Thursday, September 29, 2005

have truck, will haul

Sorry, Clint, but I found a taker on the recliner of note. No more lazy boy for us. Or is it LaZboy? I guess I'm not an admirer of the fine art of reclining furniture.

This week I'm working on my annual P & T stuff. Here at Ball State, we submit our file each year pre-tenure, which is good because then we get feedback each year. Still, in the midst of putting it together, it doesn't seem like a blessing. To make my Writing Center work count, I compose and include an annual report. Last year, several members of the committee who read all the gigantic files mentioned this report & were surprised by how much work directing a writing center is. I think it is an effective piece of rhetoric since there's no way to squeeze in the various things I and we (my staff) do in the official form.

Anyway, now that I'm done patting myself on the back (!), what I wanted to note was that I included in the report the changes we've made in decor in the center. A letter from a colleague on my work as director also mentions this. Even though I find this immensely important to our mission--like wearing the right clothes to a particular function--I wonder if this will sound silly or unimportant to others. [Well, isn't that sweet? You put up some posters.] I wonder if there's a way to convey that the writing center is a text which we're continually revising to meet the purposes we wish to achieve and the audience we wish to attract or keep, that what we do in the space requires research, rhetorical savvy, style, vision--just like academic writing. I think this is a hard sell.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A virtual identity crisis

So, today I’m wondering about our virtual presence. We’ve got a website but it is terribly out of date. It hasn’t been touched since our webspinner/tutor graduated last December. Despite this, students often say they heard about us from our website. We don’t have an OWL and no funds, personnel, or energy to start one in the near future. So what is the purpose of our website? Will students really go there for writing help instead of a handbook site or a more comprehensive site (like Purdue's)? How do we find out about our web users? Does anyone visit our website and decide from that not to use our services? Basically, right now, we could tell students about our services on one page and not sink a lot of time or energy into our site. If that’s our purpose then why do more than that?

Yet, I wonder if I should really consider the tutors the main audience. I could include more things that matter to them—schedules, the tutor manual, announcements, and sites to show students while tutoring. Would any of this need to be password protected? They seem like the most likely users.

Anyone know about who visits their websites and why? Is there a way to track this—maybe with a pop-up survey or something? Or, I suppose, we could do a focus group of writing center clients and see which of them have been to the site. That wouldn’t give us faculty or tutor users though. Hmm…


PS: I just read the comment from "anonymous" about the metaphors for online tutoring--see last post; good questions, anonymous. I think we can think about that in terms of online spaces in general. Not only who uses my space (my questions above) but what do I want them to feel in this space. I guess my missing metaphor for the physical space carries over to the virtual one, too. I guess I'm just as nervous about a webspace looking ragged, amateur, unkempt as I am about the physical writing center. What's the virtual equivalent of a shockingly ugly lazy boy?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

slo mo

One of the few things I remember clearly from my readings list for my comps was Mary Daly's term ACADEMENTIA. It's a particular type of craziness that increases the longer one is in academia. I think this can be sparked by the incredibly slow pace at which the machine chugs along. Chug chug chug sputter sputter sputter.

Last week, we got some new "waiting room" furniture for our writing center. It was a last minute purchase; the department had extra funds that it had to use or lose at the end of the fiscal year. (I learned to have a wish list handy around June 1 in case the opportunity arises again.) So, we ordered the furniture mid-June. It arrived mid-September, and I actually thought to myself, "Wow. That was fast." Ahh...academentia already.

In my first look at the WC three years ago, I noticed it suffered from a typical WC problem--hand-me-down everything: desks, dictionaries, computers, furniture. We had (have) a lazy-boy recliner and a futon which particularly annoyed on me. So ugly! So old! I know some folks would like how worn, comfy furniture might make the WC feel, but it didn't work for me. I felt it spoke of the neglect of the WC instead. So now, we got this new modular furniture which is sort of modern, sort of officey. I like it, but I'm curious to hear what my tutors will say about it at our meeting on Thursday. I was in the WC minutes ago and asked if we should ditch the futon. Two votes for "no." Much of my article for WCJ was about what we want our centers to say or how we want users to feel in the space. I think what I want the WC to say is different from how my tutors want to feel in the space. But I still can't put my finger on what I want it to say exactly. What is this space?! I wonder at times if my wishes for the space are based on how I want my colleagues to read the space. Do I put that need of mine above that of tutors and users? And, so what if I do?


Monday, September 26, 2005

Lesson from Leaving

I’ve just returned to my job as writing center director at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I was on maternity leave for the first month of the semester. (BTW, a big URRRGGG to colleagues who called my leave “a nice little vacation”.) I think I learned more about my job while I was gone than I do when I’m there. Maybe that’s overstating it, but it was good to get some perspective on it.

First, I realized that I’ve got to make some changes in how I do things. When I was preparing for my leave, the assistant chair of the department said there was money to pay someone to help out in the writing center. I thought about this for a while and realized that it would be more work for me to have someone there than not. This is because I have not done a good job of keeping operating notes on what I do. [Does anyone do this—if so, tell me about it.] Having someone else in there would mean creating these notes in a short period of time and being on call when questions arose—neither things I wanted to do at the end of my pregnancy or during my leave. So I decided to delegate the things that had to be done before my return (training the new tutors, leading a staff meeting) to my assistant director and do other things myself before the leave (make the fall schedule, enter this into TutorTrac). Other things, I decided, would just have to wait (scheduling class intros, putting together a new training manual).

And, it all went fine. However, I see now that had I better notes about what gets done when, if I trained others to use TutorTrac, and if I had the writing center files not only on my mac but also saved on one of our writing center computers, it would be much easier to delegate more tasks. [How many of us have an office, desk, or computer in the WC? My office is down the hall, an arrangement I like, but it does mean that many writing center files are not in the WC.]

The other thing I saw when I stopped in towards the end of my leave was that the day-to-day operations in the WC were going just fine. In fact, I was floored overhearing one of the brand new tutors working with a difficult regular client of ours. The client, an ESL graduate student, is working on his master’s thesis, bit by bit. He can be rather pushy and passive at the same time—have you worked with this type? I worked with him a little this summer and found it really difficult. (OK, and I was put off when he scoffed at my decision not to stay home fulltime with the new bambino.) Yet this new tutor was really pushing him hard and he was responding to it. She got him engaged by asking questions and not doing the work for him. I saw her hand him a dictionary to look up past tense verbs when he didn’t know them, which he did. I mean, this client who has been in numerous times still has to be given a pencil to remind him of his role and he still tells the tutor--"you can just fix it." Yet, this tutor, in one of her first sessions ever, was doing some really assertive things to get him involved. At the end of the session, the client made another appointment to work with this tutor. Perhaps she gave him what he needed all along.

I guess, if I’m leading towards a clichéd, FYC what-I-learned ending here, it’s this: I need to let a little. (I like how Mary Rose O’Reilley talks about classrooms. She says we need silence sometimes, we need margins. We need to let as often as we do.) Training obviously went well during my absence. The students still came to the center; the tutors still tutored. I think I need to think in practical terms about how to make the writing center work better with and without me.

Jackie Grutsch McKinney

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Blogs for issue 25.2 are coming!

Watch this space for authors and editors from Writing Center Journal issue 25.2 to share their thoughts with you (as well as reporting from the IWCA/NCPTW conference in Minneapolis later in October).

In the meantime, here's the table of contents of WCJ 25.2:

From the Editors
Neal Lerner and Elizabeth Boquet

Special Feature
Whatever Happened to . . . Jeff Brooks?

Leaving Home Sweet Home: Towards Critical Readings of Writing Center Spaces
Jackie Grutsch McKinney

The Idea of an Online Writing Center: In Search of a Conceptual Model
Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch

Queering the Writing Center
Harry Denny

Dealing with Diversity: A Review Essay of Recent Tutor-Training Books
James C. McDonald
    The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, 2nd ed.
    Paula Gillespie and Neal Lerner
    The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors, 2nd ed.
    Christina Murphy and Steve Sherwood
    ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors
    Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth, eds.

On Location: Theory and Practice in Classoom-Based Tutoring
Candace Spigelman and Laurie Grobman, eds.
Melissa Ianetta

Tutoring and Teaching Academic Writing: Proceedings of the Second Conference of the European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing (EATAW)
Gerd Bräuer

Remembrances of Candace Spigelman
Laurie Grobman, David Ackerman, Jayne Brown, Jeanne Rose, Melissa Nicolas