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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Physical Space and Collaboration: Comparing the Two Locations of the Texas A&M University Writing Center

Recently, I had the opportunity to partake in a unique consultation at the West Campus Library University Writing Center. This location is a converted small group study room. As such, it is a small but open space that boasts just three separate desks equipped for consultations. There are no walls separating the desks, and individual consultations are visible and audible to all inside the room. That day, two of us had finished our consultations but a fellow consultant seemed to be having a difficult session. She turned her head around and asked us for our opinion on the issue. The client’s prompt really was difficult to decode, and we each had our own take on it. We were unsure of what her professor wanted her to analyze from a website: the pictures? Rhetorical devices? The advertising? But we sat there, huddled together (three consultants to one client) discussing and exchanging ideas. The client reacted favorably to this environment, becoming more animated about the paper and process. I believe that the client became receptive to the idea that, in the end, we are also students (her peers) who struggle with ideas and assignments, and that writing is a dynamic and often collaborative effort. Eventually, we were able to steer her in the right direction, and she left satisfied with the consultation. Never have I had such a collaborative consultation at the other location of the University Writing Center, and I believe that is due to the radically different physical space.

The other location has four individual glass enclosed carrels. Each one contains a desk, computer, resources and room enough for just two chairs. This set up is excellent for privacy, which is definitely not the case at the previous location. Having this privacy, however, also means that the consultation takes place in complete isolation and without the possibility of collaboration with other consultants. Although we have been trained, and even encouraged, to ask fellow consultants questions during consultations, the carrels are just not conducive to this. On occasion, I have gotten up, excused myself from the consultation and exited the carrel to ask a fellow consultant a question, but it is definitely more of a discouraging hassle. In this situation the client might feel awkward left in the carrel by himself or the formality of bringing in another consultant into the consultation might make the client doubt his consultant’s competency. Even if collaboration does occur, it is definitely less natural and seems more like an intervention than a conversation. In fact, it might even cause a student to question any previous advice.

I believe that collaboration should have an important role in Writing Center consultations. I know that I learned a lot from my collaborative experience because I was able to appreciate completely different tutoring styles, ways of approaching a prompt, and ideas on writing. In this way, more than serving just this one particular student, collaborative learning enhances consultant training, which, in turn, benefits every client. And our Writing Center should strive to make collaboration possible in not just one, but both of our locations.

The ideal space would allow for both privacy and collaboration; a possible set up being an open space with separate tables where individual consultations could take place inaudibly to others but one which allows easy verbal and nonverbal communication between consultants.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you Rebecca for your blog on writing center spaces and collaboration. This is my first semester as a writing center tutor and I have found the experience far more rewarding than I had expected. Our writing center space, although larger, is similar to the open space you wrote of in your blog. We have no private tutoring spaces available and I think the open environment is beneficial to the writers and the tutors for several reasons. First, the act of exposing your writing, essentially exposing yourself, puts the writer in a very vulnerable position. To cloister the experience in a private room may exacerbate that feeling of vulnerability, whereas, a room where the writer is surrounded by other writers doing the same thing helps to diminish the fear and provide a less intimidating space. It may also help to validate the experience. Many students wouldn't use the writing center without their teachers requiring that they do so. If their initial tutoring session is helpful, and they are able to see how many other students use the writing center, they are more likely to return. The open environment is also comforting for the tutor. Being exposed to other sessions and the different styles and techniques other tutors employ, helps each individual tutor to learn and grow. And as you pointed out in your blog, being surrounded by other tutors provides the opportunity for collaboration. I had one tutoring session where I called on two other tutors to help with two separate issues and in the end the tutee expressed how grateful she was that her session was treated with such importance. Writing for anyone can be daunting. A writing center that is an open environment where many writers and tutors tackle the process together can be an effective tool in helping the tutees become more confident writers and more comfortable returning to the writing center.
    Thank you again,
    Mindy

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  2. Sharon Tressler12:52 PM

    Rebecca, as new tutor, I appreciate this blog on Physical Space and Collaboration, because it illustrates how imperative it is to have collabration when tutoring. I am working in a larger Writing Center with open tables, and through my training I have come to realize more and more that writing is a process. What I tell tutees (or students) is that writing is a process, and it is good to get peer advice. I also have recommended that they should schedule new appointments to receive other opinions from different tutors if they have time. Our Writing Center seems busy for a full collaborative effort; however, there is always a staff member, an English professor, available. This staff member usually is doing tutoring sessions as well. Nonetheless, if we are struggling, we are adviced bring the issue to a staff members attention.

    I find it interesting, and I feel that having a collaborative sessions can be rewarding for tutor and for most tutees. Your blog posting brings out the fact that tutee may doubt a tutor's advice when the tutor needs to step away. I agree that there is more of a consensus in a collaborative session, and may cut out a step where tutee will come back for another opinion. I think that is good to have this collaborative organization to help bounce off ideas from one another and give the sound feeling that tutors are essentionally the tutees peers. In that feeling of the tutors being more like peers, most tutees can feel more comfortable and perhaps rewarded from mulitple opinions coming together and focused on a paper, a thesis,or ideas.

    One the other hand, I would like to point out the student that may not feel comfortable with having more than one tutor at a time. Some people are more private and like to consult with one person. I find sometimes hard for a tutee to want to read their paper aloud. We also have resources such as reference books, handouts for grammatical errors, and computers which offer support when the tutor may be in doubt. These tools also back up the tutors claim, or show that it is alright to use resources. Alos, this can show how a tutor is a peer as well, and this is also another way of bouncing of ideas.

    Maybe, an ideal Writing Lab could consist of both and can be choice for the tutee. Eventhough we have an open room, we still have primarly one on one tutoring sessions. Maybe, offering both would beneficial for different personalities, since one the goals of the Writing Center is for the students to want to come back. We want them to feel as comfortable as possible. We want them to become better writers.

    I think your argument that we should offer more of a collaboration in tutoring should definitely be considered. I will think about this as continue tutoring in the Writing Center. Thank you for enlightening me with your experiece.

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