Preface

I wrote this handbook in Summer 2014, while working as the Online Coordinator at the Central Michigan University (CMU) Writing Center. The Online Coordinator was a Graduate Assistant in the writing center who managed their submission-based, asynchronous online consulting program. The purpose of this handbook was to break down asynchronous online consulting policies, administrative tasks, and training for future Online Coordinators.


Asynchronous Consulting Policies

Eligibility

  • Students can only submit current CMU coursework from ENG 101 (on-campus or online) and Global Campus courses. For other on-campus coursework, students must come in-person.
  • Personal documents (such as resumes, cover letters, or personal statements) cannot be submitted.
  • Students cannot submit on behalf of another student.
  • Instructors and faculty cannot submit.

Submission

  • Students must submit their papers through the online submission form. The only exception is if the website server is down and cannot be fixed within a reasonable time period. In this case, students should fill out the online form template via email and return before we review their paper.
  • Students can submit only one paper at a time. Multiple students working on a group paper can submit the same paper at the same time.
  • Students can resubmit the same paper after they receive their first submission back and have made some revision.
  • Submitted documents must be compatible with Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. PDFs are not accepted.
  • The writing email account does not generate submission confirmation emails. Instead, the website form will confirm a successful submission or a submission failure.

Feedback and Returns

In asynchronous sessions, consultants should:

  • Respond to students using the Comments features in Word, PowerPoint, or Excel.
  • Spend a maximum of 50 to 60 minutes per submission.
  • Return papers within two days (but not 48 hours). For example, if a student submits after midnight on Monday, we should return their paper by midnight on Wednesday.
  • Not return papers the same day they are submitted, even when things are slow. Students may then become accustomed to a same-day turnaround and expect the same during busier times.
  • Return papers by placing the student’s email(s) into the “To” field; otherwise, the email will be sent to ocpweb@cmich.edu and will not bounce back.
  • Double-check the student’s email addresses for obvious errors (e.g., cmu.com, cmu.edu, homail.com, googlemail.com).

Tagging

As Online Coordinator, you will tag each submission that comes into the inbox. The tags enable communication between the Online Coordinator, online consultants, and Director. Apply tags in Microsoft Outlook by clicking the tag option and selecting the desired tags. Alter, add, or delete a tag by clicking on the tag option and selecting “Manage Categories.”

Red Tags

Red indicates submissions that should not be reviewed and should be placed in the Online Coordinator’s folder. This tag indicates that you or the Director should email the student, for reasons including the following:

  • multiple submissions 
  • missing information
  • ineligible courses
  • papers for mid-terms, exams, or quizzes
  • resumes, cover letters, or other personal items not for a course
  • papers containing distracting previous comments or Track Changes
  • requests or deadlines we cannot accommodate

The Director should respond to submissions/emails expressing dissatisfaction or negative responses. Red tags also indicate regular emails that need a response.

Light Gray Tags

Light Gray tags have two functions: “See Note Above” and “Information Only.” Attach “See Note Above” to a submission (alongside its regular tag color) to refer to the email/note tagged “Information Only.” “Information Only” can indicate notes, either from a student, an instructor, or the Online Coordinator, that a consultant needs to keep in mind when completing an online:

  • data information that is missing from or incorrect on the online form
  • a new version of a student’s paper
  • instructors’ preference for the parts of a written exam/midterm that can be reviewed

Purple Tags

Purple indicates an undergraduate submission from a 100-400 level course. These submissions are reviewed by consultants in the undergraduate stage of training.

Pink Tags

Pink indicates a short, non-thesis graduate submission (under 10 pages of actual text). These papers act as the equivalent of an undergraduate submission for online consultants in undergraduate training.

Pink and Green Combined Tags

Pink and Green Combined indicate a short graduate thesis (under 10 pages of actual text) or writing similar to a thesis, such as a methods section or literature review. These papers are used by online consultants in graduate training. The course numbers for theses and research proposals are MSA 699 and MSA 600.

Green Tags

Green indicates longer graduate-level submissions (over 10 pages of actual text). These are the most common submissions and are completed by any consultant fully approved for onlines. These submissions can also be used as a backup for those in graduate training when no pink-and-green tagged submissions are available.

Orange Tags

Orange is used by consultants to show that they have returned the submission to the student.

Yellow Tags

Yellow is used by consultants who are still completing their online submission. This tag is also used by those in training when their feedback needs to be reviewed by the Online Coordinator and then returned to the student.

Responding to Students

Sometimes, you will need to email students about issues with their submissions. If your email does not require a response, delete their submission afterwards. When you expect a response, temporarily move the submission to your folder, along with the “sent” email, so the Director can see you have already handled it.

For common issues, use our pre-written emails for similar, appropriate language. These emails are located in the “Responses to Students” folder towards the bottom of the writing center email account. Alter template emails if they do not fit the student or circumstance. Information to be changed on pre-written emails is noted in all caps.

Scheduling

Every week, you will schedule online submissions onsite in the appointment book and offsite over the weekend. The frequency of submissions can be unpredictable, ranging from 3 to 50 a day. Update the schedule accordingly when onlines increase or decrease.

Scheduling Onsite

Schedule onlines in the appointment book as soon as the schedule is printed. This may mean you update and print the appointment book in order to schedule onlines early. Onlines are scheduled onsite only at the library and Anspach. If you do not work in one of these locations, you may need to do the following:

  • Visit the site to schedule onlines.
  • Assign the Online Assistant to do so.
  • Assign a Graduate Assistant in that location to copy your assigned onlines each week.

During morning and afternoon hours, write “online” in the assigned consultant’s slot. During walk-in hours, circle the consultant’s name and write “online” next to it along with their number of expected onlines. For example, if someone is working 5 to 9 pm, you may only want them to do two onlines during this time. For each hour, expect half of the consultants to be online (if approved/training) and half taking walk-ins. Leave some consultants available for graduate walk-ins. Consultants will usually do more onlines than scheduled if walk-ins are slow.

The Online Coordinator and Online Assistant both complete online submissions and do administrative duties. All other online consultants will likely have a balance of face-to-face and online sessions. Get to know the consultants and their scheduling preferences. You can schedule onlines in order to give onliners a mental break from several face-to-face appointments in a row.

Assigning Onlines Offsite

The online writing center accepts submissions every day of the year, so online consultants can work offsite at any time to return submissions. You should assign offsite hours every weekend, when needed. When busy, you may need to schedule offsites during the week as well. Send an email for online availability to the writing center listserv or just to the online consultants. For the weekend, send these emails on Wednesday nights or Thursday mornings.

Consultants will send their availability to the writing center email account. Try to assign as early as possible. Assign to GAs first and give them the longest onlines, so they can get their full hour. Assign to other consultants based on their experience and the hours they want to work from home. Try not to assign consultants more than 3 offsite onlines a day whenever possible.

University Closings

If the university closes for a snow day or other issue, consultants can still work from home and complete offsite hours. Give first preference to GAs and to those originally scheduled to work that day.

Winter or Spring Breaks

Email consultants for their availability during winter and spring breaks. To track this availability, use templates in the Online Coordinator Materials folder. Assign to GAs first, and avoid giving consultants several days of appointments in a row, unless necessary.

Offsite Data Collection Reminders

Consultants who work from home will record appointment data offsite and email their data sheets to you before Monday. If consultants forget to send their data by Monday, call or text them. If they cannot send their data on time, report their hours the following week.

Online Training

In ENG 510, consultants are introduced to working with online student writers and to “writcent,” the writing center email where online submissions are received. The online service involves a higher level of expertise and experience with writing issues than ENG 510 can provide, including knowledge about specialized genres and styles, especially with APA. Thus, additional online training takes place outside of the course and is designed to give consultants as much additional practice, support, and time as they might need to work comfortably and knowledgeably with our online writers.

The Online Coordinator trains consultants to work online and decides who should begin training, in consultation with the Director and Associate Director. Our philosophy has always been to rely on consultants’ strengths and support their learning. Online training and consulting work need to reflect that philosophy as well. Some consultants want to put in the time involved in online training and enjoy working online. Others do not and never complete the online training process—that’s okay, too. Nonetheless, consultants can respond to “practice” onlines whenever they have “down time” (i.e., no onsite student; no other obligations).

Pre-Training

When a consultant begins training, email the Pre-Training Questionnaire to address confusion early on. After the questionnaire, email the (1) Guide to Online Consulting, (2) Online Training Process, and (3) Operating Procedures. Consultants can also complete practice training submissions, if needed.

Stage 1: Undergraduate Online Training

In Stage 1, consultants learn the basics (focus, language choice, and clarity) and work only on purple- or pink-tagged submissions. Consultants move their training submissions to the “Live Practice Onlines” folder, and email their feedback to you for review. Move training submissions into your folder and record the data in your data sheet. Read every comment completely, and ensure the consultant gives the following:

  • Appropriate introductory and ending comments
  • Appropriate focus on global issues, particularly in early drafts
  • Detailed, clear, and positive feedback
  • Explanations or reasoning for suggestions, particularly surface-level issues
  • Definitions for terms used (e.g., comma splice, conjunction, serial comma)
  • Examples given for concepts difficult to visualize
  • Correct information regarding grammar and citations
  • Appropriate feedback for missing citations and copying/pasting
  • Proofread comments
  • Fair amounts of feedback

When you and the Director have determined that the consultant is ready to be approved for undergraduate onlines, do the following:

  • Send the consultant the Undergraduate Questionnaire, to complete during work hours.
  • Review their answers, give corrections if necessary, and offer positive feedback.
  • Send your feedback to the Director and receive approval to move forward.
  • Email your feedback to the consultant and approve them for undergraduate submissions. Clarify the expectations of undergraduate approval and the process for graduate training. Attach the Thesis Chapter Breakdown document.
  • Create a folder in the writing center email for the consultant.

Once approved for Stage 1, online consultants will be able to send out Purple tagged submissions on their own and will move on to graduate training.

Stage 2: Graduate Online Training

In Stage 2, consultants learn masters theses and APA style. They work only on pink-and-green tagged submissions, move training submissions to their own folders, record their own data, and email their feedback to you for review. Continue to comment on issues from undergraduate online training. In addition, ensure consultants in graduate training do the following:

  • Respond to theses appropriately and correctly
  • Look for content and organization expectations in each thesis chapter
  • Comment on all aspects of APA style and do so correctly

When you and the Director have determined that the consultant has developed the appropriate skills to become fully approved for onlines, do the following:

  • Send the consultant the (1) Final Online Questionnaire and (2) Final MSA Grad Training Paper, to complete during work hours.
  • Review their answers, give corrections if necessary, and offer positive feedback.
  • Send your feedback to the Director and receive approval to move forward.
  • Email your feedback to the consultant and approve them for graduate submissions. Clarify the expectations of online approval.
  • Update the appointment books to insert a “G” next to the undergraduate consultants’ names.

Training Tips

  • Create a folder in your personal email to organize online training submissions.
  • Save two separate versions of the onlines you review: (1) a copy for the consultant with your feedback and (2) a copy for the student with corrections made.
  • Approach training like a consultation: provide explanations, examples, and praise.
  • Respond to consultants within the comment bubbles. This saves you time and keeps your feedback physically close to the consultants’ original comments, for clarity.
  • Highlight your feedback so consultants can quickly see your responses. Also highlight any changes to the consultant’s original comments.
  • Leave the consultant’s original comments in your feedback. Demonstrate how you would rewrite a particular comment and indicate which comments you will remove from the paper.
  • Change the consultant’s wording only when necessary for tone. Each consultant has their own voice, and they do not need to use the exact same language that you would.
  • Avoid giving consultants incorrect information on grammar or citations.
  • Learn from the consultants and their unique approaches, to improve your own sessions.