Maggie Collins is earning her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing at Bowling Green State University. Her research interests include writing program administration, writing assessment, and composition pedagogy. Before attending BGSU, she attended DePaul University where she earned her M.A. in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse while working at DePaul University’s University Center for Writing-based Learning as a peer writing tutor.
Writing center tutors try to accommodate every writer who wants feedback, but tutors often utilize the same strategies for different writers. These strategies are not effective with all writers because everyone has different learning styles and composing processes; therefore, it is necessary to determine how writing centers can better serve writers so that they can easily create drafts that capitalize on their skills.
With the increase of technology use and technological advances today, writing centers should examine using assistive technology (AT) in tutorials to see how it can help writers in a new way. Assistive technology is defined as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, off-the-shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities” (as cited in Raskind & Higgins, 1998, pg. 27). This definition follows most people’s understanding of assistive technology, which makes AT a “marked” term that implies users have learning disabilities (LDs). However, the definition is slowly evolving, such that it expands to include an even broader spectrum of users: “Assistive Technology (AT) is a tool for making the learning environment more accessible and for enhancing individual productivity” (Hetzroni & Shrieber, 2004, pg. 143). Yet, even this expansion does not effectively alter the state of the word’s meaning, because the word is still widely associated with disabilities.
Because of this definition and the adjustment to high-tech tools, many tutors are hesitant about using AT during appointments and tend to shy away from it completely and thereby miss opportunities to help writers improve their skills using new methods. One method to encourage AT use may solely be education on the subject, so the first portion of this essay reveals how assistive technology encourages writers and aids in writing skill development to ensure it is a tool that can help tutors better accommodate writers. Next, the frames of Universal Instructional Design and learning preferences will be overviewed to explain how tutors can think about incorporating AT into sessions with various types of learners. This information sets up the information gathered from a focus group of writing tutors regarding how writing tutors feel about using AT in their appointments and recommending them to writers. The final section utilizes the focus group findings, discusses them to determine how tutors may think about the implications of AT, and recommends which specific technologies writing centers should integrate into their tutor training.