“When Dr. Natchee Barnd presented me with the WIC award, I actually cried because, still, in my senior year, I wasn’t terribly confident in my writing and I think part of me thought I was undeserving of it for some reason. The award spoke far more to my skills than I realized, and it validated all my hard work that I’d put into my classes (I’m welling up just writing about it).”

Elena Ramirez Robles, College of Liberal Arts, 2018

“Thank you for your support.  The Culture of Writing Award was the first award I received during my academic career.  It’s an accomplishment with significant positive impacts on young scholars during a vital stage of their progressive young careers.”

Andrew Larkin, College of Science, 2010

Participation in the Culture of Writing Awards has thrived since 2006, as 326 total students have earned recognition and cash awards for both individual and collaborative writing projects. WIC would like to thank all participating units for their continued desire to recognize and reward outstanding student writing.

How to Nominate a Paper:

Units comprised of more than one major/designator may give an award for each major/designator (but not for each concentration). The manner in which a paper is selected is up to the unit, but here are three possible models to follow:

  • Model 1: The academic unit might use the unit awards committee to ask faculty to nominate and submit their best undergraduate paper for the year. The committee chooses the awardee.
  • Model 2: The academic unit wants the awardee to be from a WIC course, so one or more WIC instructors select the best paper.
  • Model 3: The academic writing occurs in a capstone course with a team project. The unit selects the team with the best-written capstone project for the award. When the award goes to a team of four, some units divide the $100 award four ways, while other units contribute more than $50 so that individuals will receive a more substantial award.

Once a paper has been selected, fill out the nomination form in its entirety and submit the form to Caryn Stoess no later than 5:00 p.m. on May 25th, 2021.

For more information regarding the Culture of Writing Awards, please visit our website.

By Sarah Tinker Perrault, WIC Director

Outside, March means daffodils and crocuses, migratory birds, and alternating t-shirt and winter jacket weather. Inside, it means tired faculty working on wrapping up winter quarter and getting ready for spring quarter. 

Here is what WIC can offer from winter, and for spring.

In winter, we had two excellent information literacy events, and the content of each is available online. In January, digital literacy expert Mike Caulfield gave a talk on “Teaching Truth and Trust in an Era of Digital Dissensus,” and in February OSU librarians Hannah Rempel and Jane Nichols offered a workshop on how to integrate information literacy so that students are empowered and create stronger connections in their thinking.  

If you missed these events, or were there and want a refresher, please avail yourself of the following resources:

Another winter project was to continue WIC’s year-long focus (begun in a fall interview with Dr. Ana Milena Ribero) on language difference and inclusive pedagogies. This term we add a video essay on linguistic equity created by graduate and undergraduate student members of the WIC team.

Looking ahead to spring, we will offer an array of events, including one on how to practice linguistic inclusiveness in teaching. Normally offered as the Spring Lunch Series, this quarter’s events will be a bit more varied in time of day—think of them as the Spring Snack Series—but no less useful than in previous years.  Here is the lineup, with links for registering:

  • The art of asking questions: How to prime stronger student engagement
  • 3 quick hacks to build cognizance, agency, & logical flow in STEM WIC
  • Whose language? Inclusive teaching of academic communication across disciplines
  • Using learning outcomes to create clear assignments
  • How to design accessible and engaging course material

To keep up to date on events and other WIC news, please click here to sign up for the WIC listserv. 

Finally, as we look ahead to spring, please also remember to nominate a an undergraduate writer for the WIC Culture of Writing Award in your discipline.

by Erin Vieira, WIC Intern

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020. 4:58pm.

My Zoom screen is already pulled up—it has been for about eight minutes now in anticipation of my upcoming student appointment. Normally, this would be an easy thing for me. I’ve been working at the Writing Studio for well over a year at this point and I’m always looking forward to learning more about what I can do to support student writers. It should be the engaging experience I’m always looking forward to.

But it’s different this time because the Writing Studio services have shifted onto Zoom and it’s my first online session with a student. My anxieties only seem to grow as I see the student pop into the waiting room, right on the dot at 5:00—back then, the ‘your student is waiting for you’ notification in the corner of my laptop screen was unfamiliar. Steeling myself with a deep breath, I accept their request to join and put on my game face, ready to help the student however I can in this new and difficult time.

To put it bluntly it wasn’t my greatest session, as brief as it was.

Our time was filled with awkward pauses and the occasional moment of speaking over one another, with lapses where neither of us knew quite what to say. When the student shared their paper with me on the screen, I found myself staring at it too long, and the silence only seemed to stretch on and on. Compared to our usual studio pedagogy, this approach felt like a whole new beast. I was used to flitting between the students, offering advice where I could give it or sitting down to brainstorm deeper concepts, but now, knowing that an entire hour of my time was dedicated to a single student without being able to step away and return—it was daunting. And, yes, even that classic internet lag seemed to be getting in the way too.

This experience isn’t individualized to just me. Many educators often find themselves attempting to overcome these Zoom silences now that everything’s online. Zoom etiquette takes time to learn, and I’d like to think I’ve improved over the almost three terms we’ve spent using it as our main platform for student assistance. Even so, there is still much we as educators can learn to do for the sake of our students. In our weekly Thursday meetings, the Writing Center staff has spent time strategizing how to better support the student writers via Zoom, with one strategy being a focus on how to better prioritize the student. Thus, I’ve taken the strategy of student prioritization and showcased a few different techniques that I use in order to ensure student needs and goals are prioritized and helping create an active conversation with them.

Techniques for Student Prioritization

We must ask ourselves about the importance of priority. What does it mean to prioritize the student during a consultation? What does that look like?

  1. Listen to the student

I am not the main speaker in the sessions, the student is. Although this may take some gentle guiding, it is important to encourage the student speak about their experiences and what they find important about their paper. When you’re actively encouraging the student to do so, you’re showing them that you want to actively listen to them and understand where they’re coming from. This also nods towards myself as a writing consultant, as I must recognize the student writer brings disciplinary expertise to the table. Being open about wanting to understand where their expertise lies creates an open channel of communication between the two of us.

Secondly, it can be very easy to talk over others during a Zoom session, which is why I must remind myself to stay quiet when the student is speaking and wait for signals to see if they’re done. I don’t want to dominate the conversation; I want students to speak for themselves. Listening to what the student has to say without interruption shows openness and availability to understand them.

Take these questions in for consideration that I typically ask I student:

Hello, welcome to the Writing Studio [your name]! Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re working on today? “Hi, I’m working on [my paper] today. Let me tell you a bit about that.”

  1. Ask questions about the student’s goals

Students often tell me that they feel as though they are struggling “in general” with their paper and don’t quite know where to start. It can be difficult to understand where they should start, where their weaknesses lie, or where their focused goal need to be, which is why it’s important to ask some opening questions. Where in the paper do you feel like you are having difficulties? Are there any particular spots you have already received feedback on that you believe need more work? What stands out to you in this paper that you feel like you could work on?

“I’m having trouble with [a certain aspect] of my paper and I just don’t know if it’s good enough.” What is the main goal of the paper? What are you striving to achieve in writing it?

“I don’t know where to start.” Are there any recurring issues you’ve noticed when you write papers? Is it possible this paper has those same problems you’ve had before?

Oftentimes, these questions will bring results, and the student and I can work from there. Other times, they still don’t seem to know where to go and still feel they are stuck on the “in general” problem, which is what leads me to my next point.

  1. Ask the student to explain their thought process

Not everyone processes information in the same way. I’ve had quite a few sessions where students find themselves being better “talkers” than “writers”, and they claim they have no idea where to start. Even the simplest question, such as “what is your paper about?” or “what are the main points of your paper?” can prompt a train of thought that allows the student to talk their way into realizing the problem they have. In such moments, students will often go on a long spiel about the topic they’re interested in talking about, but they ‘don’t know where to start’. The ideas are in there, they just need to be nudged towards talking about them.

“I guess if I had to pick one, this body paragraph could use some work, but I don’t know what’s wrong with it.” Let’s focus on this section in particular, then. Can you explain to me what the purpose of this paragraph is? Do you feel like you discuss those points well?

  1. Take notes

While a student is talking their way through an idea, I like to keep a notepad opened on my screen or have a physical one to jot notes down on. Once the student has talked their way through the issue that was brimming in their brain, they’ll often pause and go ‘but I still don’t know where to start’, which is my cue to raise my notepad in success and show that they may already have an entire essay sitting on the tip of their tongue. Then, I go through the notes with the student, help them make more explicit connections between the content they were just discussing, and how to organize it properly. Doing so helps highlight their ideas when they’re struggling and reveals the active ideas they’re sitting on that we can now bring our attention to.

I noticed you mentioned this point when you were talking about the topic. Why don’t we add it to your outline to make sure you touch on everything you want to talk about? Could this help better organize your ideas?

  1. Acknowledge the strengths and skills of the student

It can be easy for a student to get tangled in what they’re doing wrong. They feel their grammar is lacking, or they never have clean transitions and nothing about the paper feels right. Recognizing where the students’ strengths lie can help them come to understand how to continue using their personal strengths. If I continue to point out all of their weak spots without ever drawing attention to what they do well, they may not even notice their strengths. Taking these strong points and explaining why it works well allows them to continue using techniques they may not have realized they already have.

Although you mentioned you were concerned about your transition sentences, I actually found they were quite strong. The reason they are strong is because you [list the techniques the student uses], which you should continue to do in the future.

  1. Ask questions about writing choices

On many occasions, students don’t notice why they make certain choices, leading me to questions like “Why did you decide to make this statement?” and “Do you feel as though this is proper analysis?” This reminds the student to take a closer look at their work and dig into their own analysis—an analysis of their analysis, if you will. Question the reasons they decided to portray certain information or how they organized their essay. “Is there a paragraph you feel is more important than the other?” “Which order should these paragraphs go in because of that?”

  1. Seek weaknesses together, but don’t override their perspective

Students put a lot of trust in me as a writing consultant. Because I am in this position, they are inclined to take the suggestions I give them. This requires a careful balance, as I don’t want to take over the conversation or assume ownership of the paper. It is key to recall that when I suggest something, the writing in front of me is the student’s paper, not my own.

I have a suggestion for adding some information to this paragraph. Do you think this is something that would work well with the topic we’re discussing? Are there any ways you could improve on this idea? Can we consider these options together?

Ultimately, the student makes the final choices in the paper, and I want to highlight their agency, as they have the expertise on the topic. If I am sharing something from my perspective, I need to be clear why it is that I have that perspective and to brainstorm with them to promote their own ideas rather than having them just write down my own. Ask for the student’s opinion on what I’ve offered and be open to change. Empathize with the student’s perspective.

I know you said this feels like your thesis statement is right here, but I actually felt like it was more of a summary. The reason I feel like you’re summarizing rather than making a claim is because of these reasons. How could we adjust this to make it feel more like a claim?

Looking to Future Sessions

Thursday, February 11th, 2021. 4:58.

With my Zoom screen pulled up, the cold feeling of anxiety has all but left in favor of anticipation as I see the student join my waiting room. This time when I welcome them into the studio, I’m not bracing for impact—I’m opening up my mind to a new experience that the student will be carrying with them in their future writing career.

In the end, making the student feel heard is my main priority. By trusting our service and choosing to get assistance with their writing, students are allowing themselves to be very vulnerable. It is crucial that I am constantly reassessing the way I choose to go about my consultations to ensure that I am helping the student to the best of my ability. Despite the added challenge of Zoom, using the techniques for prioritizing the student, such as listening to the student, asking about their writing process, etc., has allowed me to better my consultation strategies to give my students something that’s worth their time and allows them to take away strategies from the consultation to use in their future writing.

And there are fewer awkward pauses, too.

By Alexander Mahmou-Werndli and Erin Vieira

Travis Margoni is a member of the English faculty and the founder of a Writing Across the Curriculum initiative at Yakima Valley College, an open-admissions, primarily two-year Hispanic Serving Institution in Washington State. He has formerly worked as an instructor at the University of Utah and, during his M.A. at Oregon State, served as the GTA of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program.

Alex: Can you expand a little bit on the institutional context of Yakima Valley College, and how your role with WAC fits into it?

Travis: Yakima Valley College is right in the heart of Washington and we’re a two year college that now has roughly five bachelor’s degrees too. We’re traditionally a community college, but we’ve moved the word community out of our name as a lot of two year colleges have. We’re an HSI [Hispanic-Serving Institution] with roughly 60% Hispanic-identifying students. That number has increased a lot over the last two decades from when we were initially awarded HSI status about 20 years ago, give or take. We have around 8000 [8,139] enrolled students and the area that we serve is largely an agricultural area; a lot of the families here are involved in agriculture. There are a lot of immigrant families here, too – the community as a whole is over half Latinx as well – and a lot of our students are first-gen students from all different backgrounds.

It’s really a privilege to work at an institution like this. It’s partially why I came here after being at the University of Utah for four years; I wanted to transition into teaching two-year college and I liked the Northwest. When this opportunity came up, I was really excited to come up to an HSI and learn here and bring whatever I could to the campus.

In terms of shared governance at our college, it’s a little bit fuzzy at times… we don’t always know what our roles are as faculty in terms of campus leadership. We don’t have a faculty Senate, for example, like OSU has, so there are a lot of leadership opportunities, but the ability to do WPA work is about building relationships and taking your own initiative and plowing forward and building support for that.

Alex: On that note, could you tell us a little bit about the process for initiating the WAC initiative at YVC?

Yeah. It was a pretty informal process. I was having lunch with another former WIC GTA, Laura May, who runs our Writing Center in Grandview (one of our two campuses) … this was a few years back, and I said “wouldn’t it be amazing if we could initiate a WAC program here?” And we thought “oh we’re just dreaming,” you know, but then, over the course of a couple of years, I started to develop some relationships with my Dean, for example, and our grant manager, our Title V Director, etc, and I just made the pitch. I put the research together and I sent it to Wilma Dulin (our Title V Director) and to my dean, Kerrie Cavaness. We also had support from our Vice President, Tomás Ybarra, who’s opened up a lot of lines for equity initiatives on campus. I made sure to provide a lot of evidence to show how impactful WAC programs are and how many colleges have them, including two-year colleges – roughly half of all two year colleges have a WAC program and others are developing them right now.

I also made sure to show how WAC practices are especially impactful for an HSI, where students are marginalized by these high stakes testing and assessment measures that are frankly racist. If your disaggregated data shows disparities in demographic success right along racial lines… we could talk about how “Oh, these are inequitable,” but let’s not split hairs here, let’s not equivocate about inequitable outcomes and student learning. What we’re talking about is racism and about racist outcomes, so your assessment is either racist or its anti-racist and there’s no in between.

From there, they said “alright, we believe you, this is one of the 11 high-impact strategies for higher education promoted by AAC&U.” So I just brought the evidence in a five, six page proposal. I made sure to tie it to equitable assessment. From there, they gave me a few dollars of grant money and I started doing workshops with faculty and doing one-on-one consultations with folks. Then, you find buy in, you connect with the instructors who are using writing and you learn from them, too. I don’t have all the solutions on how writing should happen across disciplines in higher ed, but I believe in the cause, and I believe that we should be using writing. I believe that it should be responsive to, of course, the needs of a discipline, but also to what students bring; what are the assets within a discipline that students bring in terms of communication and writing, too? Let’s build from there.

Alex: You mentioned that, in pursuing these goals, you went from initial proposal to workshops with faculty – how has the WAC program grown at YVC since?

Travis: I ran about a year’s worth of workshops for faculty to introduce them to the idea of writing across the curriculum and the classroom practices involved, the assessment, all that. Then, from there, I identified folks who would be ideal for an advisory committee.

And then the pandemic hit.

So that has sort of put some things on pause, but it worked out because at the same time we’re developing a new strategic plan at our college, and we recently rewrote our mission statement. What I don’t want to see happen is trying to force a WAC program at an institution that’s not ready to do that, or with faculty members who don’t have buy-in that writing is an appropriate thing to incorporate in their curriculum. You have to build from a grassroots standpoint, see where the faculty’s interest is, what their needs are, what they’re doing in the classroom, and learn from that.

In order for a WAC program to be equitable, to be implemented in a way that’s not based in the white supremacist notions of the institution, we don’t want to be just trying to get people to write for the academy constantly. I think that the academy needs to be more responsive to the community and the assets that our students bring as writers and critical thinkers into the institution.

Right now, we’re working on an anti-racist first-year composition assessment ecology. There is a statewide grant through College Spark (and Asao Inoue, another OSU alumnus, is one of the directors of the grant) and I’m on the team to administer that grant in Washington. We’re working with seven different colleges across the state to develop an anti-racist composition assessment ecology for first-year composition. I think that’s an important thing to do before we build out and flesh out a WAC program at YVC, because writing across the curriculum all begins with first year composition. That’s such a critical entry point into the university, into higher ed and writing. Writing is critiqued in that space from all across the university and all across higher ed and is important for building the right type of writing environment that is necessary to build a WAC program.

Over the spring and over the summer, we need to increase our institutional presence with, for example, a WAC resource page or WAC website. And then, our advisory committee will help to lead us forward. We’re also going to have to do some work with our curriculum committees. I don’t know that we’re ready to do that work until the strategic plan is laid out, though. We need to have programmatic assessment happening, according to our accreditors, and before we go about assessing our programs we need to figure out what we want to assess. In the future, I see WAC as being an integral part of that.

Erin: You speak a lot towards equity; what other values guide the programmatic assessment of learning at YVC? 

I’m part of our 20-30 person equity team here and we recently rewrote our mission statement with our administrative council, which was a big win for our equity team and our faculty:

Yakima Valley College cultivates equity and a culture of innovative and inclusive teaching and learning. As a federally recognized Hispanic Serving Institution residing on the traditional homelands of the Yakama Nation, Yakima Valley College serves all students holistically, supports all students’ learning goals, and fosters achievement within career and educational pathways. We strengthen our communities by providing opportunities for personal enrichment, economic mobility, and sociocultural engagement.

I think that, you know, we focus on equity, a culture of innovative inclusive teaching, and innovation in that. When we look across campus, we need some innovative teaching. Nationally, only 40% of two-year college students finish their program – whether it’s a transfer degree or a certificate in a specific area – within a six-year period of time. We’re a little bit above that at YVC relative to other two-year colleges, but still not good enough.

Our institutional research team really encourages accessing our disaggregated data regularly to know, for example: if our students who identify as Black are not being supported in classes for some reason, what does that say about our instruction? If our indigenous students are not succeeding at the same rate as other students, why is that? What is it about my instruction that is leading to some of those outcomes? These are the values I think that we’re seeing. At an HSI, there’s an additional mandate for this. Latinx students and students who are immigrants and the children of immigrants in our Valley have been marginalized from and excluded from educational opportunities historically, and YVC has a mandate as an HSI to serve those students as best we can.

Erin: You mentioned needing to create a website for WAC; what other short-term goals and benchmarks does WAC have at YVC and how would you say they align with the values you just described?

Travis: Right now the short term is to create an equitable first-year composition ecology. We’re making steps there – we have a directed self-placement model now.  Carolyn Calhoon-Dillahunt and I wrote a chapter on this for a collection that’ll be coming out soon too. That’s a part of our move toward a more equitable learning environment and more equitable student success rates as well.

I’ve done some one-on-one consultations over this year with instructors who are using writing. But I haven’t done as many faculty forums, for example, and other activities in part because everyone’s just really spread thin.

So, in terms of institutional presence, resources for faculty are needed right now, so that faculty who are not familiar with WAC principles and practices can go to a Canvas page, see what’s going on in their own discipline, and get some ideas based on the resources there. There are faculty in STEM, for example, who occasionally email me and say “hey Travis look at this, did you see how writing is being used in this chemistry class here?” so trying to collect those resources and make sure that those are available for people is a goal.

A lot of this has been about building relationships, because I don’t have all the answers. Having worked with OSU’s WAC program and having taught business writing and tech writing over the years, for example, has helped me to learn a little bit of what the expectations are for students across campuses, across workplaces. As for our long-term goals, I’d love to see a WAC program that grows out of an anti-racist first-year composition assessment ecology and that could serve as a basis and a foundation for a WAC program that stretches across our campus. I’d also love to see our student success rates increase across campus because we’ve gotten away from the culture of high stakes testing. “You don’t need to test to assess” is my position at assessment meetings – some mixed reception on that, but I really believe it.

Erin: Most definitely. What advice would you have for aspiring faculty, say from business administration or biology, interested in developing these sorts of anti-racist assessments in their classrooms?

Travis: I would say: get away from testing and look carefully at your disaggregated data often. You know, see it as part of the fabric of your courses and your teaching. A culture of testing, I think, is really antithetical to deep learning and the kind of creative brilliance that we’re all capable of producing and experiencing. We just don’t need to test to assess, and when we teach to assessment tools that we know to be racist, we’re producing racist outcomes and we’re not encouraging deep learning and critical thinking.

I would say “think about culturally responsive pedagogy” as well. How do your students operate? What assets do they bring to your classroom, and how can you really lean into those assets for assessment and learning?

But those are big abstract concepts, I think. The most simple thing is to try to get away from a culture of testing if you can and assess in more authentic ways that really allow students to thrive and show their brilliance.

Erin: Would you be willing to share a story of success from interactions with faculty, or some faculty-led events?

Travis: I’ve had really good conversations with faculty who are interested in this. One instructor in psychology, for example, came to me about two years ago with some questions about his psych classes: “I really want to use writing and I want to have my students to create a good research paper in my class, I want them to be producing good research papers and they’re just not doing that. I give them a model of the paper, sometimes, or an example, but I still end up with papers that just aren’t very strong.” And so, we talked about different things that he could do in his class. For example, I recommended having students in groups critique and analyze model papers and sample papers. And so, he brought that into his classroom, and he started conducting peer review sessions in his class for the drafts.

Just those two things alone improved the situation –  before the pandemic, I’d see him around campus, and he’d be like “Travis, that assignment’s going really great! I want to talk to you about this idea and that idea that I have about writing in psychology and sociology now.” Seeing that is really exciting because this is one of our most senior faculty. He’s been here for almost 30 years and it’s changing his classroom approach and his assessment approach and his practices of incorporating writing. Students are more engaged and they’re succeeding at higher rates. It’s really cool to see somebody who’s been here for like two decades longer than I have, to see his face light up when he’s bringing new ideas into the classroom that are helping his students, so it’s rewarding to me in that sense, too.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of having conversations and building relationships with people and saying “well, think about trying this. If you can afford a half an hour in your class one day, do this and see what comes of it. See what kind of conversations happen. Incorporate some free writing exercises, some note taking exercises, and some reflection during your class, or model student papers.”

Alex: You’ve already spoken a bit to how your experience at OSU has shaped your goals for Yakima Valley’s WAC program. Is there anything you’d like to add about your OSU experience or share from your experience at Utah that has shaped your activities at YVC?

Travis: Being a part of the WAC program at OSU and working with Vicki Tolar Burton is a learning experience that I carry with me to all of my institutions and all my classes moving forward, because I know what’s expected of students across the curriculum now. I’ve learned from faculty across the curriculum at OSU, at Utah, and now here at YVC as well. And what we do is allow students to show what they can do with their writing when they have a chance for feedback, when they have a chance for communication and open dialogue through an assessment process. And so, I got to see that firsthand working with whether it’s sociologists or the mechanical engineering department or whoever it might be at OSU that I worked closely with over those years. It also showed me we don’t have to continue doing things the way that we do at every institution.

Alex: In an inverse way: from your work to establish Yakima Valley’s WAC initiative, have you gleaned any takeaways from more established WAC or WID programs?

Travis: One of my takeaways is that you need to have a team in place to build and maintain a strong WAC program. Right, so the relationships and the collaboration that those of us who are invested in WAC engage with that’s all really necessary. And you have to have people you have to have investment from across a college. If there isn’t investment from administrators, if there isn’t investment from folks in STEM, if there isn’t investment from the English department – then it’s just not going to happen, despite our good efforts. It also takes time to show the value of a WAC program. If folks aren’t familiar with it, if folks are busy and occupied by other projects on campus, which is often the case, it can be slow to try to build and maintain a WAC program. And again, I think one thing I’ve learned too is that WAC programs look and function in different ways at different sites in different campuses, and that’s okay and even necessary. There’s not a one singular approach to building, developing, or assessing a WAC program that’s going to fit for every institution. Your approach needs to be responsive to the community needs and the community assets that are available at any site.

Alex: That’s a great point and that description which, I think, really resonates with the kind of the grassroots approach you described earlier.

Travis: Right, exactly, yeah. And as an outsider – I grew up in Michigan, and here I am in central Washington – you need to go in and listen and try to understand all the points of view that come into play when we talk about writing and communication and critical thinking and learning on a campus. A little bit of intellectual humility is always necessary in higher ED.

By Jessica Al-Faqih, Erin Vieira, and Alexander Mahmou-Werndli

This video essay is hosted on Oregon State’s media site and can be accessed via the following link:


Works cited:

For the second year, WIC’s spring event series will be held via Zoom. While the remote modality precludes WIC’s regular provision of pizza, it has also allowed for greater scheduling flexibility, and this year’s events will be offered in a variety of time slots. In light of this change, it may be more appropriate to refer to this year’s “Spring Lunch Series” as a “Spring Snack Series,” albeit one which is strictly BYOSnack. You can register for each of the events listed below using this link.

This year’s line-up includes the following:

The art of asking questions: How to prime stronger student engagement

Friday, April 9th (OSU Week 2), 10:00 am PDT.

Description: When you publish your discussion post, you’re hopeful. Hopeful that students will match the effort you put into crafting a great question: thoughtful, well-articulated, compassionate responses that demonstrate growth and understanding. And yet. A scattering of twenty word responses, some “please get me through this” posts, and a few eager students diving into the deep end—but where are the discussions that build to an energizing and meaningful conversation? Ask better questions and you’ll get better answers. Join us for a workshop where we’ll show you how to write questions that maximize student engagement and that create meaningful experiences for your students.

Led by: Jessica Al-Faqih, Erin Vieira, and Alexander Mahmou-Werndli, WIC Interns and GTA

Register here

3 quick hacks to build cognizance, agency, and logical flow in a STEM WIC class

Tuesday, April 20th (Week 4), 12-12:50 p.m. PDT.

Description: In the midst of the pandemic and a shift to remote learning, many are at our wits’ end converting classes, keeping our students motivated, and keeping ourselves motivated. Just thinking about how to better a WIC course or try something new may be daunting. However, biologist Lauren Dalton has some tried and true activities/strategies that may help both you and your students; she will share 3 quick hacks that are fun (or mostly fun) and also help build students cognizance around their communication abilities, agency in what they write about, and logical flow in their written pieces. We hope to see you there.

Led by: Lauren Dalton, Instructor, Biochemistry and Biophysics

Register here

Whose language? Inclusive teaching of academic communication across disciplines

Wednesday, May 5th (Week 6), 3:00 p.m. PDT.

Description: This 50 minute workshop describes the need for linguistically inclusive practices in all academic disciplines. It offers specific tips on how we can value and support students’ use of different languages and varieties/dialects of English, lower barriers to access, and increase learning opportunities for students from all linguistic backgrounds.

Led by: Adam Schwartz (OSU), Sergio Loza (UO), and Devin Grammon (UO)

Register here

How to design accessible and engaging course material

Wednesday, May 19th (Week 8), 4:00 p.m. PDT.

Description: Do you struggle to make syllabi, assignments, and other course materials look inviting? Do you worry that they are hard to read, hinder understanding, or that they’re inaccessible to students with visual impairments or reading difficulties? Learn easy-to-apply design principles at the “How to design accessible and engaging course material” workshop at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19th. (You’ll also learn what not to do!) In this 50 minute interactive workshop, design faculty members Christine Gallagher, Deann Garcia, and Andrea Marks will offer a range of practical tips and lead you through how to apply them to your own course materials.

Led by: Christine Gallagher, Deann Garcia, and Andrea Marks, design faculty

Register here

Using learning outcomes to create clear assignments

Wednesday, June 9th (Week 11). 2:00 p.m. PDT.

Description: Designing courses and assignments can be confusing or overwhelming, especially in courses with both disciplinary and WIC learning outcomes, but it doesn’t have to be. This interactive workshop walks through a series of steps to (1) understand what each learning outcome means, (2) identify how the WIC outcomes can support the disciplinary outcomes, and (3) integrate the two sets of outcomes in clearly defined exercises and assignments that will help students learn course content and disciplinary writing.

Led by: Sarah Tinker Perrault, WIC Director

Register here

Mike Caulfield's picture

Michael Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University – Vancouver and a nationally recognized digital literacy expert, discusses the roots of our current “digital dissensus” and explains how our approach to education may be making the problem worse.

Twenty three days after a conspiracy-driven coup was attempted on the White House following the presidential election loss for Donald Trump, Mike Caulfiled delivered a talk to faculty and students across the United States on the topic of “Teaching Truth and Trust in an Era of Digital Dissensus.” In an increasingly digitized world, it’s easier than ever to stumble upon misinformation. Snopes, a well-known fact-checking website, has expanded their categories to encompass a new host of “false facts” such as, “fauxtography” and “cokelore” (yes, this is everything CocaCola related). 

Caulfield cautions that there’s a deeper dynamic to the obvious spread of misinformation at play—and that arises from an increasing reliance on digital media where information is abundant, attention is scarce, and evaluating credibility is an afterthought. 

Students are expected to sift through sources and assess credibility yet there is a growing contingent of “bad actors” who shape misinformation to appear credible and, more importantly, to keep folks locked in an “information loop” which is the way digital media is now monetized: the longer a person stays on a site or the more shares a piece of information gets, the more revenue is generated. This poses a serious problem for students who are coming to terms with research in an age of digital dissensus. 

To that end, Caulfield addresses a series of important questions:

  • How do we design education for a world where information is plentiful, and attention is the scarcity? 
  • How do we encourage analysis and engagement in our students without having those same impulses gamed by bad actors? 
  • What epistemic stances and heuristics serve the public in a world where expertise is niche and very little is directly verifiable, and where facts are atomized, separated from analysis, and reassembled in bizarre and dangerous ways?

Misinformation in the Mundane 

Caulfield showed the two images below, and asked how people might respond.

Is either real? Both? One? Neither? What’s the backstory? What steps can you take to find out? 

He explained that if you’re like most internet users, you will run through a quick google search to find out what others are saying. You are looking for better coverage

In just a few seconds, you can find that some reputable online sources—the prominent food magazine Eater.com, for example—support the kentucky fried chicken donut, and very quickly see that the top hits for “caffeinated ham” throw around the term “false” and “fact-check.” 

This exercise can show students that it only takes about 5-10 seconds to evaluate the veracity of something like the fried chicken donut sandwich post on Instagram. 

But what, he asked, happens when the context is muddier? What if, for example, you’ve found an article on a reputable looking dot-org website instead of the easy-to-suspect Instagram or twitter? What if the original source is harder to trace? What if an article seems to be peer-reviewed? 

Introducing the SIFT method

Caulfield acknowledged that there are any number of evaluations a student can perform to analyze the credibility of an article, but not all are useful in everyday or academic life. For example, the CRAAP method is an unfortunately named, widely popular checklist for evaluating sources. It requires students to answer twenty-seven questions for a full evaluation. 

Giving a student one minute per question to investigate the source and assess how well it fits the question’s criteria, it would take close to thirty minutes per source to perform an evaluation. 

Caulfield noted that checklist approaches demand an unreasonable amount of time and are, in many ways, actively undermining a students’ ability to verify credibility. 

When we give a student a source and ask them to evaluate it, “what we have inadvertently trained our students to do,” Caulfield says, “is to see if it makes sense. To see how the logic feels. To see if it’s written in a scholarly style.” 

The mistake this approach makes is that students can find overwhelming support of evidence for credibility from the least credible sources. Does the article have footnotes? Does it come from a .org site? Isn’t a dot-org more trustworthy than a dot-com? 

What Caulfield’s research has found is that students often go wrong by not asking the two fundamental questions first: 

  1. Who wrote it? (Are they in an authority on this topic?)
  2. What is the status of the claim? (Did I find this in an appropriate context?)

This, not checklists, is what we need to have students build as a habit. 

To facilitate fast, easy student student analysis and engagement, Caulfield developed the SIFT model which asks students to: 

  • Stop
  • Investigate the source
  • Find better coverage
  • Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original source

“SIFT,” he says, “is something you can do whenever you come to a source that hasn’t come through some already vetted route.” 

Caulfield offers a robust breakdown of the different stages of SIFT in a free, online course for teachers who can use the modules to teach their students the SIFT method. You can access that here >>

Evolving Digital Dissensus

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that untrustworthy sources, data, and facts are being presented in areas where we once looked to as paragons of credibility—members of congress believing in conspiracy theories, for example. 

Education alone will not solve the problem of disinformation and conspiracy information penetrating media and political elites, Caulfield cautions. “The solution to that would require a restructuring of incentives around telling the truth in politics and media.” 

But it is important that we talk to students about the idea of an important person or news outlet and if they are in a position to weigh in with credible authority on a certain topic. This goes back to the two fundamental questions Caulfield encourages students to ask: is the person an authority on this topic? And, did I find this information in an appropriate context? 

As students build a habit of recognizing when they’ve encountered a source that should be evaluated, SIFT can happen quite quickly to ensure that the source is credible. 

It’s important not to ask students to run a twenty minute check to make a simple evaluation—they’re not going to do it. 

Instead, we can encourage students to cultivate the habit both when doing research in an academic setting, as well as when they see claims in something like their social media feed or online. 

If students are in the habit of asking themselves questions as they encounter news headlines or social media stories, they will be more equipped to recognize the powers at play asking for their attention, time, and belief. 

The questions below can facilitate all the other literacies we’ve taught students to apply: 

Is this worth my attention? 

Is this worth my time? 

Do the people producing this content have my best interests at heart? 

Is this going to give me a real view of the current thinking on this topic or could it be deceptive? 

SIFT does not replace the media literacy we’ve been teaching students. It serves as a precursor to the harder work that is more time consuming. 

SIFT allows students to assess very quickly if a source needs deeper digging, or if they can get rid of it right away and look for something more reliable. 

These are basic habits we’re asking students to cultivate that lead into a more comprehensive strategy for evaluation. 

“As anyone who’s ever tried to stay on any health regimen knows, habits are some of the hardest things in the world to do,” notes Caulfield. “But even if you do not have 100% compliance with a habit—even if a student remembers to stop only when it’s really outrageous or when they’re really worked up—it can still have an impact at the margins there. I think over time we can get a bunch of students to practice this. Even if we get a small subset, that has a massive impact on spread. So even if five percent of your class walked out with this skill and applied it, we’re going to have a really outsized impact on the spread and belief in fact-checking.”

You can view a recording of Teaching Truth and Trust in an Era of Digital Dissensus here.

by Erin Vieira, WIC intern

Instructional librarians Hannah Gascho Rempel and Jane Nichols explore the topic of information literacy in their workshop “Information Literacy as an Act of Critical Exploration and Reading”.

Information literacy work is often presented as a linear process: you identify a need, find information related to the need, evaluate it for credibility, apply it in a specific context, and finally, acknowledge where it came from. Information searching, evaluating, and use is also presented as an iterative process. However, as Rempel pointed out, information searches are actually  often messy, and there aren’t always a specific set of skills or processes that every single person can follow. Rempel offers the following graphic of how research actually works:

Rempel highlights two aspects that are often undermentioned and over-assumed: exploration and reading. It is important to teach and learn about these two aspects so students have stronger information literacy. Although there is no specific method, we can facilitate how students ask questions with these aspects in mind. It takes time to model and build these ideas into assignment structures, but in the end, it can allow students to more actively practice this skill, which can be used for critical purposes in their field or to emphasize or create change as citizens.

Pre-Existing Reading Assumptions

Before delving into the specifics of reading for information literacy, Rempel first addresses preexisting assumptions she and other people may have about this aspect.

Rempel considers herself an ‘active’ reader. When reading for academic purposes, she typically uses a screen with her text on it and uses Zotero for notetaking. However, her reading process may differ from others; some may use a highlighter and a printed text instead. For many who have been reading a long time, it can be unclear why we make certain reading choices, so it’s important to understand how we each go about reading. Considering the range of what and why we read in our own fields can help us assess this.

For students, the topic of reading can be difficult. Sometimes, they think reading is unnecessary, too hard, and takes too much time. Without understanding the system behind reading, they can miss contextual cues that help them differentiate sources. Having more practice in reading can help students be able to identify the authority and credibility of their sources, and we can help them in part by sharing our own reading purposes and approaches.

A Framework for Reading

With this in mind, Rempel brings forward a framework distilled from Robert DiYanni because of its flexibility and adaptability to many different contexts. The framework suggests reading be done in three stages.

  1. Read to understand (annotate, verbally summarize)
  2. Read to look for meaning (make connections outside of the text, discuss)
  3. Read in conversation (generate response questions, discuss)

After going over the framework, Rempel opened up the breakout rooms for workshop participants with an activity.

In the breakout room, participants played the role of a student, but brought their teacher lenses. Rempel prompted participants to think of ways the reading framework may or may not apply to their own contexts, asking, “How could this be incorporated into your own teaching strategies?”

Pre-Existing Exploration Assumptions

After discussing the reading portion, Rempel then questioned what pre-existing assumptions people may have about the topic of exploration. When students think about exploration, it can often feel like a gamble, trying to guess what instructors want from them. Because of this, they avoid unfamiliar topics, leading them to choose overly narrow or broad topics. Overall, they can feel rushed to arrive at their final topics or conclusions and miss the exploration stage altogether.

A Curiosity Framework

To decrease the riskiness for students, Rempel highlights another framework, the curiosity framework. The goals of this framework are to:

  • Explore with your perceptions (notice if you are visualizing a place—what you might be seeing, smelling, or hearing)
  • Explore interpersonally (notice if you’re thinking about specific people, groups, or if you have implications about those preconceived groups)
  • Explore epistemically (think about similar language or patterns used in other sources, research, and in language and expression)

Much like the last activity, Rempel asked participants to go into breakout rooms, but with the curiosity framework in mind this time.

Transparency and Application to Own Context

Once the participants returned from the breakout room, Nichols spoke about applying what the participants had explored. She described the importance of being transparent about reading expectations and purposes; students feel more motivated when instructors are more transparent about the readings. Creating precise opportunities to practice reading and exploration skills can help them feel more motivated and engage in active and critical thinking.

Nichols also suggested the transition from an affective lens model to a holistic approach. She recommended using Carol Kuhlthau’s affective lens model, which establishes students’ emotional stages they go through during research and reading, and Jessie Loyer’s addition on how to foster student interest creates a more holistic approach, allowing for student care. There are times where research can open students to harm, with materials that can discredit their current knowledge, so it is important to acknowledge how to best care for the topic.

Nichols also notes that another way to care for students within reading is being transparent about their disciplines. Students often go through and switch between different disciplines. Naming skills and habits in a concrete way allows for more clarity for them.

With one last activity, Nichols asked some questions to have participants consider this aspect.

With these questions in mind, participants were urged to continue to reflect on their knowledge of information literacy and how to best incorporate it into their classes for both transparency and effectiveness.

You can view a recording of the workshop here.

By: Erin Vieira, WIC Intern

As many other student resources at Oregon State University have done, the Writing Center switched to a fully digital model since Spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Going from an in-person studio to an online model has influenced both the Writing Center staff and the students we work with based around the platforms we use to provide our service and the way we assist our students. First and foremost, though, student support always remains our top priority.

As a consultant at the Writing Center, I have striven to continue to assist students in their work, from essays, resumes, project proposals, and more, in supporting good composition and rhetorical practices, even when done from a digital format. Despite now being a digital format, the support we offer to students still stands as it did pre-COVID. The switch from an in-person studio to online has not been the easiest, but thanks to the hard work from the studio staff and a willingness to push through despite the difficult times, the Writing Center continues to flow effectively.

Instructional Technology

In Spring 2020, the Writing Center moved its services to fully online. Like many others, we have become accustomed to using Zoom services, which allows the Writing Center to provide face-to-face feedback. By still being able to view a student through a camera, I can have direct conversation with students, just as we would in person. Now that students are all over the world, time zones can be a difficulty in syncing up schedules, but thanks to our flexible hours, students are able to easily schedule a time that works for them. Even if there are problems with internet connection, an unavoidable part of working online, rescheduling is easy and allows students to continue to work around their own schedule.

Alongside Zoom, Slack became the new ‘Writing Center’ in our early stages of the digital model. Students would enter the Slack channel and be greeted by a consultant, who would assign someone to help them. Because of the various channels Slack has, consultants were able to chat with one another if they needed another perspective on the issue a student was having. However, students often found themselves confused on how Slack channels work due to the interface. If one wasn’t familiar with the concept of Slack, it was difficult to grasp where the student is meant to go. Although consultants attempted to avoid this issue by using hashtags to indicate where a student was meant to go when they originally joined the server, it was still difficult to navigate at times.

The Writing Center overhauled its online module in Fall 2020. Rather than having direct text channels of communication through Slack, the Writing Center added a live chat tool to the front page of its website known as Freshchat and started using a new scheduling system that would send students direct links to their Zoom session, removing the unnecessary steps between entering our Slack channel and then having to go into a Zoom consultation just moments after. Freshchat provides an anonymous question service for students who have brief questions about how the Writing Center works and the like. During these times of constant Zoom sessions in online learning, students may find the anonymity of Freshchat refreshing; the anonymity allows students to feel comfortable discussing their quick questions with us while still providing a direct line of communication.

Supporting Students in Live Zoom Sessions

Within Zoom, the Writing Center encourages staff to employ facilitative pedagogy rather than directive pedagogy—rather than telling students the direct answer to their problems, we create a conversation to get them thinking of the proper solution on their own. The pedagogy model practiced in-person differs from the way it happens over a Zoom call. In the in-person studio, consultants will generally move from student to student, provoking thought and providing feedback towards their questions before moving to another student. Once the student has had time to make further progress on their drafts, they can call the consultant back over for more feedback.

Zoom consultations, however, have made it necessary to adjust our pedagogy. Rather than going between students, consultants now stay with one student for 50 minute sessions. While the studio pedagogy is more difficult to emulate over a Zoom call, it’s not impossible; in my personal sessions with students, I’ve found myself trying to create ongoing conversation. In my earliest digital sessions, I found there were many moments of silence where I would sit on my laptop reading through the student’s paper. Now, rather than taking the time to read their paper while we sit in silence together, we actively discuss what their issues are and how to combat them. Students share their screen with me so I can see their writing, and I have no ability to edit their document. Any comments or revisions the student makes on their document will be created by themselves, maintaining the pedagogy model.

I’ve done a variety of consultations with students who have different disciplines. Instead of assigning consultants of specific disciplines, the consultant’s main focus is assisting students in framing an argument, organizing ideas, clarifying points, and using research appropriately. Having the student bring disciplinary expertise to the table allows staff to use their focus on writing to help students with these various issues. Sharing specific writing with a reader who may be unfamiliar with it can be helpful in making sure a student’s paper can be understood by a more general audience since that is where undergraduate studies lie. This all still stands true for the studio, even in a digitized format.

Working with a variety of students comes with a multitude of languages and cultural differences. The Writing Center continues to strive to support all students, including English Language Learning students. Because there are potential language barriers between the staff and English Language Learners, it is important for us to highlight what the students are doing correctly so they can continue to employ the methods they’ve learned. Knowing what writing techniques they’ve done well on allows us to support their language development, as they know to continue using those techniques.

The Online Writing Suite

Face-to-face Zoom sessions aren’t the only options for students. Now that everything has become digitized, many are finding themselves with “Zoom burnout”—an instance of feeling fatigued from constant Zoom calls and video meetings. To avoid this, students are welcome to utilize the Online Writing Suite. Rather than meeting with a consultant live over Zoom, students can receive written feedback. Written responses are an equally effective method of responding to students, focusing on specific feedback that the student requests on the Online Writing Suite form.

Students may request specific or general feedback when it comes to an Online Writing Suite response. For example, if they have concerns about the organization of their paper, they can let the consultant know they would like for that area to be focused on. Sometimes, students may hyperfocus on what they’d like to change about their papers, so it is important to incorporate praise into the response as well. By emphasizing what the students are doing well, it shows them what methods of writing they should continue to use.

With the written responses, I’ve found that students will sometimes follow up via email on the feedback I’ve given them, sometimes asking for clarification or specifying there was another issue they wanted to go over. Even though I do not see the student in-person or over a camera when they utilize the Online Writing Suite, emailing back and forth still provides an open bridge of discussion between myself and the student.

Being transparent about the services the Writing Center can provide has been the best method in keeping relationships with the student population. For example, we make sure students know that the Writing Center isn’t an editing service, even the Online Writing Suite. Additionally, I always make it clear that the student is welcome to schedule a live consultation if they have any further confusion and need to talk through something. By keeping open and honest conversations with our students about what the Writing Center can do for them, students are able to feel at ease even in these difficult times.

Despite never having met some of the students in-person, I’ve become familiar with regulars who come to our live studio hours and writers who regularly seek written feedback from the Online Writing Suite. The changes made to our digital services have opened avenues for students to be able to reach us. How the service is provided may have changed because of the switch to digital, but the goals of the Writing Center remain the same.