Integrating and Evaluating Twine as a Mode for Training Course-Embedded Consultants in the Writing Center

Danielle Pierce, Nova Southeastern University
‘Aolani Robinson, Nova Southeastern University

Abstract

This article explores how Twine, an open-source platform for interactive fiction games, was used to effectively train writing center staff participating in a course-embedded tutoring program. Writing center research, as well as our own survey data analysis, revealed a need to implement creative training methods that focused on the navigation of different classroom environments and the fostering of respected relationships between faculty, students, and course-embedded consultants. To respond to the need for additional course-embedded training materials, we created a supplemental scenario-based Twine training game for consultants embedded in first-year composition at Nova Southeastern University’s Writing and Communication Center. We asked consultants to write a response to their experience playing the game in order to assess the effectiveness of the Twine training. Our consultants reacted positively to the relevance of the scenarios provided within the Twine training but wished for further interactivity within the game itself. The positive reception demonstrated that Twine can be implemented as a creative solution for how to professionally handle situations that may occur in the classroom. We determined from the assessment that our future Twine training games need to incorporate clearer directions for navigation as well as more developed scenarios and answer choices for increased interactivity. We conclude that the affordances of Twine and other video game platforms can serve as an innovative way for staff members to interact with training materials that will help prepare them for the complex role as a course-embedded consultant.

Keywords: Twine, gaming, scenario-based training, course-embedded consultant, writing center

Integrating and Evaluating Twine as a Mode for Training Course-Embedded Consultants in the Writing Center

Game-based training offers a unique medium for education, and the affordances of video games have yet to be fully harnessed by university writing centers. Ian Bogost (2007) argues that the expressive and interactive nature of video games allows for the representation of both real and imagined systems. If video games can truly combine both fantasy and reality, they can be used to creatively train writing center staff. This medium of training may also be beneficial for course-embedded writing consultants and can teach them how to navigate classroom-based scenarios they may encounter while working outside of the designated writing center space.

This article will explore the potential for incorporating the Twine video game as a creative approach to course-embedded tutor training, discuss how we implemented our first Twine game at Nova Southeastern University’s Writing and Communication Center, and analyze the reactions of our course-embedded consultants through an initial assessment of the training. From our experience, we hope that writing centers will be inspired to take more creative, game-based approaches to supplement other tutor training methods in writing center praxis and utilize the affordances of video games to demonstrate how to professionally navigate the role of a course-embedded consultant.

Literature Review: A Need for Creative Approaches in Course-Embedded Tutor Training

While tutors must be prepared to encounter a variety of different students and assignments that enter the writing center, course-embedded tutors face different challenges while working outside of the center. Carl Severino and Megan Knight (2007) define course-embedded writing fellows as staff members who possess dual citizenship between the writing center and the classroom. Under this complex writing center program, Kelly Webster and Jake Hansen (2014) identify how tutors, faculty, and students must re-negotiate classroom roles on days when the course-embedded tutor attends class. This collaboration creates what Severino and Knight (2007) identify as a “delicate balancing act” of multiple voices that can result in chaos if there is no collaboration to reach common ground. This chaos can cloud the ability to accurately account for both successes and failures of course-embedded support (Webster & Hansen, 2014), but can be balanced in a tutor training program that outlines how to create a collaborative ethos between all program stakeholders (Ben Ristow & Hannah Dickinson, 2014).

Course-embedded tutor training can also help alleviate the demands that tutors feel when working with classes outside of the writing center. Oftentimes with embedded tutoring programs, tutors are uprooted from courses at the end of each semester and must frequently adapt to work within new classroom ecologies (Tara Parmiter & William Morgan, 2014). Even under these changes, course-embedded tutors are still expected to work closely with instructors and serve as a reputable extension of the university writing center. The discomfort of changing places, combined with the new navigation of classroom culture and interpersonal interactions, can cause course-embedded tutors to feel stuck in their abilities to effectively work with students and faculty (Parmiter & Morgan, 2014).

To address the challenges of course-embedded tutoring, writing center scholarship has explored the value of various training methods and their impact on tutor success while working outside of the physical writing center. One method of training course-embedded tutors is the writing center seminar, which is designed to help consultants balance the dual citizenship of both the writing center and the classroom. Ristow and Dickinson (2014) prepare course-embedded consultants for their roles through a seminar addressing writing theory and practice. The seminar’s syllabus focuses on improving writerly growth through various reading and writing assignments, including scholarship dedicated to peer tutoring. At the end of the seminar, students produce a portfolio of essays, which are then assessed by the seminar instructors. While Ristow and Dickinson (2014) claim that their seminar helps their embedded tutors feel well-prepared for their first placement and in supporting first-year writers, they discovered they had to revise the curriculum to further empathize and assist their tutors with faculty interactions.

To help course-embedded consultants navigate through difficult classroom-based encounters, Parmiter and Morgan (2014) opted to establish a mentor program in place of a seminar for tutors to meet regularly and reflect on their practices with faculty members specializing in teaching and tutoring writing. These faculty mentors assist tutors in navigating “stuck” places in discipline-specific requirements and help to strengthen the tutors’ own practices. However, it was not mentioned if the mentor groups helped course-embedded consultants facilitate conversations with students and faculty members outside of assignment requirements.

Other traditional training methods for course-embedded tutors include workshops where tutors share a space to learn and collaborate with one another. Marti Singer, Robin Breault, and Jennifer Wing (2005) scheduled and created workshops for their course-embedded consultants, recognizing that these spaces provided a time to share both frustrations and successes. Though their workshop was successful at addressing the roles of consultants and discourse used in the classroom, Singer, Breault, and Wing found their tutors did not collaborate to create an outline for how consultants can approach scenario-specific conversations.

Barbara Little Liu and Holly Mandes (2005) also noticed a gap in verbiage training, as they found their traditional praxis training did not equip their tutors for interacting with unwilling or incommunicative students in first-year writing courses. This is supported by Steven J. Corbett’s (2005) claim that classroom-based tutoring often calls for more directive tutoring techniques, challenging the more traditional, nondirective approach that is often housed in writing centers. Webster and Hansen (2014) take a different approach to facilitating the “collaborative ethos” by training course-embedded tutors to create space for faculty-tutor conversations. Course-embedded tutors are encouraged to connect with their faculty after every class session to relay their observations from interacting with students. However, Webster and Hansen did not specify if they provided example dialog to help course-embedded tutors initiate these conversations, or if they prepared their tutors for how to navigate conversations with faculty members that may feel uncomfortable.

Theatrical exercises can be considered creative training methods for preparing tutors in navigating conversations with students and other writing center stakeholders. For example, Mattison (2006) implements improvisation exercises in his writing center training to teach consultants to place trust in themselves, stating that “for most, the primary fear is of looking foolish in front of an audience” (12). Another example of theatrics in tutor training can be seen in Jane Bowman Smith’s (2005) scenario card game. In this exercise, tutors first select a task card that presents a conflict unique to the writing center, then attempt to solve the conflict through role-play (Bowman Smith, 2005). Though Mattison’s and Bowman Smith’s tutor training programs embraced creative theatrical approaches, these exercises were only applied to mock consultations and were not considered for course-embedded tutor training.

Theatrical exercises for verbiage training in writing center training programs can also come with limitations. Reflecting on the implementation of role-playing in her writing center, Sandee K. McGlaun (2008) anticipated that tutors would enjoy the creativity of writing and performing their own skits in order to model effective tutor-student interactions. However, she found that many of her staff members lacked the playfulness needed for this exercise and hypothesized that her tutors may have been too self-conscious in executing these performances. McGlaun’s experience demonstrates the limitations that role-playing may have in the writing center space, as tutors may be hesitant, unwilling, or unable to explore their roles in scenario-based skits. Sarah Blazer (2015) responds to these limitations by stating that although role-playing has its place within the complex dynamics of the writing center, it should be incorporated within a larger plan for developing problem-solving abilities. Outside of the creative methods of improvisation and mock trainings, implementing scenario-based training for course-embedded tutors can fit into a larger plan for developing these essential problem-solving abilities.

The absence of scenario-specific and dialog training in the current literature, as well as the highlighted limitations of traditional role-playing activities, suggests that writing centers may not be considering how concrete examples of verbiage and professionalism can help to alleviate the challenges of classroom-based tutoring. If the more traditional approaches of seminars, workshops, mentor groups, and traditional role-playing are not preparing tutors for the conversations that may occur in the classroom, a more creative approach to training is needed in order to supplement verbal support, foster mutually respected interactions, and prepare tutors to navigate challenges they may face from possessing dual citizenship between the writing center and classroom environments. These steps can also help to create the collaborative ethos between tutors, faculty members, and students that Ristow and Dickinson (2014) claim to exist in course-embedded tutoring programs.

Gaming and Education

As gaming continues to rise as a reputable field of study, educators have begun to explore the place of gaming within classroom practices. Rebecca Shultz Colby (2017) found that the lack of research and available teaching materials for utilizing video and non-digital games in the composition classroom contributed to the overall lack of gaming implementation within pedagogical practices. However, within classrooms that did utilize games as part of their syllabi, Colby discovered a variety of uses for such activities. The observed educators utilized games to teach and explore new media and cultural theory, as a way of demonstrating technical communication, and as a strategy for motivating students to engage in their learning among other uses. This versatility demonstrates the potential uses that games can fulfill as part of an educational strategy.

Besides the potentials of gaming within mainstream educational systems, scholars have examined the uses of gaming and gamification in other settings. Gamification is the addition of various game-like elements outside of gameplay scenarios (such as leaderboards) and is often used as a way of increasing learner motivation to complete otherwise conventional education or training courses or materials (Michael B. Armstrong & Richard N. Landers, 2017). In their study of a narrative-based laptop security course, Armstrong and Landers (2017) discovered that the gamification of workforce education increased the overall enjoyment of participants. However, this research is limited only to narratives in gamifying traditional training practices.

Another alternative beyond simple gamification is the creation of serious games built for training purposes. Serious games, defined as those that use instructional and video game elements for non-entertainment purposes by Dennis Charsky (2010), are hailed as the next step in incorporating games within training for various work requirements or in education as an alternative to the often derided “edutainment.” While simulations neglect certain game features, such as fantasy, serious games retain usage of these elements. By utilizing various gameplay elements such as competition, goals, rules, choice, and challenges, it is possible to create writing center-specific games that satisfy learners while also retaining educational value. It remains to be seen whether such games will ever fare as well as traditional learning methods in future studies. However, the growing body of research proves that serious games have an undeniable educational value and can also be implemented within writing center educational practices.

Despite the limited research in games specific to writing centers, past concepts of games and play have appeared in writing center literature. Daniel Lochman (1986) first introduced the concept of play and game as defined by Theodore Roszak. According to this definition, play is unbridled freedom and exploration that can often be destructive, while games are play contained within rules and structures. Lochman advocated for the writing center as a space specifically where students can learn to play with writing. More recently, John Trimbur (2010) noted the potential for writing centers to evolve into multiliteracy centers that consider not just the written, but also oral and visual components of composition design. This idea fits well with the method described by Jennifer deWinter and Stephanie Vie (2008) in using the popular online simulated world, Second Life, as a way of teaching subjectivity within the writing classroom. DeWinter and Vie introduce the modified definition of games from Gonzalo Frasca as a play with not just rules (as noted earlier by Lochman), but as a type of play where players can possibly fail to reach their objective.

Using simulations such as Second Life, deWinter and Vie argue this method of training will be a more efficient way of teaching students how to critically engage with new media. As writing centers move closer to the multiliteracy centers envisioned by Trimbur, the addition of such simulations begin to feel more appropriate. Second Life, for example, has previously been explored by the writing center community. Russell Carpenter and Meghan Griffin (2010) described their experience using the platform outside of the classroom within their centers to conduct online consultations. Second Life became not just a replacement for traditional online tutoring methods. Instead, the platform allowed for interaction and access to whiteboards and resources in new ways.

The appropriation of the new technology behind Second Life follows the trend of implementing other multimodal and gamified aspects to the writing center space. Pamela Farrell’s (1987) initial thoughts on how computer-based technology is a unique resource remains relevant to current discussions of gaming and education within the writing center. As Farrell (1987) investigated, computers and software can hold the potential to alter the relationship between consultants and students. Just as Second Life presented a new way to interact within the writing center, computer-based technology can similarly pave the way for game-based education and training.

However, as with other attempts to experiment with training and procedures, there are limitations to incorporating computer-based training in writing centers. Susan Glassman (1985) found some difficulties when implementing a video production program into her writing center’s educational praxis. Just as with the video program in Glassman and Farrell’s excursions into diverse technologies, digital games are just beginning to have their time in the spotlight within writing center praxis. The same limitations of time, scheduling, and participation that Glassman (1985) encountered can also impact the implementation of digital game-based education within writing center training.

Twine

Twine is a free open-source tool for game development that supports the creation of interactive stories with branching narratives and variable states (Jane Friedhoff, 2013). Twine is designed for those with minimal coding experience, and Anastasia Salter (2016) identifies Twine as a highly accessible tool for building choice-driven games in a code-free environment. Since no prior programming skills are required to build Twine games, the interface welcomes a variety of voices and background experiences (Salter, 2016). In lieu of coding, Twine creators link actions together through hypertexts, immersing their players within an interactive, text-based story. Though the lack of coding makes Twine a more approachable platform for both inexperienced and experienced game developers, creators must learn how to use hyperlinked text to create an interactive narrative.

Twine’s single-player game design gives players the chance to read and participate in a narrative by making choices throughout their reading experience that affect their later decisions and final outcome. The interface’s focus on text for storytelling allows for the creation of interactive fiction experiences (Nick Montfort, 2003). Interactive fiction, which is a subset of electronic literature, allows for experiences similar to a digital choose-your-own-adventure novel (Katherine Hayles, 2007). By giving players the ability to make their own “choices” throughout the Twine, players can enjoy a variety of potential events and endings.

In an analysis of ten selected games, Salter (2016) identifies that most Twine creations are empathetic, as players become emotionally involved through its narrative design. The platform carries a strong autobiographical influence through the interactive fiction created by Twine authors, demonstrating how this video game platform combines what Bogost (2007) identifies as real and imagined systems. The frequent use of second-person also casts players in the moment, using the word “you” to trigger emotional involvement in the game and cast them in the moment of the narrative (Salter, 2016). Twine’s potential to foster emotional connections through interactive narratives provides an opportunity to offer scenario-based training that course-embedded consultants can empathize with as they learn to navigate challenges and build relationships outside of the writing center.

Institutional Context

The writing center at Nova Southeastern University offers assistance for over 20,000 enrolled students. In addition to offering in-person and online appointments, our center implements a course-embedded writing fellows program. These consultants, referred to as COMP Fellows, are connected to first-year composition courses. In Fall 2019, our center successfully assigned 42 COMP Fellows to 96 sections of first-year composition courses. In their roles as COMP Fellows, our consultants visit classes to support students throughout the writing process while working alongside professors to help students accomplish their goals. Fellows can offer in-class support by participating in peer review sessions, conducting quick one-on-one consultations, and communicating with faculty to clarify assignment directions. Through our course-embedded tutoring program, our COMP Fellows were able to work directly with 1,240 students enrolled in composition classes during the Fall 2019 semester. This was the largest course-embedded program our center facilitated to date.

In our growing writing center, there is a need to take creative approaches to training our consultants. With 74 employees, it becomes challenging to schedule in-person training times that work under the additional college stressors of classes, labs, exams, organizations, and other on-campus and off-campus commitments. Instead of holding traditional seminar classes, our writing center adopted the use of online training modules using Canvas, an online learning platform implemented at our university. For the 2019-2020 academic year, our modules covered topics such as writing praxis theories, online consulting, and career-readiness skills. At the end of each module, consultants were asked to complete short-response questions designed to prompt reflection on each training topic. Through a previous assessment of the effectiveness of our training modules, Michaela Greer, Jacqueline Lytle, Emalee Shrewsbury, and Kevin Dvorak (2019) established that the creation of online-based training has been effective in preparing our staff for writing center work. The positive reception of these Canvas modules has encouraged our center to continue exploring and implementing online-based training.

Our COMP Fellow training incorporates the use of communication-based training and verbal support in addition to Canvas modules. Similar to Parmiter and Morgan’s (2014) initiative, each Fellow is assigned a graduate student coordinator as their mentor to periodically check-in and address any concerns that may arise while working outside of the writing center. Our Fellows are assigned to new classes each semester, and they are expected to establish and maintain a professional relationship with their assigned faculty and students. Parallel with Webster and Hansen’s (2014) routines, COMP Fellows are asked to meet with faculty prior to the start of the semester, review classroom expectations, and maintain mutually respected interactions throughout the duration of the course.

For the Fall 2019 semester, we began asking consultants to complete an online survey posted to Canvas after each class visit. This survey aimed to gauge the communication and interaction between our 42 COMP Fellows, the professors, and the students participating in our largest course-embedded consultant program. From the results, we recognized that our consultants were struggling to navigate specific situations that arose during communication with professors and working one-on-one with different types of students while in the classroom. We recognized that we may need additional training material to supplement our COMP Fellow Canvas modules. Under Bogost’s (2007) claim, a video game can combine both real and imagined scenarios to effectively train tutors for fostering relationships and providing situational context for course-embedded work. Video game training also serves as a creative supplement to our already established routines of online Canvas training and verbal support.

Methodology for COMP Fellow Twine Training

We chose Twine for our own training purposes due to its accessible design process and interactive fiction format. Through hyperlinked choices, we hoped that writing center consultants would enjoy the space to try out a variety of responses to the different scenarios they would encounter in the game. The multiple possibilities and responses would give consultants the chance to reflect on their personal practices in order to best engage with students. We also appreciated Twine’s replayability and how this resource could remain online for easy retrieval and reference for our COMP Fellows. Additionally, Twine required only minimal coding knowledge to create games on its software and included the ability to save and upload the final game as an HTML file on our writing center’s Canvas page.

Our own experience creating the Twine training took three weeks to complete. We took on the task of creating this training on our own as graduate assistant coordinators, with feedback from both our writing center leadership and undergraduate COMP Fellows. To outline the game, we first turned to the results of our COMP Fellow survey on Canvas. The Fall 2019 survey revealed that COMP Fellows had difficulty navigating situations where they did not feel fully utilized or appropriately incorporated into the classroom environment. We also noticed that our Fellows struggled to work with students who were not receptive to their help and those who were unwilling to participate in the peer review process. From our analysis, we decided to focus on navigating professional communication with faculty, facilitating positive in-class sessions, and maximizing productivity during classroom visits within our Twine training game. With this focus in mind, we came up with eight scenarios that would simulate conversations with both faculty and students. These scenarios included five dialog exchanges regarding the professor’s misunderstanding of the COMP Fellow’s role in the classroom and three narratives with students who were struggling with the in-class assignment.

Once we identified the scenarios we wanted to include, we then began to outline the dialog and actions for our Twine game. We used a whiteboard to establish where the text would possess hyperlinks and establish which actions would trigger each scenario within the game. Twine’s creator map allowed us to transfer our outline easily into the interface and hyperlink the text of our narrative. This map functioned similarly to a storyboard in that it outlined each individual block of text that went into the Twine. Each block included a different choice that could be made and the corresponding narrative that went along with it. The arrows represented the hyperlinks between blocks that move players through the game. The creator map used to design the Twine game is seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1

This image shows the creator map that was used to create our Twine game. Similar to a storyboard, the arrows demonstrate which texts are hyperlinked to each scenario. The bold text represents the blue hyperlinked dialog and actions, while the un-bolded text represents the narrative presented within the game.
Creator map for our Twine training game

We decided on a linear game design so that our COMP Fellows would be required to complete each professor and student encounter included in the simulation before ending the Twine game. While playing the game, COMP Fellows were given at least two possible responses to choose from for each scenario based on best practices and realistic reactions. Samples of the different scenarios can be seen in Figures 2 and 3. Since we wanted to focus our time more on the development of the scenarios and narrative, we decided to keep the default background and text colors of Twine.

Figure 2

This image shows the first prompt of the Twine game, which involves an interaction with a professor. The player chooses how to continue in the simulation by clicking on the blue text, which will lead to a different scenario that can be explored.
Twine scenario involving an interaction with a professor

Figure 3

This image shows a screenshot of a scenario involving a student. There are several students with unique needs that the player encounters as an embedded writing fellow in the Twine game. By choosing the dialog in the blue text, the player will either continue in the game, or review why their response was not the best course of action for this specific scenario.
Twine scenario involving an interaction with a student

Our Twine game went through a total of five test runs before the final game was embedded into our writing center’s Canvas page. Three of our graduate assistant coordinators and two undergraduate consultants who had worked as COMP Fellows in previous semesters participated in our trial tests. Because of their former experience working with first-year composition classes, these staff members provided us valuable feedback in the dialog exchanges and the accuracy of our developed scenarios with faculty and students. After adjusting the narrative dialog, we had a final product that was ready to be implemented in COMP Fellow training for the Winter 2020 semester.

Implementation

All our COMP Fellows were asked to complete the Twine training in Canvas as part of their training for the Winter 2020 semester. The game was placed as a link under a discussion board entitled “COMP Fellow Twine Training” on our staff Canvas page. Upon completion of the training game, COMP Fellows were asked to compose a brief, two-paragraph discussion post on Canvas about their reactions to the experience playing the game, as well as how this training could be applied to classroom visits. A visualization of this post is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4

This image shows the final page of the Twine training, signaling its conclusion. This page also reminds COMP Fellows to return to the Canvas discussion board to write a reflection of their experiences interacting with students and faculty inside the game.
Final page of Twine training

We used our COMP Fellow’s discussion posts as an informal assessment to evaluate how effective our Twine game was in training consultants for specific classroom scenarios as well as the overall response to whether consultants enjoyed this type of creative tutor training.

Assessment Results

Overall, our COMP Fellows responded positively to this experience through their discussion postings on Canvas. We created a specific discussion board for Fellows to share their experiences. On this board, we asked for fellows to write a two-paragraph response reflecting on their experience navigating the simulation, and how they can apply this training while working with professors and students in first-year composition classrooms. We did not provide a word count for our Fellows to meet in their discussion board posting, as we wanted them to be candid in their experiences without any pressures or restrains in their feedback. We opted for a discussion board format to provide our Fellows the option of facilitating conversation and commenting on each other’s postings. We received a total of 31 responses on the discussion board, though none of our Fellows chose to respond to additional postings.

Of the 31 Fellows that posted a response, 19 explicitly stated in their discussion posts that they enjoyed the effectiveness and the relevance of the scenarios presented within the game. One Fellow commented, “the answers to the prompts were very appropriate, and I could see how these can be applied to our jobs, as these can be questions we are asked.” Another Fellow wrote, “I now know how to appropriately respond to a variety of situations, some that I would not expect to encounter. Thus, I feel confident and prepared for almost any challenge I may face as a COMP Fellow.” While our consultants engaged with material that addressed writing center theory in our Canvas modules (Greer et al., 2019), there is a lack of training that targets the navigation of specific situations our consultants experience when communicating with professors and working with students in the classroom. The text-for-storytelling interface (Montfort, 2003) provided our COMP Fellows with possible solutions and sample dialog for navigating tricky situations as a course-embedded consultant.

Out of 31 responses, a total of 15 Fellows reflected on how the scenarios related to their own practice, empathizing the experiences of the game to their past interactions with faculty and students. As one of our Fellows summarized in their reflection, “I’ve been in situations very similar to the ones displayed, including professors not knowing my role in the class, asking me to do things outside of my role, and forgetting that I was even supposed to come in…it was nice to see a professional way to work through these challenges.” Another Fellow reflected on a scenario in the Twine game where the professor forgot they were due to visit class one day. She wrote, “after sitting in class for a bit, the professor gave me the option to either sit and work quietly or come back another day. I ended up leaving.” In this reflection, the Fellow explained the narrative she chose in response to this scenario, stating that the response “made the best use out of the situation instead of just turning around and leaving.” Some Fellows also seemed to respond positively to the narrative structure, as Armstrong and Landers (2017) noted as being enjoyable for gamers. For example, one Fellow wrote, “I enjoyed that the training took you through different plans of action in these situations, and I was able to reflect on why some ways worked better than others.” Another Fellow reflected on the unique mode of the narrative format of the training and noted that, “rather than sitting in a workshop, I was able to navigate through different situations I may face as a Fellow.”

Four of our COMP Fellows explicitly stated they enjoyed how the Twine game helped in outlining how to communicate effectively and professionally with professors and students. One reflection stated “it is important that as COMP fellows and young professionals that we handle these situations professionally. Having practiced this scenario and other similar scenarios through this simulation will have me prepared for addressing different situations.” Another senior Fellow commented on how the game was a good review of the best responses for difficult situations with professors and students, stating that, “sometimes it can be a challenge to immediately remember how to answer their question/respond to their statement correctly and professionally.” As Tom Earles and Leigh Ryan (2019) explored, writing centers are uniquely gifted with the potential for developing the professional awareness and skills of their employees. Video game training is a creative way to approach professional development in writing centers, as our Twine game serves as a model for how to professionally communicate with both faculty and students. The interactivity of the Twine interface also allows for the representation of both real and imagined scenarios (Bogost, 2007) where our Fellows need to put their professional skill sets to use.

A total of nine consultants commented that they wanted more interaction with the content presented in this interface. One COMP Fellow explained, “the simulation was helpful, but I wish it allowed us to choose possible paths for responding to the professor instead of immediately explaining the proper protocol. I think if it were more interactive, then Fellows could better identify areas of their position that they can improve upon.” As Hayles (2007) stated, the interactive fiction platform of Twine creates a platform for a digital choose-your-own-adventure game. Our Twine game design proved to be too linear, as our Fellows wanted more opportunities for interaction in the choose-your-own-adventure format. A more expansive, nonlinear game design that incorporates more choices for action and dialog would appeal to our senior Fellows who have more experience navigating composition classrooms than newer COMP Fellows. This nonlinear game design would also allow consultants to skip over familiar scenarios and explore other situations that may arise with faculty and students.

Through discussion posts, four of our consultants stated they were confused as to how to start the game. One COMP Fellow commented, “I was very confused while trying to navigate the simulation and had to ask someone to explain it to me.” Another Fellow stated, “I wasn’t sure if I would ‘lose’ the game if I chose the ‘incorrect’ answer to a question.” This difficulty may be due to overall unfamiliarity with Twine and how to use hyperlinks to progress forward in the narrative. To provide more clarity for staff members unfamiliar with Twine’s interface and highlight the ease of navigation, more comprehensive directions need to be included either in Canvas or the opening screen of the game. Fellows who did not indicate difficulties in navigating the interface had more positive reactions to the website design. As one of our Fellows commented, “I particularly liked that it was easy to navigate, as I could progress to the next scenario simply by clicking the colored words or phrases.”

Limitations and Future Directions

While most of our COMP Fellows enjoyed the relevance of the game’s obstacles, other Fellows expressed they would have liked more opportunities for interaction, rather than having two or three actions to choose from. We initially chose to leave out certain scenarios, such as those pertaining to online COMP Fellows and virtual class visits, as most of our COMP Fellows work with on-site courses. Future training will include more opportunities for interaction, such as virtual class visits, especially as the number of online composition courses continues to grow at our university. Expanding our scenarios will give Fellows the chance to explore a variety of potential solutions to add to their toolkit instead of only giving them one correct response. Since our consultants reacted positively to the specific plans of action given for miscommunication and working with struggling students, we feel confident in continuing to expand our Twine game to incorporate more scenarios for future COMP Fellow training.

Incorporating multimodal components outside of hyperlinked text into the Twine interface also promotes interactivity for gamers. An avenue for expansion includes coding Twine to embed images, audio, and video alongside the actual text itself. While our decision was made to keep the pilot version of the Twine minimalistic in order to keep the focus on the linear narrative, other multimodal components will be considered to enhance the immersive experience of the game for our COMP Fellows. This may also incentivize Fellows to take their time, explore all possible responses for each scenario, and complete the game in its entirety. While Twine itself is free to use and requires minimal coding knowledge, the initial time required to learn how to effectively use Twine may be a cause of concern to other institutions looking to implement similar training. More complex game designs that include audio and visuals will require additional time to research the codes needed, then apply it into Twine’s interface.

Additional changes also need to be made to the post-training assessment process. Our initial assessment was the discussion board response where COMP Fellows shared their reactions to the training Twine itself. Though the training was conducted at the beginning of the semester to prepare our Fellows for classroom-based scenarios, we realize that a more comprehensive assessment of this training should occur at the end of the semester, where Fellows can be more candid about how effectively the Twine game prepared them to navigate faculty and student interactions during their class visits. Future iterations need to include an end-of-semester assessment to gauge the efficacy of our Twine simulation towards actively preparing Fellows for various scenarios they may face in the classroom.

In addition, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way that both writing centers and course-embedded tutors function at university settings. As our own center has transitioned into operating consultations and COMP Fellow visits online, any future iterations will need to include scenarios that pertain to online interactions and hybrid classrooms. Such training may also be of interest to other writing centers in lieu of their traditional in-person training procedures, as Twine training can be easily completed while working remotely.

Conclusion

Overall, video games are a creative way to train tutors and promote the practical application of skills and theories in writing center work. Supporting Bogost’s (2007) claim of video games combining both real and imagined systems, our Twine game creatively supplemented more traditional praxis training by helping COMP Fellows adapt to working within different classroom ecologies. This creative supplementation follows previous incursions into using role-playing and technology in order to advance traditional writing center training methods. As noted by Farrell (1987), the computer provides a space for both collaboration with peers and for distancing ourselves from our writing. Glassman (1985) noted the potential of tutor-created videos to use role-playing in order to improve training. Similarly, Twine games may allow for more limited role-playing, but the use of such a multimodal tool made room for our COMP Fellows to collaborate with each other virtually through their shared gameplay experience, while simultaneously acting as both insider and outsider to the scenarios that they engaged with.

Our Twine assessment demonstrated how course-embedded COMP Fellows who are balancing Severino and Knight’s (2007) claim of “dual citizenship” can benefit from scenario-specific training regarding faculty misunderstandings and unreceptive students. The analysis of consultant experience with the game also demonstrated how online video game training promotes the development of professional skills in the workplace and can foster mutually respected relationships between faculty, students, and COMP Fellows. Based on the success of our first Twine, our future COMP Fellow training modules will include interactive video games as an additional creative method of training. In addition, our Twine demonstrates the continued potential of such creative methods for the future as writing centers innovate new ways to use video games and other alternative training methods into their praxis.

References

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