Andrea, we've had the same experience at DePaul, and I agree it is especially challenging to work online with a student who does not seem to understand the assignment. We work online with entire classes, in one of our services, which enables us to have access to a copy of the assignment handout. We ask students to use a form on our web site to send us their drafts, which includes a field where they must explain their assignment. Although these explanations can be too abbreviated or otherwise unhelpful, when those students are part of the online class link-up, we can compare the students' versions with the instructor's handout (an interesting exercise in compare-contrast, sometimes!).
I think one of our next sets of challenges is to find ways to engage students in an online discussion about their work. Like their in-person counterparts, online "clients" often wait until the last minute to contact us, so an online discussion might be impossible (we don't have a MOO or other synchronous program). One idea I have is to talk about our online services in more detail when we do our informational "we are the writing center" presentations to classes. In fact, as we begin work on resurrecting our in-class and out-of-class workshops (we haven't offered them for several years now), we might build a few minutes into the workshop to talk about how best to get help online.
Abigail, since you asked for advice for publicizing your workshops at Truman State, perhaps you might include something about how to get help in-person and online *after* the workshop has ended, and you could add a word or two about that topic in the brochures or flyers you post and/or send to faculty. We stopped offering workshops at DePaul some years ago because the demand grew too large for us to handle, but those were in-class workshops marketed especially to First-Year Writing classes and core writing classes offered in DePaul's School for New Learning (a separate college whose students are 25+ yrs old). We stopped offering free-standing workshops because of low turnout, but we might try them again and market them more aggressively. I think one of the key ingredients for success is matching student needs with the time of the term and the location & time of day (perhaps you could survey your first-year comp faculty & classes about frequently-asked questions). I'll let you know what we end up trying.
Derek at Houston, we have slow times, too, and it can be difficult to predict when those times might be. DePaul is a commuter school (only 20% of our students live on campus) and most students work at least part time, so we stopped offering late evening hours. However, if you have the same core group of students coming to see you, you might have the makings of a great little community, which might grow larger as your students spread the word. Some of our very best students maintain regular appointments, and you even might discover that one or two or yours might make great tutors next year. Of course, things might pick up near the end of your quarter or semester, as daytime appointment slots fill up.
Faith, I can't remember when I first heard the phrase "pause for the cause," but I think I picked it up from a former colleague years and years ago when I worked in the Development office for the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago. An interesting experience.
Happy Halloween all,