Preface

I co-wrote this proposal with Ryan Vingum in Summer 2015, while working as the Special Projects Coordinator at the Howe Center for Writing Excellence. The purpose of this proposal was (1) to argue for the necessity of asynchronous and synchronous consultations at the Howe Writing Center and (2) to suggest a plan forward, including student audiences, scheduling procedures, and consultant training and support.

This proposal was received positively, and we successfully piloted asynchronous and synchronous consulting in Fall 2015. After our pilot semester, we learned several lessons and would change the following in our original proposal:

  • Place face-to-face and online appointments in separate schedules in the scheduling system, to reduce student confusion and ensure online appointments are available for online students.
  • Use a different synchronous meeting platform. We found WCOnline’s synchronous platform to be unreliable, and we later switched to using Google Hangouts and Google Docs with more success.
  • Expand our program’s audiences to online and hybrid courses sooner in our plan of growth. We reached Stage 4 by Fall 2016, rather than Fall 2018 as originally planned.

Introductory Quotations

Establishing a *wired* writing center tutor may seem like a lot of work, but it taps an audience that might not ordinarily use the writing center because of time conflicts, distance problems, second language problems, or simply shyness. Although the electronic tutor cannot duplicate the comprehensiveness of the writing center tutorial or the value of face-to-face dialogue, the service offers an additional way for helping writers write.

Joyce Kinkead (1988)

Is the OWL worth the effort? If the purpose of a writing center, physical or virtual, is to help writers become better writers, then the answer is yes because we can assist writers who might not otherwise have access to our services.

Lady Falls Brown (2000)

Before walking away from online conferencing, however, please remember that doing so cuts off fruitful digital instructional forums that students increasingly will come to understand and expect in their education.

Beth Hewett (2015)

Purpose

An online consulting program at the Howe Writing Center supports our public primary goal to “assure that all students—from the most accomplished to the most needful—have ample help outside of their classes as they strive to improve their writing” (Howe Writing Center, 2015). Such a program serves four main purposes:

  1. Equal Accessibility. All Miami University students should have equal access to writing help, regardless of ability or disability, campus, residence, transportation, or personal or professional obligations. Writing center scholars have recognized since 1988 that face-to-face sessions can impose time and distance restrictions; thus, online consultations are more accessible to time-logged students, many of whom also work and have families (Kinkead, 1988). Such demands have only grown in the past 27 years.
  2. Alternative Introductions to the Writing Center. Online consulting can provide a less intimidating introduction to writing centers for minorities, disabled students, and other marginalized groups who fear peer judgment on their speaking and writing skills.
  3. Enhanced Consultant Professional Development. Online consulting requires additional skills and training, making our consultants more employable in teaching, writing center work, and other fields valuing digital communication and collaboration. A growing and successful online program also offers additional administrative opportunities for our graduate assistants.
  4. Currency with University Trends. Our writing center should keep up to date with university goals for online learning and with online services provided by the majority of writing centers at similar public universities (see next section). Online enrollments in the United States increase every year, and in 2013, 6.7 million students were taking at least one online course (Allen & Seaman, 2013). That same year, the Miami University E-Learning Advisory Council (2013) stated that they envision Miami becoming “a national leader in online learning within the context of a residential campus” (italics added) (p. 2). Becoming a national leader in e-learning would require robust online learning support, including an online writing center.

Online Consulting in the ECWCA Region

Online consulting is an increasingly prominent trend in writing centers across the country. To make informed and up-to-date decisions, we must be aware of writing center services at similar universities and of Miami University’s place within those statistics. The following are statistics for online consulting at public university writing centers and learning centers in ECWCA.

Michigan

  • 13 writing/learning centers
  • 11 centers with online consulting
    • 3 centers with online asynchronous consulting
    • 7 centers with online synchronous consulting
    • 1 center with both asynchronous and synchronous consulting

Indiana

  • 13 writing/learning centers
  • 9 centers with online consulting
    • 4 centers with only asynchronous consulting
    • 4 centers with only synchronous consulting
    • 1 center with both asynchronous and synchronous consulting

Ohio

  • 12 writing/learning centers
  • 8 centers with online consulting
    • 3 centers with only asynchronous consulting
    • 2 centers with only synchronous consulting
    • 3 centers with both asynchronous and synchronous consulting

Kentucky

  • 8 writing/learning centers
  • 5 centers with online consulting
    • 2 centers with only asynchronous consulting
    • 1 center with only synchronous consulting
    • 2 centers with both asynchronous and synchronous consulting

Pennsylvania

  • 18 writing/learning centers
  • 10 centers with online consulting
    • 5 centers with only asynchronous consulting
    • 5 centers with only synchronous consulting
    • 0 centers with both asynchronous and synchronous consulting

West Virginia

  • 6 writing/learning centers
  • 3 centers with online consulting
    • 2 centers with only asynchronous consulting
    • 0 centers with only synchronous consulting
    • 1 center with both asynchronous and synchronous consulting

Overall Statistics in the ECWCA Region

  • 66% of public universities have an online writing center.
  • Out of 38 public universities with over 12,000 students, only 7 (18%) do not have online consulting programs.
  • Out of 46 public universities established in the 1700s or 1800s, only 17 (37%) do not have online consulting programs.

Miami University’s Place in the Stats

  • Miami University is the only public university in Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky to have over 17,000 students and not offer online consulting.
  • Miami University is also the only public university in Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky to be established before 1880 and not offer online consulting.

Potential Audience(s)

An online writing center at Miami University could reach students in any or all of the following programs:

Project Dragonfly

Project Dragonfly offers two master’s programs—the Global Field Program (GFP) and the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP)—which combine online coursework with field work. The current number of students in these two programs totals 969. Students in Project Dragonfly are in 45 states and 12 non-US countries and thus have no access to a writing center.

Study Abroad

Miami University’s Luxembourg European Center enrolls a semester average of 230 students (Miami University Office of Institutional Research, 2015). While out of the country, these students have no access to a writing center. According to the Assistant Dean of the European Center, “in many of [these courses], students are required to write mid-term or final papers and thus it may always be of help to them if they can have access to an online center” (personal communication, July 7, 2015). The administrators in Luxembourg welcome collaboration with us and are willing to advertise an online writing center to their American and European faculty.

Online and Hybrid Courses

In the 2010 to 2011 school year, 3,877 Miami students were enrolled in online courses (Young, 2013). Currently, these students have no access to writing help in the same medium as their course.

At all institutions where OWI is practiced—whether or not an onsite writing center is available—an OWL should be developed and provided to OWI students.

CCCC Committee on Best Practices for OWI, 2013, p. 26

Additionally, online students who live and work off-campus will not likely be able to seek help from a face-to-face writing center. For Fall 2015, there are 308 online and hybrid courses scheduled, with 7,134 maximum enrollment slots. These numbers will likely continue to rise in upcoming semesters.

Plan of Growth

The following plan of growth (inspired by Rogers [2014]) lists four stages for expanding our audiences and training procedures over the next few years. Our first stage plans to reach students with the least access to a writing center and then work outwards to other groups. We plan to build a consistent team of trained, veteran online consultants at the same time that we are building and expanding our audiences.

  • Stage 1 (Fall 2015)
    • Pilot with Project Dragonfly
    • Train all graduate consultants and assistants
    • Begin training 3 to 4 undergraduates mid-semester
  • Stage 2 (Spring 2016)
    • Expand to study abroad and online basic-writing courses
    • Continue training undergraduates
    • Train additional undergraduates, who will work during summer
  • Stage 3 (Fall 2016)
    • Expand to more online courses, department by department
    • Target departments by their number of online courses
  • Stage 4 (Fall 2018)
    • Expand to hybrid courses, department by department
    • Target departments by their number of hybrid courses

Stage 1

Our initial pilot in Fall 2015 should work with students from Project Dragonfly, as they have already requested online consultations and some of their students have worked with Ryan Vingum. Because those enrolled in Project Dragonfly are graduate students, all graduate consultants and assistants will be the first group trained. Towards the middle of Fall 2015, we will begin training 3 or 4 undergraduate consultants in preparation for Stage 2. They will be able to observe and learn from the graduate consultants’ sessions.

Stage 2

In Spring 2016, we will begin our first expansion. We will expand our services to students studying abroad at the John E. Dolibois European Center in Luxembourg. We will work with the Associate Dean during Fall 2016 to plan an advertising strategy for students and faculty.

We will also begin expanding to online courses. We suggest beginning with basic-writing courses (ENG 111/112) from all campuses, as these students are most likely new to college writing and need more assistance in understanding these expectations. In Fall 2015, there are four sections of online ENG 111/112 with a student cap of 92, and we assume similar numbers for Spring 2015. As soon as the Spring 2015 course schedule is published, we can contact these instructors and encourage them to advertise to their students.

By this stage, 3 or 4 undergraduate consultants will have been trained to work with these students. We anticipate that Project Dragonfly numbers will rise with time, and towards the end of the semester, veteran online undergraduates should be able to hold sessions with these graduate students as needed.  

Stage 3

If Stage 2 is successful in attracting online students from ENG 111/112, we suggest beginning to target other online courses, starting with departments offering the most online coursework. When we refer to online courses, we mean courses from all campuses: Oxford, Hamilton, Middletown, and West Chester. During Spring/Summer 2016, we will begin contacting departments to gauge their interest/support and begin planning for Fall 2016. We will remain in Stage 3 for at least a year (possibly two), assessing the sustainability of this approach, before expanding the service to additional audiences. During this time, we will need to have larger numbers of consultants approved for online appointments to meet potential growing needs.

Stage 4

Once we have successfully targeted all fully online courses, we will start targeting hybrid online classes, using our department connections from Stage 3. We propose beginning this stage in Fall 2017 or Fall 2018, after we have spent at least a year monitoring the sustainability of our program.

Asynchronous or Synchronous?

Our research on synchronous consulting has revealed that consultants will need written response training to use the chat feature and hold chat-only sessions: this is very similar to training needed for asynchronous consulting. With this overlap, we suggest that consultants should be trained in both asynchronous and synchronous formats, to extend the initial reach and success of our pilot. Success of the pilot is necessary to forecast the success of a long-term program. Limiting the program to only one type of online consulting (e.g., synchronous) would eliminate any potential success from the other. Furthermore, an online consulting pilot through the Howe Writing Initiative found it was ideal to offer multiple technologies and options for students.

[Offering both asynchronous and synchronous consulting] would then enable students to make choices based on their learning preferences rather than on untested and potentially biased choices by the OWL administrator or staff.

Beth Hewett, 2015, p. 43

As shown earlier, an equal number of universities offer asynchronous consulting as synchronous consulting, suggesting that one type is not more popular or successful than the other. Although only 8 universities offer both types and give students the option to choose, this approach is the best and most accessible, according to the CCCC Committee on Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI) (2013). At the very least, a writing center’s method of online consulting should be determined by its university’s method of online instruction. Miami University provides online courses in both asynchronous and synchronous formats, with many students living in states and countries with separate time zones from Ohio.

Effective Practice 13.2: OWL support should match the course modality and media. For instance, if the course is asynchronous, then asynchronous tutoring should be available. If the course is synchronous through voice and video, then the online tutor should be available synchronously through voice and video. For hybrid courses, both a traditional onsite writing center and an OWL should be available. Whenever possible, asynchronous and synchronous online tutorial support should be available to all online writing students, in keeping with an accessible OWI program.

CCCC Committee on Best Practices for OWI, 2013, p. 27

Appointment Policies and Procedures

Students can schedule online appointments in WCOnline, just like they schedule face-to-face appointments. As consultants complete training, they can be listed as available for face-to-face, online (synchronous), and e-tutoring (asynchronous) sessions.

Screenshot from WCOnline that shows the drop-down menu for labeling consultants as available for "online, face-to-face, and eTutoring"
FIGURE 1. How to List a Consultant as Available for Online Sessions.

Once a consultant is listed as available for online sessions, this information appears below their name in the schedule.

Screenshot of a schedule in WCOnline, where a consultant named Ryan has "face-to-face, online, and eTutoring" listed below his name
FIGURE 2. How an Online Consultant Appears in the Schedule.

Consultants can also have “focus options,” allowing a student to select options from a drop-down menu and see only online consultants or only consultants working with a specific program, such as Project Dragonfly or study abroad.

Screenshot of administrative options in WCOnline, where administrators can list "focus options" for a consultant
FIGURE 3. How to Add “Focus Options” to a Consultant.

Students looking for an online appointment would simply need to find a consultant marked as “online” or “e-tutoring” and select one of these options from a drop-down menu when they schedule the appointment. Clear instructions on our website will guide students in this process.

Online consultants will still be available in WCOnline for face-to-face appointments. Whether a consultant is working online or face-to-face will depend solely on whether an online or face-to-face student has scheduled an appointment with them. Thus, on-campus and online students would have equal opportunity to schedule appointments. WCOnline can limit students to scheduling only two online appointments per week, if necessary.

Screenshot of the appointment form in WCOnline, which asks students whether they want to meet online and provides a description of next steps for students who schedule online appointments
FIGURE 4. How a Student Schedules an Online Appointment.

In WCOnline, it would be possible for on-campus students to schedule online appointments, although the default option is face-to-face. Therefore, the Online Administrators will need to double-check that online appointments are only for eligible course numbers and instructors. This course information can be obtained through program administrators or by searching Miami’s course offerings. This step is common at other online writing centers.  

For synchronous sessions, consultants may need a quieter place to be heard clearly through audio. During the day, consultants could use the GA’s or Special Projects Coordinator’s offices. At night, the consultants’ room or the Manager’s office (with her permission) could be used. After the move, the GA’s office or the workshop room will be additional quiet places to work.

Consulting Technology

Based on our analysis of technologies used at online writing centers in the ECWCA region, we suggest using the following programs for asynchronous and synchronous sessions:

Asynchronous

  • WCOnline. Students attach their Word document when they schedule an “e-tutoring” appointment in WCOnline. During the scheduled appointment time, consultants download the paper, comment on it using Microsoft Word’s Comments feature, and upload the paper for the student to access.

Synchronous

Ideally, a synchronous session would combine text-sharing, video, audio, and chat. However, we must prepare for technological issues, lack of dependable internet access, and lack of audio or webcam tools. To prepare for issues and offer students multiple options, we suggest using a combination of the following technologies.

  • WCOnline. Students return to their appointment time in WCOnline to enter the “online,” synchronous consulting space. WCOnline has audio, video, and chat functions. The program does not require the student to download any plug-ins or apps while also allowing multiple consultants to use audio and video at the same time. WCOnline also has a whiteboard where students can paste their text, but it lacks many features. We propose using WCOnline for its audio and video but giving students the option to also use Google Docs for text sharing.
  • Google Docs. All Miami students have access to Google Docs through their email accounts, and they can easily share a link to their document in WCOnline. Google Docs is a more advanced text-sharing space that allows for the following:
    • Holding chat-only sessions for students without audio or video access
    • Working with text and PowerPoint presentations
    • Working in “suggestion” mode, rather than making direct changes to the paper
    • Adding comments to the text
    • Using more graphic-based tools
    • Sharing documents in Microsoft Word, for students who need help with formatting

We encourage you to engage the processes of digital design as you mix and match various applications of technology and semiotic practices they make available, writing and rewriting the possibilities of the writing center.

Yergeau et al. (2008 )

Sources: (Yergeau et al., 2008) (Wolfe & Griffin, 2012) (CCCC Committee on Best Practices for OWI, 2013)

Program Administration

A successful online consulting program requires an Online Coordinator and Online Assistant. We suggest that these roles be filled by the Special Projects Coordinator and one Graduate Assistant. Both administrators should be comfortable and familiar with the technology and invested in running a successful program that reaches Miami students in need of writing assistance.

The Special Projects Coordinator (Online Coordinator) will be responsible for the following:

  • Maintaining online policies and procedures on the website
  • Mentoring and training graduate/undergraduate consultants
  • Recruiting consultants for training, upon recommendation of other administrators
  • Handling technological issues and student and faculty concerns
  • Initiating and maintaining contact with program administrators and faculty whose students may benefit from an online program
  • Collecting and analyzing assessment data
  • Conducting research and studies on the successes and/or failures of the program
  • Keeping current with online pedagogy and research

The Graduate Assistant (Online Assistant) will be responsible for the following:

  • Conducting online appointments
  • Mentoring and training graduate/undergraduate consultants
  • Maintaining and expanding connections with Project Dragonfly
  • Conducting research and studies on the successes and/or failures of the program
  • Keeping current with online pedagogy and research

Future administrators of this program will need to either have prior experience with online consulting or be willing to engage with such a program. We intend to create reference lists and resources for future online administrators.

Consultant Selection

Because Project Dragonfly is our pilot audience and a graduate program, all graduate consultants and assistants should be trained. Undergraduate consultants will be selected for online training based on the following criteria:

  • Consulting experience. Many approaches from face-to-face still apply in online consultations, so consultants’ comfort and face-to-face expertise will help them online.
  • Desire to work in online spaces. Consultants must have personalities and/or interests that coincide with online consulting, so they will be open to applying feedback and accepting growth opportunities in the program.
  • Positive views of online learning and accessibility. Consultants must recognize online consulting as a necessary vehicle for accessibility, not as a replacement for face-to-face sessions. Consultants with negative attitudes towards online consulting will reflect that in their sessions and dissuade students from using the service in the future.
  • Comfort with technology. Consultants will likely need to help students navigate synchronous technology, so they will need to learn the technology quickly in training.

Going forward, a consistent number of undergraduate consultants should be in training at all times. When one consultant has completed training, another consultant should begin. This will provide more options for online support during summer semesters and prepare for turn-over from graduating seniors. Additionally, the more consultants who are listed as available for online sessions, the more time options students will have for scheduling online appointments. Online Administrators should maintain a “waiting list” of consultants to enter training at the next opportunity.  

Sources: (CCCC Committee on Best Practices for OWI, 2013) (Martinez & Olsen, 2015)

Pilot and Future Consultant Training

In this section, we outline training methods for our initial pilot and then highlight important changes to training once the program is established with students regularly scheduling asynchronous and synchronous appointments. Consultants will be trained for specific technological approaches that build off their prior knowledge of writing center practice. Knowledge of these approaches will improve their sessions in a variety of media, as well as face to face. From our experiences, consultants trained to work online become more conscious of their verbal language choices and of technology use in face-to-face sessions.

Similarly, neither asynchronous nor synchronous is a better modality. They merely are different.

Hewett, 2015, p. 42

Orientation

A one- to two-hour orientation will introduce consultants to the online consulting program and cover the following:

  • WCOnline. The consultants need to understand how students schedule online appointments, how to tell when they have been scheduled for one, and how to access WCOnline’s synchronous platform. They will also be introduced to our policies regarding online appointments.
  • Technology. Consultants need a functioning knowledge of both WCOnline’s and Google Doc’s tools, features, and potential malfunctions. Consultants will follow along on computers and be given time to explore both technologies.
  • Resources. We will provide a variety of electronic resources at this orientation: best practice guides for synchronous and asynchronous consulting; technology guides; an online consulting handbook; and example asynchronous and synchronous sessions. Consultants will also be added and introduced to an online consulting listserv we will create (see “Consultant Mentoring and Support”).
  • Mentor assignment. Consultants will be assigned to either the Online Coordinator or Online Assistant who will act as their trainer and mentor throughout training.

This orientation can take place as a face-to-face group meeting, with individual orientations taking place if time conflicts arise. All future meetings and training will take place online, so consultants can become immersed in that environment.

Sources: (Ehmann & Hewett, 2005) (Martinez & Olsen, 2015)

Pilot Training

In the pilot, consultants will need to be trained for asynchronous and synchronous methods concurrently, so that students can begin scheduling either type of consultation. We envision three steps in this training process:

  1. Training in best practices
  2. Mock consultations, with feedback and reflection
  3. Live consultations, with feedback and reflection

Throughout this process, we provide several opportunities for consultants to reflect on their learning and communicate questions or issues to their mentor. We suggest consultants reflect in the same media in which they conduct consultations.

1. Training in Best Practices.

Consultants will be introduced to best practices for asynchronous and synchronous online conferencing, such as the following:

  • Asynchronous
    • Understanding the effect of specific language choices and approaches
    • Providing clear, direct, and correct explanations and examples
    • Focusing a session without the student present
    • Limiting comments and number of issues addressed
  • Synchronous
    • Using and switching between chat, video, and whiteboard
    • Navigating a chat-only session
    • Handling technology malfunctions and student misunderstandings about the service
    • Aiding student confusion with the technology

This training will take place as synchronous meetings through WCOnline and Google Docs. Synchronous tools will be demonstrated and used to teach consultants in the same way they will be teaching students. Asynchronous written response will be demonstrated, discussed, and analyzed.

Consultants will have been provided with example sessions and asked to view them during their regularly scheduled hours when they do not have an appointment. Consultants can refer back to these as necessary to prepare for their mock consultations.

Sources: (Ehmann & Hewett, 2005) (Yergeau et al., 2008) (CCCC Committee on Best Practices for OWI, 2013) (Hewett, 2015) (Martinez & Olsen, 2015)

2. Mock Consultations, with Feedback and Reflection.

Consultants will conduct mock asynchronous and synchronous consultations to practice working with the technology and using effective strategies. They will receive feedback from their mentor, with opportunities to reflect and apply feedback. When possible, consultants can be blocked out to complete these mock sessions during their regularly scheduled hours.

  • Asynchronous. Consultants will engage in two mock asynchronous sessions, where they will respond to a sample paper, with a sample appointment form. They will also send a short reflection email to their mentor, noting any issues or questions that arose during their session. Their mentor will review the session and provide written feedback.
  • Synchronous. Consultants will conduct at least two mock synchronous sessions with their mentor. Consultants will work with a sample paper and role-play with the mentor acting as the student. The mock sessions will include multiple sample scenarios, such as utilizing all tools, helping a student confused by the technology, and communicating only through chat. Each session will consist of two 30-minute scenarios. Afterwards, the consultant and online administrator will discuss the session and areas for improvement.  

Sources: (CCCC Committee on Best Practices for OWI, 2013) (Hewett 2015)

3. Live Consultations, with Feedback and Reflection.

Once consultants have completed their initial training with mock consultations, the Online Administrators will make them available for online appointments in WCOnline. They will receive feedback from their mentor, with opportunities to reflect and apply feedback.

  • Asynchronous. After responding to the student’s paper and returning it to the student, consultants will send their comments to their mentor, along with a short reflection email noting any issues or questions that arose during their session. Their mentor will review the session and provide written feedback.
  • Synchronous. Consultants conducting synchronous sessions will need to either be observed live by their mentor or record the session to be reviewed at another time. Consultants could reflect through a recorded session or live chat/video with their mentor.

Sources: (Johanek & Rickly, 1995) (Ehmann & Hewett, 2005) (CCCC Committee on Best Practices for OWI, 2013)

Pilot Training Approval

Consultants will complete training and become “approved” for online consulting when they have had a sufficient number of live sessions, consistently applied feedback, and no longer require alterations to their online approaches/pedagogy. This decision will be made by the Online Coordinator and Online Assistant. Upon approval, each consultant will be asked to write a final reflection on their online pedagogy, the ways it has or will change their approach to face-to-face sessions, and their suggestions for improving the program.

Future Training, with Successful Program

Once the program becomes established, with students scheduling regularly for asynchronous and synchronous appointments, there should be two separate stages to training:

  1. Asynchronous training
  2. Synchronous training

As suggested by Ehmann and Hewett (2005) in Figure 5 below, asynchronous training should be started and completed before synchronous training.

…anecdotal evidence suggests that more online writing students currently encounter asynchronous, text-based instruction than synchronous instruction, making it highly useful to understand first how best to employ asynchronous text-based tutoring and to work outward from that position.

Hewett, 2015, p. 43

FIGURE 5. Suggested Steps in the Online Training Process.
Source: (Ehmann & Hewett, 2005, p. 12)

Image description. Figure 5 is a flow chart with 5 main boxes on the left. Boxes 1-5 are listed vertically on the left side, with downward arrows that connect each. Boxes 2-4 have sub-boxes that appear to the right. The boxes contain the following text:

  1. Box 1: Start Training
  2. Box 2: Begin Asynchronous Training Process
    1. Box 2a: Asynchronous Training Not Completed Satisfactorily
    2. Box 2b: Retrain or End Training
  3. Box 3: Asynchronous Training Completed Satisfactorily
    1. Box 3a: End Asynchronous Training
  4. Box 4: Begin Synchronous Training Process
    1. Box 4a: Synchronous Training Not Completed Satisfactorily
    2. Box 4b: Retrain or End Training
  5. Box 5: Professional Development Opportunities

Stage 1: Asynchronous Training

Consultants will still begin with two mock consultations, with reflection and written feedback from their mentor. They will then respond to live appointments, where their comments will be reviewed by their mentor, until they no longer require alterations to their online approaches/pedagogy. Consultants will then be approved to work with asynchronous sessions and begin Stage 2 of training. The consultants’ knowledge of and practice with written response will prepare them for the chat function in synchronous sessions.

Stage 2: Synchronous Training

Consultants will begin with at least two mock consultations with their mentor, followed by synchronous reflection and feedback. Consultants can also observe other consultants conducting synchronous sessions, when possible. They will then conduct live synchronous sessions that will be recorded and reviewed by their mentor, until they no longer require alterations to their online approaches/pedagogy. Once they finish training in this stage, consultants will be fully approved to hold both types of online sessions.

Consultant Mentoring and Support

Consultants will be assigned to either the Online Coordinator or Online Assistant during their training, so they will receive individualized feedback from a consistent mentor and build a close relationship with one of the administrators.

Based on our previous experiences, we recognize that consultants who work online form a separate and close community within the larger writing center community. Online consultants should have online access to each other as a group, to discuss their sessions, ask for clarification, or seek support/advice. The Online Administrators will also need to distribute information about the program and seek consultant opinion. We propose creating an online consulting listserv through Miami for this purpose, with the Special Projects Coordinator being responsible for adding and removing consultant emails as needed.

Sources: (Johanek & Rickly, 1995) (Ehmann & Hewett, 2005)

Training Students

While training our consultants is vital, it is equally important that eligible students understand the online consulting environment. We are responsible for preparing students for our online technology.

Adequate preparation is another issue of access, enabling students to succeed in a different learning environment by assisting them with technological and cognitive challenges.

CCCC Committee on Best Practices for OWI, 2013, p. 21

Our website should clearly introduce our online services, the expectations of these sessions, and student eligibility for these appointments. We suggest the following material for our website:

  • Textual descriptions of what will happen in a session, where to go for their session, and how the student may be asked to use the technology
  • The differences between synchronous and asynchronous consulting and the benefits/challenges of each
  • Video tutorials on scheduling online appointments
  • Video tutorials on using WCOnline and Google Docs
  • Video examples of what synchronous and asynchronous sessions look like

Sources: (CCCC Committee on Best Practices for OWI, 2013) (Hewett, 2015)

Assessment

For the online program to be successful and sustainable, we must develop criteria to assess what “success” will look like in the online program. Success could be determined by a combination of the following:

  • Steady and increasing number of online appointments
  • Students returning for more online appointments
  • Writer satisfaction with their online conferences
  • Writer satisfaction with our online instructions  
  • Consultant satisfaction with their training and the program
  • Instructor and administrative support

Consistent feedback as we build the program will help us to recognize issues and solve them early. Feedback can be collected through surveys and reflections, such as the following:

  • Formstack surveys for students after the online sessions
  • Formstack surveys for the instructions on our website
  • Consultant reflections on their sessions and training

Sources: (Shadle, 2000)

Advertising

For an online program to be worthwhile, students and instructors must be aware that the program exists, how it works, and which students are eligible to submit. The Howe Writing Center, as well as the Hamilton and Middletown writing centers, have all tried online consulting with little success. We suggest that stronger advertising, instructor support, and consultant/administrator support can make this pilot more successful.

  1. Place clear, detailed instructions on our website for students and faculty
  2. Highlight the service on our homepage
  3. Remain in contact with program administrators and faculty
  4. Direct eligible faculty/students to our website and distribute electronic fliers and brochures
  5. Encourage eligible programs to advertise the service on their websites

Sources: (Brown, 2000) (Thurber, 2000)

References

Allen, E. I., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/highered.html

Brown, L. F. (2000). OWLs in theory and practice: A director’s perspective. In J. A. Inman & D. N. Sewell (Eds.), Taking flight with OWLs: Examining electronic writing center work (pp. 17-28). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

CCCC Committee on Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI). (2013). A position statement of principles and example effective practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI). CCCC. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/owiprinciples

Ehmannn, C., & Hewett, B. L. (2005). Designing a principles-based online training program for instructors. Distance Learning, 2(2), 9-13.

Hewett, B. L. (2015). The online writing conference: A guide for teachers and tutors. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Howe Writing Center. (2015). About the Howe Writing Center. Retrieved from http://miamioh.edu/howe/about/index.html

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