Dissertation Writing Institute Goes Remote

Our 18th Dissertation Writing Institute continued through the pandemic this spring despite missing one critical component:  office space. Before this year, the DWI has always provided fellows office space in which to write and work on their dissertations. This space has been a mainstay of our program. DWI fellows put in six hours each day, five days a week, thirty hours each week for the eight-week program. What would the DWI look like without the office space where these writers work? 

This year we had to make a quick and vital decision with limited information.

Shortly after the university announced the decision to move to remote classes on March 11,  2020, Sweetland director, Tessa Tinkle, emailed our 24 fellows to assure them about the upcoming spring institute. The DWI would continue.  Fellows would still receive stipends. 

We still had to sort out what we would do, what the DWI might look like, without much to go on.  

Katie Dimmery

“DWI’s decision to go virtual happened before there were any established norms around what going virtual would mean,” Katie Dimmery, a dual degree student in Asian Languages and Cultures wrote me. “Though I don’t think any of the students knew quite what to expect, the combination of weekly group meetings, frequent one-on-one meetings with instructors, and ongoing group conversations about ‘creating a dissertation writing space’ were really effective for me. I didn’t have an office on campus, but it kinda felt like I did. Didn’t get to hang out in person with any of the other students or instructors, but I felt that I got to know them and to share the writing process with them. AND I made about three chapters.”

And even without the actual office space of past years, we were able to continue, as best we could, providing important program features. 

…having an academic workshop with an amazing group of graduate students from different disciplines made my work better. Their feedback was invaluable.

Charles Wilkes

Charles Wilkes, a doctoral candidate in the School of Education defending his dissertation in the Winter 21, wrote me that “Despite not meeting in person, being a part of the DWI remotely was great. Two things that made the experience great were first being able to meet with my leader frequently. I am at my best when I have to produce writing and get constant feedback. I was able to get that through the institute. Second, having an academic workshop with an amazing group of graduate students from different disciplines made my work better. Their feedback was invaluable. Considering how successful the program was remote, I can only imagine how beneficial it would have been if it were in person. The structure and people at DWI are built for anyone working on their dissertation to make significant progress!”

Writing from home has its distractions.
Photo credit:
Kate Dimmery

Although the DWI could not provide the physical office space for our fellows this year, we made our best efforts—via BlueJeans and Zoom—to provide them with other program features we know matter to dissertation writers. We maintained one-to-one feedback opportunities for fellows to share their in-progress writing and talk about their work with DWI faculty, and we continued offering small interdisciplinary group workshops for each writer.  

While we know what we did miss by not being together this past spring—the informal knowledge sharing, community building, friendships, the printers, and much more—the DWI was able to endure with the help of willing fellows and a swift decision to be supportive and creative in reimagining the DWI, relying on what we could provide fellows, in the strange space and time we all found ourselves this spring.

Louis Cicciarelli
Co-Director, Dissertation Writing Institute
Lecturer, Sweetland Center for Writing

MWrite Goes Remote: In Praise of the Fellows

It goes without saying that this has been a semester like no other. From the transition to remote learning to strikes on campus to the outbreaks and impacts of COVID-19, U-M students have contended with a lot.  

Given all of these challenges, we at Sweetland are grateful for what we can view as successes of the semester, including our ability to help faculty implement writing-to-learn assignments in their MWrite courses. The MWrite program focuses on deepening student learning by using content-based writing assignments as well as a writing process of drafting, peer reviewing, and revising.

Over four years we have been running MWrite, we have learned a lot about how writing-to-learn pedagogies can help with student learning in a range of courses and disciplines. Our research indicates that these assignments can support conceptual learning and disciplinary thinking, while also helping students identify that what they are learning is relevant beyond an academic context (see Finkenstaedt-Quinn et al. JCE 2017; Halim et al. CBE 2018; Watts et al. CERP 2020). With the pandemic, we have learned something new: these assignments translate well to remote learning and provide an important opportunity for students to engage with each other by giving and receiving peer feedback

None of our success this semester would have been possible without our undergraduate Writing Fellows. Writing Fellows are the heart of the MWrite Program and work throughout the semester to help students in their courses.  The work that Writing Fellows do is complex, as it requires not only a solid understanding of assignment content but also ideas for how to explain the material to other students. Although Writing Fellows receive a stipend for their efforts, they often say their favorite part of the experience is the chance to help other students. Fellows are incredibly committed to helping the students in their courses and have noted how much they gain from being a Fellow, especially an appreciation for all of the different ways that students approach their assignment and useful skills in giving feedback and working as part of an instructional team. This semester, Sweetland supported 63 Writing Fellows in 8 different courses, including high enrollment courses such as Stats 250 (Introduction to Statistics) and Math 216 (Differential Equations). We were also able to expand our efforts to the School of Nursing, by working with Professor Megan Eagle on using MWrite in Nursing 420 (Introduction to Global Health). 

CH 216 fellows meeting the afternoon of the Wednesday U-M officially went remote.
Photo credit: Ginger Shultz

Despite the challenges of the semester, the Writing Fellows more than rose to the occasion by investing additional time and energy into their efforts. The Writing Fellows not only did more to hold their remote office hours by learning the ins and outs of Zoom, but also spent more time attending weekly meetings to coordinate our efforts. Writing Fellows were there to help answer student’s questions via email and Piazza and were more than willing to make accommodations when students had emergencies. 

Even more remarkable, the Writing Fellows did all of this while contending with their own challenges related to online learning, COVID outbreaks, and working from different parts of the country and even the world. Our experience this semester just confirmed what we already knew about our Writing Fellows—they represent the best of us and make us proud to Go Blue every day. We are wowed by their perseverance, their compassion, and their work ethic and are so grateful to have the opportunity to work with such a fine group of students.

Through this trying time, we can say this for certain: we have never been more proud of U-M students, for showing up and giving it their all. And we are especially grateful for the work of our Writing Fellows, who not only persevered under such trying circumstances but excelled. We thank each and every one of them for their help in making this semester a success.  

Works Cited

Finkenstaedt-Quinn, S. A., Halim, A. S., Chambers, T. G., Moon, A., Goldman, R. S., Gere, A. R., & Shultz, G. V. (2017).  Investigation of the influence of a writing-to-learn assignment on student understanding of polymer properties. Journal of Chemical Education, 94(11), 1610-1617.

Halim, A. S., Finkenstaedt-Quinn, S. A., Olsen, L. J., Gere, A. R., & Shultz, G. V. (2018).  Identifying and remediating student misconceptions in introductory biology via writing-to-learn assignments and peer review. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 17(2), ar28.

Watts, F. M., Schmidt-McCormack, J. A., Wilhelm, C. A., Karlin, A., Sattar, A., Thompson, B. C., … & Shultz, G. V. (2020).  What students write about when students write about mechanisms: analysis of features present in students’ written descriptions of an organic reaction mechanism. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 21(4), 1148-1172.

Larissa Sano
Lecturer, Sweetland Center for Writing
Faculty Director – Writing in STEM

Ginger Shultz
Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry
MWrite Co-Principal Investigator

Meet our New Program Assistants: Reflections on Being an Online Writing Consultant

Peer Writing Center Program Assistants: Julia Van Goor & Jordyn Houle

When we started this position as Program Assistants in the Sweetland Peer Writing Center (PWC), neither of us were quite sure what to expect. The job was new, the virtual environment was new, and the people we would be working most closely with were new. But over the course of the semester we learned firsthand that the uncertainty of the semester made space for invention.

In August, we quickly learned that we were not alone in working to adapt the PWC to the virtual environment. After virtually consulting all summer, we had both experienced difficulties working with the PWC Online platform. With the support of the wonderful Sweetland community, we were encouraged to revamp our virtual consulting protocol for the semester. Jordyn had the idea of switching to Google Meet and Google Docs and worked to rewrite the consultant appointment protocol to fit the new system. Julia worked to update the wording for writers on the PWC website and appointment form accordingly. After some fine tuning with Interim PWC Faculty Director Shelley Manis and Program Administrator Dan Hartlep, we settled on a new system of virtual consulting for the term and planned a training session to familiarize all current consultants with the updated procedures as well as best practices and advice.

We found that despite occasional technical difficulties, the new system seemed to serve both writers and consultants well. Staff meeting presentations about inclusivity from fellow consultants further reinforced the importance of the closed captioning function on Google Meet and the addition of preferred pronouns to the appointment form. Thanks to the efforts of Shelley and Dan, and of course all of the amazing peer writing consultants, our semester was successful and productive.

Nevertheless, we (and several other consultants) concluded the semester feeling disconnected despite our productivity. Moving forward to next semester, we are working to find ways of building the community that we believe forms the backbone of Sweetland’s greatness. With the input of other consultants, we are finding ways of re-introducing informality to otherwise impersonal zoom meetings and brainstorming new ways to foster friendships within the writing center. We are excited to help bring these ideas to fruition next semester.

Sweetland Fellows Seminar 2020

The Fellows Seminar brings together graduate student instructors (Junior Fellows) and faculty (Senior Fellows) from multiple disciplines who share a commitment to integrating writing in their courses. The program is supported by the College of Literature, Science & the Arts, the Rackham Graduate School, and the Sweetland Center for Writing.

All seminar participants share an interest in helping students become better writers; integrating writing in their courses; and discussing critical issues in the teaching of writing with colleagues.

The Sweetland Fellows Seminar was the most rewarding and enriching pedagogical training I have received at the University. Not only did we read contemporary research on how to effectively center writing in our teaching, the seminar also provided a space for collaborative sharing among faculty, staff, and graduate students who occupy different disciplinary spaces and fill different pedagogical roles. In the process of discussing our various aims for teaching writing and working together to design assignments and assignment sequences, I formed meaningful professional relationships that lasted beyond the seminar. As teachers, we most often focus on how to impart the knowledge of our disciplines to our students, but the seminar provided a rare opportunity to work together across disciplines in our pedagogical practice. 

Lucy Peterson, Junior Fellow

2020 Junior Fellows

Anna Cornel, Classical Languages and Literature
Kim Hess, Sociology
Benjamin Hollenbach, Anthropology
Tugce Kayaal, Near Eastern Studies
Jane Kitaevich, Political Science
Hongling Lu, Material Science & Engineering
Lucy Peterson, Political Science
Niku Tarhechu Tarhesi, Anthropology

2020 Senior Fellows

Gina Cervetti, School of Education
Christine Modey, Sweetland Center for Writing
Ragnhild Nordaas, Political Science
Colleen Seifert, Psychology
Twila Tardif, Psychology
Tessa Tinkle, Sweetland Center for Writing

The Peer Writing Center has moved to 2160 Shapiro!

After many years in the lower level of Angell Hall, the Sweetland Peer Writing Center has moved to the second floor of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.

The new space is the culmination of nearly two years of planning, supported by the work of a small committee of peer writing consultants, led by consultant Regina Chen ‘18, who focused her Minor in Writing capstone project on writing center design. Her work included research into effective learning space design, as well as surveys of writing center clients and focus groups with writing consultants about their needs and preferences for the space.

Accessibility was a key consideration in the space design, with adjustable-height tables and some quieter spaces where noise and light levels can be adjusted to meet students’ needs. There are a variety of seating options, and our handouts are within easy reach of students using a wheelchair. The center includes a reservable multimodal collaboration room for students working on digital group projects. After Sweetland consulting hours, the center remains open to provide additional study space.

We share the new space with the library Peer Information Consultants, who support students with research projects. It’s a logical collaboration, and one that will continue to grow, as our consultants get to know each other better.

Because of our new location in the library, our staff development focus this fall has been on campus collaborations. We’ve hosted presenters from the English Language Institute, the Trotter Multicultural Center, Services for Students with Disabilities, the Department of Public Safety, LSA Academic Advising, and Wolverine Wellness.

Also this fall, the Peer Writing Center opened a new satellite in the Trotter Multicultural Center on State Street. We’re excited to be part of the programming in that building and to learn more about cross-cultural communication from Trotter staff.

Math + Writing = Learning

Math + Writing = Learning. This is the premise of Sweetland’s current offering in the large-enrollment course Math 216 and is part of M-Write’s ongoing process of fostering writing-to-learn across disciplines and departments at U-M. 

What started in 2016 as an effort to pilot writing-to-learn assignments in a few undergraduate courses has evolved into a much larger initiative involving 14 faculty members and over 20,000 students. Sweetland continues to support faculty across campus in using writing as a means of learning and simultaneously trains and supports dozens of undergraduate Writing Fellows each semester who work with these faculty.

Winter 2019 M-Write Fellows (morning class)
Winter 2019 M-Write Fellows (afternoon class)

Beginning in Fall 2019, Sweetland expanded its support of writing-to-learn to include Math 216, Introduction to Differential Equations. This course already included writing assignments designed to help students explain mathematical concepts and make connections between computer labs and course work. What was missing, however, was an opportunity for students to engage in a writing process designed to reinforce learning. 

Sweetland worked with Gavin LaRose, the course coordinator of Math 216, to find ways to improve the writing process for some of these assignments. This collaboration produced modifications to the assignments to allow for feedback, peer review, and revision. The goal of these changes is to encourage students to generate a low-stakes draft, to receive feedback on it and respond to the drafts of others, and then to use this experience to revise their own drafts.

The changes to the assignments in Math 216 reflect the core principles of the M-Write Program. One of these is that student learning can be improved by writing in response to assignments that include several essential elements – a meaning-making task, an assignment with clear expectations, and an interactive writing component that includes interacting with peers through a feedback process. 

Sweetland will continue to expand the number and type of courses it supports in Winter 2020, as we help faculty adopt writing-to-learn approaches in Political Science and Kinesiology, two areas new to M-Write. Throughout this expansion, we continue to focus on understanding how writing-to-learn assignments affect student learning by conducting research that identifies and measures student outcomes. The long-term goal is to create a new U-M equation: all courses + writing = learning.

From LHSP to LSWA: Name Change for Lloyd Scholars

In Summer 2019, the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program (LHSP) officially adopted a new name: Lloyd Scholars for Writing and the Arts (LSWA). Lloyd staff, in consultation with students, chose this name because it better reflects the program’s mission and theme (“writing and the arts”). Yet we haven’t made this decision lightly. Since our program has a long history, starting with the Pilot Program (1962) then transitioning to the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program in the mid-90s, we decided to hold onto “Lloyd” in our new name in deference to this rich history. The new name both honors that past and more accurately describes the program.

LSWA continues to offer innovative writing and arts classes, student-led clubs, poetry awards, leadership opportunities, and an annual writing and arts publication. Most important, the community of first- and second-year students, student leaders, and RAs remains a close-knit, supportive, and diverse group, where students can be creative, whatever their major.

Sweetland faculty provides LSWA students innovative and interdisciplinary writing classes. In the fall term faculty taught a variety of LHSP 125 classes that fulfill the first-year writing requirement. Winter term courses include such old favorites as Writing and Movement and Children’s Literature, as well as new offerings such as Playwriting and Dramaturgy and “Event Zero: Writing into Mystery.” Another winter term highlight: LSWA will showcase artist-in-residence Carrie Morris, a Detroit-based director and performance artist whose work combines puppetry, multimedia, and experimental theatre. Additionally, LSWA is working with the LSA Opportunity Hub on developing arts and writing related internships with LSWA alumni.

To learn more about the program, please check out our student-produced video announcing LSWA’s new name.

Peer Writing Consultant Alumni Survey

What do peer writing consultants gain from their participation in the program? Thanks to our 2018 summer interns, Hannah Clague and Ed Mayes, we have more some robust answers to that question.

First Hannah and Ed adapted the survey instrument from the Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project, originally developed by Harvey Kail, Paula Gillespie, and Brad Hughes. Then they worked with our program coordinator Michael Zakali to send the survey out to 770 former Sweetland peer writing consultants. Two-hundred thirty-two responded, and they told us a number of interesting things about the effect the program had on them.

For instance, almost 80% of alumni said that the program had “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of effect on their development as university students and on their subsequent careers. Sixty percent of respondents believed that the program had “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of impact on their ability to work with people different from them. Open-ended responses indicated that former tutors not only developed improved writing skills, but also increased their confidence levels and ability to offer constructive feedback. The enthusiasm and insight offered by many of the alumni who completed the survey show that the experience of working in the PWC is formative in multiple ways.

Ed and Hannah also provided valuable help to the program by analyzing much of the data we collect on a regular basis. They reviewed all the applications to the peer writing consultant program over the past five years, to understand better who applies, who gets accepted, and who continues on in the program. They also studied the usage data from the peer writing centers over the past four years and compiled it into a spreadsheet that can be easily updated and analyzed, in order to track center usage over time and better understand the writers we serve.

All of these efforts, along with changes to our curriculum and professional development opportunities for consultants, are part of our ongoing work to make the peer writing consultant program both more effective and more inclusive.

Writer to Writer Series & the Minor in Writing Marriage of the Minds Creates Writer to Writer Student-Run Journal

This year two of Sweetland’s ongoing programs, the Writer to Writer series and the Minor in Writing, joined forces. Under the leadership of Writer to Writer chair and Minor in Writing Advisor Shelley Manis, Minor in Writing students have created a student-run journal focusing on interdisciplinary multimodal writing and processes. The journal’s name? Writer to Writer.

After hearing a desire from students for an extra-curricular project on which they could collaborate to create something tangible, Manis and fellow Minor in Writing advisors Julie Babcock and Jimmy Brancho set out to make it happen. This summer, they formed a working group to explore student interest, research other student-run journals, and imagine what Sweetland’s might look like.

Writer to Writer will be comprised of an annual print publication and biannual e-publication with polished student pieces, as well as a website/blog with monthly, more informal publications of student pieces. A core group of committed students has established an Executive Board, formed a student org, and sent out calls for content based on the following vision statement, crafted by the EBoard:

Writer to Writer aims to foster interdisciplinary creativity by showcasing the literary work of University of Michigan students in a variety of modes, mediums, and genres. We hope to create a space through which we can not only cultivate an appreciation for the minds behind the content, but also encourage collaboration and growth amongst our community of writers. By building a publication of strong, challenging, and engaging content, we seek to provoke readers and celebrate the power of creative expression.

Writer to Writer’s Executive Board and teams:
Co-editors in Chief — Jacob Stropes & Antonia Vrana
Outreach Chair — Aylin Gunal | Team: Will Solmssen, Briana Johnson
Art & Design Chair — Brooks Eisenbise | Team: Lauren Weiss, Antonia Vrana
Administrative Chairs (Secretary & Treasurer) – Caitlyn Zawideh & Christine Lee
Submissions Chair — Lauren Weiss

Look for the first electronic issue in December or January, and the first annual print publication in 2019.

2018 Fellows Seminar

The Fellows Seminar brings together Faculty (Senior Fellows) and graduate student instructors (Junior Fellows) from multiple disciplines who share a commitment to integrating writing into their courses. Fellows confer with local and national visiting speakers, learn ways of helping students become better writers, discuss concerns about teaching in the age of the internet, learn how to integrate writing in their courses, and examine approaches to incorporating writing across the disciplines. For more information visit the Senior Fellows or Junior Fellows pages on our website. Listen to our Topics in Writing podcast featuring Fellows Seminar visiting speakers.

Senior Fellows (Faculty)

Sigrid Anderson Cordell,  English
Jimmy Brancho, Sweetland
Anne Gere, Sweetland
Michael Makin, Slavic
Bruce Mannheim, Anthropology
Matthew Solomon, Screen Arts & Cultures

Junior Fellows (Grad Students)

Sahin Acikgoz, Comparative Literature
Jillian Myers, Biology
Kyra R. Pazan, Anthropology
Adriana Ponce, Sociology
Rachna Reddy, Anthropology
Rachel Webb, Mathematics
Jana Wilbricht, Communication Studies
Sunhay You, English & Women’s Studies

Peer Writing Program Assessment

Peer Writing Program Assessment

Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back.

This summer, with the help of our Sweetland interns, Ashley Bishel and Clinton Rooker, we undertook an assessment of the Peer Writing Consultant Program to understand what it is accomplishing for writers and consultants—and to consider how we might want to improve our work.

We began by looking at the data we collect on a routine basis, such as our client registration data, appointment data, session evaluations, end-of-year surveys, and peer consultant exit interview data. We acquired some additional data about our clients and our consultants from the registrar—and we discovered some interesting things. For example:

  • 3% of enrolled undergraduate students used the Peer Writing Center in 2016-2017
  • about 64% of our clients are female; about 36% of them are male
  • about 15% of our clients are first-generation college students
  • about 24% of our clients are international students
  • First-year writers make up 42% of our clients
  • writing center clients have slightly higher than average ACT scores, first year writing course grades, and GPAs

Our clients are satisfied with the Peer Writing Center services. About forty percent of responses to our session exit survey indicated that writers found writing or revision strategies they learned were helpful; clients also appreciated consultants’ emphasis on addressing “higher order concerns”—such as structure, organization, development of ideas, use of evidence, etc.

In the end-of-year surveys, our clients indicated that they grew as writers in their ability to revise drafts and to edit their own writing—and in their ability to give and receive feedback about their work. Just as importantly, our clients felt “welcomed and accepted” in the Peer Writing Center.

Our consultants represent a variety of majors beyond English, including anthropology, biochemistry, economics, French, information, and music performance. And they include students who identify as white, Asian, black, and Hispanic. The consultants’ reflections on time in the program indicate that they develop increased awareness of themselves and their writing process, as well as skills that will serve them in professional contexts, including communication skills, interpersonal skills, and appreciation of diversity.

2017 Fellows Seminar

The Fellows Seminar brings together Faculty (Senior Fellows) and graduate student instructors (Junior Fellows) from multiple disciplines who share a commitment to integrating writing into their courses. Fellows confer with local and national visiting speakers, learn ways of helping students become better writers, discuss concerns about teaching in the age of the internet, learn how to integrate writing in their courses, and examine approaches to incorporating writing across the disciplines. For more information visit the Senior Fellows or Junior Fellows pages on our website. Listen to our Topics in Writing podcast featuring Fellows Seminar visiting speakers.

Senior Fellows (Faculty)

Samar Ali (Near Eastern Studies)
Gary Beckman (Near Eastern Studies)
Anne Gere (Sweetland)
Elizabeth Goodenough (Residential College)
Shuwen Li (Sweetland)
Vilma Mesa (School of Education)
Sheila Murphy (Screen Arts & Cultures)

Junior Fellows (Grad Students)

Alena Aniskiewicz (Slavic Languages & Literature)
Christian Greenhill (Materials Science & Engineering)
Jacqueline Larios (History)
Lori Smithey (Architecture & Urban Planning)
Elizabeth Tinsley Johnson (Anthropology)

Peer Writing Consultant Retreat

About twenty-five peer writing consultants gathered on Sunday, September 18, to celebrate and reimagine the peer writing center and the work we do here.

The retreat was planned by a committee of peer writing consultants who worked throughout the summer to develop activities that would provide us all with the opportunity to think creatively and collaboratively about the mission of the peer writing center. These dedicated consultants are Emily Gorman, Areeba Haider, Sonalee Joshi, Clint Rooker, Sarah Tsung, Brooke White, and Brie Winnega.

The day opened with an icebreaker to learn about the origins of each others’ names, followed by a team art activity: design the ideal writing center, using repurposed materials. We broke for lunch, then reconvened with another icebreaker, this time an improv game. We followed up on the “ideal writing center” activity by answering the following questions in small groups, then doing a gallery walk of responses:

  • What are your obligations and responsibilities to yourself?
  • What are your obligations and responsibilities to writers who visit the SPWC?
  • What are the values you’d most like to see the SPWC embody?

Following the gallery walk, small groups drafted one-sentence mission statements for the peer writing center, based on what they saw.

We broke for some theater games with Sara Armstrong from CRLT Players, to get our energy up for the rest of the afternoon. Our afternoon drew to a close working in small groups to plan various projects for the year, including another installment in the Sweetland-Skyline collaboration, the all-campus Peer Tutor Summit, social events for consultants, and outreach to the wider campus. Our last activity was to create envelopes for each consultant, to give us a chance to express gratitude to each other.

This day was a great way to start the semester with our colleagues in the writing center and to focus our hearts and minds on becoming the community we want to be.