The Breakroom : A Collaborative Webseries by DePaul’s University Center for Writing Based Learning

Jan 17th, 2014 | By | Category: Featured Reading

The DePaul University Center for Writing-based Learning (The UCWbL) is proud to present the latest episode of our web series about peer writing tutoring, The Breakroom! View DePaul’s Youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheUCWbL .

Our latest episode is called “The Kryptonite.” It addresses those times when a tutor’s ideology doesn’t quite mesh with that of the writer during their work together. The episode includes some research- and scholarship-derived ideas on how to address these potentially difficult situations. It’s a great tool for helping tutors think about what their personal “kryptonite” is during an appointment! And there’s also some jokes.

More about the DePaul UCWbL’s web series:

As the film team of DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL), we wanted to create a webseries that would use humor to engage and educate peer writing tutors in and outside of our Writing Center and Writing Fellows Program because we thought the sitcom genre would be effective for talking about peer writing tutoring. We wanted to design a series that could develop over the years, following many different tutors and fellows as they encounter various roadblocks in their work. Additionally, we hoped our series would complement existing articles and resources on the best practices in peer writing tutoring. We’re grateful that our first two episodes have gotten such positive feedback from our peers all over the country, and are hopeful that our videos continue to provide an effective resource for our peer tutoring friends. We have plans for our film team, now called UCWbL Films, to continue working on new Breakroom episodes.

Learning Across Curricula

As a Digital Cinema major at DePaul University, I feel that film is a medium allowing for visual representation of themes that can be difficult to grasp when reading them on paper. Film can sometimes reach a wider or different audience than writing can, especially given many people’s preference for brevity and immediacy. When I began working at the UCWbL, I knew that joining the Films Team would allow me to combine two things that I greatly enjoyed: filmmaking and tutoring. As we set out to reach peer writing tutors nationwide, I never imagined the great sense of gratification and the tremendous growth that would happen in the process.

I became a part of the team during the final stages of editing the first episode of The Breakroom and was excited to begin work on the second; having made a few short films, I was eager to contribute my knowledge and experiences. That is the beauty of what we do: not only do we provide people in the peer tutoring community additional resources for their own growth and development, we ourselves have benefitted tremendously from the experience of making this webseries. It was the first time I was able to collaborate with this many talented individuals, and I have seen improvements in my own writing and communication skills because of it. Aside from helping write the script, I was able to contribute my filmmaking knowledge to the production and post-production processes. As a team our efforts are becoming more refined with each episode and that is due greatly to our ability to collaborate with each other.

I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with on The Breakroom. I look forward to continuing our collaboration, and I’m excited to see the webseries progress in the coming years.

–Beth Kowalczyk, Digital Cinema, Class of 2013

Real-Life Applications

We created The Breakroom to complement the scholarly articles peer tutors are immersed in and the conversations that happen among writing tutors in real-life break rooms. I think the series offers a narrative that resonates with tutors in a way that journal articles do not or cannot—through characters, humor, and film. The videos also open a space for conversation: suddenly we’re talking to writing center tutors and administrators across the country, discussing how they’re using the videos we’ve created, giving us feedback on our videos, or even creating their own videos. We’re engaging in dialogue about how our field can best benefit from this growing medium.

These videos help tutors remember practical uses for the theory they read about. In The Breakroom, characters apply writing center theory in realistic if exaggerated situations. It’s one thing to read about theory and another to watch a story with characters facing challenging tutorials—to watch them apply specific strategies for addressing the same issues that we as tutors actually face. As tutors work to build and realize their personal tutoring methodologies, these videos help make the strategies they’re internalizing more concrete.

I’ve been part of UCWbL Films since its inception. It’s been so exciting to watch the team shift and evolve as different people contribute their perspectives to the mix, and making these films has remained an incredibly collaborative process. I’ve worn the hats of a writer, cinematographer, and film editor. I’ve become more creative with a camera and more skilled at Final Cut Pro.

I really love being a part of the UCWbL Films community. You don’t really know your colleagues until you’ve sat midnights in the blue glow of the computer correcting color and fine-tuning audio the day before a video debuts. Also, the film shoots: the big lights, cords and tripods everywhere. You should see our outtakes.

–Sarah Hughes, M.A. Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse, Class of 2012

What I Learned from Working on The Breakroom or
My Take on Why You as Peer Writing Tutor Director Should Consider, Budget and Time Permitting, of Course, Working with Your Staff on Scripted Training Videos (Assuming Our Particular Experience has Some Generalizable Qualities)

You will have deep, complicated, and probing discussions with your film crew about what both they and you perceive as the most important issues your staff members face in their work with writers.
• This discussion will make explicit—if it wasn’t already—the gaps that they and you see in their existing training. You will quickly see what aspects of your existing training members of your film crew have internalized, and which aspects they haven’t. You might even smile with satisfaction when one of your new Writing Fellows, enrolled that very quarter in your training course, writes a joke with the punchline, “What would Nancy Sommers say?,” showing you that all the work you did to help them understand Sommers’s insights about “appropriation” of writers’ texts got through to at least one of your students.

You will have deep, complicated, and probing discussions with your film crew about how you want to represent the work of peer writing tutoring, your center’s or program’s values and mission, and the role of the peer writing tutor.
• You might, as we did, create peer writing tutor characters who represent your center or program. If you do this, as you write and read script drafts, you will have conversations about whether or not a peer writing tutor trained and working at your center or program “would say that in that way.” You will calmly explain to one of your script writers that even though Charlotte is a somewhat rigid perfectionist, no one trained at your center would ever use a red pen to comment on student writing so that needs to be cut immediately.

If you choose to put research-based “solutions” to the challenges your characters face as central to your scripted training video, you and your film crew will read and reread landmark and newly published scholarly articles about peer writing tutoring, peer tutoring more generally, the role of writing in higher education, and teaching and learning.
• You can model and train staff members to read research articles for findings they can apply to their work as peer writing tutors. You will have productive discussions with them about the methodology of the articles you read and, if you so choose, push them to include findings from empirical research studies, some of which might challenge crew members’ and your own intuitive ideas about working with writers in a one-to-one writing center or writing fellows context. You will all be enlightened when your crew members in the “writer’s room,” finally stop dissecting their weekend dates and turn to summarizing the research article you helped them find through EBSCOhost, and one of them exclaims with surprise, “I’m pretty sure this study is saying that off-topic conversation in peer tutorials is beneficial in that it often gives the tutor and tutee time to discuss the tutee’s metacognitive awareness of herself as a learner.”

You will have deep, complicated, and probing discussions with your film crew—as you draft scripts and edit video—that make manifest a rigorous and ongoing commitment to revision and more revision.
• You will get the chance to model how committed you are to the process of drafting to discover and define the content of your script. All of you will experience the amazing and difficult realities of collaborative writing, and you might even let a few lines stay in the script that you’re not totally in love with, just to show you’re a team player. That said, you also will show your film crew—once again—just how important you think the work you do as peer writing tutors is, and when you do offer push back and suggestions for (i.e., requirements for) revision, you will articulate what kinds of representations of your work are absolutely unacceptable or necessary. You will strongly declare that even though Woody Allen is your hero we don’t, even in a fictional context, laugh at the writers we work with, only ourselves, for it is only ourselves that have agency to control and isn’t that the whole point of these training videos.

There’s lots more I could say about what I learned from working with excellent UCWbL Films team members like Sarah and Beth, among others, and why I found the experience more valuable than I could have predicted. For now I’ll say that if you want more information about our process or just want to discuss this kind of work further, feel free to get in touch with me.

–Matthew Pearson, Writing Fellows Program Director

The Breakroom can be viewed at the following link :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4a6Nw-3qgdE&feature=channel_video_title&noredirect=1

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