Be personal: Make your essay about you; speak in the first person. Avoid speaking in the editorial “we.” Tell a story from your own life; this is not an opinion piece about social ideals. Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. We recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak.
For this project, we are also guided by the original This I Believe series and the to those who wrote essays in the 1950s. Their advice holds up well. Please consider it carefully in writing your piece.
The second line of reasoning is that the screen becomes a hindrance and a distraction. Scrolling up and down, as you point out, is a main distraction, but also, a screen becomes like a third person in the session, usually physically between the tutor and student. Paper can be written on, erased, folded, torn — the physicality of this medium allows for a different kind of learning process. Using paper takes the student away from the screen, often for the first time in the writing process. We use pencil on the student’s paper, showing them that the writing process is changeable, erasable, and unfixed. For the notes generated from a session, these are written in pen on a separate pad to show that there are concrete changes being made.
Thanks for this article and the prompting tweet!
While we make full use of electronic tools, our writing centre has a strict, no-laptop policy. (We also do not allow the use of mobile phones in the centre.) All students who come to the centre must bring in a printed paper or section of a paper on which they’re working. The reasoning is two-fold: the first is one of academic integrity; the second relates to the specific learning gained from using pen/pencil on paper.
Thanks so much for this insightful post, Leah! It gets me thinking about whether it would be helpful to incorporate a brief conversation about writing technologies into the opening of each session. Just as we spend the first few minutes establishing the parameters of the assignment or genre students are working on and setting goals together for the session, we could also spend a bit of time talking about whether the student is most comfortable working on the laptop or on paper and discussing the kinds of tasks that each technology facilitates. This meta-level discussion might help students think differently about their relationship to various writing technologies, which could contribute to the larger goal of increasing their awareness of process.
This appointment felt more collaborative than my time with the education student because Reza, possibly because he was writing my suggestions down rather than immediately trying to incorporate them, thought critically about my comments and suggestions. The shared space of the scratch paper on my side of the computer gave him the chance to be the authority on his subject, while the paper on his side represented my authority. If you look at the image that starts this post, you can see that our body language—leaning in towards one another—suggests engagement and collaboration.
Even though we looked at the draft on the computer, he changed very little there, but instead wrote notes on his piece of paper about our conversations, sometimes in Arabic and sometimes in English. This piece of paper also included some of the English phrases I used to describe various aspects of what he was talking about. On the piece of scratch paper on my side of the computer, he drew diagrams to explain the concept he was discussing (For more on the importance of using visual aids during Writing Center appointments, see Jesse Reeder’s post, “”).
This essay discusses how this comparison allows us to turn ways in which humans and computers are similar into the development of useful computational models.
A few weeks ago, I had an appointment that opened up some new possibilities for working collaboratively with drafts on laptops. Reza was a multilingual writer and visiting scholar in Industrial Engineering working on article revisions. Both times he brought his draft on his laptop, which was helpful because we were able to look at some other articles as models during the appointment. What was different about my time with Reza than my time with the student I mention above was that Reza kept a pad of paper on his side of the computer, while we kept a piece of scratch paper that both of us used on my side of the computer, like this:
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One student I had was a returning college student working on finishing a paper that she planned to use as her writing sample to apply to graduate school in education. We worked together over the course of the semester primarily on organization of the piece. At the beginning, she would bring only her laptop to the session and make notes on the draft, sometimes cutting and pasting to a document for scraps when we found information that didn’t fit her larger paper. At the end of each session, she would take some notes in a notebook she had about what she should do for the following session and at the beginning of the next session, we would revisit those notes. The paper was quite long (30ish pages), and we frequently ran into problems related to me not being able to get a sense of the whole draft. I would ask a question, she would spend some time incorporating the answer to that question in the section we were currently working on, and then later I would find out that she had answered the question in a different section and probably could have cut and pasted the language rather than composing anew.
Thanks for writing this, Leah. A recent thread on wcenter about this same topic led to some discussion in our Center at UW-Milwaukee. In my own experience, I often find that writers choose the medium in which to work based on their goals for the session. For example, I’m not surprised when writers who are concerned with grammatical issues bring in their laptops in order to make changes right away during the session, while writers with HOCs bring in paper copies. This is merely observational, and by no means a hard and fast rule, but I’m curious if others have seen a relationship between the concerns of the writer and the chosen medium for the session?
collaborative; that collaboration just happens in a different way than sessions where the draft is on paper. In this post, I will discuss some recent experiences I have had with drafts on laptops during my time as an instructor at the UW-Madison Writing Center, one where the laptop was a hindrance and we established a more collaborative atmosphere with a paper draft and one where we figured out how to include the laptop in our collaborative space. Throughout, I point to advantages and disadvantages of different spatial configurations and strategies. Towards the end, I make some suggestions about how to use space most effectively for appointments where the student brings in a draft on a computer.