Transitioning to online learning in Northwestern’s Writing Center

by Elena Nowlin

Carey Eigen, Specialist for Writing Center and Academic Achievment (photo courtesy of Northwestern).

Many new requirements have been put in place over the last few months in Northwestern’s Writing Center due to COVID-19. The tutors now meet with most of their students on Zoom. Students have been provided with a variety of online resources so they can send in papers for grammar or writing tips. The UNW Online Writing Lab, or OWL, is an online resource that provides students with writing help in an online format and is now available for the whole student body. Students can submit papers and receive feedback from the Writing Center tutors within a few days.  

The Writing Center has changed its layout and reduced in-person appointments because of limited space for social distancing. Students need to take greater time and effort to make an appointment because walk-ins and last-minute appointments are not always possible. Carey B. Eigen said, “Our tutors have noticed that clients are coming to appointments better prepared than they have in the past.” Eigen also noted that tutors have found that there is an advantage to receiving information about what the students need beforehand. They can better prepare for meetings and think through strategies to help their students excel.  

When I spoke to a tutor from the Writing Center, she affirmed these same positives, but had a unique perspective on one of the negatives of this change. Some students are being missed in the move to online learning. While a larger group of both on-campus and online students are being reached, some students who used this resource at the last minute are not able to have a walk-in appointment. Eigen affirmed that there were some challenges in the switch to online appointments. 

The changes have been a learning process for everyone involved, and there are areas that the Writing Center has had to adapt to the Zoom format. Students now send in their papers when they arrange an appointment, which means that students need to be intentional about the time they take to finish the assignments. Eigen commented, “Tutors speculate that the added steps of scheduling an appointment and uploading a paper mean clients are invested in making the most of their appointment time.” Students are returning, and tutors are encouraged that the hard work invested in the beginning has caused a wider reach and has helped numerous students.  

While there were some challenges involved in the transition, there are also some positive elements that will stay in place even after the end of the COVID-19 restrictions. Now that Zoom has provided an opportunity for online students to take advantage of the Writing Center, Eigen expressed the wish to keep that opportunity open.    

The Writing Center is open five days a week and the hours are varied due to tutor availability. For a schedule of times, tutor availability, and access to the UNW Online Writing Lab, students can check the Academic Achievement portal of the Student Academics tab on theROCK. 

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