Following spring break, the University of Maine System will be switching to remote learning through online classes, leaving many campus classrooms and offices empty in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The effects of this decision will be felt in room 402 of Neville Hall on UMaine’s Orono campus, also known as the UMaine Writing Center, as it will no longer serve as a meeting space for writers in search of peer-to-peer tutoring.
To continue to serve the UMaine community, the UMaine Writing Center has transitioned its tutoring services entirely online to enable continued assistance to their community despite the partial campus closure.
Established in 1978, the Writing Center has worked for over 40 years to improve the relationship between UMaine’s undergraduate, graduate, staff and faculty writers and their writing through collaborative tutoring. The Writing Center assists the UMaine community with a variety of writing styles and projects, including science writing, creative writing, analytical writing, presentations, literature reviews, as well as finding and citing sources.
“When we learn together and support each other it makes our community stronger. We are an ‘in-house’ student-staffed resource. We are not an outsourced for-profit tutoring agency. When you schedule with us, UMaine students receive experience by educating, learning from, and connecting with each other in our community,” English Department Chair Steven Evans, and Writing Center Director Paige Mitchell said in an announcement to faculty and students.
The Writing Center staff is comprised of 15 tutors trained in workshopping, writing conventions and academic prose across genres. These undergraduate and graduate tutors will provide 96 half-hour-long appointments every week through the Writing Center’s move to online tutorials.
“We’re making the best of this situation. Although remote instruction is not ideal, we’re looking forward to fully activating our online literacy training. We’ve been tutoring online since 2016,” Mitchell said. “I think our toughest hurdle is moving to a virtual environment from a highly interactive one where we see each other daily and work together in the same spaces. We’ll miss seeing and supporting each other by simply being on campus together. But, the Writing Center is in a strong position to still provide a sense of community through empathetic one-on-one interaction.”
While tutors will be available during unscheduled appointment openings, the Writing Center suggests scheduling in advance to ensure assistance and allow tutors and tutees to prepare for their appointment. Clients are encouraged to schedule as many appointments as needed for their projects.
The Writing Center will have appointments available Monday through Friday, with varying hours each day. By visiting the “About the Tutors” page of their website, UMaine community members in need of assistance can learn more about each tutor’s specializations and experience.
“Our tutors are trained to listen and discuss important issues regarding student work, which inevitably leads to discussing student’s sense of well being, and their experiences in our community. We support much more than writing in the Writing Center,” Mitchell said.
Third-year communication and economics student Kate Follansbee serves as one of the Writing Center’s co-tutor coordinators. Because of COVID-19, Follansbee was sent home from her semester studying abroad in Mannheim, Germany. While this means she was not directly affected by UMaine’s transition to remote instruction, she is managing her own relocation and the conversion to online classes from her host school. She sees this transition as an opportunity for the Writing Center to help students evolve to a new way of learning.
“We are a group of peers who are here to help with any project you are working on, and we will continue to support you now that we have moved online,” Follansbee said. “Our online platform has a video call feature, a messaging area, and a space to upload and edit projects. These features make the tutorial feel more like an in-person tutorial, and the ability to copy and paste your conversation is a valuable way to take what you have learned with you to apply to future projects.”
Every tutor is trained to help a dynamic range of students and assist across writing styles and formats. In addition to peer-tutors, professionally trained UMaine student writing consultants, the Writing Center has three ELL-Tutors, or English Language Learner specialists, trained to work with multilingual writers.
“We understand how hard it is for students who have to completely shift the way that they work,” Follansbee said. “Whether that be moving back home or having less time to meet with their professors. We want to help students feel confident in their work and supported every step of the way.”
The Writing Center’s services are available for free to all UMaine community members. More information on how to prepare for and schedule an appointment can be found at https://umaine.edu/wcenter/. Follow the link labeled “COVID-19 ONLINE SUPPORT PLAN” for specific instruction on the new online operations.