Meet Liz Coughlin, Program Director for Outreach & The Writing Center

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Liz

1.  What is your job title and primary responsibilities at UCWbL?

I am Associate Director of the University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL), and my primary role is Program Director for the Writing Center.  I also direct the UCWbL’s outreach initiatives, and I teach WRD 395, Writing Center Theory and Pedagogy, which our undergraduate tutors take, as well as Technical and Professional writing courses for the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse (WRD).  I work very closely with our tutors and writers, of course, but also with faculty and staff across DePaul

 
2.  What do you like most about your job and working at DePaul?

I like the scholarship which permeates writing and writing center studies, but without a doubt the most rewarding part of the job is my work with our peer writing tutors, with colleagues within and beyond the UCWbL, and especially with the writers we work with, whose interests, talents, and needs challenge and inspire every day.  We work with undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni from all corners of the University and we refer to our constituents as “writers.”

I’ve had the good fortune of working with great colleagues across the University, particularly at SNL.  We conducted 13, 335 appointments last academic year, and 1 in 10 writers who used the UCWbL were SNL students (graduate and undergrad).  On a historical note, back in 1998, SNL faculty and students were among our first participants when we first began providing feedback for writers online through DePaul’s Annotations Environment.  In those days we linked our online service to selected classes in an arrangement that in some ways resembles our Writing Fellows program today.  We worked with SNL College Writing and creative writing courses, Critical Thinking on the Web, Foundations, LL300 Major Seminar, Research Seminar courses, and at least one online course section — real cutting-edge stuff back then.  SNL participants were especially valued partners, because their feedback really helped us think carefully about building this service.  We have had SNL students and alums on our tutoring staff, and we hope to have more.

 
3.  Can you tell us more about the services provided at UCWbL?

We work with virtually all types of writing, at any stage in the life of a writing project, including eportfolios, conference presentations, creative, workplace, self-directed, application, as well as academic projects.
You don’t need to be in a writing class, you do not even have to have written a word in order to meet with us – we help writers brainstorm topics, analyze assignment requirements, and develop ideas all the time.  Although it can be difficult to find the time to make an appointment, especially at the very beginning of a project, when we help writers focus their topic and ideas early on, that can save time in the long run. Along the same lines, when we provide feedback for a work in progress, we generally start by focusing on its “global” features such as how it fulfills the assignment, its main ideas, supporting evidence, and the ways that things are explained and connected, and then fine-tune our focus down to the sentence level because the “big” components generally take more time and because that approach saves writers from spending time on sentence elements that their global revisions might end up even deleting.

 
Another point that I want to include here, although it’s probably obvious, is that although we are familiar with SNL courses, because of the enormous array of projects we see, we cannot be subject-matter experts, but we can and do operate as dedicated, interested general readers.  So much of our feedback begins with the phrase “as a reader” because one of our goals is to help writers to see if the words they’ve employed have conveyed the messages they intended to convey.
Writers may schedule up to two hours of appointments per day, up to three hours of appointments per week.  Their appointments can be one to one or group meetings, in-person, or online.

 
A service that I wish to single out for SNL is our Writing Groups. As the name indicates, this service is designed to enable a small group of people to work side by side and/or together on their writing projects.  The dynamic is different from one-to-one tutorials or conferences, for it allows writers to give as well as to receive feedback, which research as well as experience has shown can really sharpen the writerly eye of everyone in the group.  Writing groups also provide a forum for writers to talk about their work with more than one reader.  Writing groups can be organized in all sorts of ways, and their members can adjust their agendas according to their needs.  For example, some writers want to use their writing group time primarily to write, so we’ll set up their writing group to allow them to do just that, while also factoring time for them to take a writing break and talk with the group about their work.  We have several ongoing writing groups that people can join, but writers also can request a writing group.  For example, we can facilitate a writing group for a small cluster of SNL students working on their ILPs.

 
SNL writers and others attend our standing writing groups at Naperville and O’Hare on Saturday mornings, and we hope to resume our writing group at the Oak Forest campus as soon as staffing allows.  Even though they are small in scale, those writing groups are particularly important to us because we are not able to operate a full-service office location at the suburban campuses. Our suburban campus writing groups enable us to work with more writers than a one-to-one tutoring outpost would make possible.  Some of our suburban campus writing group members augment their writing group work with one-to-one written feedback or online real-time appointments.  We offer an online option for Writing group meetings, as well.

 
Our ongoing writing groups also include groups for creative writers, for screenwriters, and two groups for faculty (some are SNL faculty), which operate online using Google Hangouts.

 
4.  What types of services do you provide for students who reside outside the Chicago area?  

Writers who cannot get to our physical locations can use Chat with a Tutor for quick questions, Written Feedback, and Online Realtime appointments.  We have information about these services on our website at:  http://condor.depaul.edu/writing/what/Writing%20Center/wc.html

 
5.  What types of services do you provide for students who live in the Chicago area? Are services provided at the suburban campuses as well?

All online services I described above plus one-to-one and group appointments in our offices in the Loop and LPC, our Writing Groups at Naperville, O’Hare, Loop, and LPC campuses and online, and outposts in the Loop Library and in the new Learning Commons (http://libguides.depaul.edu/learningcommons) in the Richardson Library at LPC.

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