Connections, Camaraderie, Collaboration in Colorado: Takeaways from the 2016 International Writing Centers Association Conference

Chrissine Rios and Amy Sexton, Writing Center Tutors

Writing Center tutors Chrissine Rios and Amy Sexton, along with Academic Support Center manager Melody Pickle, recently attended and presented at the 2016 International Writing Centers Association Conference that was held October 13-17 in beautiful downtown Denver, Colorado.  Chrissine and Amy presented a panel session titled Video Feedback for Effective Online Writing Instruction, where we discussed our long-term use of video feedback for asynchronous paper reviews.  Melody presented Online Motion: Using Forms for Dynamic Asynchronous Services, which overviewed the ways that our writing center uses forms to provide students easy access to our services and to track the ways that students use these services.  The three of us presented Leveraging Technology for Online Inclusivity together. In this presentation, we talked about our recent collaboration across the Academic Support Center to create a series of video tutorials designed to support the whole student by focusing on key skills like time management and reading comprehension.  Our participation in this conference, as well as our time together, allowed us to bring numerous takeaways, including increased connections, a stronger sense of camaraderie, a renewed commitment to continued collaborations, and treasured memories of the mile high city back to our virtual home offices.   


IWCA is an organization devoted to supporting the work of writing centers across the globe, and its annual conference is a great time to come together with folks who share the same goals and engage in the similar tasks of helping college writers improve within the setting of writing centers.  At the conference, we not only shared our work in an online writing center with others, but we also attended others’ presentations and networked.  We talked with people doing writing center work across the country and world, and we discovered that we share the same concerns, struggles, and triumphs.  We discussed creative ideas and strategies for working with student writers.  We connected with other professionals, including APA Style Expert, Chelsea Lee who writes for  The APA Style Blog, a resource very familiar to all of us as we often consult the blog and refer students to it.  We even modeled free tee shirts that representatives from APA Style Central generously provided.  


Figure 1. Left to right, Amy, Melody, and Chrissine


Like other employees in our Academic Support Center and throughout our University, we work from remote locations.  While we talk, meet, collaborate and communicate daily, we rarely see each other face to face.  We do not have the pleasure of chatting at the office water cooler, sharing dishes and snacks at potluck lunches, or attending festive holiday parties together.  In fact, this conference marked the first time that tutors Amy and Chrissine met in person!  Attending and presenting at the conference gave us an opportunity to spend time together and get to know each other a little better.  We shared meals, stories, laughs, and generally learned more about each other and our lives.  As a group of virtual employees, the chance to connect with each other in this way was priceless.    


Figure 2. Amy and Chrissine are all smiles after a successful presentation.


Figure 3. Amy and Melody pose before enjoying a delicious dinner at Denver ChopHouse & Brewery


A major theme of our Leveraging Technology for Online Inclusivity presentation was collaboration.  We presented on a resource development project in which the Writing Center collaborated with faculty and with Specialists from the Math, Science, Business, and Technology Centers.  Together, we produced a new video series for the Academic Support Center.  The project united each of the centers through a stronger collaborative relationship while the resources themselves unite students from across the disciplines with inclusive, study skills support.  As Amy and Chrissine described the key considerations for this collaborative video development project, attendees were surprised that Amy and Chrissine had never met in person before this conference.  But as longtime virtual employees, we have mastered the communication skills and technology needed to develop a strong collaborative and interpersonal relationship online, so for us, the real benefit of meeting face to face was not in seeing each other (although that was a treat!) but in being able to share our work with tutors and administrators from on-ground writing centers.  In fact, some attendees expressed their struggles convincing the leadership at their schools of the merits of online tutoring.  We hope to have served as good examples of what can be accomplished online, for we certainly walked away with a renewed sense of importance of our collaborations and how they contribute to the advancement of writing center pedagogy.   


Figure 4. For this online crew, a strong collaborative relationship began long before meeting face-to-face.

City Scenes

When we were not busy presenting or attending other presentations, we enjoyed exploring the city.  The mile high city offers a wide variety of sights to see and places to visit.  From the Denver Pavilion to the Millennium Bridge to the majestic Rocky Mountains to historic restaurants and train stations,  Denver was a delight to explore.  


Figure 5. Lunch at Denver Pavilions


Figure 6. After dinner at the Denver ChopHouse in the historic Union Pacific building


Figure 7. Denver Millennium Bridge


Figure 8. Denver Union Station

(c) Chrissine Rios

Figure 9. Mountain view from the conference hotel

The IWCA Conference supplied us with valuable takeaways and connections that will inform and inspire our work ahead.  The conversations we had with tutors and administrators from writing centers at community colleges and universities big and small as well as with other online writing centers and related organizations like APA ignited a real sense of unity and purpose that is easy to lose sight of when we tutor one student at a time in our individual and unique centers.  It is that sense of unity and purpose that will propel us forward as we continue to collaborate, connect, and engage in the important work of supporting student writers.

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