Theories, Techniques, and the Impacts of Computer-mediated Conferencing in a University Writing Center: Toward a Model for Training Programs


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Virginia Tech


In 1984, Stephen North said of writing center research: "There is not a single published study of what happens in writing center tutorials" (433). In the eighteen years since then, writing center practitioners and scholars have produced impressive research and development work, but few empirical studies have added to the sub-field of computer-mediated writing conferencing, though there are more than 300 online writing labs, OWLs, listed on the National Writing Centers Association website.

This study started with the understanding that there are significant behavior, communication, and tutoring technique differences between online tutoring and face-to-face tutoring that can affect tutor training, which the research from the fields of computers and composition, computer-mediated communication, and writing centers shows. The purpose of this research was to describe the nature of the online writing lab tutorial.

Qualitative analysis was used to prepare a full picture of the online tutoring sessions of three tutors over a six-week period in the Radford University Writing Center. The researcher took the role of participant/observer/interviewer for the sessions. Interviews and talk during conferences with the tutors, were transcribed, coded and contextualized, adding to the understanding of the tutor?s online work.

Using a functional analysis model created by Gere and Abbott (1985) and applied by Hewett (1999), transcripts of the tutorial conferences were divided by linguistic idea units and coded according to function, intent, and consciousness. Additionally, a coding scheme was created out of the interview transcripts and from the tutorial responses of this study that focused on the technical and social aspects of the online conferencing, which helped objectify the nature of computer-mediated conference.



Electronic Writing, Computer-mediated Conferencing, Tutor Training, Writing Center