Another good question, Emmy, and thanks to Ginny for a fine description of the
uses and limitations of immediate informal responses.
Recently the various writing centres at U of T have moved in two ways to
strengthen the validity of our feedback. First, we got together and agreed on a
common form using a shared structure but with variability in questions. It was
set up using the same 7-point rating scale as used in course evaluations, and
(with some local diffulties) writing directors managed to find ways of
maintaining confidentiality in collecting and processing the forms -- usually
involving a locked box and a secretary. To combine the advantages of the
immediate comments and the official type, some writing centres hand out this
form on a regular basis and the directors process it for "formative" feedback to
instructors; then they hand it out on a confidential basis for a specified
period, perhaps a month at the end of the year. This method has provided useful
data for writing instructors to use in annual performance reviews and promotion
It's certainly harder to evaluate the institutional impact of writing centres,
but we have had good results here in several instances by applying the methods
used to evaluate academic programs of the "regular" type. In one internal
review, for instance, committee members from inside and outside the writing
centre looked at the student evals as a group, read the director's reports on
usage rate and the outline of other "outreach" activities, then interviewed a
selection of students and departmental faculty. This was a fairly
impressionistic qualitative review, but it satisfied the immediate need to show
what the writing centre was contributing to the college.
A few years later, the seven college principals commissioned one of their number
to analyse and evaluate the function of all of their writing centres in a report
to the Dean, who was wondering why they spent all that money on them. That study
resulted in a solid 65-page report outlining the theory and history of writing
centres in general and at U of T, and then describing the work and giving usage
figures for each of the college writing centres. That formed the basis of a
request for equalization funding from the Dean (they got it) and I think
contributed to renewed respect for what college writing centres do within the
Faculty of Arts and Science as a whole.
Most recently we have seen excellent results from a full external review of the
newest program here, one set up for graduate students and funded as a pilot
program by central administration. As with departmentalr reviews, one expert
from outside the university and one from inside sat down for two or three days
and went through a binder-full of data and analysis from the program's director,
examined the course structure and descriptions, and interviewed program faculty,
students, and faculty from other departments. Their report gave a rave review to
Jane Freeman and her work, and led to base funding of the program and
confirmation of two new positions, not to mention excellent publicity for the
program. This was a huge amount of work for all concerned, but did indicate that
the program deserved to be taken seriously.
Emmy, I don't know whether your President would be willing to undertake such a
review, but he might consider it if you suggested it. I believe the academic
writing centre at York had such a review a few years ago, conducted by Anthony
Pare. Perhaps someone at York can confirm.
You will note that the models above all pertain to the teaching functions of
writing centres, not just to their "service" elements. Talking in those terms
might be one more way to show that that's how you see your work.
All the best,
University of Toront Coordinator, Writing Support
[log in to unmask]
> I have been asked to look into ways of evaluating the one-on-one
> appointments we offer for students at Laurier's Writing Centre. This request
> has come from the university president who appears to want student
> evaluations of writing centre appointments in place before committing to a
> planned increase in funding for the Writing Centre. Improved funding is good
> news, of course, but before I proceed, I would very much welcome input and
> advice from people on the listserv.
> If you have a moment, I would love to have your response to some of the
> questions below, or comments of any kind that you think useful:
> If you do evaluations at your writing centre, please tell me about
> If you don't do evaluations, what is your reason?
> Which questions to you ask and which ones do you avoid asking?
> How do you gather the evaluations?
> How do you analyze the results?
> To whom do you report the results and how are they used?
> What are the pitfalls?
> If you have any questionnaires you are willing to share, I would be very
> Thanks in advance for doing this.
> Emmy Misser, MA
> Writing Centre Co-ordinator
> Wilfrid Laurier University
> Phone: (519) 884-0710, Ext. 3339
> Fax: (519) 746-2472
> Web Site: http://www.wlu.ca/writing
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> For the list archives and information about the organization,
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To leave the list, send a SIGNOFF CASLL command to
[log in to unmask] or, if you experience difficulties,
write to Russ Hunt at [log in to unmask]
For the list archives and information about the organization,
its newsletter, and the annual conference, go to