Coordinator of the UW-Madison Online Writing Center, TA Christopher Syrnyk and future word-enthusiast Aubrey.
All Graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs) who are beyond their first semester of tutoring in UW-Madison’s Writing Center participate in professional development opportunities, known as Ongoing Education opportunities, affectionately, as an “OGE.” At the start of a semester, Teaching Assistants will often see a description at the top of an OGE selection form that reads as follows:
“Ongoing Education activities are opportunities to challenge ourselves as teachers, think critically about our work, reach our personal goals, and collectively build a broad base of diverse knowledge, skills, and practices from which we all can draw.”
Sarah Groeneveld is an instructor at the UW-Madison Writing Center
By Sarah Groeneveld. The day I met Laura (a pseudonym) was a memorable one. It was a slow day at the Writing Center last January, and I had a free hour in the middle of my shift. Laura was scheduled to meet with me later, but had mistaken the time of our appointment and had shown up early. Therefore, we were able to spend a wonderful two hours talking about three things that we both share a passion for: teaching, animals and questions about difference. But what is memorable to me about meeting Laura is that about five seconds after sitting down next to her, I suddenly noticed a gigantic head and deep brown eyes staring at me from underneath the desk. Laura introduced me to Monty (another pseudonym), a German Shepard who helps Laura navigate the world – not only physically, but in ways that Laura explained to me in the following weeks and months.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a long and distinguished history of public service. The guiding philosophy of this commitment to public service, called the “Wisconsin Idea,” is often described as “the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.” Since I have a scholarly interest in the Wisconsin Idea, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between the Wisconsin Idea and writing centers. I’ve only begun to explore the connections, but I’m excited about the possibilities.
The Wisconsin Idea has been receiving renewed attention on our campus in light of the University’s designation of this academic year as “The Year of the Wisconsin Idea.” If you’re unfamiliar with the Wisconsin Idea, you can browse a redesigned website, which provides information about the Idea, its history and a timeline of its development, along with stories from current faculty, staff, and students about how their service to the state, nation, and world correspond with the Wisconsin Idea.
One of the things we at the UW Madison Writing Center constantly strive for is to be welcoming and accessible to everyone. Our primary service is to University of Wisconsin-Madison students, but we also try to reach out beyond the campus through the Community Writing Assistance Program, our Writing Center Colloquia, and our online presence. Our writer’s handbook, which offers advice about academic writing, forms the core of our online offerings, and I am delighted to say that this morning an extensive remodel of our handbook went live.**
We decided to update the handbook for many reasons: to match the updated look of our workshop listings, to make navigation more transparent, and to increase our visibility on search engines such as Google and Bing. While changes to the overall look of the material are dramatic and helping people find more of our content is important, the changes that I personally take the most satisfaction in are the improvements to standards-compliance and accessibility.
As a dissertator and the Coordinator of the Online Writing Center, when I’m not untangling late 16th-century poetry, updating the Writing Center’s website, or making sure our synchronous and asynchronous instruction runs smoothly I like to poke around the web to try and figure out how to make the many hours I spend in front of my computer more productive. Over the past few years I’ve run across a number of programs that have made my life a lot easier, and I’ve frequently wished I knew about many of them sooner. I thought I would take a few minutes and share some of the free tools that have saved me hours of frustration.
Easy automatic backups. I am often rather forgetful; if my dissertation doesn’t automagically back itself up without me having to do anything, then it doesn’t get backed up nearly as often as it should. Additionally, I do significant amounts of work from four different computers and hate having to make sure that I have the current working version on each one. Dropbox is a life saver. It’s a web-based application that synchronizes files across different computers automatically and almost simultaneously. A free account includes 2 gigs of server space so your files are always on all of your computers and on the Dropbox servers. All you have to do is sign up for an account, download the Dropbox application on each of your computers, and enter your sign-in information. It just works.
WAC workshop for TAs teaching writing-intensive courses
From all of us in the UW-Madison Writing Center programs, welcome to a new academic year! We’re off and running on an exciting new year.
Last October the Writing Center held an open house to celebrate the Center’s 40th birthday. Well over 100 students and colleagues came from across campus to—
- chat with our staff
- peruse posters about our programs
- sample our podcasts and our online consultations and videos of in-person consultations
- nibble on birthday cake from Lane’s Bakery
- and hear short presentations reflecting on the Writing Center’s history and its impact across campus and beyond
This year I am the Coordinator of Writing Center Outreach, so it may come as a surprise that I’m going to talk about online writing instruction (OWI). But it’s a topic of importance to how I see myself as a writing teacher and researcher because I have a passion for studying and teaching writing in online environments. Last year, I was fortunate enough to serve as the Coordinator of the Online Writing Center (OWC), and I had the opportunity to seriously consider differences among face-to-face (f2f), synchronous “chat,” and asynchronous “email” instruction.
When I began the training for my colleagues working on the Online Writing Center last year, I started by stating that online writing instruction differs from f2f, yet “good teaching, good learning, and good writing can emerge from networked spaces” (Harrington, Rickly, & Day, 2000). Online writing instruction is also a topic that I’ve seen on the wcenter list-serv, as writing center directors/coordinators explore the possibility of starting OWCs on their campuses and seek out best practices, so I hope to explain in the extremely limited scope of this post a few of these differences and address concerns about the effectiveness of OWI. At the end, I’ll provide a couple resources for online writing instruction.