In Fall 2018, I designed the following training program for asynchronous online writing consulting. I conducted this training in collaboration with graduate assistant directors and veteran online consultants.
Program and Training Overview
In asynchronous consultations in this context, students received written feedback in comment bubbles in the margins of their papers. Students would schedule an hour-long appointment block in the center’s online scheduling system. Before this appointment time, students were asked to send their paper as a Microsoft Word document or Google Doc and to email a writer’s note that answered the following 3 questions:
- Tell us about the context for your writing: what are you writing for and what is your goal? Please attach any prompts or assignment guidelines.
- How is this writing similar to or different from previous writing you have done?
- Where do you feel confident in this piece of writing? Where are you not confident, and what would you like to work on in this session?
The writing consultants were undergraduate and graduate students, and they provided asynchronous feedback within 50-minute sessions. Consultants sent feedback to and communicated with students through the writing center’s email account.
The consultants being trained for asynchronous consulting had prior knowledge of and experience with face-to-face consulting. Asynchronous training took place during the first 2-3 weeks of a semester, when the center had low appointment usage and offered limited appointment hours.
By the end of asynchronous training, consultants were expected to do the following:
- Navigate our writing center email account to prepare for an asynchronous appointment and find resources
- Assist writers in sending and preparing their appointment materials
- Analyze writer’s notes to focus time and feedback on student concerns
- Compose written comments that answer the questions “what, why, how, and do?”
- Balance suggestions with praise
- Flexibly and creatively apply multimodal strategies, according to Universal Design
- Manage both asynchronous feedback and synchronous communication in “blended” appointments (when students submitted Google Docs, they often be present in the Doc during their asynchronous appointment, blending the line between asynchronous and synchronous feedback)
- Respond to graduate-level work from a specific masters program
Asynchronous training was organized into 5 Modules in a hybrid design (partially face-to-face and partially online). Consultants completed some modules on their own, attended 1 in-person meeting, and then finished their training during their scheduled online consulting hours. When consultants completed tasks on their own, they were required by the university to be on-campus and clock in.
At the beginning of training, consultants received an email that directed them to watch an Introduction to Online Training video and then login to the writing center email account. From there, they began working on Module 1.
Module 1 took about 1.5 to 2 hours, and consultants completed the module on their own time. This module focused on introducing consultants to the logistics of asynchronous consulting.
Consultants completed the following activities in order:
- Watch Introduction to Online Appointments video.
- Watch Preparing for Asynchronous Appointments video.
- Complete Exercise 1: Asynchronous Scavenger Hunt. Consultants completed an online form and answered questions based on the videos they had watched. In the form, they were asked to explain how students scheduled asynchronous appointments, how to login to the writing center email account, how to find student appointment materials, and where to locate writing center resources.
- Complete Exercise 2: Analysis of Sample Asynchronous Appointments. Consultants read over written feedback on 3 samples: an undergraduate essay, a graduate essay, and a multimodal assignment. They were also provided with a compilation of example effective written comments. Consultants were then asked to reflect on these examples and answer the following questions: What are some similar practices you noticed between asynchronous and face-to-face consultations? What are some differences you notice? Are there any practices or strategies you think are unique to asynchronous consultations? Based on these examples, what are some practices you think are effective in asynchronous, and what practices seem more difficult or less effective?
- Complete Exercise 3: Universal Design. Consultants watched an Introduction to Universal Design video and were introduced to the concepts of Universal Design (UD), the “what, why, how, do” method, and direct language. Consultants reflected on the ways in which they could apply UD and flexibility in their appointments.
- Complete Exercise 4: Revise Sample Asynchronous Appointment. Consultants were provided with a sample writer’s note and sample ineffective comments on a resume. Consultants then revised these comments to be more effective, using the “what, why, how, do” method and direct language.
If consultants needed an introduction to (or reminder of) the technologies we used, they could watch the optional videos below:
Module 2 took less than 1 hour, and consultants completed the module on their own time.
Consultants completed Mock 1. Mock 1 was a 5-page personal statement, a genre that consultants were familiar with from face-to-face consulting. Consultants spent no more than 50 minutes providing written feedback, just like they would during an actual appointment.
Module 3 took about 2 hours. Consultants attended an in-person check-in meeting with me and a veteran asynchronous consultant. Consultants must have completed Modules 1 and 2 before this meeting.
During this meeting, the consultants and I worked together in Google Docs and completed the following activities:
- Discuss previous activities. Consultants reflected on their experiences with analyzing and revising asynchronous feedback and with completing Mock 1.
- Self-assess Mock 1. Consultants looked over 2 examples of feedback to the same paper, and then looked over each other’s feedback. They then reflected on what they did well in their own feedback and identified 1 to 3 areas in which they want to improve.
- Analyze feedback to graduate students from a specific masters program. Consultants learned about a specific masters program with the largest group of students we worked with online. Consultants analyzed 2 examples of feedback to these students and noted the differences between responding to undergraduate- and graduate-level work.
- Co-consult on Mock 2. Consultants-in-training spent time working together to provide written feedback to a sample graduate paper from the masters program. After 45 minutes, they came back together as a group and discussed the feedback they provided.
Module 4 took about 1 hour, and consultants completed the task on their own time.
Consultants completed Mock 3, another graduate paper from the masters program. Consultants spent no more than 50 minutes providing written feedback, just like they would during an actual appointment.
Once consultants got to Module 5, they began working their regular online consulting shifts. They were scheduled to work at the same time as a veteran asynchronous consultant, who assisted them during their first few real appointments and helped to prepare them for responding to graduate-level work.
Consultants completed the following tasks over the course of several online shifts:
- Co-consult on a graduate mock paper. Consultants worked with a veteran to provide feedback to a sample graduate paper of their choosing.
- Co-consult on a real asynchronous appointment. Consultants were available for a real asynchronous appointment with a student and worked with a veteran to provide feedback in their appointment. If the consultant-in-training did not end up having an appointment, they co-consulted on a graduate mock paper of their choosing.
- Practice responding in a “blended” appointment. In a “blended” appointment, the student had scheduled an asynchronous appointment but was present in the Google Doc during the appointment and could revise or chat with the consultant in real-time. Thus, this type of appointment was a “blend” of asynchronous and synchronous text-chat. In this exercise, the veteran consultant pretended to be a student: they chose a sample graduate paper and tried their best to pretend it was their own, by chatting with the consultant-in-training, replying to their comments, and/or revising as they saw fit.
- Receive written observation feedback for at least 2 real asynchronous appointments. Consultants completed real asynchronous appointments on their own for the first time and emailed a copy of their feedback to me. I then provided them with feedback or scheduled a veteran consultant to provide them with feedback. In either case, we replied to their comments and suggested 1 to 3 areas in which they could improve. Consultants only needed 2 observations to complete training, but they could receive additional feedback if necessary.