Celebrating Writing Centers in Both “Real” Worlds

By Lisa Gerardy and Chrissine Rios, Purdue University Global Writing Center

group of students

This week is Writing Center Week, an event offered through the International Writing Centers Association to celebrate the work of writing centers all over the world.

Since students must do some kind of writing in all of their courses, many colleges and universities have writing centers to help students better their writing. Students bring projects from a variety of courses to the writing centers at their schools.  Depending on whether the school is brick and mortar or online, the writing center could be in a building or located on the Internet.  While students receive writing help whether they walk into a building or log onto a website, online writing centers are unique. The tutoring methods and goals for student success are similar, but online centers offer distinctive benefits to adult learners.

An important characteristic of effective tutoring is connecting with students and providing personalized support according to each student’s individual needs. Tutoring face-to-face or elbow-to-elbow is an example of this personalized support, but technology has made online tutoring highly personalized as well.

In addition to having audio and video in online meeting rooms, students and tutors have the benefit of chat boxes, screen sharing, and white boards to collaborate at any stage of the writing process. Students share their screens and their works in progress, so tutors can talk them through the writing situation, or the student can upload their writing for tutors to open in the room or on their shared screen to discuss and model prewriting, revision, or editing strategies. Similar to a student bringing a hard copy of a paper to the writing center, online tutors can have meaningful conversations about the student’s work during the tutoring session while accommodating a variety of learning styles.


At our center, we prefer not to use web cams. While the online writing center may not be a physical building in the real world, the students and tutors that meet in that virtual space are most definitely situated in the “real” world with their real life all around them including family and pets or coworkers or other people in the neighborhood depending on where they are accessing the Internet. Using audio rather than video affords both the student and the tutor some privacy and prevents distractions from the background while at the same time, the session is happening in the same space where the student will then be writing their paper, so it’s also an ideal setting for a writing consultation.

Adult, online student

Online learners are most often non-traditional, adult learners, so they also have many commitments along with the interruptions, demands, and busy schedules that go with them; they appreciate our immediate attention on their writing concerns and needs. By using two-way audio or a combination of audio and chat, our foremost objective is to listen to the students and read their writing. Our attention from the onset of the tutoring session is on voice and what our students say about their writing and how they talk about their writing environment.

Finding the right words to express their needs is not necessarily easy for any student, and doing this in a chat or over audio only does not make it easier, but it’s important for them to try and to practice and to have a place like the online writing center where they can learn to communicate successfully in the online, academic environment. Writing centers in general are places where students become more acclimated to their learning environment, and online centers are no different.

Accessibility is another benefit of the online writing center. We are always open. Synchronous services such as “live tutoring” have designated hours, but online writing centers are website based, so the resources—tutorials, videos, workshop recordings, and podcasts—are accessible and in most cases also downloadable 24/7. Students can also submit a question or paper 24/7 for a written and video response from a professional writing tutor, and online students do not have to drive to campus to do any of this, which is so important especially to those students who chose an online education because driving to campus was not realistic or practical for them.

The online writing center is one reason many students succeed in online courses. And that is another similarity between online and on-ground writing centers that we celebrate today: our students and their many achievements that we at the writing center are so proud to have witnessed in the process of their making. Happy International Writing Center Week 2016 to all from the Purdue University Global Writing Center!

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