How Do We Know If Writing Centers Are Effective
The ability to evaluate whether or not a program is effective is at the heart of all assessment practices. Since Writing Centers have become a mainstay in academia, it is important to be able to assess how and if a particular center is meeting the needs of those it serves. Understanding that any institution’s Writing Center serves a variety of purposes and a variety of people, it follows that assessment will be conducted with varying degrees of emphasis on certain aspects of the Writing Center. In other words, who is conducting the assessment will ultimately determine the focus of the assessment itself.
For example, Writing Center Administrators will assess the program for different reasons than a Writing Consultant or university faculty. That is, because the overall focus of administrators is the logistics of the program, i.e maintain a facility, supplying resources, making financial and budget decisions, they tend to be more focused on outcomes, usually statistical data, in order to make informed decisions.
University faculty will assess a program’s effectiveness by focusing on the quality of writing they see in class. Writing Consultants may focus on the process of particular students as a way of assessing effectiveness. Although these different entities focus on different aspects, most often the methods for all is surveys, conducted via email, before or after a client consultation or among faculty.
James Bell’s article “When Hard Questions Are Asked” (Writing Center Journal 21.1 (2000) 7–28) is a great source because he discusses the various methodologies of assessment. He also articulates the nature and focus of each method and offers suggestions as to what method would be more appropriate to different capacities in the Writing Center.
Administrative assessment functions to gauge the overall effectiveness of the Writing Center. Its focus incorporates faculty, writing center consultant, and client input, often from assessment conducted in these areas, in order to make staffing and budget decisions that will continue to meet the needs of those it serves.
Writing Consultant Assessment
Writing consultants conduct assessment focusing on not only on their own effectiveness while working with clients, but they also must assess the resources and material they have in order to meet the needs of their clients.
University faculty also assess the Writing Center; often effectiveness is determined by what is considered quality or improvement in student writing. Again it is important to understand how different pedagogies determine particulars ideas and expectations of the Writing Center. Process vs. Product is a familiar spectrum illustrating the range of approaches to effectiveness.
Students and clients of a particular writing center are a very valuable source of information about what aspects of the program are working and which ones may need improvement.