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Writing Center Moves to Online Tutoring System

The Harvard College Writing Center has transitioned to virtual tutoring appointments for the remainder of the semester.
The Harvard College Writing Center has transitioned to virtual tutoring appointments for the remainder of the semester. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Meera S. Nair, Crimson Staff Writer

The Harvard College Writing Center has transitioned to virtual tutoring appointments for the remainder of the semester, after the College announced its decision to move to remote instruction due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Writing Center — staffed by trained undergraduate tutors — provides free, individual conferences for students at the College to improve general writing skills and workshop specific pieces of writing, including class assignments and fellowship applications.

When Writing Center director Jane Rosenzweig, learned that “remote learning might be a possibility,” she said there was “never any question” about whether the Writing Center would continue to offer appointments virtually.

“The Writing Center holds approximately 100 appointments a week during the semester, and many students depend on us to support them in their academic writing,” Rosenzweig said.

Writing Center tutor Ariel G. Vilidnitsky ’20 recounted how the Writing Center began discussing the possibility of offering virtual appointments several weeks prior to the official dismissal of students from campus. Within days of the College’s announcement of the new virtual format for classes, the Writing Center quickly moved to a Zoom-based system.

“We began transitioning to Zoom conferences that same week and by Thursday, all of our conferences were online,” Vilidnitsky said. “We made the switch to Zoom even before spring break to ensure the safety of both students and tutors.”

To accommodate students in different time zones, the Writing Center has also expanded its hours, according to Vilidnitsky. Tutors can now conference with students about their writing anytime between 9 a.m. and midnight EDT.

Lavanya Singh ’22, another tutor at the Writing Center, wrote in an email that Rosenzweig has been very supportive of tutors during this unprecedented time, by offering increased flexibility for scheduling work hours.

“Usually we work five hours a week, but Jane has been really understanding and flexible during this time,” Singh wrote. “She’s also offered alternative ways to get hours in (since the extra income is really important for some of us), such as contributing to the blog or helping with other writing center related events.”

With the move to an online format, Writing Center tutor Kevin L. Ballen ’22 said he thinks appointments have been running smoothly and remaining “both productive and efficient.”

Rosenzweig noted, however, that while the appointment availability has remained consistent throughout the transition to Zoom, the Writing Center has been experiencing reduced demand from students, going from “100 percent booked” during an ordinary semester to only “about 50 percent booked since spring break.” As a result, the Writing Center is currently working on developing new ways to connect with students, according to Rosenzweig.

“From reading the evaluations that students fill out after their appointments, I can say that those who have met with us since we started using Zoom are finding their meetings helpful,” Rosenzweig said. “We also hope that students who may not have visited the Writing Center before but who are finding it challenging to get papers written during this difficult time will consider us as a resource.”

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

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