Highlights from the 2021 Transitions Survey

by Clare Creighton

In February of 2021, the Office of Undergraduate Education launched the Transitions Survey to learn from first-year OSU students and provide insights about the undergraduate student transition experience specific to the Corvallis Campus. The invitation to participate was extended to all first-year students (first-year freshman and first year transfer students) who had matriculated during summer or fall 2020. Of the 4941 students invited, 22.5% answered at least two questions on the survey.

Recently, I had an opportunity to review results from several of the survey’s academic-related questions. While Erin Bird (Transfer Transitions Coordinator) and Megan and Danielle (URSA interns working on this project) are by far the experts on this survey and the analysis, I’d like to reflect on a few of the areas I found intriguing and share ideas for using those insights in our work.

First-year students emphasized academic goals.

Visual listing percentages of responses from 1113 students. 91% Enrolling in my courses. 91% Earning the grades I want. 88% Learning in my courses. 79% Making friends. 53% Physical activity routine.I’ve long been curious about goals that first year students identify for themselves. Question 2 of this survey asked respondents, “During your first few terms enrolled at Oregon State, what were you hoping to accomplish? (Please select all that apply).” Of the 16 options provided, the responses selected by the highest percentage of respondents were “Enrolling in the courses I want,” “Earning the grades I want,” and “Learning in my courses.”

I was surprised by the emphasis on academic goals, as I expected some co-curricular and social engagement goals to factor in as highest priorities as well. As a caveat: learning and earning grades are deeply connected to a student’s social network, sense of belonging, mental health, and support systems and these results don’t undermine those connections. I’m excited that these results offer us a chance to frame ongoing orientation experiences (first-year courses, fall term events) around students’ self-identified priorities. If students name learning, grades, and course access as top priorities, we have an entry point to frame resources and information in service to those goals. If we audit our own orientation and transition support, how often do these topics come up? Are they clearly addressed and visible to students?

Information about motivation, time management, academic support, and advising was identified as key to success.

Visual showing survey responses from 1109 students. 68% Motivation, time management. 64% Academic Support Services. 64% Academic Advising. 55% Costs associated with OSU. 49% Emotional support.Knowing what kind of help is available and how to access it is, in my opinion, a key component of student success. Question 4 of the survey asks students to identify “which of the following types of information are most important to your success at Oregon State. Please select all that apply.” Motivation and time management was the top response, followed by Academic Support Services and Academic Advising. These responses make sense given students’ earlier responses. Motivation and time management seem directly related to academic goals—particularly for students transitioning from a semester system to a quarter system, and especially during remote learning.

At the Academic Success Center, we often field questions about time management tools, breaking down assignments, scheduling exam prep, and more. Perhaps we can work as a campus to make these topics more visible and integrated within conversations, first year courses, advising, and other transition experiences. Students also indicated that they valued information about Academic Support Services and Academic Advising. To me, this calls for more reflection. What type of information do students need to access services? What information is important for them? What services are available? I believe students’ responses to the resource awareness questions can help us begin to answer these questions.

Increased awareness and more information may expand resource utilization.

Respondents were asked to identify categories of services they had used. Those who selected “yes” to having used Academic Services & Offices were asked what made them want to use the service again.  Those who selected “no” they hadn’t used Academic Services & Offices were asked what held them back from using those services. About one third of students who answered this question indicated they “wanted to use it but did not know what to say or how to get started;” a third said they were “intimidated to go by myself;” and 40% said “I did not know how to access the office/service in a remote setting.”

I find these results compelling because I believe they indicate barriers we can address with orientation and way-finding support. Many of us share information about resources, but often this resource exists, and this is its name. These results suggest we could better aid students by clarifying how to access resources, what to expect when they arrive, and how to get started. If we have time and capacity in our conversations, we could more intentionally invite discussion around concerns and barriers, answer questions, and help students develop plans for accessing resources.

Where to next?

I find myself curious to know the degree to which these trends were unique to the remote delivery of classes in fall and winter or if we will see similar patterns when classes are in-person. Lucky for us, Erin will be running this survey each year, and we’ll have more context for how students’ transition to OSU was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and which trends and patterns are more enduring.

If you have additional questions or are interested in more of the findings from the Transition Survey, I encourage you to reach out to Erin Bird (Erin.Bird@oregonstate.ed). The email invitation as well as the questions from the survey itself are available at this link: https://beav.es/Jb7 (Box login required).

Remote End-of-Year Celebrations

It’s that time of year! Many of us are planning end-of-year celebrations and activities to recognize our student staff and graduating seniors. Now is a great time to get creative and find fun ways for our teams to connect, say thank you, and celebrate together.

Here are five ideas for how to celebrate remotely:

  1. Online games. Websites like backyard.co allow users to create game rooms where folks can log on without an account to play. Within each game, people can choose to use video/audio or the chat.
  2. Videos. Create a video where team members can all contribute a picture, brief message, or thanks. Try out lipsync-ing to a celebratory tune.
  3. Gift packages. There’s something nice about getting mail and knowing someone was thinking of you. Packages could include things like a thank you card, snacks (be sure to check for allergens before sending), or useful gifts. Small gifts might include things like blue-light blocking glasses, miniature tools, magnet picture frames, origami books with encouraging notes, or mugs.
  4. Zoom games. You can make your own MadLibs with stories themed to your work. Or consider creating a quiz for your team featuring lesser-known facts about colleagues. For some friendly competition, have your team break into groups for some Jeopardy! You can even have folks vote on topics in advance. My vote: Star Trek the Next Generation plotlines.
  5. Customized cards. Use an online design platform like Canva or Kudoboard to create customized cards for graduating seniors. Each team member then has a chance to add to the message with their own drag-and-drop design elements.

On Failing Forward

by Chris Gasser

Nobody likes to fail. It can hurt; it is often embarrassing; and its acceptance has largely been trained out of us. It is also something that I continually encourage in Supplemental Instruction (SI). As a program that cherishes socially constructed knowledge in historically challenging courses, we believe in learning through asking, positing, and attempting to explain. Each of those carries a potential for failure. The dilemma then is that, even in a low stakes environment intentionally created for students to try new things, it can often feel easier to say nothing than to say something wrong, and this fear of failure can be a real problem. Trying to find a solution to this problem led me to failing forward, or, acknowledging failure as an important element of the learning process, which enables us to improve.

In recent professional development meetings, I asked SI Leaders to think about the idea of failing forward. SI Leaders were asked to watch a video from a doctor, an entrepreneur, or a teacher  (some of the most prominent career paths in the SI group) on the topic of failing forward and how it relates to their discipline. They were then asked to debrief the idea of failing forward, how it differs from simply accepting failure, and how we can promote failing forward at our SI tables.

Here a few of the ideas SI Leaders came up with of actions they could take to promote failing forward at study tables:

  • Explain the value of a low-stakes environments and name mistakes as valuable in learning
  • Normalize mistake-making by revealing specific places they’ve struggled with concepts
  • Acknowledging when they make mistakes at study tables
  • Resist shaming themselves for making mistakes
  • Celebrate misunderstandings as valuable contributions to the learning process

And while we often celebrate Edison’s quote of finding 2,000 ways to not create a lightbulb, before ultimately succeeding, SI Leaders raised some really valuable concerns with the idea of failing forward:

  • How much failure is acceptable in the learning process?
  • How do traditional grading concepts challenge the ideas that failure is an acceptable part of the learning process?
  • What privilege is associated with the concept of failing forward? How should students from low-income backgrounds, or students experiencing stereotype threat celebrate failure when it can have drastic implications for their future?

In addition to their questions, I still have my own that I’m grappling with:

  • Knowing that culture starts at the top, how do I show my failures to SI Leaders without undercutting my own ethos?
  • I may be their senior as a Coordinator, but I’m also the most junior SI Leader on the team; how do I share my moments of learning with them?
  • How much am I willing to accept failure as a learning process for SI Leaders? Am I ready to devote the time and energy to a professional development model that views mistakes as an integral part of the learning process?

I think the only conclusion I have come to is that failure is extremely nuanced, and not as clear-cut as I perhaps wanted it to be at one time. While I definitely don’t have complete answers to the questions above, I am finding value in thinking on them. I would certainly welcome your thoughts and ideas!

Finding Failure

by Sarah Norek

Lately, I’ve been digging into failure. It all began with wondering what it meant to be or not be transparent about failure, and then it kind of unspooled from there. Below is my messy process thinking, complete with way more questions than answers. And at the end, if you’re still here, I’ll share some ways you might explore failure too.


As I write this, I’m sitting with my son on the couch, where I’ve been trying to form something coherent about failure for the last forty-five minutes. This alone feels a bit like a failure. When I started reflecting on the topic over a week ago, I could hardly rein it in at a half-hour. But now: all these brief starts and long stops as I try wading in again.

I just asked my son what failure meant to him and he replied, Giving up.

His answer pretty accurately reflects how we’ve raised him and his sister. We’ve been intentional about how we talk about failure, in that we don’t exactly. We talk most about trying, and practicing, and seeing the opportunity in things that are difficult or that don’t go how we’d like them to at first. If I translate his response in relationship to this, failure is the act of not trying.


Facilitating academic success workshops, emailing students through the Transition Communication Campaign, and drafting content for the Learning Corner, I emphasize the opportunity in trying things out. I pitch the OSU years as a sandbox, where folks can practice with strategies, see what works and what doesn’t, and bring that knowledge into their post-graduation space.

And yet, as much as I may write about the opportunity within failure, and growth that can come from failure, I don’t like failure, and I don’t go into things hoping I’ll fail – but what if I did? When did I stop engaging with this idea of having a sandbox of my own, or of being a part of the greater sandbox of experimentation? I love experimenting. I love trying new things. But I also feel a disconnect between my love for innovation and permission to not have it all quite work. Because sometimes – lots of times – new ideas might fail.


The potential for failure, and the feelings failure carries, can consume me. And I see connections between failure and perfectionism. As much as I may be working to undo my dedication to perfectionism, it runs deep; for me, the potential for perfection is never far from the hazard of failure. But what does bringing opportunity into failure do? Could it counter the perfectionism, and could that soften failure’s sting? Could failure be remade into something that feels more like an invitation to experiment and innovate?

Exploring Failure

I don’t think all failure is redeemable. I don’t think all growth from failures inoculates us against any judgement that may be doled. Sometimes, we really fail badly, and the impact expands beyond our individual edges to affect or engulf others.

At the same time, I think normalizing and validating failure is important. I also think it’s important to consider our privileges and identities that afford us to fail more or less easily than others, or to more or less easily share our failures.

I appreciate how the SI Leaders’ reflections in On Failing Forward help me see this gap in my reflection. I’m not insulated from the repercussions of failure, but how has my identity made certain failures safer/less safe for me than for others who identify differently? I know it has.

So now I have even more questions: If we see failure as an opportunity for growth, then is it the failure that we grow from, or is it the recovery – the way we choose to recover – that induces growth? What is it to fail publicly versus privately, or individually versus within a team? How does failure in one sphere of our life shape and inform what we do with failure in the others?

For me, the concept, practice of, and recovery from failure is like a big onion. There are so many layers. After peeling one back I might be shaking my head or crying or walking away to regroup and return or push on to the next layer.

I won’t give up failing. It will always be there. But I like to think that the way I – and we – engage with failure has the potential to become, or remain, or return to malleable.

Curious to explore failure? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Check out the videos Chris mentioned in his article about Failing Forward.
  2. Engage in a thought experiment: When’s the last time you talked with someone about something you failed at? What failure did you choose to share, and who did you share with? How long after the failure did you choose to share about it? What did you share about the failure? How did you feel – when the failure happened, or when you realized it was a failure, or when you spoke about your failure?
  3. Start a conversation with a colleague, friend, or loved one about failure – what does it mean to be transparent about failure? What is it to enter, move through, and exit failure – or do we? When is it failure and when is it learning? How do privilege and identity impact/shape our failure?

Student Affairs Staff Picks

In this issue, we’re delighted to share perspectives from our Student Affairs Colleagues who responded to the prompting question: “What have you read that has informed your work or resonated for you, and why?”

JP Peters – Associate Director, Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life

CurrePicture of the Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencionintly, I am reading The Ideal Team Player, by Patrick Lencioni, and he highlights the three essential virtues to be the ideal team player. You must be humble, hungry, and smart when working with a team or leading a group of people. For the last two months, I have strived to incorporate this philosophy into the work I do with my colleagues and students. It is too early to determine if the philosophy is beneficial, but I am excited to engage in finding out the results.

Earlee Kerekes-Mishra – Assistant Director, Disability Access Services

I have recently started reading more and more about the #SayTheWord movement started by Lawrence Carter-Long. Carter-Long started this in response Picture of an orange wall with an orange speaker shaped like a megaphone attached to itto the erasure of identity for disabled people. This movement is reclaiming that identity, by reclaiming the word “disability” and also educating why other words such as “differently abled” or “handicapable” are harmful. I am a firm believer that language is impactful; the words we choose sometimes speak louder than the message being conveyed, and the article “Say the Word,” by Anjali Forber-Pratt (along with other disability identity research), has assisted me in being more mindful with my choice of words overall.

Ben Medeiros – Assistant Director, UHDS – Residential Education

Picture of the sky, mountains, and a body of water with the title "Maslow's Hierachy connected to Blackfoot Beliefs" across the visualThere’s a blog post circulating about Maslow’s misappropriation of Blackfoot teaching.  I also attended a conference session recently about indigenous assessment strategies, including LaFever’s Medicine Wheel, a more holistic learning outcomes model than Bloom’s taxonomy.  Both sources disappointingly affirm the foundations of our educational system have been intentionally encoded to remove indigenous ways of knowing and being.  Which begs a question of personal and institutional action… what will I do to center the voices of students of color and other marginalized populations – from the learning processes that I direct to the hiring decisions we make at every level of our institution?

Jen Humphreys – Operations Associate, Student Affairs

SA Voices from the Field is a NASPA podcast hosted by Dr. Jill Creighton. My role does not include working in a Picture of the letters "SA" in blue at an angle. Surrounding the picture are black and white photographs of four individuals wearing headphonesspecific functional area within Student Affairs, so resources such as this help me to stay connected to the work that our division members are engaging with daily. Topics include such things as leading a residence hall during COVID, dismantling systemic racism in student affairs, and the future of grad prep programs.

The cover of the book "So You Want to Talk about Race" by Ijeoma OluoSo You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo is a very accessible book that has helped me focus on action over angst. In other words, moving from analysis paralysis and seeking opportunities to not only talk about race and systemic oppression, but to be attuned to the ways that I benefit from it, doing this from a place of inquiry to better support students and Colleagues of Color at OSU. The book is written in a very straightforward way, and I appreciated that Oluo brings her own family experiences and identity into her writing. She speaks to the dynamics of being biracial and provides you with a sense of what it’s like to navigate both black and white spaces—just as many of our students do.

Jeff Malone – Director, Cross Campus Strategic Initiatives

Music Theory & White Supremacy (or “The Harmonic Style of 18thA picture of a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Century European Musicians” & White Supremacy) by Adam Neely is a video on music theory (yes, music theory). It is lengthy (~45 minutes) but interesting and impactful. I do not feel one has to have a grounding in music theory (my own is shaky at best) for resonance. This video illustrates how systems of whiteness are so often privileged in our academic disciplines and educational habits/practices. This content is helpful as I consider, and reconsider, previously accepted policies, practices, and ways of knowing.

Remote Onboarding Adventures

by Anna Bentley

Starting a new job is always exciting, nerve-wrecking, and full of anticipation. The last time I started a new job, I set aside what I would wear, programmed the coffee maker, and packed my lunch the night before. I set my alarm extra early because I didn’t know how long it would take me to get through traffic, find parking, and walk to my office. I wanted to set myself up for success and make a good impression on my first day.

That was before the pandemic. Starting a new job looks different when your entire team works remotely, and your commute is to your living room. I joined the Academic Success Center and Writing Center (ASC & Writing Center) as the Administrative Program Assistant in January 2021, and this remote experience has been overwhelmingly positive, which I attribute to thoughtful preparation and design of the onboarding process, as well as strategies I employed to make the most of the first few weeks in my new role. Here’s what I believe made my onboarding experience a positive one.

My supervisor prepared for my arrival weeks in advance

During my interview, Clare and I talked about what Photo of a welcome package including a laptop, pens, paper, chocolate, and a plantworking from home looked like for the ASC & Writing Center and what tools and support were available for the team’s success. After I accepted the job offer, she emailed me to see what technology I needed. When we met for the socially distanced technology hand-off, I was delighted to find that she provided not only my basic needs (laptop, notepads, and pens) but also included a hand-written note, chocolates, and even a plant. That gesture made me feel so welcome and valued before I even started my first day.

We prioritized building relationships remotely

From day one, it was clear that Clare wanted to create a genuine, welcoming experience for me. We had 30-minute check-ins every morning during my first few weeks, and she arranged a drop-in Zoom meet-and-greet for campus partners. I also connected individually with each member of our team to get to know them and how my role connected with their work. I found that building relationships remotely requires intentionality and a willingness to try new communication modalities. Spontaneous conversations in the breakroom might not exist at the moment, but a quick check-in via Teams chat can go a long way towards building a sense of belonging over time. When we feel like we belong and trust our colleagues, we collaborate more and have the courage to take creative risks.

I found my place in meaningful ways

In-person work experiences involve orienting new employees to physical spaces. For me, remote onboarding seemed to place greater emphasis on connecting to ideas, values, organizations, and philosophies. Instead of spending my first day getting a tour of Waldo Hall, Clare connected my work to the unit’s programs, the Division of Student Affairs Strategic Priority, OSU’s mission, and the history and values of the student affairs profession. Instead of introducing me to folks near my workspace, as is typical of an on-site experience, I was connected to campus partners who shared how they collaborate with our unit. While I look forward to an orientation to the physical space as well, I appreciated finding my place in the work in these meaningful ways.

 I took an active role in my onboarding experience

Starting a new job can be intimidating. There’s so much to learn, and a lot of us are afraid to mess up. But taking initiative during your first few weeks can be empowering – and a gift to your team. Instead of waiting for tasks to come to me, I was intentional about reaching out, asking how I could help, and keeping an eye open for projects. I tried to speak up and share my opinions, even if it scared me. In times when my confidence was shaky, I reminded myself that I am an expert in my experiences and that my perspectives are valid. Most importantly, I communicated my needs throughout my onboarding process.

This onboarding experience continues to be the best of any job I’ve had, which I credit to the thoughtful preparation and genuine interest in my success. If you’re hiring or onboarding new employees, I invite you to consider how you might design a welcoming, inclusive, and empowering experience for them. And if you’re the new employee, I encourage you to take an active role in your experience, have grace with your supervisor and colleagues, and be intentional about building relationships within your organization.

SI Study Tables: A New Perspective

by Chris Gasser

For the last few years, I have coordinated the Supplemental Instruction (SI) program, which offers group study table for historically challenging courses. Each SI table is led by an SI Leader, a student who has completed the course and is trained to facilitate collaborative learning. Over the years, I have trained SI Leaders, but for the first time this year, I got to practice what I preach. In winter, I expanded my role to SI Coordinator/SI Leader. Despite having a strong conceptual understanding of SI, I had the privilege of practical learning through leading study tables throughout the term. Here are a few of my takeaways.

Tutoring ≠ teaching (& they satisfy very different needs)

I like to think I’m an ok teacher, somewhere between John Keating and Mrs. Puff on the teacher spectrum. Yet, as I led study tables, I realized that my ability to teach isn’t really important; students already have excellent instructors. The value of SI as a program doesn’t come from the tutor’s knowledge. The value comes from the student’s engagement: getting support, seeking clarification, asking questions, offering explanations, and making mistakes, all in a low-stakes and collaborative environment. I think the big takeaway here is that people often think about tutors as mini-teachers, but in this context, that skillset is secondary to strong collaboration skills

Belonging matters

Closely connected with number 1 is the fact that belonging matters, and it is more than just a buzzword. In end of term feedback from students, it’s astounding how many comments highlight the experience of being known, feeling welcome, and creating meaningful connections. The feedback clearly demonstrates that belonging sets a foundation for a positive environment. A positive environment encourages positive engagement, and those two things continually reinforce each other.

Sometimes we have to break the rules

In SI, we use a lot of research and theory to drive our practice. We train on theoretical models, drawing from Vygotsky and constructivists, using Bloom’s Taxonomy, and focusing on the whole person. We also use collaborative strategies like think-pair share and interrogative inquiry. No doubt these are all effective, but I also learned that so too are the intentional decisions that experienced SI Leaders make to at times deviate from these practices. Especially when they are setting their students up for even more effective learning moments. In the past, I’ve treated these moments as missed opportunities to use best practices; I now see how they can also be so much more when done sparingly and intentionally.

Inquiry is often at odds with assessment

In SI, we talk a lot about study skills and learning as an inquiry-based process. We do everything we can to resist binary thought around knowing. Instead, we treat knowledge acquisition as an ongoing and multi-faceted process. Despite this foundation, SI Leaders are always caught between this approach to learning and the question: “will this be on the test?” While I always knew this existed, leading SI tables, this tension feels so much more tangible. At my tables, I found a very real pressure to not approach learning conceptually and instead offer what might most prepare students to pass exams. I can’t help but wonder if many traditional summative assessment practices aren’t hindering the curiosity that precedes conceptual learning.

We can add nuance to language around studying

When asking faculty about the best way to study for class, students are often told: “practice” and “do homework.” When I said those things as a faculty member, I often meant: “apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate every step of your process—until you know what you are doing and why.” SI tables can add nuance to language like “study” and “practice.” By showing the variety of ways to engage with content and naming these as practice and studying, we can help students see how varied and intentional their approaches to learning can be.

While I have ideas on how to address some of these things, both as SI Coordinator and SI Leader, those ideas are by no means complete. I would welcome an invitation to talk with you more about these experiences!

Be well!


Reflection from Different Angles

by Clare Creighton & Marjorie Coffey

Many of us are already looking ahead to when we’ll shift from fully remote operations to more in-person work. One of our values in the Academic Success Center & Writing Center has been approaching this work intentionally and with awareness of how the decisions we make impact our student staff, professional staff, students using services, and campus partners. As part of our planning process, we’ve engaged in few activities and thought exercises that we want to share in the event these might support your own planning.

Naming and Revisiting Values

Prior to fall 2020, we engaged in an exercise to plan for remote service delivery. As a group, we named our values as they related to supporting students and staff during times of remote work. As we anticipate a return to campus in the future, we now are returning to that document for reference. While many things are still up in the air and our process will be guided by university and public health guidance, we also are mindful of how our values can shape our individual, team, and programmatic decision-making process. Having those named values as reference points helps us ensure that when we do begin to transition from remote work, we are centering support for students and for each other in that process.

Reflecting & Designing Intentionally

March and April have provided a valuable liminal space where we lack the detailed information needed to start planning fall logistics, but we have experienced enough remote operations to begin to reflect on the year. We want to be intentional in our return to campus and move forward deliberately in our practice rather than defaulting to what we’ve done previously. We’ve dedicated time to unpacking experiences and learning from the past year and to looking at a return to campus from a few angles: What have we noticed this past year? What did we learn? What did we like and want to continue? We’ve asked these questions about our individual experiences as well was our program and service delivery. Creating space and time for these conversations and committing to action based on learning is helping us design a more intentional process.

Using Equity Framework Tools

We’re not the first to see an opportunity in the current moment—an opportunity not just to reflect on the past year and acknowledge lessons learned, but to critically examine our assumptions and our approach to work. Using Creative Reaction Lab’s “Equity Centered Community Design,” the Center for Racial Justice Innovation’s “Racial Equity Impact Assessmentv,” and ProInspire’s “Crisis as a Catalyst,” we have been working through a series of prompts as a team to think about the path forward. These tools help us shed light on barriers and inequities in how we do our work, which is particularly useful in higher ed where historical structures, systems, and assumptions are prevalent.

One important element of this process has been building awareness and humility in the limitation of our knowledge by asking questions like how might my own experience create gaps in my understanding of what others experienced/need? Getting in touch with our own experience and limitations then prompts us to think about who we can invite into the conversation to gain perspectives and insights. We’re asking questions like whose voices and perspectives are missing from our meaning-making? What do we still need to learn or answer about the past year and the path forward?

We’re still in the process of reflecting and gathering input from others, and our hope is that by the time we have completed that process, we will have greater clarity about the parameters that will guide our fall planning. Creating space now for this type of contemplation prepares us to braid together the reality of what is possible logistically with a renewed and intentional vision of what will best serve students.

Student Staff Picks: Hearing from Graduating Seniors

The Academic Success Center and Writing Center employs over 60 students in peer education roles. Student staff are at the heart of our work supporting OSU students, and we are excited to feature quotes from graduating seniors in this issue’s Student Staff Picks.

We invited graduating seniors to share in response to this prompt: “What is one thing you’ve learned from your experience working at the Academic Success Center or Writing Center?”

For a PDF of this visual’s text, please click here.

Photograph of a mountain with text boxes containing quotes from ASC & Writing Center graduating seniorsCenter and Writing Center

Strategies for Writing Feedback

by Chris Ervin

In the Writing Center, we provide students, faculty, staff, and alumni with feedback on all kinds of writing. As faculty and staff, we are similarly called on by our colleagues to provide feedback on writing like grant applications, reports, article drafts, letters, and emails. We all want to provide helpful and supportive feedback to our colleagues, and below I share an approach we use in the Writing Center to provide that kind of supportive feedback. This approach creates space for the writer to gain valuable information from you as a reader, while also emphasizing their agency and decision-making as the writer.

Step 1: Share Your Observations

We begin by making observations about the text. As readers, we navigate between reading to understand and reading to look for potential. You may have noticed that when meaning is clear, we continue reading without confusion. When it’s not clear, we sometimes engage in meaning-making ourselves or look for potential solutions to problems we’re experiencing.

However, in our feedback process, we focus on our observations. After all, our colleagues want us to help them see the draft in another way; they generally don’t want us to rewrite the draft for them.  Observing can be as simple as noticing in a non-evaluative way. For example, “I noticed that the report consistently uses language and technical jargon from your discipline.” Paired with the next two elements—a reader’s response and prompting questions—observation is a valuable starting point for prompting reflection on a draft.

Step 2: Respond as a Reader

The next step is giving the writer a sense of how you understand the text. In other words, respond as a reader of the text. A reader can be many things: engaged, bored, confused, surprised, and so on. This information is valuable to a writer who may want to understand how their draft is being experienced or interpreted.

An example of a reader’s response that might follow the observation above is, “As someone outside of your discipline, I had trouble understanding some of the technical jargon—particularly in the third and fourth paragraphs.” Paired with observation, the reader’s response suggests one possible experience of a reader. By itself, this response is already valuable for a writer, as they might be able to determine a next step just based on the observation and response. We also have a third step though that can prompt the writer’s thinking on next steps.

Step 3: Ask Authentic Questions

The final step is asking authentic questions that help the writer reflect on the draft. The questions can prompt a writer to think about how to shape a draft in ways that accomplish their goals—whether that’s with revision or leaving the draft as-is.

Questions that prompt reflection are typically questions you as the reader do not have the answer for. If you are asking a question you already know the answer to, you may be providing advice based on what you think the draft should be rather than creating space for the writer to imagine possibilities. For example, questions that relate to example in the last section might be “Who is the audience—or are there multiple audiences? What level of technical expertise on this topic will your reader(s) have? What familiarity would your audience(s) have with jargon and discipline-specific language?” With these questions, you as the reader are not directing the writer to change or reduce the technical jargon; instead, you’re prompting the reader to consider the audience’s needs with regard to jargon.

Facilitation vs. Direction

Following the steps outlined above can maintain a supportive stance as a reader—facilitating thinking rather than directing the draft or the writer’s decisions. This allows the writer, our colleagues, to maintain control of their work and draft while also gaining valuable information that can help them in decision-making and next steps for the document.