By Christa Chappell
Walking into the Writing Center in the Academic Success Center, it is impossible to overlook the buzz of activity. The sounds of paper rustling and group collaboration are nothing new for the Writing Fellows, a group of impressive undergraduates who help all members of the Clemson community become more confident and effective writers. The Writing Fellows assist undergraduate students, graduate students and even faculty members with all forms of expository writing. By working closely with undergraduates in various disciplines, the Writing Fellows have contributed to Clemson’s recent recognition by U.S. News & World Report as one of nineteen colleges that make the writing process a priority at all levels of instruction and across the curriculum.
Dr. Meredith McCarroll, director of the Writing Center, associate director of major fellowships and professor of American literature, realized that peer tutoring in writing involves more than one-on-one conferences; it involves studying the function and effectiveness of tutoring. McCarroll developed the Writing Fellows Creative Inquiry, a subset of the Writing Fellows program, in which a handful of Writing Fellows immerse themselves in self-led research on different aspects of peer tutoring. The purpose of the Writing Fellows Creative Inquiry is to help students conduct and continue this research as they prepare for the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPW).
The range of research conducted by the Creative Inquiry is exemplified by Caroline Mercer, a senior English literature major. Mercer sees the growing importance of technology and decided to conduct her research on the quality of online tutoring compared to sessions conducted in person.
“This next generation is really techy, so I think that online tutoring will only become more and more prominent over the years,” Mercer said.
Mercer’s fellow Creative Inquiry team member, sophomore industrial engineering major Shannon Kay, is also delving into research that will expand her knowledge of peer tutoring and enhance her own sessions. Kay’s research focuses on sequenced assignments, which refers to the relationships between given assignments. McCarroll believes that such student-driven research is one of the most powerful and memorable experiences that an undergraduate can have.
“It gives students a glimpse of what they can do beyond just one class,” McCarrol said. “Self-guided experiences help students feel autonomous and empowered.”
The semester-long research of Mercer, Kay, and the four other Creative Inquiry team members culminated with the National Confrence on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW), held in Tampa, Florida in November 2013. At the conference, the students presented their research and had the opportunity to hear ideas from students from other universities. Both McCarroll and Mercer agree that this conference is the most exciting aspect of the Creative Inquiry, as it places Clemson into the growing discussion of peer tutoring and strengthens the university’s emphasis on writing across the curriculum. Returning from the conference, the Creative Inquiry team returned with new ideas and perspectives to share with the other Writing Fellows that they can then implement in their tutoring sessions.
Ultimately, McCarroll hopes that her students will walk away from the Creative Inquiry knowing that they can effectively communicate their ideas and use these ideas to impact their professional work.
“In a large or small way, they have something to contribute –they are going to enter their job and not only do great work, but also help to transform their field,” she said. Both McCarroll and her students believe that peer tutoring in writing is not about comma splices and superficial issues, but rather about content and delivery. It is these two aspects that drive the Creative Inquiry and push Clemson further into the academic discussion of writing across the curriculum.
Barbara J. Speziale