Writing Center directors have the most control over internal factors: who is hired as a tutor, what criteria are used to hire, and how tutors are trained. We rarely have any say over where our centers are located, or how they are designed and equipped. Too often, writing centers are shoved into any unused corner or classroom available. The space isn’t chosen for its effectiveness. It is chosen simply because no one else wanted it. But if space is the most important factor in determining whether students return to a writing center, recommend that writing center, or believe that the tutors in that writing center have the ability to effectively share a body of knowledge (As my research suggests), and center directors have little or no influence over that factor, are directors being unfairly evaluated when their administration looks at their ability to retain current users, and bring in more?
By being denied the option to choose and design a writing center space based on both empirical research and best practices, are center directors being destined for failure? No one would expect a researcher in the STEM areas to conduct research in a lab that wasn’t properly designed and equipped for maximum results, yet both writing center directors, tutors, and the students who use those centers are expected to work in substandard locations every day.
After 9 years in the same location, my writing center moved. I was lucky enough to be asked what I wanted in my new space—a question I researched carefully. As a result, the center’s new space was very different from the old space, and I wanted to know if the new space would affect students’ satisfaction with the center.
I wanted to answer the following questions:
- Does whether a tutor is considered knowledgeable affect whether a student will return to the writing center?
- Does whether the tutor shares his or her knowledge effectively affect whether a student will return?
- Does whether a tutor is knowledgeable affect whether a student will recommend the writing center?
- Does whether a tutor shares his or her knowledge effectively affect whether a student recommends the writing center?
- Does a student’s’ satisfaction with the space affect whether a student will return?
- Does a student’s satisfaction with the space affect whether he or she will recommend the writing center?
- Is it true that the lower the students’ satisfaction with the space the less likely they are to return?
My data supports the importance of the physical space in which writing centers are typically housed, and reiterates the need for writing centers to be designed intentionally, not squeezed in wherever the administration can find room, and outfitted with furniture and equipment that no one else wants. I hope that even this small scale study will have effects:
- I hope you are empowered to conduct your own research. Each of you is in possession of a treasure trove of important information, both statistical and anecdotal. Share it, so we can all learn from it.
- I hope you are empowered to make some noise—“. . . noise should be expected and recognized for what it is: an attempt to alert others” (Boquet 6). Let your organization’s decision-makers know that you will not be satisfied with the broom closet. You, your tutors, and your students deserve more.
Where do you stand on the space issue? Share photos of your space in the comments below, and let me know how it works.
1. Boquet, Elizabeth H. Noise from the Writing Center. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2002. Print.