How does the DEWC work?
The Debby Ellis Writing Center offers one-on-one consulting for all student writers at Southwestern. The Center, located in Mood 306, is open for walk-ins Sunday through Thursday 7-10 p.m. and by appointment other times (see online scheduler). At the center of our mission and our methodology is conversation: writers sit down with consultants and discuss their work in progress, even if there is nothing yet on paper. Consultants are prepared to help with anything from assignment interpretation, to invention and idea-generating, to organization and sequencing of ideas, to citation style, document design and format, and final editing and proofreading.
Who works at the DEWC and how are they trained?
The DEWC is staffed exclusively with students. Almost all of them have taken and successfully completed the upper-division English course, The Teaching of Writing, taught by me, Dr. Piedmont-Marton. Some subject-area specialist consultants in Natural Sciences and Social Sciences have been trained through internships and mentoring by experienced consultants.
Will consultants know how to help my students?
Yes, but you can help them do better by writing clear, explicit, and purposeful assignments. Please be very explicit about what kind of documentation style (APA, MLA, Chicago, CHE, etc) you would like your students to us, and please be advised that the guidelines for all styles change frequently, and that your own practice may be outdated. You can also help us help your students by sending us copies of sample papers, rubrics, or any other guidelines you ask students to follow. Finally, well-trained generalist readers can do a great deal to help a writer working in a discipline other than her own.
Can I get a report about my students’ visits to the DEWC?
Yes, maybe. As you will see, there are many places where this system can break down, but our aim is true, and we are always working to improve. The consultant should ask the writer if he wants an email sent to his professor. If the student says “yes,” then the consultant should remember to send one. In the email, the consultant will describe what they worked on, but will refrain from evaluating the paper or the student. Keep in mind that notes may be less informative than you might like, in part because the consultant may choose not to reveal information that may be prejudicial to the student (“Harvey came in to work on generating a thesis,” for a paper due the next day, for example).
What could go wrong with this plan, you ask. The consultant can forget to ask the student or ask and then forget to send the email, but another scenario is more likely. The student may not want the DEWC to send you an email. Please remember that students have this right even if you ask them to send a note. If you want a reliable record of student usage of the DEWC, my advice is that you ask students to self-report their DEWC history as part of the honor pledge. If you ask that students not use the DEWC on a particular assignment, they are bound by the Honor Code not to use our services. Except as they are bound also by the Honor Code, student consultants at the DEWC will not be asked to report on the activity of other students.
Why are there still errors in the paper if the student took it to the DEWC?
Good question. There are many things that account for this. First, the DEWC is not a proof-reading or editing service. Yes, we can help with those things, but one student cannot be responsible for “cleaning up” the surface of another student’s paper. Second, we don’t’ know what happens to the paper after the writer leaves the DEWC and before he turns it in. It’s possible that the consultant indicated to the writer where she needed to make corrections and edits, and then she did not do so. It’s also possible that the consultant made the judgment that his and the writer’s attention were better spent on articulating a clear thesis for the paper instead of final editing. Finally, I suppose it’s possible that the student misunderstood the consultant – or the consultant completely misunderstood the professor’s implicit style constraints – and the visit to the DEWC actually created errors in the text. But, in all cases, the final text is the responsibility of the student writer.
Should I require some or all of my students to visit the DEWC?
Oh, please don’t. We know you mean well when you do that, but it doesn’t work very well. Students who are compelled to visit the DEWC are often resistant, disengaged, or hostile, and are thus very hard to work with. They take time and resources that could go to students who genuinely want to work on their writing. Also, if you require students to visit, they tend to arrive in a large group, which is impossible to accommodate since we rarely have more than 3 people working each shift. Then they’re cranky and say nasty things about the DEWC, and you’re cranky because you promised people credit or threatened to subtract points, based on their attendance at the DEWC, and then you say nasty things about us and we are sad and frustrated, and we could – but would never – say nasty things about you. We are also keenly aware that we can’t require you not to require.
Is the DEWC compliant with the Honor Code?
Yes. You may wish to ask students to acknowledge their work with the DEWC in the pledge, or conversely, to ask that they attest they did not visit the DEWC, but otherwise Southwestern recognizes the DEWC as a part of the teaching and learning process.
Can DEWC consultants help a student with a substantial project like a capstone, research or honors thesis?
Yes. These are the kinds of projects that many consultants love. The best plan is to ask your student to visit the DEWC and talk to a consultant about finding the right match to someone who wants to work with him on a long-term project. Then the writer and consultant can simply make a plan and a schedule and get to work.
Can the DEWC help a student who really struggles with writing at the college level?
Yes, if the student is motivated and committed to a long-term project. If a student makes visits to the DEWC a regular part of his writing practice, then he will see real gains in confidence and control over his prose. It is not reasonable, however, for faculty or students to expect instant and miraculous remediation for students who find themselves struggling with writing at Southwestern, but with work and time and patience, these students will improve.
Can I use the DEWC?
Yes, please do. You are more than welcome to bring in a piece you’re working on and get a reader’s point o f view. One of the most useful things you can do, moreover, is make an appointment to chat with an expert student consultant about your writing assignments and guidelines. Keep in mind that DEWC consultants have read many, many more assignments than any of us. They know which ones make students frustrated and which ones they respond to with alacrity and joy (yes, really!). They can also point out the very obvious stuff we always forget to include.