Michael G. Strawser
The Peer Review, Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 2017
Three young adults sit comfortably at a round table in a small library basement room. The room contains two other similar tables, an overhead projector, a table with multicolored handouts, and two Dell desktop computers. It is 6:10 p.m. on a Tuesday. Two of the three people have several books and papers in front of them. They’re discussing topics. One continues, “My topic is child rearing, but I haven’t started researching yet.” The second person with papers in front of her sighs, as if relieved, but doesn’t speak.
The third person responds, “That’s okay! That is a good start! How could Travis narrow the topic of child rearing?” Silence for ten seconds.
Travis responds, slightly defensively, “What I don’t get is how we’re supposed to be informative without being persuasive. The informative paper comes first, then the persuasive speech. Right?”
The scene imagines an exchange between a peer writing tutor and two Introduction to Public Speaking students enrolled in a semester-long hybrid course. Collaboration between the two of us, the Writing Center Director (WCD) and the course instructor (CI), brought the students together in this hypothetical conversation. Our partnership began with the premise that collaboration among disciplinarily separate entities who share similar literacy goals, such as writing centers and Communication departments, is important for both student learning and the health of our disciplines. Before turning to a case study analysis, we take a few steps back to explain the local context surrounding our endeavor to collaborate while maintaining our own pedagogical values. The case study generally explores the perceptions of the impact of expanding the Writing Center’s range of services. It also demonstrates a writing center’s, and its peer tutors’, shift in identity toward a more rhetorical and multimodal understanding of writing and communication.
To show how the tutors and the Writing Center began a shift in identity through a one-semester partnership, we analyzed post-session reports, post-course questionnaires, and end-of-semester interviews with the writing tutors. Ongoing conversations in Writing Center Studies regarding the practice-level impacts of shifting definitions of “writing” and “communicating” led us to develop two research questions:
- How, if at all, does this Writing Center’s identity change as a result of collaborating with a public speaking class situated in the Communication department?
- How, if at all, do the participating undergraduate writing tutors perceive their role as a peer tutor impacted by tutoring groups of hybrid introduction to public speaking essays, outlines, and speeches?
The answers to these questions provide an example of how the identity of the Writing Center and the roles of its tutors evolve as new genres and mediums are introduced. Our study may help alleviate anxieties writing centers have of adapting to 21st century multiliteracy demands (New London Group, 1994).
Although questioning the role of multimodal, digital, oral, and visual communication in Rhetoric and Composition is not new (see George & Trimbur, 1999), recent conversations in Writing Center Studies address how centers can embrace a “multiliteracy center” model. Trimbur (2000) defines this trend in writing centers as “seeing literacy as a multimodal activity in which oral, written, and visual communication intertwine and interact” (p. 29). Sheridan (2010) proposes the goal of an ideal multiliteracy center as “facilitat[ing] the competent and critically reflective use of technologies and other material, instructional, and cultural resources” (p. 7). In other words, to stay relevant and pedagogically effective, writing centers must embrace the new ways students compose, expanding from the texts on the page or screen to the multimodal sphere.
Yet, moving from theory to localized practice presents challenges. Balester et al. (2012) raise key questions of localized identity and overall disciplinarity with regard to moving from a writing center to a multiliteracy center: What are the consequences of writing centers crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries? How should writing centers evolve with growing new media institutional demands? What are the implications for tutors and tutor training? While Sheridan (2010) describes an ideal multiliteracy center, the questions Balester et al. (2012) raise recognize that institutional history and local needs ultimately determine how centers successfully incorporate multiliteracies. We have found that true in our case.
Grutsch McKinney (2009, 2010) exemplifies a practical voice for writing centers that may not immediately have access to a plethora of tech tools or knowledgeable tutors. She reminds Writing Center Professionals to consider context, affordances, and constraints when taking initial steps toward a multiliteracy center (Grutsch McKinney, 2010, p. 220). For many writing centers, contextual affordances may include eager collaborators in departments with a stake in multiliteracies or multimodal composing, such as libraries, departments of business and communication, and technology “help desks.” Harris (2000) urges writing centers to undertake collaborations with colleagues. While campus partnerships are commonplace, mostly part of unpublished writing center “lore,” published examples of intra-campus partnerships do exist. For instance, Brady, Singh-Corcoran, Dadisman, and Diamond (2015) describe a pilot study of collaboration among a writing center, first year writing course, and research librarians; their post-semester questionnaire demonstrated that students perceived that their information literacy and research processes improved. Likewise, writing center (or Writing Across the Curriculum) course collaborations in the form of writing fellows and course-based writing tutors have also become more visible in recent years (Carpenter & Whiddon, 2015; Corbett, 2011, 2015; Spigelman & Grobman, 2005). We argue that writing center partnerships with courses with an interest in non-print-based composing are an opportunity for writing centers to try out facets of multiliteracy without going “all in.”
As Balester et al. (2012) shows, resources are not the only issue at hand. Writing center researchers must step back to consider the impact on tutors and potential long-term campus perceptions of the writing center. Dinitz and Howe (1989) point out both the strain on resources and tensions with writing center philosophies and professor/student expectations in their course collaboration efforts. Similarly, Mullin, Reid, Enders and Baldridge (1998) employed written reflections and interviews with key actors in a course-writing center collaboration; they reveal issues surrounding a loose definition of a course-embedded tutor’s role combined with questions of authority and disciplinary expertise. Because of the multiple positioned actors and roles involved, several data points are needed to explore the impact of collaborations on the tutors, tutees, and writing center. Thonus (2001) studies how instructor, tutee, and tutor “perceptions” (p. 62) of tutor roles can influence a tutorial; her study triangulates session dialogue and interview data. Through a similar triangulation of session discourse analysis and interviews, Thonus (2002) found that tutors and tutees did not always share the same notions of what constituted tutorial success. Corbett (2011), in his analysis of course-based writing tutoring, argues for triangulated data from course materials, questionnaires, observations, interviews, and audio-recorded sessions to better understand the authoritative “negotiations” (p. 57) of tutors when involved in collaborative partnerships with courses.
Our study responds to questions raised regarding the practicality of integrating multiliteracies, the impact on centers and tutors, and the viability of intra-campus collaborations. For this case study, we focus on how writing tutors perceive the Writing Center and their role when provided with training and an opportunity to tutor for a public speaking course. The tutors encounter genres unfamiliar to them: speech outlines, informative speeches, and persuasive speeches. Again, our two research questions address the impacts on the identity of the Center and the consultants: How, if at all, does this Writing Center’s identity change as a result of collaborating with a public speaking class situated in the Communication department? How, if at all, do the participating undergraduate writing tutors perceive their role as a peer tutor impacted by tutoring groups of hybrid introduction to public speaking essays, outlines, and speeches?
Description of Local Context
Our study’s institutional context is a small university in the southern United States with an enrollment of approximately 3,900 students in 2016. Two thirds of the enrollment is full-time undergraduates and the majority of the remaining third are graduate students. Top majors in 2016 included health sciences, psychology, biology, and business administration. At the time of this study (2014), the Writing Center was one unit within a learning resource center not associated with an academic department. The resource center’s services also included peer mentoring, subject tutoring, and advising. The Writing Center typically employed about seven undergraduate writing tutors. The majority of the writing tutors declared English as their primary major.
The first step in connecting the Writing Center with the Communication department occurred several semesters prior to the case study. A Communication faculty member, John (a pseudonym), shared with the WCD his experience with successful tutoring centers that valued print, oral, and digital mediums. While the concept of expanding the Writing Center’s services seemed logical to the WCD (unfamiliar at the time with “multiliteracy” conversations), she struggled to see how the Writing Center could make headway into such territory. John suggested starting small, by training the tutors in basic conventions formal speech communication since many students at the institution were required to take Introduction to Public Speaking, a course in the Communication department. Ultimately, the WCD invited John to join a staff meeting to teach the writing tutors the basic genre conventions of formal public speaking and delivery.
Soon the tutors’ training came into practical use and our partnership began to take shape. The resource center’s director, the WCD’s supervisor, asked her to reach out to a new part-time faculty member in Communication (the course instructor, CI) to see how the Writing Center could intervene and connect with his hybrid Introduction to Public Speaking course. The resource center worried about retention of first-year students enrolled in a hybrid (face-to-face and online asynchronous) course format. Although the learning resource center’s concern was retention, the WCD saw an opportunity for the tutors to get experience with speeches, as John recommended. The WCD contacted the CI, who embraced the collaboration enthusiastically, but details still had to be determined.
Before we gathered data for this case study (fall 2014), two semesters, fall 2013 and spring 2014, served as pilots. We describe our early collaboration efforts in a pedagogy article in the Florida Communication Journal (Book & Strawser, 2015). The first semester, fall 2013, we highly structured the collaboration in terms of participation (required), scheduling (done on behalf of students), and use of appointment time (specified for tutors and students). We negotiated each of the components, for example, the requirements to participate and number of appointments. The WCD originally proposed four required group appointments, each one corresponding with one of the four face-to-face class meetings of the hybrid course. She believed small peer learning groups may help counter the isolation of the asynchronous component. Small groups instead of individual appointments with each student in the course would also alleviate strain on the Writing Center’s resources (Dinitz and Howe, 1989). The CI agreed that small peer groups would likely support student learning, but he worried about over-burdening his students by adding to the on-campus requirement for a hybrid course. We compromised with three required appointments. We determined a range of dates that each of three appointments could be scheduled based on the due dates for the course’s assignments. Finally, the WCD visited the class on the first (of only four) in-person course meetings to introduce the group tutoring program, arrange students into small groups based on their availability, and schedule their first appointment.
During that semester, we worked together to prepare the Writing Center’s undergraduate tutors. The CI shared with the Writing Center copies of the course syllabus, assignments, calendar, and recommendations for how to approach each of the three appointments. For example, we specified the first appointment as a brainstorming session. The CI asked his students to bring their laptops and a general idea of a topic for the first speech. The WCD asked tutors to assist their groups in narrowing topics and conducting initial research. We wanted the tutors to be flexible and build on their writing center training (a one-credit practicum course), but also to understand the Introduction to Public Speaking course’s trajectory. Specifically, the CI designed the course to scaffold the speeches and essays. A key moment in the course was revising and re-mediating an exploratory informative essay into a persuasive speech, altering both purpose and medium for a similar topic (Book & Strawser, 2015). During a bi-weekly staff meeting, the WCD also discussed strategies for managing small groups (Gilewicz, 2004).
After one semester of high structure for students and a lot of time spent tracking student participation, in spring 2014, the CI instead encouraged (and not required) his students to independently and individually schedule Writing Center appointments. They used the Writing Center’s online scheduling system to make their own appointments. Anecdotally, the CI noted that the quality of students’ formal speeches was higher in fall 2013 with the structured groups and lower in the voluntary semester, so we decided to again attempt required group appointments the upcoming fall 2014 semester.
In the fall 2014 semester, the Writing Center also opened a small satellite location (its first) within the department of Communication’s newly remodeled multimedia-equipped space. The “satellite” was simply a tutor offering scheduled or drop-in sessions in the open space (Figure 1). The location was a more visible space (the location of the main Writing Center was a basement) to conduct Writing Center consultations. The new space also became important in the case study because it housed the assigned classroom for the Introduction to Public Speaking course during the semester we collected the data for this case.
Case Study: Fall 2014
After the two pilot semesters, we collected data for a case study. We kept several of the major structural components from the first pilot semester, fall 2013, outlined earlier: multiple required outside class small group meetings with a writing tutor and range of dates for scheduled appointments based on due dates for assignments. However, we reduced the number of required outside class meetings from three to two because of lower than expected participation in fall 2013 and spring 2014. The WCD again attended the first in-person class meeting, introduced the collaboration, and assisted with forming small groups and scheduling. However, to substitute for the lost third meeting and increase student buy-in, two tutors accompanied her. The WCD, CI, and two tutors facilitated mini-appointments in-class to assist the students with brainstorming topics for the first speech assignment.
The WCD adjusted her curriculum in the Writing Center’s practicum training course for the new fall 2014 tutors to incorporate an emphasis on multiliteracies. To introduce the four new tutors to a framework for expanding writing center services, they read “New Media Matters: Tutoring in the Late Age of Print” (Grutsch McKinney, 2009). Grutsch McKinney (2009) argues that “it is our job to work with all types of writing in the writing center…writing centers need to offer tutoring in new media texts, but not the same tutoring we’ve always done” (p. 30). Grutsch McKinney (2009) provides helpful rationale and framework for tutors hired in a “writing” center to understand why and how centers may expand beyond print-based communication. The goal was to encourage the writing tutors to expand their definition of “writing” and the “writing center” through considering the rhetorical aspects of any type of communication or text. Tutors applied these concepts in course assignments for the practicum.
John, the Communication faculty member mentioned earlier, and the CI both also provided tutors training and guidance at separate writing center staff meetings during fall 2014. John’s training session, similar to his first one the year prior, focused on the topic of providing feedback to speeches. John again discussed genre and process considerations important to public speaking: coping with speaking anxiety, structuring a speech, and using visual rhetoric. John asked the tutors to brainstorm ways in which speeches and print-essays are similar and different. The CI held a Skype video conference with the tutors during another staff meeting to discuss his course and what role he hoped the tutors would play. He again shared the course materials and discussed how he scaffolded formal and informal writing and speaking assignments.
During the two pilot semesters we began to form our research questions related to the impact on the Writing Center and the tutors. After IRB review, we collected post-semester interviews with the writing tutors, a post-semester questionnaire of student perceptions of their learning, and post-session reports written by the tutors. We selected case study methods because of our inability to separate the collaboration in fall 2014 from its complex contextual situation as we have described, particularly the opening of the Writing Center satellite the same semester and John’s ongoing role in tutor training. Quite simply, our study asks “‘how’ or ‘why’ question(s)…about a contemporary set of events over which the investigator has little or no control” (Yin, 1994, p. 9). Our case is bounded by the writing center as a space, pedagogy, and the time limit of one semester. This is an exploratory case study because we present the context and the situation, described above, in order to consider the impact of the semester-long partnership. We invited all sixteen students enrolled in the CI’s hybrid Introduction to Public Speaking course to participate; eleven participated. We refer to that participant group as “students.” All five undergraduate writing tutors involved consented to participate. We refer to that participant group as “tutors.”
Students completed a questionnaire during the final of four face-to-face course meetings. We selected a questionnaire because it seemed the least obtrusive way to gather data about the students’ perceptions of their sessions with the tutors throughout the semester. The questionnaire’s purpose was to understand whether or not students perceived the Writing Center as impacting their learning, and, if so, in which general areas. The questionnaire contained self-perception questions that measured students’ perceived cognitive, behavioral, and affective learning over the semester, especially in regards to the connection and potential improvement gained by working with writing tutors (Appendix A). It also asked students to mark on a four-point Likert scale the helpfulness or unhelpfulness of each of the three meetings. However, since participation in all three meetings was low, our analysis focuses only on the final section of the questionnaire in which students selected areas they believed improved over the course of the semester as a result of working in peer groups and with the writing tutors. Students could select all answers that apply. The answer choices included: Awareness of writing as a process, Awareness of developing a speech as a process, Sense of audience for my writing, Sense of audience for my speeches, Sense of purpose for my writing, Sense of purpose for my speeches, Critical reading skills, Interpersonal skills, and None. Students could also select “other” and indicated additional areas of growth. Of particular interest to us were the students who indicated growth in rhetorical awareness (defined as purpose and audience) and composing process development.
The WCD conducted post-semester interviews with the five tutors with the general purpose to describe their sessions with the Introduction to Public Speaking students and to compare and contrast those meetings with a “typical” writing center appointment. She asked the tutors to reflect on their role and the implications for the Writing Center’s identity. Therefore, the interviews provided data to understand the tutors’ perception of the Writing Center, their role, and how students responded to them. To explore the perceived change in the role of the writing tutor, the interviewer prompted the tutors with some questions (see Appendix B). To explore the perceived effect of the public speaking collaboration on the identity of the Writing Center as a whole, the interviewer asked the tutors: Do you think that the Writing Center working with students in a public speaking class, with speeches, or with oral presentations changes the identity of the Writing Center. Does it confuse students about what a writing center is? The WCD also asked follow-up questions as necessary so the tutors would elaborate on their initial response.
Finally, we collected the brief post-appointment reports that the tutors wrote after each appointment. The tutors summarized the session and commented on the students’ level of participation. Because tutors wrote the reports after the appointment, they provide an immediate summary, but do not include any reflection. Both students and tutors were aware that the Writing Center would share these post-session reports with the CI and the CI may use them to evaluate course attendance and participation.
Coding of Interviews
After transcribing the five audio-recorded interviews with the tutors, we collaborated on identifying themes. Our goal when identifying themes was to categorize according to hierarchical (umbrella) categories. First, we each individually read the interview transcripts and noted repeating themes related to the tutor’s stance on their role as a tutor and the Writing Center’s changing identity. During this step, we identified major hierarchical categories (Tracy, 2013). Then, we met to discuss and finalize theme categories that emerged from both of our readings. We then returned individually to the interview transcripts and coded based on the agreed upon themes. The coding unit was significant phrases or completed thoughts. We ultimately came together again to compare codes and resolve discrepancies and agree on a final coding of the interview data. In essence, we followed a primary-cycle coding method wherein we assessed the data and assigned role descriptors (Tracy, 2013) which captured the evolving Writing Center identity and the tutor’s role.
The questionnaire asked students to identify areas of improvement over the course of the semester that occurred as a result of working with peer groups and writing tutors. Students could choose as many areas as they wished. In terms of improvement of writing as a process, five students perceived that as an area of improvement over the semester and four students observed a difference in understanding the purpose of their writing. Eight students identified developing a speech as a process as an area of growth during the course while four noticed that there was a difference in identifying a purpose for their speech. In terms of audience analysis, three students grew in their understanding of an audience for a written product while two perceived growth in their understanding of composing a speech for a specified audience. Two students also believed that critical reasoning skills and interpersonal skills improved over the course of the semester. Three students selected none indicating no perceived growth.
Writing Tutor Interviews
One of our main objectives was to see if the writing tutors noticed a changing Writing Center identity. The question of the change in writing center identity originated in our conference paper for the Southeastern Writing Center Association’s 2015 conference: “Identities in Consultation: Diversity in the South and Beyond.” Therefore, one interview question specified, “Do you think that working with students in public speaking classes or on speeches somehow changes the identity of the Writing Center or does it confuse students about what we do?” We began our interview coding, following the process we outlined, with this question, identifying four main themes (Table 1): 1. The existing identity (of the Writing Center) crosses over: There are different types of communication, but they have some similarities. (n = 20); 2. The ultimate or broader goal of the Writing Center is the same for any type of writing or communication. (n = 15); 3. The existing identity, built on student-centered peer feedback, expands if the Writing Center works with oral communication. (n = 5); and 4. Students fundamentally misunderstand the Writing Center (n = 3).
Coding for interview question regarding changing Writing Center identity
|Identified Theme||Example quote||Total Units||%|
|The existing identity crosses over: There are different types of communication, but they have some similarities.||“Sometimes I have to clarify [for students] … there is writing involved in your speech, but there’s a difference between reading straight off than presenting it.”||20||46.5|
|The ultimate or broader goal of the Writing Center is the same for any type of writing or communication||“Being able to get your ideas [across] is ultimately what we want to help students do in the Writing Center.”||15||34.9|
|The existing identity, built on student-centered peer feedback, expands if the Writing Center works with oral communication.||“So we can help you with a lot of different types of assignments, not just what you would originally think of a research paper.”||5||11.6|
|Students fundamentally misunderstand the Writing Center.||“[One student said] she feels like a lot more people would [come to the Writing Center] but just don’t know what to expect. Don’t really know what the Writing Center does.”||3||6.9|
A second objective, emerging from the first, was to see if the tutors described a change in their individual role as a tutor. Our first analysis had focused on the impact on the Writing Center’s identity, but we noticed that when the tutors responded to the questions that did not specify the Writing Center, they focused on their own roles in sessions. Clearly, the Writing Center’s identity connects to how they saw their roles as tutors. Subsequently, we coded the remaining interview data according to similar themes, adjusted for tutor roles instead of Writing Center identity (Table 2): 1. The existing role of the writing tutor crosses over: There are different types of communication, which impacts tutoring approach, but they have some similarities. (n = 46); 2. The ultimate or broader goal of the writing tutor is the same for any type of writing or communication. (n = 10); 3. The existing identity of the writing tutor expands if the Writing Center works with oral communication students. (n = 47); and 4. Students fundamentally misunderstand the role of the writing tutor (n = 3).
Coding for interview questions regarding writing tutors
|Identified Theme||Example quote||Total Units||%|
|The existing role of the writing tutor crosses over: There are different types of communication, which impacts tutoring approach, but they have some similarities.||“I still try and keep the same attitude and approaches that I do for a regular writing center session.”||46||43.3|
|The existing identity of the writing tutor expands if the Writing Center works with oral communication students.||“I think that the great thing… is that I’ve helped a lot of people write speeches, way more than I help people practice speeches.”||47||44.3|
|The ultimate or broader goal of the writing tutor is the same for any type of writing or communication.||“…we worked through what she wanted to communicate with her subject.”||10||9.4|
|Students fundamentally misunderstand the role of the writing tutor.||“It was kind of frustrating because the people that came in didn’t have anything to work on.”||3||2.8|
The majority of students and tutors in our study identify the Writing Center, and the writing tutor, as appropriate for feedback and improvement for both written and oral communication. In the results from the student questionnaire, the top two areas of improvement selected were “awareness of developing a speech as a process” (n=8) and “awareness of writing as a process” (n=5). Furthermore, all 18 of the post-session reports are brief, but positive, encouraging, and process-forward, despite the tutor’s overall uncertainty about their role. Katie’s report provides an example (all tutors’ names are pseudonyms): “Participated fully. Contributed to ideas of other group members. Topic of cyber bullying is very big. Focus should be on a specific aspect of cyber bullying (cyber bullying and school’s jurisdiction).” Katie’s report corresponds with key overarching learning aims for the course and goals for the Writing Center. For instance, one learning outcome for the course specifies that “The student will demonstrate the ability to organize a speech in the correct format style.” The Writing Center’s mission (in 2014) underscored process, collaboration, and dialogue. Thus, this data indicates that those students perceive the Writing Center to have had some impact on both the course aims for oral communication and the Writing Center’s aim to improve the writing process through student-centered peer feedback. The questionnaire results indicate that, at some level, students embrace the Writing Center as a space to improve both written and oral communication.
When analyzing the tutor interviews in reference to the Writing Center identity, the major theme that emerged was what we call the “crossover theme.” What we mean by “crossover” is that the tutors seem to describe written and oral communication as two overlapping circles of a simple Venn diagram. Two tutors, Don and Logan emphasized how they saw that crossover in play as they negotiated the identity of the Writing Center. Logan said, “Sometimes I have to clarify [for students]…there is writing involved in your speech, but there’s a difference between reading straight off than like presenting it. There’s a connection there.” Overall, when evoking the crossover theme, tutors highlighted the overlap in the development stages of written and oral communication: planning and organizing a speech and essay. For instance, in Don’s post-session reports, which are the most detailed, he blends the writing, researching, and idea development processes.
The second most prominent theme in relation to the Writing Center’s identity was the belief that the ultimate or broader goal of the Writing Center is the same for any type of writing or communication. Here we see more generalizations about writing and communication. This theme was the only one, except for the crossover theme just discussed, that each of the five tutors mentioned at least once in the interview. Valerie, who mentioned the “ultimate” theme five instances, details a facet of the theme: students’ feelings toward getting help. She emphasized how students feel bringing projects to the Writing Center: “So not only can we help you with your papers, but we can help you with your speeches, and I think that makes the students more comfortable coming in.” Therefore, she describes a student-centered atmosphere, one of comfort and approachability, created because the Writing Center has a range of services. Valerie’s session report mentions the importance of “conversation” and “feedback.” For example, “She didn’t bring draft, and she was actively involved in the conversation. She provided helpful feedback to her peer, and asked questions. She came with a topic which we narrowed down some.”
Another aspect of the “ultimate” theme is what tutors “do” as a collective group representing the Writing Center. Both Valerie and Ben stated that what tutors do should be the same regardless of the form of communication. Valerie said “being able to get your ideas [across] is ultimately what we want to help students do in the Writing Center.” Valerie hints at the rhetorical aspect of all communication—questions of audience, purpose, and genre will occur regardless of the form. Ben commented that “we’re working on that [students’ needs during sessions] with just rhetoric and communications just in different forms.” In fact, Ben insists that the approach and goals are nearly the same, though he admitted earlier in the interview that he used more “critical thinking on my part to address the concerns over the public speaking aspect of it, because although public speaking occurs with any major, but it’s not a concentration in my major…I wasn’t able as much to draw upon my personal experiences” (emphasis added). Whereas Ben understands the rhetorical theory to be the same, in his practice he describes a different experience. He finds it difficult when he does not know the conventions of the form and genre of public speaking.
Yet, positive responses (both interview and questionnaire) are not univocal. For instance, when asked a follow-up question about finding “common ground” in a group session, Logan said: “I think the common ground was that they all wanted to complain.” Logan goes on to describe the students being unprepared and mostly unmotivated. Her post-session report indicates that two (of three) students did not bring a draft; however, those students did participate when asked about their “research process” or “writing process.” Three student questionnaires indicated “none” for areas of improvement, which may correspond with the interview theme that the tutors brought up—students fundamentally misunderstand the Writing Center. A misunderstanding of the Writing Center’s peer-feedback model can hinder the impact tutors have and the perception of learning that might take place.
Though we began by considering the impact on the Writing Center’s identity, analyzing this question led us to consider the ways the tutors described their roles. The two most prominent themes were: 1. The existing role of the writing tutor expands if the tutor works with oral communication and 2. The existing role of the writing tutor crosses over: there are different types of communication, which impacts tutoring approach, but they have some similarities. In both themes, tutors recognized that the addition of speeches and peers to the Writing Center did not minimize their role. They saw both the commonalities and potential growth of their role. The strong appearance of the crossover theme also may correspond with John’s pedagogical approach to training the tutors—he asked them to consider the similarities and differences in writing an essay versus a speech. Yet, tutors recognized that even in the midst of different medium and genres, their overall tutoring approach had similarities to how they perform when their main focus is print. As a Writing Center Professional and a Communication faculty member, we are encouraged by these early findings. Yet, as writing and communication evolve with technology, moving toward a true multimodal emphasis, we hope that writing tutors move toward a more rhetorical understanding versus a strictly genre-based approach.
A collaboration between a writing center and an Introduction to Public Speaking course may seem an unlikely space to explore multiliteracies. Yet, our case study demonstrates that such intra-campus collaborations can help writing centers test new waters while it helps students, both peer tutors and those enrolled in courses, deepen their rhetorical awareness. Our case study analysis of student questionnaires, tutor interviews, and post-session reports indicates that there is space for this center to shift its local identity toward multiliteracy. Moreover, we learned that writing tutor roles are especially complex when tutors consult with new genres and mediums. Moreover, tutors reflect deeply on their individual roles and as they represent the Writing Center as a campus entity. As researchers, we are still interested in how these types of partnerships help meet learning outcomes for writing tutors and students. Although we no longer work together at the same institution, we are both committed to further researching collaborations between the disciplines of Communication and Writing Center Studies.
The crossover theme that emerged from the tutor interviews and, to some extent, the student questionnaires, shows the necessity for training for all tutors in multiliteracies, the approach for which Grutsch McKinney (2009) advocates. The necessity to train all tutors is especially important at smaller institutions that do not have a student-centered technology center or a speech communication center. Studies like ours can assist resource-restricted writing centers in making decisions about how to move toward a multiliteracy center model. We encourage writing centers to reach out to potential collaborators in departments of Communication, Business, libraries, and Education.
About the Authors
Cassandra A. Book is the Associate Director of the University Writing Center at the University of Louisville and a PhD Student in English at Old Dominion University. Her research interests intersect writing centers, tutor professionalization, graduate student enculturation, and feminist research. Her current research projects include a user experience (UX) study of the online environment of the writing center and her dissertation study. Her dissertation is a longitudinal qualitative study of graduate student Teaching Assistants’ development as writing teachers and professionals within English Studies.
Dr. Michael G. Strawser (Ph.D. University of Kentucky) is Assistant Professor of Communication and the Director of Graduate Programs at Bellarmine University. His research interests include Instructional and Organizational Communication. Dr. Strawser’s work has appeared in Communication Education, Communication Teacher, the Basic Communication Course Annual, and he recently edited a book titled: New Media and Digital Pedagogy: Enhancing the 21st Century Classroom.
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Post-Course Student Questionnaire
How many meetings with a writing tutor did you participate in with all or part of your Communication 103 group (including the first in-class meeting)?
Please circle your answer below:
1 2 3
If you participated in one or more individual appointments in the Writing Center for Communication 103, please write the number.
Number of individual appointments: _____
For the following questions, please rate each appointment on a scale of 1-4.
Please circle your answer below
1 – very unhelpful 2 – unhelpful 3 – helpful 4 – very helpful
Appointment 1 – In class (Reminder: The focus of appointment 1 was navigating the beginning of the research process: choosing an appropriate topic, defining research questions, finding relevant and credible sources).
1 2 3 4 did not attend
Appointment (Reminder: The focus of appointment 2 – You were directed to bring 1-2 pages of your essay. The tutor and group helped trouble-shoot narrowing topic and finding resources).
1 2 3 4 did not attend
Appointment 3 (Reminder: The focus of appointment 3 was to transition from the written and informative to the oral and persuasive. You were directed to bring your persuasive speech outlines to the meeting).
1 2 3 4 did not attend
Overall, how much extra preparation did you have to do to attend appointments two and three in the Writing Center?
Please circle your answer below:
None I did the same amount of work as I would have otherwise and did not alter my homework/study schedule.
30-60 minutes I took time to make sure I had something to bring to my group.
1-2 hours I focused more on the work for this course because I felt somewhat accountable to my group.
2 hours or more I focused a significant amount of time preparing for the group meetings and revising based on feedback from the meeting.
Please check which areas you believe improved as a result in participation in the Writing
Center for Communication 103.
Please “X” your answers in the lines below:
_____ Awareness of writing as a process
_____ Awareness of developing a speech as a process
_____ Sense of audience for my writing
_____ Sense of audience for my speeches
_____ Sense of purpose for my writing
_____ Sense of purpose for my speeches
_____ Critical reading skills
_____ Interpersonal skills
Please explain any of your answers or add any additional comments. You may use the back of the page.
Writing Tutor Interview Questions
- Please tell me about the similarities in your approach to meeting with the Communication 103 groups versus any other appointments.
- Were there any differences?
- Please discuss your thoughts on working with students in a Public Speaking class versus an English 101 or other writing-focused course.
- What do you feel you learned by working with this project versus a regular writing center appointment?
- Do you think that working with students in public speaking classes or on speeches somehow changes the identity of the Writing Center? Or, does it confuse students?