OWI Principle 14: Online writing lab administrators and tutors should undergo selection, training, and ongoing professional development activities that match the environment in which they will work.
Effective Practice 14.1: OWL administrators who will supervise OWL tutors should receive the same training, professional development, and assessment—as well as practical OWL experience—prior to training and managing OWL tutors.
Effective Practice 14.2: To assess an individual’s ability to work within the OWL environment, OWL administrators should develop role-play screening exercises that reflect the actual conferences that tutors will have with students.
- One example scenario is, with minimal direction, to have applicants critique a writing sample as if they were writing directly to the student, which tests an individual’s intuitive orientation to the pedagogy of a given OWL.
- Another example scenario is to ask applicants to explain orally what they see in the writing and then ask them to write their observations and advice in a manner comprehensible to typical students and to students with special needs and challenges. Training later can address specific strategies.
Effective Practice 14.3: As Effective Practice 3.1 indicates for OWI itself, tutoring in an OWI setting often uses text alone in the response/feedback to the writing. Hence, OWL tutors require equally strong practices, and they should use written language that is readable and comprehensible to all students without audio-enhanced or body-language-based explanation. Specifically, written instruction should use straightforward, plain, and linguistically direct rather than indirect language. It should avoid ambiguous rhetorical questions, phrasal verbs, idioms, and figurative language as much as possible.
Effective Practice 14.4: As Effective Practice 3.3 indicates for OWI itself, online written tutoring should take advantage of the opportunities of the word processing system, text editor, html creator, and the LMS to mirror the types of online writing students most often read. These include:
- Writing shorter, chunky paragraphs
- Using formatting tools wisely to highlight information with adequate white space, colors, and readable fonts
- Providing captioned graphics where useful
- Drawing (when tools allow)
- Striking out words and substituting others to provide clear examples of revision strategies
- Using highlighting strategically
Effective Practice 14.5: As Effective Practice 3.4 indicates for OWI itself, tutoring in the text-centric OWI environment should be explicit and problem-centered. An example strategy for problem-centered, text-based tutoring that uses explicit language is a “four-step intervention process”:
A. Identify the problem;
B. Explain why it is a problem;
C. Demonstrate how to address (revise) and avoid the problem, and
D. Give the student something to do in revision—a way to change the writing and an instruction to try a revision action.
Effective Practice 14.6: As Effective Practice 3.3 and Effective Practice 3.5 indicate for OWI itself, text-based tutor response to student writing should be explicit in how to improve the writing, if that is the goal of the response. When there is no face-to-face explanatory opportunity and text is the primary means of tutoring, example strategies for intervening in a clearly written, problem-centered manner include:
- Asking open-ended (e.g., wh- [i.e., what, when, where, why, who] and how) questions
- Demonstrating how to do something
- Illustrating by examples, anecdotes, and numbers
- Modeling by writing at the level that is being required of the student
- Explaining terms and actions that might be unclear otherwise
- Providing doable tasks with instructions to try them out
Effective Practice 14.7: As Effective Practice 7.5 indicates for OWI itself, tutor technology training should occur using the actual technology platform the tutors will use with students.
Effective Practice 14.8: As Effective Practice 7.6 indicates for OWI itself, tutor pedagogy training should occur using the actual technology platform that tutors will use with students.
Effective Practice 14.9: Tutor training should be grounded in practical role-play exercises that hone an individual’s subject-area expertise and, more importantly, the ability to tutor writing online. Specifically, useful pedagogy training should ask OWL trainees to complete asynchronous and synchronous simulations with the goal of developing personal skill and comfort.
Effective Practice 14.10: Tutor trainees should be paired with veteran OWL tutors who can offer asynchronous and synchronous mentoring and commentary on their performance.
Effective Practice 14.11: Both tutor trainees and experienced tutors should be given multiple opportunities for self-reflection about their OWL tutoring practices.
Effective Practice 14.12: As Effective Practice 7.6 indicates for OWI itself, both during and after training, tutors should have access to an online network (e.g., listservs, email distribution lists, or social networking pages) of fellow tutors with whom they can associate for support and professional development.
Effective Practice 14.13: OWL administrators and tutors alike should receive compensated opportunities for ongoing professional development through such venues as workshops, conferences, and research.
Effective Practice 14.14: OWL tutor assessment should be engaged as rigorously as—and not more rigorously than—it would be in a similar traditional onsite writing center.