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Rutgers Writing Centers alter operations to assist students remotely

Regina Masiello, associate director of the Plangere Writing Center, and Sara Perryman, assistant director of the Livingston Writing Center, said that despite having to move their operations online, they have been able to maintain the quality of the Writing Centers' services. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

The shift to remote learning amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has caused the Rutgers Writing Centers to adapt their program to better accommodate students during this time.

The transition to an online platform for tutoring required a lot of work, said Regina Masiello, associate director of the Plangere Writing Center, and Sara Perryman, assistant director of the Livingston Writing Center.

“In the spring, we had 10 days to research best practices for online tutoring, set up a virtual system that was easy to use and train tutors to navigate their sessions remotely,” they said. 

Masiello and Perryman said they had to prepare for challenges that could arise in an online system, such as technology glitches, issues with tutoring through video and problems with conducting all of the services online.

The staff at the Writing Centers spent the entire summer improving their online tutoring system from the spring semester, they said. The team experimented with different platforms and continued to research strategies in order to create the most effective program.

Although the pandemic has transitioned the program online, it has not affected the resources offered by the Centers or the program’s quality, Masiello and Perryman said. Online tutoring for all Writing Program classes is provided from 9:00 a.m. to 11:40 p.m. on Mondays to Thursdays and 9:00 a.m. to noon on Fridays.

“We have lead tutors who run each Zoom session and use breakout rooms for individual tutoring appointments,” they said. “Students can expect their tutors to help them read assigned texts closely, to develop independent claims and to organize their thinking as they draft their papers.”

Students can find the enrollment form on the Rutgers Writing Centers’ website, they said. Once they have enrolled, students are given access to The Digital Writing Center Canvas site and are scheduled for one 80-minute session per week with one of more than 150 experienced tutors.

“This fall, we have close to 1200 tutees, so there’s been some drop off,” they said. “(But), students have enrolled consistently throughout the semester, as opposed to the normal surges we see at the start of the semester, and ... after students receive their first paper grade.”

Masiello and Perryman said that while more students have not reached out for help compared to a typical semester, they are noticing that students are choosing to continue their sessions with tutors beyond the initial five sessions they registered for.

“We suspect this might be because some students miss the type of daily interaction with classmates and teachers that a semester on campus provides,” they said. 

The Writing Centers have also expanded their tutoring hours for international students struggling with time zone differences and are providing specialized tutoring for students involved with the Office of Disability Services and the College Support Program, they said.

Additionally, the Centers will be partnering with the Rutgers English Language Institute to further train their tutors during the upcoming spring semester.

“Our administrative team, Grace Kincaid, Marie Freibergs and Christopher Wolfe, has been incredible, and there is absolutely no way this would have worked without their dedication, flexibility and know-how,” they said.


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