By Lacey Brantley, History Major, Furman University
Unlike most writing centers, the StudioLab at Furman University is not solely devoted to helping students with their written work. We are also the university’s primary technology resource, and one of the greatest challenges of being a student consultant at the StudioLab is balancing these two focus areas.
If I had to give a percentage, I would probably guess that somewhere around 60% of our clients need help with technology in some form: video projects, converting VHS tapes into DVDs, or simply checking out the video cameras, audio recorders, and tripods we have available for student use. The remainder of our clients are here for writing assistance.
On some level, the skills we need to develop to help students with technology are more time-consuming than the skills we need for writing consultations. Technology is much more concrete. We have to know which button to press, which tool to use, which file type will work, and how to use every single program we have to at least a basic level.
Because we spend so much time on technology, I feel like sometimes our role as a writing center gets pushed out of the spotlight. Our staff meetings are generally devoted to figuring out why Computer 2 won’t update Adobe Premiere Pro or which DVD burning tool would be better in a certain scenario, rather than to new strategies for writing consultations.
All of this being said though, we, the student consultants at the StudioLab, never lose sight of our responsibilities. I think probably every single one of us works independently on bettering ourselves as we work with students to improve their writing. For example, if I see a cool resource about how to prevent comma splices, I don’t hesitate to share it with my fellow consultants.
We also spend a large amount of time discussing our personal experiences during writing consultations with each other. It’s very common for one of us to have a difficulty that none of the others have had before, and it’s equally as common for someone who is removed from the situation to come up with a great technique to employ the next time we encounter the problem.
On another level, our work with writing does influence our work with technology; the spheres are not totally separate from each other. At the StudioLab, we try to employ some of the same strategies for both writing and multimedia projects. For example, we often ask clients to read their papers out loud to better hear mistakes or awkward wording; in the same way, we demonstrate to students who are editing video which button or menu they need to click, rather than taking the mouse from them and doing it ourselves. We think both writing and technology should be processes full of collaboration and feedback.
We’ve also spent a lot of time brainstorming on how to get students to devote the same amount of planning on a video project as they would on a term paper. Most students would say they do some sort of pre-writing, be it an outline or an idea map, before beginning a draft of a written assignment. Yet these same students very rarely storyboard a video before they begin filming, even though the smallest amount of planning could drastically improve their final projects. It’s an ongoing process, but the StudioLab consultants are hoping that utilizing conventional writing-based strategies for video projects will improve the quality of students’ work in both realms.
In short, I think the StudioLab is unique precisely because we devote so much time to both technology and writing. And the main way we make it work is simply by relying on one another and sharing thoughts and ideas. I find that if I talk something through with my fellow consultants for long enough, someone will inevitably come up with a solution that I had never thought of. We work together among ourselves the same way we work together with our clients: trying to create a collaborative, effective environment that balances the needs of both writing and multimedia projects.