Contributors: Josh Mehler, Stephen McElroy, and Jennifer Wells
School Affiliations: University of California, Santa Barbara, Florida State University, New College of Florida
Emails: firstname.lastname@example.org, smcelroy at fsu.edu, jwells at ncf.edu
Date Published: 15 January 2015
In this webtext, we describe the tutor training program for Florida State University's Digital Studio, focusing specifically on the training manual designed by graduate students serving as tutors in the studio. This training manual was created with two purposes in mind. First, the manual was created to train and support both new incoming tutors and experienced tutors already working in the Digital Studio. Second, the manual was designed to help resolve a growing recruitment issue: to help new tutors, who increasingly were not volunteering to tutor in the Digital Studio, to feel both more prepared and comfortable working in such an environment. In the following sections, we briefly describe the history of Florida State's Digital Studio, its purpose, and the tools and support it offers students and faculty. Focusing on the Digital Studio's tutor training program, we note the challenges of enlisting and training new tutors for the Digital Studio. We look at the tutor handbook in depth, describing the four major components of the text. Finally, we conclude that the approach that we took in this handbook is just one of many for helping tutors understand and put into practice the connections between digital composing tools and rhetoric, a connection that also assists in helping students see common ground between composing alphabetic texts and multimodal texts. We see this handbook as an initial strategy to recruit students that may be more comfortable tutoring in writing center environments than in spaces where students compose with digital tools. At the same time, the handbook represents an attempt to promote best practices in the field for encouraging digital literacy.
As a whole, we wish to use this text to motivate questions about best practices for employing digital tools for pedagogical purposes. In particular: what are effective approaches to teaching composing with digital tools that extend beyond mere "skills training" and can challenge teachers and students to be critical and rhetorically savvy users of digital software?
In the fall of 2008, the Digital Studio (DS) opened at Florida State University (FSU) and later expanded to a second campus location in the fall of 2011. As a learning facility, the DS supports faculty, graduate instructors and students, and undergraduate students who are working on digital and multimedia projects, such as e-portfolios, websites, visual essays, presentations, and videos. While faculty, graduate instructors and students, and undergraduate students can use the DS as a production space, they can also receive tutorial assistance at the DS. Additionally, faculty and graduate instructors have the opportunity to receive pedagogical support from DS tutors. For instance, visitors can learn how to write code, edit audio, compose videos, and manipulate images.
Two DS locations on the Florida State campus house an array of tools that support this work, including publishing software (e.g., InDesign), image manipulation software (e.g., Photoshop), video production technology and video editing software (e.g., iMovie & MovieMaker), audio editing software (e.g., Audacity & GarageBand), and editors for web and programming languages (e.g., Dreamweaver). Staffed by English graduate students, the DS is affiliated with Florida State’s Reading-Writing Center (RWC), with which it shares a faculty director, formerly Dr. Jennifer Wells and currently Dr. Stephen McElroy.
Both the RWC and DS are staffed entirely by English graduate tutors, and tutors decide individually whether to tutor in the RWC or DS. Since its inception in 2008, the DS has been staffed by tutors who were interested in composing with digital tools. Beginning in annual year 2012–2013, due to a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation requirement, all incoming master of arts and master of fine arts students (as well as doctoral students without teaching experience) in the English Department were required to work in the RWC/DS during their first semester at FSU.
Incoming graduate students are required to participate in a six week intensive training course during the summer preceding their first semester to prepare for this work. During this course, the new graduate students are introduced to tutoring pedagogy and are given basic training in the software that is most used in the DS. Due to time constraints, however, the DS-centric training is limited, so many graduate tutors who are less familiar with digital composing and are uncomfortable with tutoring in the DS frequently opt to work strictly in the RWC—which exclusively focuses on alphabetic texts. The Digital Studio Tutor Handbook (2013) was created as one strategy to respond to this potentially problematic recruitment and staffing issue.
As RWC-DC director from 2011–2014, Wells initiated the creation of the Digital Studio Tutor Handbook in order to support the training of incoming teaching assistants (TAs), to serve as a reference aid for graduate tutors already working in the DS, and to encourage more tutors to volunteer in the studio. In addition, the Digital Studio Tutor Handbook aimed to articulate a standard of good tutoring practice within the DS. Wells had observed that many tutoring sessions in the DS focused solely on completing software tasks or solving technological roadblocks and that many sessions involved little or no conversation regarding higher-order concerns, such as whether a project had appropriately responded to an exigence or whether visitors had considered the needs of their audiences. The Digital Studio Tutor Handbook, written and designed by graduate students tutoring in the Digital Studio, represented an attempt to balance all of these aims by offering a less directive pedagogy that emphasized rhetorical composition and articulated the technical knowledge that tutors needed to successfully work in the DS. The Digital Studio Tutor Handbook was organized into four major sections: "Multimodal Composing," "Session Procedures," "Projects and Programs," and “Key Terms”—an appendix of rhetorical terms applicable to tutoring sessions. We discuss the choices that informed the design of the Digital Studio Tutor Handbook below.
"Writers need to be able to think about the physical design of text, about the appropriateness and thematic content of visual images, about the integration of sound with a reading experience, and about the medium that is most appropriate for a particular message, purpose, and audience." (National Council of Teachers of English, 2004, "Composing occurs in different modalities and technologies," para. 1)
The first section of The Digital Studio Tutor Handbook, "Multimodal Composing," provides a foundational theoretical framework for tutoring in the DS, specifically focusing on linking two conceptual elements with the types of multimodal composing that commonly take place within the DS. These conceptual elements are, first, the centrality of the rhetorical situation as outlined by Lloyd Bitzer (1968) and, second, a notion of information literacy as described by the Association of College & Research Libraries (n.d.).
In applying Bitzer's theory to tutorial sessions, we emphasize that tutors should focus on three key factors during meetings. To begin, tutors should establish an understanding of an exigence for the tutee's text early on in the session. Next, tutors should help tutees articulate a rhetorical audience for such texts. Finally, tutors should assist the tutee in identifying the different constraints associated with the software platforms a tutee might use as a multimodal composer. In balancing these three factors, tutors can help tutees make more informed choices about which platforms would best respond to those exigencies and audiences. We also provide a series of questions that tutors could pose as a heuristic to tutees in order to help them consider each of the parts of the rhetorical situation and assist visitors in the composing process.
Information literacy represents an approach to knowledge that relates to both tutors and tutees in which both improve their skills in locating, evaluating, and using information about multimodal composing tools. First, since the summer training program is brief and new tutors do not get as much supported time to learn many of the Digital Studio's programs as we would like, tutors must improve their knowledge of the programs by practicing using them in the studio and seeking out information online. Second, the ultimate goal of tutoring in the Digital Studio is to help students develop their information literacy abilities, particularly their abilities to independently resolve issues with programs and problem-solve approaches to completing tasks. As a result, in our handbook, we encourage our tutors to model for the tutees the information literacy strategies that they themselves employ to learn the programs, including seeking out information and resources available online. In addition, we prompt tutors to explicitly encourage tutees to develop these skills on their own. In this way, we aim to help tutees develop a meta-cognitive awareness of the information literacy skills that are required in multimodal composing. Further, such an approach challenges the binary between an "expert" tutor that helps resolve problems for a "non-expert" tutee who lacks the agency necessary for seeking out solutions that resolve questions independently.
The second section of the handbook, “Session Procedures,” presents a series of guidelines for working with tutees in the Digital Studio. In “Step One,” the Tutor Handbook begins with effective customer service, employing a "stop, drop, and greet" strategy to make tutees feel immediately welcome in the studio space. Tutors are instructed to greet visitors warmly and ask questions that determine what visitors are working on, if they need individual assistance, or if they are just there to work independently. Regardless of what kind of project they are working on, maintaining regular contact or checking-in with everyone working in the DS is a necessity.
In “Step Two: Rhetorical Situation,” the Tutor Handbook encourages tutors to actively engage with tutees that require individual assistance. By conversing with tutees, tutors are able to better understand and help articulate the rhetorical situation in which the tutee is composing their multimodal text. Some questions we encourage tutors to ask include: What is this assignment asking you to do? What is the assignment prompt? What ideas do you have for this text? What do you like about this text so far? Why? What do you think is less effective about this text? Why?
Realizing that technology is the number one reason students visit the DS and aware that they will often visit the DS with questions about projects or ideas that tutors had not conceived, we developed three basic procedures to help them navigate technological issues. In “Step Three: Technology," we encourage tutors to, first, explain the tool itself, modelling for the student ways to find out more information about it; second, become familiar with explaining a procedure by completing it and having the student follow along on their own machine; and third, use a hands-off approach by letting the student try (and sometimes fail) on their own and offering assistance along the way.
"As tutors, we are not here simply to teach our tutees how to use the programs. We are here to teach them how to learn to use the programs on their own. Allow the tutees the room to explore, investigate, and make mistakes." (Digital Studio Tutor Handbook, 2013, p. 12)
The third section, "Projects & Programs," provides a brief overview of the most-used software available in the Digital Studio and serves as a basic supplement to the summer training course. We describe these programs in two ways. First, in the “Projects” section, we focus on the kinds of projects students visiting the Digital Studio are often working on and point to potential digital tools that they can use to effectively complete them. Second, in the “Programs” section, we provide a brief summary of the most commonly used programs in the Digital Studio, particularly Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, and video and audio editing software.
As a whole, however, this section was intentionally designed to be minimal in order to promote two practices: first, to encourage tutors to learn these programs through independent learning and hands-on practice rather than relying on a manual; second, to avoid any kind of text that would prescribe a specific approach to the software that could delimit how the tutor (and tutee) might employ it.
"What might be the best platform to effectively respond to this exigence? In what ways might these various platforms constrain your aim to modify the exigence?" (Digital Studio Tutor Handbook, 2013, p. 17)
In the final section of the handbook, we include an appendix of key rhetorical terms that can assist tutors working in the Digital Studio. For each of these rhetorical terms, we provide a definition and offer a series of potential questions tutors can pose within the tutoring session itself. For example, in the entry on “pathos,” we suggest asking, after explaining the term to the tutee, questions such as “To what degree might pathos be effectively used in this rhetorical situation?” In the entry on “multimodality,” we suggest asking tutees questions such as “What modes are available to you in this rhetorical situation?” and “In what ways might particular modes highlight/undermine your argument?” By including this information, we aim to give tutors a working terminology of rhetorical terms that they may not be familiar with, but also to give them a script of potential questions to springboard from in a tutoring session. At root, this approach seeks to develop what Stuart Selber (2004) described as multiliteracies—aiming to bridge functional literacy with both critical and rhetorical literacies. In addition, by presenting terms that incoming graduate tutors also learn to employ in the writing center, we aim to demonstrate that even new tutors with less experience with digital tools can still be knowledgeable and effective tutors in the Digital Studio.
As a whole, this handbook has served as an initial step in supporting graduate tutors who, although perhaps experienced in tutoring in a writing center, were less comfortable tutoring students with digital composing tools. While, ideally, equal time during the short summer training sessions would be devoted to training tutors in both the RWC and the DS, this hasn’t been possible to date. In light of these time constraints, the handbook serves as one strategy to provide a resource for incoming tutors that can help encourage them to become more familiar with a larger variety of composing practices, including the creation of multimodal texts. Certainly, the handbook provides support for tutors while not being overly prescriptive about how to use the various digital tools. Considering Alexander and Rhodes’ (2014) call to approach multimodal textual production that is “excessive, discomposed, and resistant,” the handbook aims to provide enough space to encourage a variety of approaches to using different technologies and creating texts. Although the handbook alone has not resulted in a sudden spike in new volunteers to tutor in the Digital Studio, it has, at the very least, helped all of our incoming tutors better understand the practices and approaches shared between the writing center and the studio.
In sum, Digital Studio Tutor Handbook can potentially serve as a model for other writing programs seeking to develop a similar training program. First, it represents a way to extend an invitation to students, as has been the case with incoming English literature majors at Florida State, to consider a variety of composing practices beyond employing alphabetic text. Second, it can begin to bridge the gap between writing centers and sites like the Digital Studio by underscoring the common rhetorical grounding between the two spaces. Ultimately, the handbook is one simple tool that encourages tutors to see the richness of composition as a whole.
Alexander, Jonathan, & Rhodes, Jacqueline. (2014). On multimodality: New media in composition studies. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
Association of College & Research Libraries. (n.d.). Introduction to information literacy. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/issues/infolit/overview/intro
Bitzer, Lloyd F. (1968). The rhetorical situation. Philosophy and Rhetoric 1, 1–14.
Digital Studio: Tutor handbook. (2013). Florida State University's Digital Studio. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_jDhg6YPd8RalZDUmh1X0xrc00/edit
National Council of Teachers of English. (2004). NCTE beliefs about the teaching of writing. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/writingbeliefs
Selber, Stuart. (2004). Multiliteracies for a digital age. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.