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Cat Sar: When did you work at the UofL writing center?

Carolyn Skinner: 2003 and 2004, and 2004 and 2005.

C: And were you an MA, or a PhD student?

CS: A PhD student. 

C: Yeah, Bronwyn had mentioned that you were an assistant director for some of that time. 

CS: Yeah, all that time, yeah. 

C: Cool. That takes care of my second question. So who were some other tutors 1:00you worked with, and I don't know if they were called tutors then--

CS: Wow. So the other PhD students are going to be easier for me to remember. Anne-Marie Pedersen, Dan Keller, Stephen Neiderheiser, Jo Ann Griffin. I feel like I am leaving out very important people. Alicia Brazeau was there too, Matt Dowell...there were two Romanian masters students and I can't remember their names. I think Anca Iancu was one of them. I know there were more, but those are the people who are coming to mind. It was like--when I got the first email about 2:00this, I thought, "that was longer than I remember it being."

C: Okay, well so can you tell me a little bit about the training that you went through in the writing center, or even if you--because since you were assistant director you probably facilitated some trainings too.

CS: Mhm, mhm. Yeah I don't remember, most of my writing center training would have been in my MA program before I got to Louisville. I do remember sitting in on Carol Mattingly's writing center class, and leading a discussion on something, but I don't remember what. Yeah, that's all I remember there. 

C: Okay. Yeah. How would you describe the structure of the program while you 3:00were here?

CS: The Writing Center?

C: Mhm.

CS: Like administratively, or...?

C: I mean, I guess however you want to approach that question, I'd be interested to hear about the administration, or I mean so like right now we have--we do class in the fall, all the MA students do a class in the fall, as we're working in the writing center, to learn about theory, practice, and all that. So that kind of thing, or administratively. 

CS: There was a class, I think it was in the fall, but I'm not a hundred percent sure on that. I remember also that they would record sessions, and use that. There was an IRB, a standing IRB approval to record sessions and use that as part of the training for the tutors. And also to collect information about writing center work more broadly...beyond just an individual professional 4:00development piece. Administratively, there was a faculty director, there was a staff person, I don't know what her official title was, if she was an associate or assistant director or something like that. There was a staff person who worked the front desk, there were...I want to say like four or five PhD students who were assistant directors. And most of the tutoring was done by the MA students--tutors. And the PhD associate directors, or assistant, I can't remember right now, had different responsibilities. So, I was kind of in the writing across the curriculum piece of it. I think that was me and Anne-Marie. 5:00Someone else was a little more in charge of the day-to-day in the writing center, and then there were other people who worked with the writing center's research project. 

C: Bronwyn had mentioned that you were part of the Health Sciences campus writing center. 

CS: Yes! Yeah, okay, yeah, I just remembered that before you called. Yeah, so one day a week I drove down to the school of nursing, and I went and sat at a desk there for a few hours, and it was like me and an APA book, and I don't know--my wits. I didn't have a lot there with me. And students would come, and we'd do little writing center sessions at the school of nursing. 

C: Cool, yeah. I have not been down to the HSC campus and seen what all that is 6:00about, but I would assume the volume was a lot less than on the main campus. 

CS: And I was, I think, technically I was only supposed to see nursing students. 

C: Oh, okay. 

CS: I think I remember students who were maybe in the medical school or something, but I primarily just served nursing students. And yeah, there were days where I'd go and sit there for three hours and no one would come, and then, you know, when papers were due, more people would show up. Yeah, I liked doing it, and it fit really well into my research interests into medical writing and things, so it kind of--it wasn't my intention in agreeing to do it, that it would line up together like that, but it kind of did. 

C: Cool, let's see. Oh, so, can you describe what you remember about working 7:00with writers? What was rewarding, what was a challenge? 

CS: I've worked with so many writers, it's hard to remember the ones at Louisville like as a different category from all writers. I remember working in the summer with engineering students who were doing their internship reports. The challenge there was that many of them would not want to come to the writing center. It was like a requirement of completing the internship report was that they had to bring it to the writing center. So I had some pretty engaged sessions that they were just there to kind of like check the box that they had been there. So there's that. Some of the rewarding sessions that I remember where with like international students, or students who English was not their first language. And I--in the writing center was where it hit me, how hard those 8:00students were working to--and how much I respected them, because I just thought, how I would be at a total loss if I were in their shoes. And that was kind of a revelation to me. Another session--this is not exactly your question--but a session that I remember, because I tell this story every semester. I teach the writing center training class at my school now, so I tell this story every semester. And I remember working with a writer who had a book or something that she was using as a source over on one side of the table and then she had her notes in the middle of the table, and then the paper she was working on on the other side. And I watched her copy down an idea from her book into her notes, and then she like took her notes and put it in her paper. And she plagiarized. But she didn't realize that that's what she'd done, because there was that step 9:00in the middle where she was taking notes where she didn't put quotations around it or didn't like identify in her notes somewhere. And so that was cool for me because I saw how in the writing center you have the potential to intervene in the middle of the writing process. Which I know is like something we say all the time about writing center work, but like, I watched it happen, and I was like "nooooo wait!" And I thought, if this student had been working at home on this, no one would have known until it was too late that she had done that. So, I use that story to both talk about how plagiarism can be accidental but then also what an important moment you have when you're tutoring, to step in to somebody's process and redirect it. 


C: Yeah, yeah. For sure. 

CS: So I guess there were some students that stood out for me. 

C: Yeah, yeah. There's those sessions that kind of...stick with you and--for different and weird reasons sometimes. 

CS: Yeah. 

C: So yeah, that kind of answers my other question that I was going to ask about strategies that you learned in the writing center that you still use today. 

CS: You know what, when I conference with my first or second year writing students, I run them very much like writing center sessions a lot of the time. I will sit with a writer and read the paper with them and read it out loud even, and do the "well this is what I was expecting, but then it kind of went this other direction," the like, doing the responding as a reader thing. So, all that I do carry a lot into what I do as a classroom teacher. 


C: That's awesome that you devote so much time to those one on ones. I'm just imagining, you know, however many students you have, doing the process with them. 

CS: Well, and I should say, they are probably more like modified writing center sessions, you know. And I choose my moments, it's not like every time I talk to students that it's--it depends on what I want to accomplish in the session. And I mostly have small classes. 

C: That's nice. Let's see...if you can remember any sort of specific or general issues that students asked about in terms of writing and things that you thought the writing center did effectively or not so effectively. 

CS: Well when I was at the school of nursing, the students all wanted help with 12:00their APA documentation. And that's one of those that's like, yeah sure I'm happy to help you with that, but I would actually get their grading rubric out and be like, that's five points. The fact that you don't have a thesis is like fifty points, and don't you think maybe we should talk about your argument? And, sometimes I was more or less successful at convincing them to think about the bigger issues, but it kind of became clear to me that the APA thing was something they felt like they could control, that they felt like it could be objectively right or wrong, and so they wanted to fix that. And maybe they thought that was where I could be helpful, and they didn't think that I could be helpful with an argument for a nursing paper or something but that's one thing I really remember students coming to ask me for help about. You said things that the writing center did effectively. I just remember it being busy a lot of the 13:00time, I mean so there was something in the PR and in the effectiveness of the sessions that brought people in and kept them coming back. So I think that they did that well. I think the tutors were well trained. And...that's what I can think of right now. 

C: Did you all do classroom visits or things like that? Do you remember doing any of that, or maybe it was the MA students that did it?

CS: I did classroom visits through my position as the WAC associate director. So a faculty member would invite--I mean from across the disciplines--would invite a graduate student to come in and I would give a workshop on thesis statements. Or I would give a workshop on, here are six different options for how you could organize your paper. So I did those kind of writing concepts specific workshops 14:00in classrooms. But not in the--I don't think I did the five minute, go in and introduce the writing center spiel. I don't even remember that the MA students did that, at the time. I could be wrong, but my biggest connection with the classroom would have been through writing across the disciplines concept focused workshops. And we also did some faculty workshops on teaching writing across the discipline too, where faculty were the audience. I don't remember that much about them, I just remember that they happened. 

C: Yeah. I know you said that you worked a lot with nursing students because you were at the HSC, you had those hours, but when you did those workshops, the writing across the curriculum or discipline, were there particular majors that 15:00seemed to respond better or...were more involved? 

CS: You know, I don't even remember which disciplines I went to speak to. So I don't know the answer to that. That's a good question. 

C: It's always interesting to see if there's a--I think it would be nice if there was some sort of pattern you could locate, and say okay: this group of students seem to be responding really well to this type of session, and this group is different, but I think ultimately it might just be random. 

CS: And it might be the topic of the classes, or what--how much the faculty member is emphasizing writing in that class, or how the faculty member incorporated what I did into their class before and after I was there. So yeah, there's a lot of stuff, a lot of factors. 

C: Yeah. 

CS: Yeah. 

C: Well, what did down time look like in the writing center? Between sessions?


CS: So, I know that the writing center used to be up on the second floor of the library. You guys are on the first floor now, right? So there was a like a little staff lounge space that the MA students hung out in. There also, if you went around the back, there was the space that the PhD associate directors were in. And so, I didn't tutor that much, most of my time was back in that room. And the downtime didn't function in the same way for me, because I wasn't there to tutor so much, as to get some of the other like administrative work done. The other thing that I spent a lot of time on was the writing center's research 17:00project. One of the years I was there was one of the years that the survey was done. And so there was another assistant director who was in charge of running the data and working with the statistician to make meaning out of that data. But I was one of the people--I think there were five of us. Oh--Iswari Pandey was another of the PhD assistant directors. And we wrote an article for the writing center journal based on that data. So that was a big chunk of time in one of my years. And so my time in the writing center wasn't kind of structured around, oh I've got an appointment at 10 and then down time at 11, or whatever, it was kind of like--I need to go in and spend five hours getting work done. 

C: Gotcha. 

CS: Towards my ten hours a week or whatever.

C: Can you tell me more about the research project you were working on?


CS: Yeah. We--well I don't know about we--the writing center's research project was housed at UofL for a while. And it collected data every so many years on--it surveyed writing center directors and would collect things like: how many tutors do you have, how many hours do they work, what are you paying your tutors, how are you preparing your tutors, how many students do you see, how long are your sessions? So like, kind of logistical, administrative questions about how the writing center's run, and like where they are situated in the university. So like is your writing center in the English department, primarily to serve first year writing? Is it in the university, so like reporting to the provost, or somebody higher up in the university, and then the writing center serves the whole university. So things like that. Kind of structural, logistic-y kinds of 19:00things. And so we collected that data. Let's see. I wrote a section of the article about tutors and I remember a piece--a chunk of it was about how they were paid. Yeah. 

C: Cool. Do you have--I mean what is your take on where the writing center--I don't know if I want to say like "should" be located, but I know that there is sort of a debate surrounding that, about the writing center's function within the university, apart, or outside of...?

CS: It depends on what you want the writing center to do and be. You know? Because I know that one model is, you have a writing center for the business school, and you have a writing center for the medical school, right? So you'd 20:00have kind of like a writing centers in the disciplines kind of thing. And I can see the appeal of that. But I do kind of like the center for writing, you know. So my answer would be that it depends on what kind of school you are, and so I'm on a pretty small campus that mostly serves first year students who are going to campus, to change to the central campus after their first of second year, and so for us it makes sense to have a writing center for the whole campus. Knowing that we're primarily going to--that most of our traffic is going to be people in first year writing classes. Or developmental writing classes, because like 50% of our student population is first year students. And so that model makes sense to me. I've also been kind of working towards the idea of the writing center 21:00actually being a center for writing for the campus. So making it not just, "oh here's where you go when you get a bad grade on a paper, or because you're worried about getting a bad grade on a paper," but like, "cool! this is kind of the center of gravity for where writing can--where you can talk about writing and have ideas about writing and test out writing and get new ideas and strategies for writing." So I like that model, but I like that model for me. For my campus and my situation. And that's always the thing about writing centers, right? Every answer is contextual, if you read the scholarship on writing centers it's always like, "this is what works for us, but I know you're different, so...see if it's worth it to you, and adapt it as you need it." 

C: Yeah, for sure, for sure. Let's see, we're skimming through some of these 22:00questions. Did the writing center go through changes while you were here, that you remember?

CS: Yeah, so my writing across the curriculum appointment was not--I can't remember if it happened before I took the position or after, but originally the writing across the curriculum piece was not associated with the writing center, it was with another faculty member. And so that was a change that happened around when I was working in the writing center. The writing center kind of absorbed writing across the curriculum. That was a thing that changed. We got more space. We kind of annexed a chunk of the library next to the writing 23:00center. And we got a new front desk person. That's the stuff that I can think of. 

C: What about technology? What was that like?

CS: I remember that we--the main writing center consulting space, there were computers all the way around the walls. Like there were individual consulting tables kind of floating in the middle of the--not floating, but like scattered in the middle of the room. And there were computers up along the walls, I guess I should say two of the walls because the other side was all windows. And there were--you could go work at a computer with a client, there were also--there was also a printer and a copier in the room. I think that our practice was that if a 24:00student brought it in on a flash drive, was that you'd print it. If they bring in one copy, even, you'd print a second copy so that you and the writer could both have a copy. So it was still kind of the default to work on paper. Although there were computers, and I think that that move was kind of like, "okay we've had our session, now you can go work at this computer if you want to stay here and keep working on your project." But it was still really paper based. Whereas I think the tutors I am working with now are almost all doing their sessions with a laptop between them or a table between them and they're skipping the step of printing that we used to do. 

C: Mhm. Yeah. That's pretty similar to us here. 

CS: And I mean there were, I can't remember how many computers there were back in the PhD assistant director space, but there were some computers back there 25:00too. Yeah, the students would sign in on a computer when they came in. There was a computer out kind of by the entry way, and I think signed in there. I think they were all walk-ins though. I could be wrong about that, but I don't remember there being big deal about appointments. 

C: Okay, so there wasn't like a scheduling--could you schedule ahead of time, or did it have to be a walk-in, or...?

CS: I think you could schedule ahead of time, I just don't think that was the kind of default mode. Yeah. I think that they did sign in once they got there, and they provided some kind of personal information, contact information. 

C: Yeah, and so after a session, I know you didn't do a lot of sessions, but do you remember doing like client report forms, things like that where you had to summarize what you did in the session and log that somewhere? 


CS: It feels like I should have, but I don't remember doing it. Like every other writing center--because what's weird is that every other writing center that I worked at, I did, but I can't remember doing it at Louisville. Like I have specific memories of doing it at my MA program and in my current position, but I cannot remember doing it at Louisville. 

C: I'll check with Bronwyn, maybe he'll know. 

CS: Yeah, I mean I kind of wonder if you know, I know that different writing centers have different philosophies about like, do you tell the classroom teacher that you saw a student, and report back, or is that kind of like a confidentiality thing, or, like what's the writing center's responsibility to the classroom and I can't remember what the philosophy was at Louisville at that time for that. 

C: Yeah. And I guess it--you may or may not remember the amount of professors 27:00who had requirements to come into the writing center...maybe that, I mean I feel--I think that that has sort of increased with time. 

CS: I mean those engineering students that I talked about had to come in, so I wonder if I did like sign a paper or something. I just don't remember it. 

C: That's okay. I had a question...oh, I was going to ask about like the difference that you've seen since going from primarily paper based sessions to computer or tablet. What kind of--are there differences that you've noticed in how you might facilitate a discussion, or a session with a student?

CS: So, I mean this is kind of also happened alongside of me being a graduate 28:00student to me being a faculty member. And so, what I know about the computer based or tablet based sessions is mostly through my tutors, rather than me doing hands-on tutoring. I had a thing come up in class just a couple weeks ago, where the--so these are some people who have maybe been tutoring for a few months, or are hoping to become tutors. And one or two of the ones who have already been tutoring asked me what I thought they should do because they're looking at student's work on their iPads and they have not turned their notifications off. And so they said they're getting like naked selfies in the middle of the session, and they're like what do I do? And I was just like--I mean--

C: I have never had that, I mean the notification thing, yes. 

CS: And it happened more than once, like it wasn't--another tutor agreed that 29:00this happens. And they were like, we just hurry up and finish the session because we were uncomfortable. And I was like, "okay, that's fair." And we kind of came round with maybe that part of your like agenda setting, like "hi," introductions thing is like, "okay let's turn off your notifications," so that things don't pop up. But that's something that I definitely never worried about when I was working on paper. For sure. But I think that it--it also changes the question of, you know, there's always this big deal about who's in control of the paper. And the laptop or tablet can make it more obvious, because it's like a heavier thing, I don't know how to explain it, like this material--it's like a bigger thing to do than just to scoot a paper over, would be to like take the laptop away from you and start typing. And so the whole like, are we--how do you 30:00share this work, or how to you collaborate over top of this paper kind of changes a little bit, if that makes sense. And then also things like taking notes in a session also looks different, because like I used to take notes, I'd like just flip their paper over and start taking notes, if they were brainstorming, I liked to take notes for them, or if we were like mocking up an organization scheme, I'd just flip their paper over and start writing it out. Or have them write it out. And if they just come in with their laptop or their tablet, that's a little bit weird because you either need to find them a new piece of paper, or open a new tab, or you know, something and have--yeah--and also you kind of lose the tactile, which I don't know, feels important to--because it's part of how I like to learn and think is like to scratch things out on paper and there's some people who really like the stylus and the...being able to draw and scribble on their tablet thing too, which maybe does the same 31:00thing. I don't know, I'm just sort of spouting things now about the materiality of tutoring, I guess, but...oh, I think that the other thing that has been really good is how many more faculty are putting their assignments up on the course manage software. So you're not dependent on the student to remember to bring the assignment sheet. You can just say, well why don't you go log on and let's get this assignment sheet so that we all know we're talking about the same thing here. And things like, I don't think tutors sit with handbooks on the tables anymore because they'll just like pull up the Purdue Owl or they'll Google something or whatever, which is kind of actually better, because if you think about what you're modeling for students, the students are always going to 32:00have their phone or laptop or something there, so that's the way they are going to--if they need to look something up, that's what they're going to do. They're not going to be like, "where's my handbook?" You know? So in some ways I think that's a great improvement. Yeah. 

C: Yeah. Let's see. I don't have any more like prepared questions, but if there's anything that comes to mind that I haven't asked about, or anything that you just would like to share...?

CS: I'm sure I'll think of things later. But I think we talked about everything--because I was trying to like refresh my memory before you called. And I think we've talked about everything. Writing that article and getting it published was a really big deal for me being a graduate student, so that was an 33:00important thing. Yeah. 

C: Yeah, I mean it's been interesting to hear more about the research side because as an MA student, I'm just completely entrenched in the tutoring sessions, so. 

CS: Yeah. Oh, we were--I think we were also assigned a couple tutors to be our mentees. I think that was another part of the training structure. 

C: Yeah. We do that as well. 

CS: We would like sit in on a couple of their sessions early on, and offer feedback, or kind of co-tutor early on and they observed us, and then we observed them, that's right. And then we were kind of their contact person for a while. I think that's all I can remember. 

C: That's fine! Thank you so much for your time. 


CS: Oh, actually, can I tell you one other thing? 

C: Of course!

CS: Which is how much my writing center work still kind of reverberates for me--like I was just saying that I tell that story tutoring in the writing center at Louisville today, like I don't know, 12 or 15 years later. Like I'm still telling that story in my classes and as the writing program administrator on a small campus, I kind of get to do all the writing things, like have a hand in the writing center, I have a hand in the writing across the curriculum and my main responsibly right now is like the first and second year writing program but having worked in the writing center lets me speak to a lot of different things that I don't think I would have if I had not either been a tutor or like an assistant director at the writing center. 

C: Oh, here's one thing, did you ever use the writing center, while you were here? Did you come in to a session and have someone read your work? 


CS: Not that I can think of. I mean I know that when we were drafting that article, we would pass it around among the other PhD students, there were like five of us collaborating on it. But that was more collaborative writing than a writing center session kind of thing. I don't think I did that, I know that happens a lot, but no I don't think I did that. 

C: Okay. I just wanted to ask. Alright, well yeah, thank you so much for your time! And I will email you the consent form once I figure out where it is.

CS: Okay.

C: It was nice to talk to you. 

CS: It was nice to talk to you too. 

C: Bye!

CS: Bye!