Writing Center Provides Support to Students During the Pandemic Through Online Consulting

By Caitlin Burns | February 19, 2021

By Rikki Rosenthal ’21

The Arcadia University Writing Center has expanded its outreach and engagement throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and adjusted their pedagogical approaches to consultations by providing synchronous consultations through Zoom as well as asynchronous consultations, where students can submit a draft for written feedback through the WCOnline platform. 

Providing a variety of options for online consultations has allowed the Writing Center to assist more students in understanding their writing process. Consultations are available for students at any point in the writing process, such as brainstorming, citations, formatting, generating ideas, or sentence structure. 

“Even though the transition to online consulting has brought challenges, creating a virtual and physical distance during sessions that is keenly felt has also brought clients and consultants closer,” said undergraduate Writing Center consultant Jazmin Collins ’22. “For once, we weren’t meeting in the public space of the Writing Center—we are now meeting clients at their homes and sharing our own with them through Zoom.”

This semester, there are nearly 30 students on the Writing Center  team, including graduate consultants Cambria Gysi ’22, Tori Bissonette ’22, Nicole Hassett ’22, Laura Bristol ’23, and Isabella Perri ’23; and undergraduate consultants Collins, Rikki Rosenthal ’21, Michaela Coll ’22, Courtney Skolka ’21, Nikolai Kachuyevski ’21, Audrey Chin ’24, Hannah Cropper ’23, Casey McMullin ’21, Esther Koudossou ’23, Amanda Sturman ’22, Alex Chin ’22, Humna Rub ’21, Stephanie Quarshie ’22, Tiara Moore ’21, Aliyah Browning ’21, Jordan Carroll ’24, Hayley Iobbi ’22, Kaiya Sutton ’22, Sophia Sar ’21, Priya Tarpley ’21, Ibrahim Sillah ’22, and Sierra Tufts-Sicard ’22. Delaney Dunn ’22 is also on the team as the administrator, ensuring all scheduling and emails are accounted for, which allows the Writing Center to remain efficient and organized in the online setting. 

“Working as a consultant in an online format has challenged me to be a better communicator and a more empathetic person,” said Coll. “I’ve grown comfortable communicating with people online, which has helped me in all aspects of my life. People are connecting to the Writing Center from different countries, time zones, and environments, so it’s important for me to be able to empathize with a client’s needs due to their circumstances.”

Students are nominated by faculty and staff to become consultants based on their exemplary writing skills. The selection process is competitive: Consultants go through extensive training on pedagogy, conducting a successful consultation, working with students of all backgrounds, and remaining professional within a consultation. 

“With asynchronous sessions, I can collaborate with students who are busy or prefer an ‘offline’ option, which is really cool,” said Alex Chin. “Online consulting has expanded my skill set as a consultant and as an individual eager to learn and try new things.” 

English and Composition Instructor Dan Schall has served as director of the Writing Center for the last 10 years. He is also Coordinator of Student Learning at Arcadia. Despite his many responsibilities, Schall has nothing but passion for the work he does at the Writing Center, calling it the best part of his job. 

“My favorite thing is the thrill of working with consultants, getting to see them develop the ability to support students, especially in something as complex as the writing process,” said Schall. “Nearly 30 percent of our appointments were asynchronous last semester, which shows us that we’re providing a service many students already needed. In a time where the obstacles of life make it difficult to attend a live appointment, we’re still able to help students with their writing.”

Online appointments were already a service the Writing Center offered on a limited basis, which has allowed the shift to a fully online modality to be seamless. However, this transition wasn’t only beneficial to clients; consultants also found new approaches to consulting and building rapport.

“In this shared space, I was able to connect with clients much more than before, chatting easily about home lives, the struggles we had with COVID, and the pressures of being at home for school,” said Collins. “We were all facing these challenges together, and it made consultations more comforting than I had ever imagined possible. I was able to find a space of camaraderie with my peers that I truly appreciated during these online semesters.”