Spotlight on: Writing Center Workshops at Franklin & Marshall with Justin Hopkins

The Publications Committee is pleased to present the sixth entry in a monthly series on SLAC writing programs. The goal of this series, and of the blog in general, is to make more visible the practices and experiences of those working in WPA roles at SLACs so that we might understand the SLAC WPA community more fully as we learn from one another. We thank Justin Hopkins of Franklin & Marshall College for his contribution.


The Quick Facts on the Franklin & Marshall Writing Center Workshop Program

Describe your program in 100 words or less.

Justin Hopkins (JH): The Franklin & Marshall College Writing Center Workshop Program offers faculty members the opportunity to invite the Center into their classrooms to work with their students on some aspect of the writing process. Generally, the workshops are led by two or more of the Center’s undergraduate peer tutors. Though we tailor each workshop to the class’s specific needs, a typical workshop includes a presentation, examples, and an exercise. Topics range from the macro (invention and organization) to the micro (punctuation and passive voice). Most workshops take place in the general education curriculum, but we have visited higher-level courses as well.

Describe your role.

JH: I manage the Workshop Program. Every semester, I send out email announcements about the Program to all faculty members, soliciting invitations. I then coordinate the requests and schedule sessions. I communicate with the faculty member about the details of the workshop, and I prepare the materials and send them to the tutors, briefing them as necessary.


The Interview

What is new and/or distinctive about your program or project?

JH: When the program was new, in 2004, I believe it was at least somewhat unusual for undergraduate writing tutors to visit classes and conduct workshops, delivering presentations and leading exercises in feedback and revision. That practice has, I understand, become more common—happily so! Hopefully, in-class Writing Center workshops continue to become even more widespread.

One relatively recent aspect of our program has been necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic: online workshops. Beginning as early as April 2020, we offered versions of our workshops online, both synchronously and asynchronously. Synchronous workshops involved tutors joining Zoom classes, delivering the PowerPoint presentations that they would in person, and even experimenting with some small group discussions and exercises in Zoom’s breakout rooms. Asynchronous workshops involved tutors recording themselves delivering the presentations, which faculty members could then show their students during class time, or post online for their students to access. We would also send handouts with prompts for exercises, when appropriate. We were surprised and gratified by the enthusiastic response to both synchronous and asynchronous online workshops, but since F&M has returned to in-person learning, we are happy to have returned to in-person workshops. However, we remain ready to re-deploy online whenever necessary.

What are you especially proud of?

JH: We credit the Workshop Program with helping to increase student traffic to the Center for our standard one-on-one sessions. Part of the reason for the workshops is to raise the Center’s profile on campus. We believe that introducing students to the Center through the workshops, conducted by friendly and capable peer tutors, makes students more likely to schedule one-on-one appointments. Additionally, I’m proud of how much confidence faculty place in the tutors. We know how precious class time is, and that faculty members are willing to give that time to our undergraduate tutors is an impressive demonstration of trust in those tutors’ abilities.

What sorts of challenges does working within a SLAC present for your program or project? What sorts of opportunities does it offer?

JH: Since I’ve only ever worked in a SLAC environment, it’s challenging for me to imagine how different our program might be in the context of a much larger school. One of the benefits of working in a SLAC, as I experience it, is the opportunity for developing close partnerships with colleagues from a wide range of disciplines, perhaps closer and wider than at a larger institution. Because the responsibility for teaching writing is shared across the curriculum, I have enjoyed collaborations with faculty teaching in (I think—it’s hard to keep track!) every department on campus. By preparing for and delivering the workshops I and the tutors get insights into disciplines we might otherwise have little or no reason to encounter.

As you’ve developed your project, what has been your most productive collaboration with another group or office on your campus—and how have you built that relationship?

JH: Through the years, we have developed excellent relationships with many faculty members who regularly request workshops in their classes, both in general education and in the disciplines. Even while drafting this report, I was corresponding with a faculty member who was among the first to request a workshop back in 2004 and who still enthusiastically invites the Center to her classes every single semester that she teaches. This faculty member also continues to offer helpful suggestions, as she was during our correspondence, for further developing each workshop. This kind of constructive feedback has been invaluable to the growth of the program.

What specific readings, activities, or practices would you recommend to directors who may be working with programs similar to yours?

JH: Well, at the risk of seeming narcissistic, read me! I published an article in Praxis (http://www.praxisuwc.com/hopkins-132) describing the workshop program. In my article, I cite, among others, Holly Ryan and Danielle Kane’s excellent (2015) “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Writing Center Classroom Visits: An Evidence-Based Approach” in Writing Center Journal. Definitely read Ryan and Kane. And feel free to contact me—I’d be more than happy to talk more about our workshops!

Questions curated by the SLAC-WPA Executive Board and the Publications Committee.

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