The University Writing Center (UWC) quickly adapted to change by expanding its accessibility when faced with the challenges of COVID-19. During the summer semester, UWC transitioned to an online format for students. The online initiative includes an online paper review option through a CourseDen dropbox and video sessions with one of the UWC consultants.
“With COVID and everything happening, we really had the opportunity and needed to take the opportunity, of course, to really be available to students more broadly,” said UWC Coordinator Duane Theobald. “I think despite the chaos that COVID has caused, despite the frustrations and the difficulties, it’s been a really good thing for the center because we have been able to better serve students where they are.”
The asynchronous paper review was notably convenient during the summer of 2020, where many students utilized the service more than ever before. UWC saw their summer numbers nearly double from the summer of 2019 through to the summer of 2020. The online resource remains fairly successful during the current fall semester.
“We were not seeing nearly as many students as we had in previous semesters, but we’re also not existing in a normal environment,” said Theobald. “I’m of the mindset—and I have been for a long time— that numbers are important, but the work that we do with students is more important by making those connections and really providing good service.
“My goal for the center is to still be here for the students and to still be doing all the good work we’ve been doing for all the years we’ve been here,” continued Theobald. “To continue making students aware that there are supports here for them to help them succeed, thrive and grow.”
Knowing that some students work better physically, UWC continues to provide face-to-face services as an option. UWC works closely with the Center for Academic Success in ensuring everyone’s safety during the face-to-face sessions.
The stations are all socially distanced with plexiglass on each table and the center table is cleaned regularly between shifts. Before the pandemic, UWC usually held a maximum of six sessions in the center at once. The number of sessions allowed at once in the center is now reduced to three. Each student and tutor is required to wear a mask in the center.
The asynchronous paper review and the face-to-face sessions are going well. However, the online synchronous video sessions have had a slower start.
“I think it might be for two reasons,” said Theobald. “One, we’ve never done it before—that was something we launched for fall— and two, I think maybe there’s some fatigue honestly with being in front of a webcam in a Google meet.
“Being in these different environments might not be how some people want to do it,” continued Theobald. “But as the semester has moved on, it’s picked up a little bit. I think people are now getting used to it.”
Overall, fewer students have reached out for help this fall compared to last year due to the pandemic’s impact on their class scheduling, work and life.
“Students are trying to juggle all of that, which is hard in a regular semester, let alone in a semester like what we’re experiencing now,” said Theobald. “The goal right now— and I think for most areas on campus like our center—is just trying to be available and to let students know that we’re here. During all of this, the pandemic and everything that’s going on with it, they’re not alone.”
UWC will continue offering the new online resources next semester, hoping to eventually go back to the regular schedule of programming that is not restricted by COVID-19.
“I think moving forward next semester our office will be a little bit busier because students might be in a little bit more of a rhythm to this new normal,” said Theobald. “And I think that will be true for our office and the Center for Academic Success.”