by Steffanie Triller Fry
“The lonely writer” has long been declared a myth by social epistemic composition theorists. No longer do we believe that writing involves sitting alone at a desk late into the night penning pages and even volumes of work before ever sharing a single word with a reader. Nevertheless, this is exactly how many SNL Online students undoubtedly feel as they tackle Research Seminar and Advanced Project, sitting at their computers late into the night after kids and partner have gone to sleep, struggling to find the right word or the right place to put the period in APA citation format while their brain would rather wander to other things: work, family, non-existent social life, and sleep.
When these student writers need a place to turn for help, they do have options: DePaul’s Writing Center tutors review Advanced Projects, but most of them have never completed one, and the Writing Center usually expects students to show up with a draft, however rough. But where can the student go for help in developing that draft? In forming a research question in the first place? The AP Online course includes the assignment to create “Working Groups,” but some students struggle to find camaraderie in the Discussion Forum, and these groups often fizzle for lack of participation.
Nontraditional adult students who are often distance learners require creativity and flexibility from the institutions that provide them with services (Compton, Cox, and Santos Laanan 78). Some institutions, like Empire State, have online writing centers. While DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning does provide services that are accessible to fully online students, it does not provide creative and flexible services designed for the adult online population. Additionally, SNL students have demonstrated that they prefer SNL-specific writing help: in a recent Student Satisfaction Survey, 82% reported that their writing improved “Quite a bit” or “Very much” after attending a Boot Camp in contrast to the 41% of students who reported that their writing improved “Quite a bit” or “Very much” after working with a Writing Center tutor.
But the Writing Boot Camps, evening sessions that take place in a computer lab 4 times each quarter, are not accessible to most distance learners. To this end, the SNL Writing Program recently created “Writing Hangouts” that are currently facilitated by Student Support Coordinator and Part-time faculty member, Nicholas Hayes. I was the lucky Advanced Project Online Course instructor who piloted the first Writing Hangouts. My Winter Quarter students were required to attend two Hangouts with Nicholas. In the course Q&A discussion, one student highlighted their formative function: “The hangout is basically like going to a class where you can formulate your questions about your current writing difficulties with your AP, or any questions related.” Few resources provide students help in the development of a paper. This is one of them.
Hangouts fulfill 4 out of 8 of CAEL’s “Principles of Effectiveness for Serving Adult Learners” (CAEL). Adult learners are known to spend less time in extracurricular activities than younger students. They also spend less time chatting with peers about their courses, and can sometimes struggle to work in groups because of conflicting work and family commitments. Adult students rarely “hang out.” Distance students have the opportunity even more infrequently. O’Donnell and Tobbell argue that students must engage in dialogue with one another in order to become legitimate peripheral participants in the higher education community of practice. In one of the Hangouts, two students arrived to the chat room early and began discussing their projects, independent of the facilitator. The Writing Hangout provided them with the opportunity to participate in this community of practice.
I must admit that, as their instructor, I feel a bit guilty. All I did was require students to attend two Writing Hangouts. Then, I sat back and watched as their projects grew more developed, more thoroughly researched, and better analyzed. I have always been impressed by what students could produce in 10 weeks, with some support. I am now more impressed than ever before.
SNL has long believed that reflection leads to deeper, more connective, more impactful learning. But the Advanced Project Course now demands that students complete a capstone experience that demonstrates both prior and new learning, and reflection, more quickly than ever before. To support them as they go, SNL Writing will continue to offer this opportunity to Hang Out to students completing Advanced Project and Research Seminar in the Spring and Summer Quarters. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to invite your students to attend Writing Hangouts.
CAEL. “8 Principles of Effectiveness for Serving Adult Learners.” The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. http://www.cael.org/
Compton, Jonathan I., Elizabeth Cox, and Frankie Santos Laanan. "Adult learners in transition." New directions for student services 2006.114 (2006): 73-80.
O'Donnell, Victoria L., and Jane Tobbell. "The transition of adult students to higher education: Legitimate peripheral participation in a community of practice?." Adult Education Quarterly 57.4 (2007): 312-328.