Newsletter Summer 2014 Writing Center

Graduate student Asia Ferrin headed up the Philosophy Writing Center this year. She improved its access and built its resources for undergraduate students. Asia descibes the improvements below:

It has been a great year at the Philosophy Writing Center. In addition to providing helpful tutoring sessions, we aimed this year to improve our online presence and accessibility, create the most welcoming space possible in the Center, and expand our services beyond one-on-one sessions.

To improve our online presence and accessibility, we started the year by building a new website and online scheduler for the Center, making it easier for students to schedule appointments and to find information about the Center and writing philosophy. On the website, we added not only information about our services and tutors, but also a collection of general tips for writing philosophy papers as well as guides and advice from our Philosophy instructors. We also created and posted handouts of detailed explanations of various elements of philosophical writing such as writing introductions and objections. We upgraded our scheduling system so that students can more easily make, change, and cancel their appointments and take advantage of unique added features. For example, the scheduler sends students a reminder text message the day before their appointment. We also developed an anonymous online survey that the scheduler automatically sends out 24 hours after a student visits our Center. Through this survey tool, we have been able to gather great feedback on specific topics like how helpful, welcoming, and enthusiastic we are. And we built a Philosophy Writing Center listserv where students can sign up to receive notifications when we add appointments or someone cancels. This listserv has helped us keep sessions full when students make a late cancellation or when we add appointments during busy weeks. One of the comments from our survey states that our online interface "is high tech and awesome."

A second focus this year has been to make the Center feel as welcoming and supportive as possible. To reach this goal, we have participated in several training opportunities and made changes to the Writing Center space. First, we participated in Odegaard's Annual Joint Tutor training, during which we attended helpful sessions like "Working with English Language Learners" and "Supportive Conversation Strategies." We also participated in the Philosophy Department's Fall orientation on Implicit Bias, which helped us think about harmful implicit attitudes and messages that can be unintentionally sent to minority students and insecurities that such students might have about their writing and overall success. To combat such implicit biases and stereotypes, we have posted counterstereotypical images in our Center, created a more inclusive intake form, and met together weekly to debrief sessions. We were certified in UW Safe Zone Training, which aims to reduce prejudice and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression and create a safe and affirming space. Also visible in the Writing Center is our new mission statement; a handout of various campus resources for students needing academic, emotional, or physical support; and hot tea and occasional treats. Our survey respondents say they felt welcomed at the Center and are comfortable voicing their thoughts.

Finally, we have worked to expand the Writing Center's services beyond one-on-one sessions. This year, our tutors started officially participating in Odegaard's Targeted Tutoring. In Targeted Tutoring sessions, they meet with a small group of English Language Learners from introductory Philosophy courses for one hour per week to work on a variety of projects and skills, such as class assignments, writing papers, reading comprehension, or simply talking about the norms in philosophy. The sessions are set up to be collaborative, not only between tutor and student, but also between peers, making it a distinct tutoring experience from the standard sessions that we offer at the Philosophy Writing Center. Tutor Jack McClelland explains:

"We wanted, and I felt this was accomplished, for the students to not only see us, the tutors, as a source of information, but also to view each other as such. There were many times in which the conversations and debates they had amongst themselves led to a greater understanding of the material. Having this environment specifically for peers to discuss the content outside of the classroom was quite helpful for the students in learning the particulars of the class as well as developing skills for learning this way in the future."

The Writing Center continues to grow and provides an essential service for undergraduates in our philosophy courses. It has also been a fantastic experience for tutors Ron Keller, Jack McClelland, and Alexia Syrmos. They have been outstanding at the one-on-one sessions and eager to take on new projects. All of the tutors have received incredibly positive notes on our feedback survey.

It has been a delight and an honor to work at the Center and with these tutors. I can't wait to see how the Center continues to expand and evolve in the future.

Please visit the Writing Center's website and explore all the resources available:

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