By Brianna Jerman, Writing Studio Consultant
Last year when I was a face-to-face consultant, a flustered and upset writer came in tardy for her appointment. Her husband had arrived home late to take care of their 18-month-old son, and, as a result, the writer had gotten stuck in traffic en route from Brandon to Tampa. For her next session, the Writing Studio arranged a study room, and the writer brought her son with her. We got through some more of her paper, but I could tell the writer would have been more productive if we had a better setting for our session—perhaps if the library study rooms where equipped with age-appropriate toys to occupy her cute but busy son.
This student’s commitment and drive prompted me to brainstorm ways the Writing Studio could help non-traditional students like her—students who work outside the university, attend online classes, live more than 20 minutes from campus, are caretakers, and/or have unorthodox schedules while completing a degree. Non-traditional students make up a significant portion of USF’s student population, and we need to find ways to support these students in their unique situations.
In Summer 2016, the Writing Studio researched various platforms and piloted online consultations. While many online services provide written feedback to students on their documents in the form of comments and an endnote (Like Pearson’s Smart Thinking Writing Tutoring Services ), our goal was to provide online students with the same quality services they receive in our face-to-face sessions.
We found Blackboard Collaborate Ultra to be not only the most intuitive tool, but also the most convenient and helpful. I’ve now spent many hours working with writers in this online space and have found that the online sessions have been a great way to help writers. Here’s how I’ve made the most out of our online consultations:
- Brainstorming: Many students come prepared with a paper to review, but some need help interpreting a writing assignment and brainstorming a topic. BBC Ultra has a whiteboard function that allows both the consultant and writer to type, draw, or insert links on a blank canvas. Students can mind map, type up a list of research terms, or begin outlining an essay with consultant’s live feedback.
- Research help: Because students are already online and logged on to USF, BBC Ultra makes helping students with research really simple. Using screenshare mode, the consultant can help show students who are new to the library resources how to begin searching for books or articles while the student mirrors this search on their own computer. Once a student has completed their search, we can help with introducing them to the scholarly article genre. With one student, I pulled up one of the scholarly articles we found and broadcasted it using the file sharing tool in BBC Ultra so she and I could read through it together. I was able to help her underline key concepts and take notes so that she could write a summary of the source for an annotated bibliography.
- Revision strategies: BBC Ultra’s platform makes it easy to help students with revision strategies. While the student’s paper is broadcasted for both of parties to see, writer and consultant can highlight, circle, or take notes on the page. Just remind students that these notes can’t be saved so they need to be jotting things down elsewhere.
- Internal resource sharing: The Writing Studio has uploaded the helpful handouts we keep in the studio space so students can access them online through our Canvas page. During a session, I can direct a student to our files for them to browse or quickly send them one that is relevant to what we are working on right then.
- External resources: Perhaps my favorite part about this online platform is the ease by which I can guide students to outside resources. If a student has a question about APA, for example, I can send them a helpful link from Purdue OWL using the chat function. Or if a student needs to rethink their word choice, it’s easy to access an online thesaurus without interrupting the session. Students can also send me a link to an article they found so I can help them decide if it is an acceptable source to use or help them cite it correctly.
Have you found other ways to help students in our online settings? We’d love to hear about them!