Category Archives: Spring 2021 Issue 1

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