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Writing: the process of putting one’s thought on a page, or, in an academic context, making content as boring as possible
Lab: a place where people with white coats conduct dangerous experiments
Seriously, though, what is a writing lab? Stigmatized as a resource for struggling writers, or a as a place where a messy paper is magically put through a grammar machine and comes out perfectly spotless and consequently boring, writing labs are often viewed from a skewed perspective. This skewed perspective can often be negative or limited.
Yes, writing labs can help struggling writers, but they can also help extremely skilled writers who might mistakenly believe that a writing lab would have nothing to offer them. Yes, writing labs provide help with grammar, but realistically, not all grammar errors can be fixed in the span of 30 minutes. Nor should they all be fixed in 30 minutes, because student writers need time to learn about grammar and become independent of a magical grammar-fixing machine.
So, a writing lab helps writers of all levels and trains them to be independent and unique. But perhaps writing labs should not stop there, when they have the potential to do so much more.
In an interview with Elizabeth Threadgill, Murriel Harris—founder of Purdue Writing Center—named a couple of extensions to writing lab goals and functions, including working with not only written communication but also with visual, oral, or other types of communication and presentation (Threadgill 2010). I know that personally, I have worked with power point, presentations, and perhaps other methods of communication in the writing lab besides strictly writing, a fact that excites me and makes me wonder how far writing labs can go in fostering all types of effective and creative communication. The potential of writing labs does not stop there, however. In the interview, Harris also describes a variety of ways in which writing labs can take advantage of the internet as a tool for supporting and encouraging students in writing (Threadgill 2010). For example, he mentions online conferencing, iChats, and email as possible modes of online tutoring, and he suggests using YouTube videos to provide training for professors in teaching writing (Threadgill 2010). Therefore, writing labs can provide support not only for student writers but also for writing teachers.
Harris also supports the idea that college writing labs can build into their community by working with high school writing centers and providing tutoring services to the community in general (Threadgill 2010). Harris is not the only one advocating for more connections between college writing labs and high school writing labs. For example, Littleton (2010) names many benefits from connections like this, such as preparing high school students for college writing expectations and assignments, preparing high school Writing Lab Consultants to become college Writing Lab Consultants, preparing college writing labs to receive high school writers, and allowing high school and college writing labs to share ideas and challenges.
Therefore, writing labs need not be limited to a skewed perspective of their assigned functions, conforming to the image of stiff, white-coated grammar police performing unintelligible experiments on students’ papers until they are as boring as possible. Instead, writing labs should welcome students of all levels, working on every aspect of writing, and extending their influence and services to include an ever-growing range of issues and populations.
Littleton, C. (2006). Creating Connections between Secondary and College Writing Centers. Clearing House, 80(2), 77-78.
Threadgill, E. (2010). Writing Center Work Bridging Boundaries: An Interview with Muriel Harris. Journal Of Developmental Education, 34(2), 20-25.