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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

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.

  • The University of Louisville conducted such an assessment and has made their material available. The assessment strategy was an email survey sent to various institutions focusing such things as average length of client session, hours of writing center usage, demographics of those served etc.
  • Maintaining Our Balance: Walking the Tightrope of Competing Epistemologies. Eric H. Hobson. Writing Center Journal 13.1 (1992), 65–76. Hobson’s article discusses the importance of understanding a writing center’s epistemological basis when attempting to quantify a particular program’s effectiveness. Different pedagogical approaches often create different expectations of what is effective or not in the Writing Center.
  • Maintaining Writing Center Viability in the Twenty-First Century Muriel Harris The Writing Center Journal 20.2 (2002) 13–22. This is a great reading for all of those involved in writing centers, particular administrators who are making decision about resources as they relate to the rapid shift in social demographics and technological changes.
  • “Directors at the Center: Relationships Across Campus” The Writing Center Director’s Resource Book offers a great article about how to communicate and avoid the frequent miscommunications between program directors and those in administrative positions. The discussion also extends to maintaining relationships with all faculty involved in the writing center.

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.

Faculty Assessment

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.

  • This is a link to a survey sent to university faculty. It’s purpose was to survey the different approaches to writing and writing instruction within particular universities. This is an important aspect because often faculty perceptions about the function of a writing center will have a direct correlation on whether they find it effective or not. The questions provided by the survey are a great starting point for anyone wanting to survey this aspect within their university.

Student/Client Assessment

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.

  • Listed below are some examples of how different institutions structure the evaluation forms which Writing Center clients are asked to complete at the end of their session.
  • For an interesting study about the short term and long term client based perceptions of the Writing Center’s effectiveness (also includes sample survey) see “How Was Your Session at the Writing Center? Pre- and Post-Grade Student Evaluations” by Julie Bauer Morrison and Jean-Paul Nadeau. The Writing Center Journal 23.2 (2003) 25–42.
  • Another study concerning student perceptions of the writing center—“Does Frequency of Visits to the Writing Center Increase Student Satisfaction? A Statistical Correlation Study—or Story” Peter Carino and Doug Enders. Writing Center Journal 22.1 (2001) 83–103—furthers the study of student satisfaction at the writing center based upon quantitative research and discusses possible interpretations of the results.
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Page last modified on July 27, 2007, at 10:04 PM