December 11, 2020
The TWU Writing Centre is designed for exceptionality. Its space is highly moldable, its sessions highly multimodal. It is not afraid to be experimental for the sake of supporting growth and learning. It was, to an extent, equipped to take on the most exceptional of circumstances. But the Covid-19 pandemic, in return, was not always equipped to accommodate its staff and students. In 3 years at the Writing Centre, this semester was the single most challenging one for me. The transition from in-person to fully online left me, almost overnight, confronted by brain malfunctions in each of the following areas.
“If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.”
Where is the note paper, whiteboard + marker, APA guidebook, grammar handout, client report form, student survey device? Laid out on a Writing Centre table, I can see them all. Hiding behind layers of browser tabs, they don’t exist.
“When brain, eyes, mouth, and hands don’t talk to each other.”
Oh, right, the Zoom chat box exists. I totally knew that; I use it every session. But how do I access it? Nope, that says ‘Leave Meeting.’ Type, delete, type, oh, hands accidentally landed a little too far left on the keyboard – would the student know what a “rgwaua statement” is? Is it more efficient to hit Enter, say “sorry typo” out loud and type *thesis? Or backspace everything and start again? Or can I just backspace the one word? Oh, right, the cursor exists.
There is so much internal coordination needed to show a student a website, sketch a quick visual of a funnel, inconspicuously check for the next appointment, cough, sneeze, burp without making the student wince.
sensory integration and regulation
“Pungent visuals, flickering discussions, chatty textures.”
How do we brainstorm all these cool ideas and explore these media when everything is flat and nothing makes sense? How do I point out our Higher Order Concerns (HOCs) and Lower Order Concerns (LOCs) when the essay’s structure is misspelled and the singular/plural nouns are making a circular argument? There are so many different stimuli to regulate, coming from only two sources of output: computer screen, headphones. It’s possible these topic sentences need more active verbs, but really, it’s hard to know when everything is too bright and too loud.
So the thesis statement wants to pull together the ideas from this, this, and… what was the idea from para 3 that was just mentioned? I can’t just casually glance over the student’s shoulder to refer to the outline anymore. Did they just say an evaluative thesis is required, or recommended, and now that I’ve found a pen, what was the word count and due date again? I can’t just casually glance over their shoulder to refer to the syllabus anymore.
Everyone has had to adapt to new changes and new technologies this semester. Some of these changes make learning more manageable, more accessible. Some do the opposite. Everyone experiences learning differently. The most striking thing about tackling learning curves as a collective is how important it is to work together. I have met numerous students who feel similarly impaired by aspects of the technology, but they trust me to not be too quick to point out their grammar mistakes when they’re transcribing notes under time pressure; they trust me to leverage on their strengths when they disclose a learning disorder. I trust them to not plagiarize when I copy-paste something into the chat box instead of sharing my desktop screen. And as tricky as it is to do drop-in sessions when you can’t see who all is in the Writing Centre space, my embedded students and I trust each other to make sure session allocation is as balanced and fair as possible. This semester, we all put our heads together and pooled our creativity, skills, and strategies to make progress exceptionally memorable through the exceptional challenges. But oh boy. It’s been a wild ride.