Digital Writing Center Spaces as Learning Communities

Melody Pickle, Kaplan University Academic Center Manager

Man at computer with apple. © 2014

© 2014

In the online digital space that is Kaplan University Writing Center, we (the KUWC) engage with students to make meaning and create spaces for learning.  The Kaplan University Writing Center is a completely online Writing Center.  All of our resources, services, and interactions with students take place in an online environment.  Far from a cold lonely static place, the KUWC is a dynamic, vibrant, learning community.

Thinking about Wenger’s (1998) Communities of Practice, part of being a member of a community is  the ability of its members to be able to define how and to what degree they will engage in the community.  For this reason, the KUWC functions as a community of practice because students move in and out of this space and engage with this space on their own terms.  There is not one primary platform that defines the KUWC, but rather it is a community with many entrance points and engagement possibilities.  The KUWC Tutors and Specialists are technology stewards (as defined by Wegner, 2009) because they design the spaces and interactions that helps make this digital space a community.

This year the Kaplan University Writing Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Computer screen with URL. ©


Over our 10 year development, we have grown in our use of technology, specifically in order to interact with students and build this dynamic learning space.  We are technology stewards in that we produce, maintain, and occupy this learning space.  We leverage technology to create learning communities and spaces for social connection.  From static print resources, to recorded podcasts, and live workshops, we continue to figure and reconfigure meaningful ways to engage students and to generate useful practices.

Within the KUWC, a student may choose to have a completely self – negotiated experience in which he comes and watches a video and listens to a podcast to find the information he needs.  Or, a student may choose to have a personalized live interaction with a tutor in live tutoring and then later engage us on Facebook and attend a live workshop.  The key to this community, as with any community of practice, is community members are engaging with the content and with each other on terms they choose. Within this context, we are negotiating meaning and cultivating identities as we engage with texts and with each other.

As Wenger, White, and Smith suggest in their book Digital Habitat “Technology extends and reframes how communities organize and express boundaries and relationships, which changes the dynamics of participation, peripherality, and legitimacy” (p. 11).  The writing center is made of people fostering relationships and places that promote a variety of contexts for learning.

Computer Kids. ©


We are the caretakers, facilitators, and the producers of this negotiated space.  We are stewards because we constantly negotiate the technology so students can have a hassle free experience while fostering their own learning experience within the community.  As technology changes, we change.  As students’ needs change, we change.  Wenger (1998) says of Communities of Practice that “They are important places of negotiation, learning, meaning and identity” (p. 133).  That is what we are facilitating here as we continually engage in our roles as technology stewards within the Kaplan University Writing Center.

(This concept was explored at the 2014 ECWCA conference an the 2014 TCC conference by KUWC Faculty. )


Wenger, E.  (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E., White, N., & Smith, J. D. (2009). Digital habitats: Stewarding technologies for communities.  Portland, OR: CPsquare.

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2 Responses

  1. Sandra Maenz says:

    Melody, I like this piece, it is clear, concise and does an excellent job explaining the philosophy and capabilities of the Writing Center. One thing I would love to see is a map of all the different portals leading to the writing center- in other words, some sort of a graphic that could be posted in classrooms etc. to help the student conceptualize the Center and what it has to offer. I realize many of them are of the digital generation, but their comprehension seems to be limited to what key to push to get to what site. Thinking of a site as multilayered with multiple portals is beyond many of them. I would guess the avid game player might be able to meander through the site, but not average Jane and John student.

    Thanks for considering this idea. Lou

    On Tue, May 20, 2014 at 2:36 AM, Kaplan University Writing Center Faculty

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