Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Intake Forms or Takeout Forms?

As I mentioned in my previous post (Writing Center of "Yes"), over the past couple of years the Writing Center @ PSU has undergone many changes--from directorship to location to mission. This full-scale reinvention of ourselves and our mission has also given us the chance to reinvent the WC artifacts at the heart of our day-to-day interaction with the academic community. According to Peter Carino, "The rhetoric that directors produce tells much about how centers, individually and communally, have constructed themselves in the academy" (94). With this in mind, we craft each artifact, in any medium and for any purpose, so that each one contributes to constructing and reinforcing our identity. As a result, our WC mission and identity are consciously manifested through even the simplest documents that we use every day. 

One example of a simple document that we're currently in the process of rethinking is our student intake form. The intake form we use now is doing something for us, but we're wondering if it could possibly be doing something different and better for us. 

In its current form, the student intake form is a single page with our WC's name and contact information, followed by two sections that clients are meant to fill out before their session begins. These ask clients to list their instructor, course, and the assignment for which they're visiting, as well as their name and student ID number. Clients are also asked to indicate what they would like help with during this visit. The rest of the form (about two thirds of the page) is meant to be filled out by the WC consultant, who is asked to list their name, the date, what kind of session (face-to-face or online), and the length of the appointment; this is in addition to two lengthy spaces in which the consultant is asked to list both suggestions they made to the client and what all was worked on during the session. At the bottom of the sheet, PSU's writing values--focus, development, organization, use of sources, style, and editing--are listed as a reminder for the vocabulary consultants are encouraged to use when working with clients and writing about that work. At the end of the session, consultants use the intake form as a reference for filling out their online client report forms. Then, they place the forms in a filing cabinet, and at the end of the year all of the forms are shredded.

Some features in this form are useful. First, the information provided by the student at the top of the form can serve as a conversation starter for the session. It gives the consultant some quick background information and indicates what kind of focus the student would like the session to have, even if more negotiation about this still needs to be done. Second, it allows an opportunity for reflection for consultants when they're asked to comment on what happened during the session, and it also functions as a memory aid for consultants when they're not immediately able to fill out their online client report forms. 

However, there are also some drawbacks to the document in its current form. Specifically, it does not encourage student engagement during and after the session. We've discovered that many students are not leaving the WC with a physical manifestation of the conversation that occurred and a written revision plan. As a result, less revision is happening after WC visits than we would like. Lynn Caldwell (the other Assistant Director) and I thought that an improved intake form could contribute to solving this problem. 

The most significant way in which we're planning to revise the intake form is to include a space for clients to take notes during the session, encouraging them to become more pro-active and less dependent, as Kristin Walker promotes in her article on "Difficult Clients and Tutor Dependency," as well as a space for clients and consultants to collaboratively generate a revision plan that clients could then take with them. These two spaces imply that clients would benefit more from being able to keep the form as a reference during revision than would consultants who have merely been using them to fill out their online client report forms and then file them away. Using the document primarily as a takeout form rather than an intake form has the potential to significantly increase the amount of quality revising clients do once they leave the WC. 

Briefly, this main proposed change suggests that our WC values clients' active reflection and engagement with the work that takes place during their sessions. It also suggests we value efficiency in consultants' practice because another (unintentional, but positive) consequence of this particular revision of the form is that consultants would have to improve their time management skills during their sessions so that they can end them on time in order to fill out their online client report forms immediately instead of putting them off for a later time when they won't be able to easily remember what was discussed. A WC's mission should guide the crafting of its documents and other artifacts, which in turn become a reflection of that WC's identity. 

No comments:

Post a Comment