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Thursday, April 07, 2005

Reflections of an assistant director/tutor

Maren here. Along with Cat, I serve as the Assistant Coordinator of the OSU Writing Center. Although I majored in English and psychology as an undergraduate, I am currently a nurse studying at OSU for my master’s degree in women’s health. I’m one of those people that tend to enjoy almost everything, and don’t like the idea of settling down on one course. I enjoy biking, hiking, long walks in the park . . . oh wait, this is a blog, not a personals ad. I’m new to this. Sorry.

Anyway, my point is that sometimes I wonder how, with my current course of study, I ended up getting this job (besides being the only one to apply for it), and what I actually bring to the WC. Regardless of how I ended up here, I know that I’m excited about my position and look forward to coming into work more days than not. I like the different hats I get to wear around the WC– tutor, friend, mini-manager, etc., and I think this position has allowed me to think about some of the larger WC issues in addition to the day-to-day operations.

Something that’s been on my mind recently is this ultra-American idea that “bigger is better.” In the business world, it seems that you have been growing to be considered successful and productive. But does that notion necessarily hold true for writing centers? Should we be striving to “supersize” writing centers? What do we have to gain? To lose?

It seems to me that having more members of the university community come to the WC does have a positive connotation – more people interested in their writing, exploring the writing process, working through their thoughts and improving their ability to communicate with others. But there’s also a flip side. In only the two years I’ve worked here, there have been some subtle, but significant, changes. For starters, we are happily growing. The number of tutors working at the WC has increased, we now serve clients online as well as face-to-face, and we have an online system of scheduling appointments and logging employees’ tutoring hours. While all of this is commendable, I do think growth, if not properly planned for and accommodated, can lead to a more sterile and business-like environment, which is something I’ve always found refuge from at the WC.

Right now I’m working through some of these ideas and don’t have any clear answers or even suggestions. I know that I look forward to our weekly staff meetings where all of the tutors get to sit around and chat about their experiences and thoughts. We’ve also started having WC potlucks and meeting out for dinner and drinks after work sometimes. That helps, but I’m wondering if there is more I can do with the daily operations of the WC to help us maintain some of the comfortable, laid-back, open feel that I believe is an integral part of the WC environment. For now, that’s my larger focus. Any suggestions?

1 comment:

  1. I have also been mulling over the "bigger is better" business approach to the writing center recently. When asked how I measure the success of the writing center, the administrator in me wants to discuss number of visits, students tutored, comparative gpa's, and all of the other quantitative assessment-driven measures we grapple with each academic cycle. The tutor in me, though, would rather talk about how the writing center is part of the campus culture, and, I like to think, helps to change that culture in some little way.

    For a variety of reasons, I'm becoming more and more cynical. I'm convinced that we can increase those quantitative measures positively through a variety of policies--encouraging faculty to require more visits, spending time identifying at-risk students, collaborating with disability services and other offices on campus, etc.--, but I'm not sure doing so will position the writing center such that it can effect the campus culture in the positive manner that I know a writing center can. I prefer to think of the students who wander in with a cup of coffee, chat a bit with their peers, work on a draft on their own, call over a tutor to discuss an idea, go to the computer and slap together a quick draft, print it out, and talk about it a bit more with other folks (maybe a tutor or two, maybe not), etc. The problem is that those experiences, as many as there are, are reduced to the information on our summary form, cranked into our database template, and come out in an annual report as:

    Smith, John
    Western Civ 101

    John and I talked about thesis development.

    Then, of course, I'm talking about the numbers all over again.

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