Assessing the Feasibility of Online Writing Support for Technical Writing Students

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation unites two seemingly unrelated fields, writing centers and technical writing, to study the feasibility of creating an online technical writing resource. Despite prolonged attention to multiliteracies and collaboration in both subfields, writing centers and technical writing do not commonly implicate one another in their shared mission of shaping students to become savvy writers with an awareness of rhetorical concepts and situations. This dissertation establishes how complementary these two fields are based upon their shared pedagogies of collaboration and multiliteracies. I suggest that a service design approach is beneficial to writing center research. Similarly, the technical writing field has little research and scholarship dedicated specifically to online writing instruction and pedagogy.

Historically, writing centers have served students from all disciplines, but research demonstrates the effectiveness of specialist over generalist writing support. Taking a specialist perspective, I use service design methodology to gather input from student and instructor stakeholders about how online writing tutoring and web resources can address their needs. Using survey and interview data, I designed and piloted an online tutoring service for students enrolled in the Technical Writing service course at Virginia Tech.

In student and instructor surveys, participants reported that they were highly unlikely to use online tutoring sessions but were more likely to use a course-specific website. Additionally, student interviews revealed that the Writing Center is not necessarily a highly-used resource, especially for upper-level students. Instructor interviewees indicated some misunderstandings and limited views of the Writing Center's mission. Nevertheless, a small number of participants in both groups spoke to a need for specialized tutoring in the Technical Writing course.

In terms of feasibility, integration of online services for this course poses the greatest challenge because it relates to the amount of change needed to successfully integrate online tutoring or web resources into the curriculum. With some attention to how OWLs and synchronous online tutoring can be an asset to teaching technical writing online, I argue that the pilot project described in this study is relatively feasible.



technical writing, writing center, online writing tutoring, online writing instruction