By Kyle Harley, Purdue University Global Writing Center Tutor
This past week, the Purdue University Global (Purdue Global) Writing Center took part in a fantastic live discussion with other fellow writing centers from around the country during this year’s International Writing Centers Week. While our presence was felt on a variety of additional platforms, the live chat that occurred on Twitter really opened my eyes to the overwhelming support felt between all of the centers. The beauty of this sort of interaction is that it not only brought quite a few of us together, but for the first time, at least in my experience, both on-site and online writing centers discussed common issues, via an online platform. For whatever reason, this seemingly made everyone in attendance feel like a unified writing center. At this point, I sincerely believe that everyone in attendance lost track of which centers were online and which were on-site, except, of course, myself—The Writing Center Grinch of the evening. What about our identity? Why have we worked so hard to identify ourselves as an online presence? This looked to be a long evening.
Our center really prides itself on our online success—and for good reason. Because of the separation from our students, we face different challenges than on-site centers, just as these centers face a variety of issues we do not, as well. There were plenty of other online centers in attendance, so I questioned why did I care so much? Here I was, ostracizing myself, and I wondered why the lack of identity was so widely accepted and not even mentioned. Having participated in many of these chats before on separate topics, this time the vibe just felt…different. I really racked my brain during the first fifteen minutes of the conversation trying to come up with the “perfect questions” to ask in an attempt to veer the conversation in favor of our center’s desired subject matter, but before I could even begin to type, I realized that nearly all of my ideas were currently being thoroughly discussed—and at a pace that nearly matched the speed of light. Because of the commonalities I noticed among all our conversations and contributions, I quickly became much more comfortable with the conversation evolving around me, simply due to the fact that we, as writing centers, share many of the same issues. On-site or online, writing centers appear to face nearly all of the same issues while tutoring, and I found myself personally humbled that I thought our practice differed that much from our fellow tutors elsewhere.
The first and greatest issue that really caught my attention revolved around tutoring ELL students. Here I thought I crafted the best questions under the proverbial sun, only to find out that literally three other centers asked the same question—with nearly the exact same phrasing. The dialogue boomed from this point, as one might expect, with all types of centers providing a fantastic amount of feedback. This instantaneous sort of communication sent me straight back to grad school and for all the right reasons: the issues we confront in our centers are, in fact, interesting topics for an active and lively conversation. All of those moments when professors used to harp on the “conversation of Composition” came swirling back, and I found myself feeling a bit proud of participating in an actual, active dialogue. At times the session almost felt like a (fun) graduate classroom where everyone could speak as he or she wished, no single person felt shut out or silenced, and the focus remained on one subject until all opinions were exhausted. Sound like paradise? It nearly was—at least in terms of academia.
We covered a variety of subjects ranging from ELL assistance to tutoring quality writers with experience—at times the trickiest of sessions. Each question received an intense amount of response—see above about the near light speed interaction—and nearly every contribution was unique compared to the others. As I mentioned before with the lack of identity, I found myself, at just about two questions into the conversation amid the sea of responses, forgetting which centers were which—on-site and online became obsolete. It was a bit simpler to keep track of at first, but once the information, links, and best practices began flooding in, and I even had to say this to myself, who cares? All the people in attendance showed up because they wanted to learn, help, and share experience. My wall of separation between centers seemingly began to topple.
With so much positivity from all of the tutors in attendance, many folks walked away with a greater understanding of ELL practices, how to best assist experienced writers, how to handle unruly students during a tutoring session, alongside a variety of other writing-center specific topics that filtered in during the hour. What made this feel like even more of a collective effort occurred when centers and tutors alike began providing a slew of articles and tutorials on these subjects to better supplement what we lacked in 140 characters. Not only did this level of sharing make said Writing Center Grinch’s heart grow three times in size, but this act alone also added an increased desire to better assist our students in need by furthering my understanding with said literature. No longer could I view a distinction between on-site and online writing centers; instead, I found an amazing group of tutors who simply wanted to better themselves as educators. Furthermore, I saw a group of writing centers, each with its own unique and talented tutors, all vying to offer any form of advice to better each center in attendance. With more conversations like this, writing centers, in fact, all academic centers and academics alike, will benefit greatly in their attempt to help shape and educate students effectively. On-site, online, or even in space, for that matter, as long as we are actively helping our students to the best of our abilities, which sometimes requires a bit of help from fellow colleagues, we can only continue to grow and provide better, more meaningful service for our students.