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5 I ntegrating A ssessment into Yo ur C enter ’ s Other W o r k Not Your Typical Methods Chapter Ellen Schendel Writing centers are busy—at times, even chaotic—places. Many offer drop-in support; many directors manage multiple satellite locations; and writing centers may offer in-center as well as other kinds of support around campus, such as fellows programs, writing workshops, OWLs, synchronous and asynchronous tutoring programs, faculty/staff development workshops, and instructional support. There simply isn’t time for a writing center director (WCD), even with a robust staff, to fit a completely new and ongoing activity into the daily work of the center. For that reason, assessment can only really work for writing centers when it’s integrated into the other work of the center. On the one hand, WCDs need to keep the writing center comfortable and non-bureaucratic, retain a democratic atmosphere where tutors are not “put upon” to do work that conflicts with assisting writers, and keep assessment from creating another layer of work for their centers to manage . On the other hand, directors have the desire—and perhaps the mandate—to increase assessment activities to better understand writing centers’ work. How can we reconcile these seemingly different things? It’s this kind of methodology—strategies for getting the work done effectively —that I would like to discuss further in this chapter, along with methods for gathering useful assessment data. Many writing assessment scholars, such as Brian Huot in (Re) Articulating Writing Assessment (2002) and Linda Adler-Kassner and Peggy O’Neill in Reframing Writing Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning (2010), have written about the need to change the discourse of assessment even as we use assessment to better understand teaching and learning. As suggested in chapter 2, by explicitly describing your values, devising outcomes and goals from them, and communicating 116    BUILDING WRITING CENTER ASSESSMENTS THAT MATTER your results in persuasive ways to your audience, you’ve done the most important work associated with assessment: you have based your assessment on foundational principles within the field of writing center scholarship and you have framed the discourse about assessment of writing centers with the values of your center and the field. Rather than shaping your writing center’s work around the discourse of assessment on your campus, you’ve made your assessment goals and outcomes a statement of what your center values, believes, and does. This is important work, but when directors think about doing assessment , we often focus on the actual gathering and writing up of information before we have a clear idea of our questions and interests, or before we think about what our assessment activities communicate to others about our values. And “doing assessment” is labor-intensive. In my own writing center work, collecting, analyzing, and interpreting the data feels like the most overwhelming work of the whole enterprise. It can be time consuming and feel chaotic, so it can end up feeling like the “heavy lifting” of assessment. Quite frankly, I enjoy planning assessments and reporting on them much more than actually gathering and analyzing the data; although I know it is creative, generative work, gathering and analyzing data fills me with self-doubt: Are the staff and I collecting the right information? Are we analyzing the data properly? Are the conclusions fair? Does this information really help the writing center to move forward? Are the methods sound, and will they stand up to scrutiny by external audiences? (At the end of this book, Bill and I grapple with yet another question: How do we manage the criticisms our assessments may receive from others?) There are some obvious reasons for cutting to the core of these issues and collecting useful information in methodologically sound ways. You need the information to be reliable and useful, convincing enough to speak to what is going on in your center. And given the range and busyness of a WCD’s daily professional life, doing assessment well requires creative ways of fitting it into your center’s already busy atmosphere. It can feel difficult to fit “gathering data” into the life of the center. If you’re going to collect data about writers and writing, students and tutors are going to notice what is going on; you might feel resistant to letting assessment become an additional layer of bureaucracy that interferes with tutors and writers establishing rapport and efficiently turning their attention to writing. So you need to find space for...


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