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Thoughts from an Online Writing Consultant

By Emily Koonce

When the semester began, everything felt normal. Sure, the Writing Center was a little slower than usual, but traffic always ebbs and flows. Week after week, I worked my usual five hours and relished the routine of sitting down next to students, reading off their laptops, helping them with their essays, and getting to know them. As students got rubrics out of their backpacks or filled out documentation forms, we could chat about the day so far or their lives in general. I learned about a golden retriever named Suzie that loves to run across the Cone-Bottoms lawn and the reasons a freshman changed her major three times over the span of a few weeks. Through revising person essays, I gain insight on someone’s family or roommate situations. When I offer them candy, I can even get an idea of their opinions on Reese’s peanut butter cups. Even when I’m overwhelmed by my own coursework and schedule, consulting is always the highlight of my week.

And then, college campuses across the country—including Ouachita—closed their campuses and sent students home. Classes were moved online as we all tried (and try) to complete our assignments remotely. It’s hard to adjust from learning in the small, intimate atmosphere that we love about Ouachita to being at home, surrounded by distractions and only to see some of the people we love through a screen.

One of my concerns had to do with the Writing Center, especially with this flip to entirely student-centered learning and because this is exegetical and final essay season. I know that I utilize the Writing Center to a greater extent during this time and that it’s a crucial element of my learning.

Thankfully, we’ve still had the ability to workshop essays with students online—face-to-face over Zoom or FaceTime, depending on the student need (some don’t have Zoom or a good enough connection). We’re allowed to be a bit more flexible now (my hours were moved from the evening to the afternoon), which is helpful for students who have to work or have night classes. To a certain extent, these sessions can also be more focused and productive than in-person meetings. We’re able to cover more material, and students are more willing to stay at the session past the allotted half-hour because, in all honesty, they don’t have anywhere to go. I feel more effective academically. It’s a great growing opportunity for me and the other consultants as well, this test in adaptability.

However, I find myself missing the in-person connection. No matter how friendly I am or how well I know the person, the screen between us is another barrier to genuine communication. I miss tossing a pink Starburst at someone when they were upset or stressed out or just did a good job with their essay. I miss the downtime between sessions when I could turn and chat with the other consultants. More than anything, I miss the “a ha!” moment students would have—that light that goes off behind their eyes.

I don’t know what next semester will look like, but I can’t wait to be back in Speer Writing Center.


The Speer Writing Center continues to schedule Zoom appointments during Finals Week, May 4-May 7, 2020. If you'd like to reserve a session, please email OBUSpeerWritingCenter@gmail.com.

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