Measuring Success in the Writing Center
by Melody Pickle, Kaplan University Writing Center
I went to the Writing Center at my college exactly once. I took a paper into a room that had a few tables with a person sitting at each table. I sat down next to a professor that had a funny mustache. I felt a little intimidated showing someone my writing. I also wondered if his opinion mattered since he was not actually the teacher who was going to grade it. I went in wanting to make my paper better.
I had always done pretty well with writing, but college writing had me a bit stumped. I was doing well, but I could tell my professors wanted a bit more.
At one point, the professor looked at me while pointing to a specific word on the paper and asked, “Is this the word you really mean here?” I stared back at him, in silence. “It is a really strong word” he said.
I continued to stare at him as the wheels turned in my head. I had never considered that I needed to pick every word on the page. In my passion about my topic (whatever that was at the time), I was trying hard to get my ideas out. But, I did not realize that every word mattered.
For me, this one moment taught me about audience, syntax, word choice, and the power of the order of my words. But, it taught me this over a very long time.
I never went back to the Writing Center on my campus. I did not feel the need.
In this one session, with really only one sentence, this professor changed how I thought about writing and communication forever. From my one writing center encounter, my learning kept going. My writing kept changing as I played with the concepts I learned that day.
The reason it is hard to quantify learning and specifically learning in the Writing Center is we never know what students will do with their moments of experience in the Writing Center.
Learning is often a collection of moments out of which we make meaning. However, most things that we can measure, we measure in the short term.
Data usually captures one moment in time.
There is great value in measuring and quantifying aspects of learning. Collecting data reminds us to reflect, develop new and better systems, and make new goals. I count things in our Writing Center. Like any good data collector I ask myself, “What else should I be counting? What other information could I collect to improve student learning?”
But, I am also always very conscious that there may be things, no matter how I think about them that I cannot know or collect.
This is why every individual writing center encounter matters. Every student learning experience matters because we do not know which ones the student will run with.