After months of strictly online conferences, the Writing Center reopened its doors to in-person writing sessions on Sept. 7. Due to COVID-19 regulations, the Writing Center closed its workspace on the third floor of Peirce Dining Hall at the end of the spring semester.
Before the pandemic, the Writing Center listed specific walk-in hours during which students could seek general writing help. However, when the College went fully remote, the Center started providing “on call” hours where writing consultants and liaisons could assist students virtually.
With the new hybrid model, Writing Center Director Jeanne Griggs hopes that students will take advantage of the services that it provides, both online and in person. However, Griggs said that remote tutoring did not attract as many students as she had initially hoped. “We advertised it,” Griggs recalled, “but, to tell you the truth, we didn’t get a lot of business.” Rather, she found that most appointments were made with liaisons.
As part of her job as student manager for the Writing Center, Alexia Ainsworth ’21, conducted in-depth research during the beginning of the pandemic on ways to effectively conduct writing conferences online. As part of their training, current writing consultants and liaisons were encouraged to read Ainsworth’s research and were trained for the online Writing Center platform.
Despite their extensive training, Griggs said that there was an interpersonal aspect missing from this remote exchange. “We’re finding out what works best online,” Griggs said. “Writing conferences work particularly well when you can see the face of the person and you can look at the piece of writing.” The Writing Center is trying to do that with every online conference, using active listening techniques, Griggs said.
Paige Hettinger ’21, a writing liaison for Introduction to Language and Literature (ENGL 103), recounted how online consulting has its own limitations. “It definitely took some adjustment at first,” Hettinger said. She recalled how the transition to consulting online was jarring as she grappled with the changes brought about by the pandemic. Further, the nature of the conferences has changed as well: “there is no guarantee that with the online format that I know that they are paying attention,” Hettinger said. “It’s about trying to establish a rapport as much as possible right off the bat.”
In accordance with Center for Disease Control regulations, the Writing Center now allows for one-on-one consultations in addition to its virtual on-call hours. These consultations will follow new rules, such as only having one staff member and one consultant in the room at a time.
Of the first-year and sophomore students, there are enough writing consultants to maintain the in-person experience of the Writing Center. Griggs hopes that with the new hybrid model, writing consultants can still facilitate this personal connection with fellow students.