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All Places > The English Community > Blog > 2017 > March

For anyone who wasn't able to make it to 4Cs this year - or anyone who had the same problem I did in choosing from among the amazing sessions available - I thought I would share a quick rundown on a great session I attended called 

Curriculum Design for Online Writing Centers


This fascinating session looked at three different instances of online writing centers in different contexts, for the purpose of exploring what did and didn’t work for students.


The first speaker, David Elder of Morningside College, was creating an online center for grad students in specialized programs.  While this was the only writing-center access presented to those students, the undergrads had access to a traditional, in-person writing center, which Mr. Elder also manages.  He addressed questions of feedback in an asynchronous setting, including the types of comments that were not useful (things like “Awkward” and “Consider revising this sentence”) the sorts of actionable comments that best benefitted students, and how big-picture thinking and positive commentary played important roles in effective asynchronous feedback.


The second speaker, Ryan Vingum of Miami University, also asked important questions about how skills translate between asynchronous and synchronous teaching and emphasized that the importance of administrators and students embracing them as merely different options, with neither one being inherently better than the other.


Shelah Simpson of Liberty University closed with a discussion of her research on the different student reactions and outcomes to her college’s “home-grown” writing center as compared with a simultaneously available corporate option made available by the school.  Unlike the prior speakers, her entire student community were online-only.  Like Elder, she concluded that encouragement served to make students feel connected. She also discovered that while solid academic growth was rated as an important factor in the student’s selection of which writing support to use, convenience was also an important driving factor. She added that accessibility issues greatly impacted the usefulness of certain writing center options for a small set of the students in her survey.


For a closer look at the presentations, check out the files uploaded by the presenters here


Assignment design can be rough. It's one of those talents teachers of writing develop over time with coffee, a sense of humor, and reflection. Too few of us get the mentoring we need to build successful writing assignments--the kind that are scaffolded enough to provide authentic learning moments and to produce writing aligned with course goals, but also the kind that engage and inspire writers.


I admire the tenacity of Bri Lafond, who teaches at Riverside City College and CSU San Bernardino. In her 2017 CCCC presentation "Thinking Outside the 'Box Logic': Curating Context in the FYC Classroom," she described multiple attempts at a single assignment and semester after semester of reflecting and tweaking. Courageous work. She asks her students to pick a year in history, locate primary sources (a song, a news story, a work of art), juxtapose the sources, and produce a multimodal composition in which they analyze patterns and make an argument. She admits it hasn't gone well. She's changed up the requirements now four times to account for students' lack of knowledge of 20th century history, struggles with information literacy, and lack of experience with analytical writing.


What I loved about Lafond's presentation is that she didn't end with a "Ta-da!" moment. She didn't present a perfect assignment for the taking. She presented a process-- a messy, head-scratching, sometimes-head-banging process. She presented a case study in reflection. And she presented, I think, an argument for more attention to assignment design and development in teacher training and mentoring programs.