We move from the material, tangible, physical writing center to the more ethereal, digital space. We explore what it means to occupy a particular space and what identity constructions are possible in our physical and digital spaces.
David Coogan did report his work on e-mail-based tutoring with his own tutees and graduate student tutors, but he did not focus particularly on faculty as tutors (32). So, as we continued our work with faculty and student tutors, we wondered whether there is, indeed, a significant difference between faculty tutors and student tutors in our online setting.
In graduate school I was assigned to work as the Undergraduate Writing Center’s (UWC) Assistant Coordinator to fulfill part of my assistantship obligations. When I arrived, the Center’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) was available to a limited population of writers who could submit their work via Google’s asynchronous g-mail.
In a recent Kairos article, “Expanding the Space of f2f,” Melanie Yergeau, Katie Wozniak, and Peter Vandenberg make the case for online synchronous tutoring. Though arguments for online tutoring, synchronous or not, have been made frequently over the last fifteen years, what is different about this piece is an emphasis on what they called “audio-video-textual conferencing” or AVT tutoring.
In the course of attempting to respond productively to papers well beyond my ken (and often feeling I’ve failed miserably), I gradually developed some ideas about how to approach doing e-mail tutoring outside my areas of expertise.
Yet as we work to keep our writing centers responsive to a student body that is increasingly savvy with technology and in some cases geographically dispersed, we look to electronic spaces to explore new options for writing center practice. The “virtual world” called Second Life offers such an opportunity.
When I began writing this essay, I had been a tutor for less than a year, and I was heavily immersed in both online writing center theory and Jerome McGann’s renowned 1983 book, The Romantic Ideology (as my primary field is British Romanticism). I began to use McGann’s theory regarding the Romantics’ “escapist” poetic language as a lens through which to inform my online tutoring practices, especially with regard to clients’ online writing styles.
For writing centers that have been involved in online tutoring, fundamental questions remain: When the writer is not present to answer questions, how should tutors respond? What does experience tell us works best? Although there are no easy answers, experience can be a good teacher. The tutors at my university learned a few lessons as we developed our online service:
The Writing Centre at Royal Roads University (RRU) relies on a flexible online writing lab (OWL) to support our students’ academic writing efforts. As a one-person center that supports approximately 2000 full-time equivalents, the Writing Centre website is a front-line service, not only to provide information and resources, but also to facilitate conversations between students, instructors, and me, the Writing Centre Coordinator.
Over the past two decades, writing centers have steadily been expanding services and materials they offer online. The way students write and communicate about their writing continues to change, and the writing center has increasingly been looked upon as a site through which technology and writing have the ability to converge in the form of tutoring and collaboration.