Inhabiting the Writing Center

A Foyerstic View of Owls Introduction Treatment of Physical Space Conclusion References

Treatment of Physical Space
A Foyeristic View of OWLs
Works Cited

Nathalie Singh-Corcoran
Amin Emika,
West Virginia University

A Foyeristic View of OWLs

Throughout the 80s and much of the early 90s the discussion surrounding computers and writing centers was largely focused on the computer as a free-standing, static tool. While as early as 1979, arguments were being made about the consequences of digital technology on writing centers, it was not until the late 80s that scholars began regularly discussing the unique pedagogical opportunities that computers presented. As scholars explored the potential of computers beyond the early debate between tutorial programs and one-on-one tutoring (Epes, 1979; Kemp, 1987; Southwell, 1983; Veit, 1979), articles that discussed how word-processing programs impacted student composition and revision practices began to appear (Farrell, 1987; Luchte, 1987; Scharton, 1989; Serico, 1986). These early discussions recognized that computers changed "the way we teach, tutor, and write" (Luchte, 1987, p. 11). While valuable work in this vein has continued and evolved (Buck, 2008; Simmons, 1995), the scholarship often situates computers within the kinds of preexisting environments discussed in our section on physical space.

This section provides some background on the conversations that surround online writing centers. That said, isolating scholarship that considers the spatial relationship writing centers have with technology proved more difficult than in our section on physical centers. In her review of The OWL Construction and Maintenance Guide, Mary Wislocki (2003) stated, "Just skimming through the CD, I was struck by the unusual mix of texts and seemingly incompatible viewpoints" (p. 71). This sentiment is both visible in and echoed by some of the scholars we discuss. Additionally, the material realities of many writing centers in terms of their access to new technology and the tendency for scholarship to address logistical issues as much as theoretical issues creates a uniquely recursive body of writing. As we discussed how best to organize this section of the review, there were certain texts that seemed important to reference for historical reasons, others for theoretical reasons, and still others to highlight some of the trends in how writing centers are manipulating virtual space.

The following section is divided into two large subsections, each of which could easily be subdivided and further expanded. The first subsection, "1995: A Watershed Moment for the Convergence of Digital Space and Writing Centers," charts the history of online writing centers up to, and particularly focusing on, 1995. As the title would indicate, in this section of our review we propose that 1995 marked a tipping point in writing center scholarship where online environments became an unavoidable consideration for how scholars conceive of space and place. The second subsection, "Who's Who from the Foyer: An Eclectic Approach to OWL Scholarship," addresses some of the scholarship following 1995 that we found to be most compelling when considered spatially. As a result, the historiography in this section is notably looser than in the first.[i] Finally, in "Locating the Digital Writing Center," we revisit some of the articles that were discussed in the previous two sections, examining them through a critical spatial lens.

1995: A Watershed Moment for the Convergence of Digital Space and Writing Centers

Recognizing the problems inherent in any attempt to isolate and imbue a particular year with such significance, we begin by clarifying that it is not our intention to diminish the importance of online work prior to 1995. While the term OWL (Online Writing Lab) was not added to the writing center lexicon until the early 1990s, writing centers had established an online presence as early as 1986 (Brown, 2000, p. 19). In 1987, Joyce Kinkead first noted the benefits of email for classrooms and writing centers. It was precisely because email changed the dynamics of space and time, by allowing writing centers to provide asynchronous tutoring, that Kinkead saw it as particularly beneficial for nontraditional or for timid students. The following year, in an article in The Writing Lab Newsletter, Kinkead (1988) added ESL students to the list of those who most directly stood to benefit, while she explicitly made the claim that "electronic tutoring … combats the problems of time and distance [emphasis added] for students needing tutorial help" (p. 5). However, in the 1990 article "What's Up and What's In: Trends and Traditions in Writing Centers," Muriel Harris made no mention of computers—let alone online tutoring—nor were either discussed in Ray Wallace and Jeanne Simpson's edited collection The Writing Center: New Directions, which was released in 1991.

It is worth remembering that comparatively few writing centers had computers and, of those that did, even fewer had online access. In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee was still developing HTTP, URL, and HTML software code at CERN so the possibilities for online writing centers was still limited (Greenemeier, 2009). Even those centers that had the necessary time, skills, and resources to create an online presence faced serious setbacks. For example, between 1990 and 1991, Lady Falls Brown (2000) constructed an online writing center at Texas Tech, but Brown's OWL was "reluctantly ended … because of the difficulties caused by inadequate technology" (pp. 21-22). While Texas Tech eventually re-established its initially short-lived OWL in 1996 (Baldwin, 2010), it is possible to see in Brown's initial effort both the frustration with, and the growing desire for, online writing centers by many writing center scholars.

By 1993, David Coogan had established an OWL at SUNY Albany, and a year later his article "Towards a Rhetoric of On-line Tutoring" was published in The Writing Lab Newsletter. However, it wasn't until 1995 that "E-mail Tutoring, a New Way to Do New Work," his more substantive piece on the topic, was published in Computers and Composition. Also appearing in that issue was Richard Selfe's "Surfing the Tsunami: Electronic Environments in the Writing Center," which presented a warning to writing center practitioners to engage with electronic resources in order to "avoid the destructive power" of the larger, unmediated technocentrism that was rapidly developing within universities (p. 318). Selfe, not unlike Kinkead, argued the merits of an online presence in spatial terms. He included an email from David Coogan that discussed how the conventional writing center might be, in the broadest sense, too noisy for students with learning disabilities; national statistics were used to show the substantial number of non-fulltime students, thereby implying this might change if more online courses and support were made available; and mobility issues that were considered for (able-bodied) students. Given that the article was framed as a warning, it also reinforced Moore's law and the importance of this moment in writing center history. Having begun the article in 1994, Selfe (1995) acknowledged in his postscript that, by the time the article was published, the wave had "washed over us already" (p. 318).

Additional support for the claim Selfe made in his postscript can be seen in the number and breadth of articles published on this topic in 1995.[ii] One example, "From the (Writing) Center to the Edge: Moving Writers Along the Internet," was written by Muriel Harris, who had just launched Purdue's OWL earlier that year. In this article, she noted the ability of Purdue's OWL to serve students asynchronously both through email and the availability of its online writing resources. Additionally, she outlined other centers that were using synchronous online tutoring through MOOs such as Missouri University's Online Writery.

While she did not mention computers or digital innovation as either a trend or tradition in 1990, in "Online Writing Labs (OWLs): A Taxonomy of Options and Issues" (Harris & Pemberton, 1995), the first line states, "Writing centers using computers are not a new phenomenon," before going on to state that "extending tutorial services by going online is …" (sic; p. 145). This article catalogued the relative merits and potential hazards of various OWL designs. To help address potential logistical questions, they not only referenced their own respective OWLs (Purdue and University of Illinois), but also the online writing centers at other universities such as the University of Richmond, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Delaware, the University of Minnesota, SUNY-Albany, and the University of Missouri at Columbia. They even provide brief descriptions of some OWLs that were, for one reason or another, non-operational such as Kennesaw State College (in development) and City College of New York (non-operational due to funding and software issues). In addition to providing technical information, Harris and Michael Pemberton reiterated and expanded the list of potential students who stand to benefit from an online writing center. They also advised readers to recognize online environments as distinct spaces with operational capabilities and objectives that are different from the physical center.

Perhaps the article from this scholarship that is most directly relevant to our current review is Dave Healy's (1995) "From Place to Space: Perceptual and Administrative Issues in the Online Writing Center." As Healy presented it, with so much scholarship debating the particulars of their physical locations, "online conferencing has implications that extend beyond the dynamics of the tutorial itself, including issues that get at the heart of what a writing center is" (pp. 183-184). Healy drew parallels between the interest some directors expressed in decentralizing their writing centers and OWLs; however, he was quick to note that, while they may serve similar aims, having additional, physical centers attached to other schools or in residence halls is markedly different than online centers. The movement to other locations remains place-bound, a movement from "'our' turf to our clients' turf," where online tutoring becomes a movement away from place and into space (p. 184). Healy also recognized that online tutoring creates the potential for greater observation of tutoring practices. Drawing on Foucault, Healy questioned the panoptic impact of digital tutoring and the way that self-monitoring might eliminate tutors' willingness to take risks during sessions (pp. 189-190). Healy concluded his article by stating that online writing centers represent a "window of opportunity" (p. 192). At the same time, given the potential for online tutoring to take on dystopian features, he remained guarded in his optimism.

Who's Who from the Foyer: An Eclectic Approach to OWL Scholarship

Following the surge of scholarship in 1995, the inaugural issue of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy published a "CoverWeb" dedicated to OWLs.[iii] Most of the five OWL-specific webtexts appear to have functioned primarily as FAQs for uninitiated readers.

In "Writing Spaces: Technoprovocateurs and OWLs in the Late Age of Print," J. Paul Johnson (1996) argued that most online writing centers replicate and "promote" a conception of literacy that is heavily invested in print culture. While these centers function as online "pointers" toward their physical centers, Johnson provided a brief explanation of how some online writing centers take advantage of the dynamic and subversive opportunities that are possible in digital space.[iv] While Johnson's webtext can be seen as celebratory, Camille Langston's (1996) "Resistance and Control: The Complex Process of Creating an OWL" provided a cautionary tale of her own experience creating an online writing center at Texas Woman's University. Jane Lasarenko's (1996) "PR(OWL)ING AROUND: A OWL by Any Other Name" provided a list of "OWL-Lets" and "Full-Fledged OWLs," while Susan Moody's (1996) "OWLs and ESL Students" offered a hyperlinked list, along with brief evaluations, of OWLs that provided resources specifically for ESL students. [v] However, of the webtexts from this special issue, the most frequently referenced is Stuart Blythe's (1996) "Why OWLs? Value, Risk, and Evolution."

In this webtext, Blythe provided reasons for and against OWLs. In general, Blythe's webtext summarized the range of costs and benefits tied to online writing centers, many of which remain relevant and worth considering even as the presence of OWLs, and the relevant scholarship about them, has dramatically expanded. Among the reasons Blythe provided in favor of OWLs is their ability to help address the limitations of time and space, referencing both Jennifer Jordan-Henley and Barry Maids' (1995a) CyberTutor Project and the Writing Lab Newsletter article by Kinkead (1988) that was mentioned earlier.[vi] Other potential benefits included how online environments might change the dynamics of tutoring and how they might provide increased visibility and credibility to writing centers. Considering that much of his webtext works at gathering and summarizing discussions that were already circulating within the writing center community, the most noteworthy section of this article is its conclusion. While most of the preceding webtexts provide conclusions that ask for continued, critical consideration of digital technology, this section of Blythe's is the first to offer a more sustained meta-analysis of what that means.

In his closing section, Blythe begins two discussions, both of which outline triadic theories of technology. In the more immediately spatial of the two discussions, Blythe argued for recognition of the various levels of computer operation: computer as tool, computer as environment, and computer as medium. Of these three levels, perhaps the easiest—or most immediate—way to view computers is as a tool. This level recognizes computers as objects that are useful in performing design, composition, and data organization tasks. Looking back to the introduction of the present text, we can see that this view dominated early writing center scholarship on computers. At the second level, computer as environment, Blythe stated that computers can be seen "as a virtual space, an space into which we project ourselves" (sic; owl9b.html). As Blythe presented it, digital environments can be thought of as parallel to physical environments. The final level is that of computer as medium. Here Blythe argued for a conception of computers where the functional and environmental intersect. By looking at computers at this level, "each application of computer technology creates a medium that, through the arrangement of tools and space, enables certain practices while suppressing others" (owl9b.html). Importantly, Blythe argued that a failure to make these distinctions limits our ability for (constructive) dialogue.[vii]

Blythe (1997) addressed the other closing discussion in more detail a year later in his Writing Center Journal article, "Networked Computers + Writing Centers = ? Thinking About Networked Computers In Writing Center Practice." Recognizing a contradictory tendency in some of the past scholarship, Blythe reiterated the importance of critically engaging technology through a theoretical lens, noting that there is no such thing as an atheoretical approach to technology. Emphasizing theory as a tool for navigating "this new electronic frontier," he returned to Feenberg's Critical Theory of Technology and elaborated on the distinctions between instrumental, substantive, and critical theories of technology that were briefly outlined in his earlier webtext, arguing more explicitly for a critical theory of technology (p. 93).

Blythe explained how both the medium and tools affect actions, and he presented instrumentalist assumptions about naively or strategically viewing technology as "value-free" and relatively unobtrusive both individually and institutionally. Blythe offered instead a substantive theory of technology that recognizes technology as both produced by and producing culture, and therefore places far greater importance on recognizing technology as ideological. However, Blythe still saw this stance relegating technological decisions within a binary response framework: Either way, "one is left with a take-it-or-leave-it decision" (p. 102). A critical theory of technology, on the other hand, "acknowledges the cultural influence of technology while looking for a way to do something about it" (p. 102). By contextualizing the perceived need that produced technology, it is possible to more accurately assess the inherent biases; while, at the same time, a critical approach to technology allows for "the redesign and readaptation of technology for democratic purposes" (p. 103). Having presented the value of a critical theory of technology, Blythe acknowledged the questions left unanswered and presents some tactics to begin thinking about redesigning technologies. However, while there is overlap between the two triadic theories, Blythe did not return to the more decidedly spatial triadic theory outlined in his previous webtext.

In terms of the logistical scholarship for online writing centers, the turn of the century marks the period that Richard Selfe's (1995) portended electronic tsunami appears to have crested. After performing an informal survey, Eric Crump (2000) reported that he found over 250 OWLs in 1998, compared to the handful that he claimed were available in 1993 (p. 224). The 2000 Spring/Summer issue of The Writing Center Journal provided a fairly accurate report with forward-looking articles by Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford, Muriel Harris, and Joyce Kinkead and Jeanette Harris. All mentioned the importance of writing centers having an online presence, with Muriel Harris' nine-page article logging the word "online" over thirty times. James Inman and Donna Sewell's Taking Flight with OWLs: Examining Electronic Writing Center Work was published that year, and two years earlier, Eric Hobson (1998) published his award-winning Wiring the Writing Center. Finally, by 2003, Routledge released James Inman and Clint Gardner's CD-ROM, The OWL Construction and Maintenance Guide. All this scholarly work lends a certain amount of credence to Michael Pemberton's (2004) comment that "online writing labs have become the norm rather than the exception" (p. 14). However, as Crump (2000) was quick to point out, a closer look at many of his survey sites uncovered OWLs whose online services were limited or non-existent (p. 225).

In her article, "The Idea(s) of an Online Writing Center: In Search of a Conceptual Model," Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch (2005) recognized this spectrum among OWLs. Similar to Blythe, she also noted the contradictions that can arise within OWL scholarship. Comparing OWL scholarship to face-to-face writing center scholarship, she observed that, unlike physical writing centers, OWLs do not appear to "share a common model" (p. 21). To further explore this phenomenon, Kastman Breuch argued that it is useful to view "the idea of the writing center" as a conceptual model (p. 22). Drawing from Donald Norman's The Design of Everyday Things, Kastman Breuch explained that "conceptual models help us understand the way things are supposed to work as well as provide explanations for when things don't work" (p. 22). She then stated that conceptual models are extremely important in online environments since "we cannot tangibly touch or see the object with which we interact" (p. 23). Functioning as metaphors, conceptual models help by linking new technological experiences with familiar physical experiences. As examples of how conceptual models work, she provided the commonly experienced trashcan icons on personal computers and shopping carts on ecommerce websites (p. 23). Because of the connection between conceptual models and previous experiences, Kastman Breuch established what she saw as the dominant conception of writing center work in physical environments. Ultimately, Kastman Breuch viewed "the most powerful 'Idea' or conceptual model of writing center work" (p. 22) as a combination of Stephen North's (1984) "The Idea of a Writing Center," Andrea Lunsford's (1991) "Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center," and David Coogan's (1999) Electronic Writing Centers, to show how "the Burkean Parlor has emerged as the ideal for online writing centers" (p. 28).

Having established her claim that conceptual models are always present, Kastman Breuch explained why the Burkean Parlor does not readily transfer to online environments and why that can produce frustration among writing center theorists and practitioners. She argued that this conceptual model fails because of the inability to recreate a physical space and face-to-face tutoring behaviors in virtual spaces. Making the same place/space distinction as Dave Healy (1995), Kastman Breuch briefly explored the ways that writing centers have tried to address the shift from place to space as they enter digital environments (p. 29). Less specific in her explanation than Healy, Kastman Breuch still argued that virtual environments shape behavior and, "might feel abnormal to us because the same kind of nondirective, conversational, and reflective listening behaviors we know so well don't apply as easily to online writing centers" (p. 31). Having noted how even synchronous online tutoring does not mirror the social dynamics of face-to-face tutoring and that place-based metaphors and images of couches do not bridge the gap between physical and virtual centers, Kastman Breuch forwarded the notion that the "Idea" of an online writing center can be usefully reconfigured into multiple, contextually driven "ideas" (p. 33). She concluded the article by demonstrating how online spaces can become places by using the Online Writery and Colorado State's Writing Studio as examples. Given what she highlighted about these environments, and addressed more abstractly in her conclusion, what appears to have drawn Kastman Breuch to these centers is their ability to match their spatial metaphors to the services they provide, to recognize the limitations and potential of their online environments, their ability to help orient users to their distinct centers, and to maintain some connection to the ideals of the Burkean Parlor.

A more recent webtext that attempts to account for space within online tutoring is Melanie Yergeau, Katie Wozniak, and Peter Vandenberg's (2008) "Expanding the Space of f2f: Writing Centers and Audio-Video-Textual Conferencing." As Jackie Grutsch McKinney (2010) noted in the Writing Lab Newsletter, "arguments for online tutoring, synchronous or not, have been made frequently over the last fifteen years, what is different about this piece is an emphasis on what they called 'audio-video-textual conferencing' or AVT tutoring" (p. 11). The 2008 webtext implicitly justifies placing AVT tutoring as "an alternative to email-based tutoring," rather than in conversation with other forms of synchronous tutoring by presenting a number of sources that represent email tutoring and online tutoring as synonymous. Yergeau, Wozniak, and Vandenberg then present some of the problems peer tutors are likely to face when conducting sessions through email. These problems include an inability to maintain a critical understanding of the space, difficulty expressing their ideas clearly or empathetically, and/or a tendency to perform academic writing rather than maintaining the conversational tone of a face-to-face session. However, Yergeau, Wozniak, and Vandenberg are careful to maintain a theoretical space that does not unnecessarily foreclose tutoring options. The authors also noted that:

At the same time that we revel in the recomposition of f2f via AVT, we want to avoid an attitude of naïve nostalgia; the suggestion of immediacy is never immediacy, and we stand to profit from a consistent awareness of the ways in which this new technology mediates our relationships with students and our own roles and identities … both users, in order to maintain their dialogue, must work through the technology that separates them; they must operate a machine and maneuver through dialog boxes and windows, punch buttons and touch pads and mice—simply to hear a reassuring laugh or to see a confused and wrinkled brow. (scholarship, nodes 3-4)

As such, the authors present technology in this instance as simultaneously transparent and opaque. One way in which the authors recognized that AVT mediates the tutor-student relationship is in terms of seeing face-to-face tutoring across physical boundaries. In the webtext, the authors are careful to note that, while AVT technology allows students and tutors to maintain a recognition and sensitivity toward difference as a result of the video component, because these sessions are now likely to enter the domestic space of students, visual markers of class may become increasingly visible. Additionally, Yergeau, Wozniak, and Vandenberg (2008) noted that tutors might experience variable levels of comfort both with technology and the location of the student, with one potential outcome being an overly informal session where "roommates, children, parents, or spouses may wander in or interrupt; the TV or radio may be turned on; the student/consultant may be sipping a cup of coffee or munching on a sandwich" (space, node 2). Echoing sentiments similar to that of Kastman Breuch, the authors concluded the webtext without making sweeping generalizations about the potential for AVT technology. Instead, the technology is placed within the context of their own writing center and the particular problems they wished to address. As Grutsch McKinney (2010) noted at the close of her article, the differences between face-to-face tutoring and AVT tutoring should be recognized; however, operating with an awareness of what different technologies offer can be seen as an asset given the increasing need for a "plurality of approaches to support writing" (p. 12).

The last article that we look at in this review deals with tutoring in Second Life. While there are still other ways of tutoring online, Second Life provides writing center practitioners with a means to provide synchronous online tutoring that moves beyond AVT and text-based chat rooms. One recent article that addresses the possibilities of Second Life is Russell Carpenter and Meghan Griffin's (2010) "Exploring Second Life: Recent Developments in Virtual Writing Centers." Unlike AVT tutoring, Second Life allows a corporeal form of synchronous tutoring to occur in a shared environment; however, for many writing centers the cost (even at discounted rates) would likely be prohibitive.[viii]

After providing an overview of Second Life and some of its current academic uses, the authors discussed the University of Central Florida's Second Life University Writing Center (SLUWC). Itself a kind of overview, the authors addressed a range of issues and opportunities in a fairly rapid-fire manner. Echoing the comments of a number of tutors and directors at the 2010 International Writing Centers Association and the National Conference on Peer Tutoring Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, Carpenter and Griffin (2010) provided an undergraduate perspective within the article that celebrates the virtual world and the tutoring opportunities available through Second Life. For example, according to Griffin, one undergraduate tutor claimed that the construction of the virtual environment made the space "seem legitimate as a place of learning" (p. 9).[ix]

Following the brief tour of the SLUWC, Carpenter and Griffin individually recounted their initial experiences with Second Life. Griffin, who was the less experienced of the two, began by explaining how her avatar name did not conform to the expectations of the virtual world. The name, and her early inability to control her movement or navigate her environment, marked her as a recent immigrant to the virtual world. Importantly, Griffin noted that Second Life operates as "an identity economy," and from the article one gets the sense that, in an environment where it is possible to "take the form of a white fox or dragon, or sport fairy wings and a tail," few avatars are likely to be authentic reproductions of first-life bodies (p. 10). Earlier, the article stated that most tutors "put a great deal of thought into their appearance and the ethos their avatars would convey in online interactions" (p. 9). However, when this statement is juxtaposed with Griffin's list of possible avatars, it is hard to gauge how ethos functions in Second Life.

The "essentially public" nature of Second Life, the authors noted, does raise potential issues in relation to privacy (pp. 10-12).To placate privacy concerns the authors reverted back to the physical environment and asked readers to compare the interruptions by other Second Life users to those that might take place in a physical writing center. Here again, we can think about Second Life in comparison to AVT tutoring. While both platforms allow for synchronous tutoring, both have their own, unique potentials for the space to be disrupted.

Locating the Digital Writing Center

Theoretical considerations of space in relation to online writing centers inevitably raise serious concerns for writing center practitioners. While some scholars are more explicit in their analysis of digital space, returning to the articles by Joyce Kinkead we can see how thinking about digital space has evolved. In her 1987 College Composition and Communication article, Kinkead explained the possible conception of the writing center as an intimidating environment for some students. As she explained it, the electronic tutoring system that she implemented was in direct response to students who "were unwilling to go to the Writing Center for additional help because they were 'afraid to go through the door'" (pp. 339-340). Kinkead inferred that crossing the threshold of the writing center might be thought of as a forfeiture of personal space and/or intellectual ownership with "someone 'breathing down their necks'" (p. 340). Nonetheless, keeping with the majority of scholarship on this subject, Kinkead did not see the online services as supplanting the physical center. Instead, the electronic tutor encouraged students to come to the physical center for additional help. When that was not possible, the electronic tutor seemed to offer heterotopic possibilities by allowing the center to be simultaneously nowhere and everywhere.

This idea was further developed in her Writing Lab Newsletter article the following year. Introducing narratives that rhetorically highlighted real-time and mobility constraints that some students face, Kinkead (1988) demonstrated how electronic tutoring could provide these students with services they might not otherwise be able to receive. She argued that the writing center's mission to make education equally accessible was itself subject to spatio-temporal constraints given its hours of operation and physical location. With electronic tutoring, she stated:

The "time" problem is solved … provided the writer doesn't need the advice quickly … "distance" is no longer a problem either. If a student needing writing help lives in a campus dormitory or in a town 50 miles away, she can request help via phone line/modem and then pore over the response during rewriting stages. (p. 4)

By using narratives to construct users who as nontraditional, (temporarily) disabled, or non-native speakers, Kinkead appeared acutely aware of the politics of both student and writing center locations.

The first article points toward the socio-spatial dialectic that occurs within writing centers, and the difficulty created in claiming the space as having a singular, fixed meaning. The second article, however, appears in some ways to remediate the physical space, by counting its shortcomings and solidifing spatial meaning, through claiming digital space. While Kinkead recognized that physical space cannot be divorced from students' conceptions, because technology is thought of in relation to overcoming physical space, it is not itself spatialized. Instead, like many early scholars, Kinkead undertheorizes digital space. In keeping with the common frontier metaphor, digital space is colonized by the writing center; it is presented as a location with valuable resources to be imported and traded, while avoiding the unequal distributions of power and knowledge that shape who can access online environments. Additionally, many early scholars also failed to recognize the constructed and transported cultural practices that are inscribed into digital spaces and which identify and stratify users. Most, if not all, early scholarship regarding e-mail tutoring treated digital space as more or less neutral or transparent.[x]

In her book Geographies of Writing: Inhabiting Places and Encountering Difference, Nedra Reynolds (2004) noted how there is a persistent failure among some to recognize the substantive ways that email differs from postal mail (pp. 20-21). According to Reynolds, failing to note these differences allows users to view email as an essentially private mode of discourse (p. 20). As a result of naively mapping the physical over the digital, there is a failure to reconfigure an appropriate spatial ethics. At the same time, an opposite impulse to treat digital space as wholly different from physical space allowed scholars like Kinkead (1987) to create writing center avatars, like "E.T." the Electronic Tutor, without fully considering the consequences.

While Stuart Blythe would later encourage a critical theory of technology to help writing center practitioners recognize the ways in which technology is always, already ideological, Cynthia Selfe's (1999a) "Technology and Literacy: A Story about the Perils of Not Paying Attention" and (1999b) Technology and Literacy in the Twenty First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention clearly challenged those continuing to operate under an instrumental theory of technology. While Kinkead never claimed that electronic tutoring would reach every student, because issues of race and class remain implicit in her texts, we suspect that some of the same students she talked about reaching would have been the least likely to have the necessary knowledge or access to take advantage of the service.

By 1995, Dave Healy addressed online writing centers through a more explicitly spatial lens in "From Place to Space: Perceptual and Administrative Issues in the Online Writing Center." Seeing physical, decentralized writing centers sharing certain underlying motivations with online writing centers, Healy was careful to avoid drawing parallels that would obscure the way in which online writing centers move the discussion from a previously place-based rhetoric to a discussion of space. However, despite the use of these terms, Healy did not seem overly invested in critically exploring their theoretical significance. It would appear to be enough that the reader will understand that "place" and "space" are distinct.

Focusing on writing center tutors, Healy looked at how online tutoring transforms the work in terms of time and professionalization. For Healy, the potential flexibility inherent in asynchronous tutoring has the capability to create logistical problems regarding where tutoring occurs and how hours are monitored. Issues of oversight then become more pronounced when tutoring is conducted online. In part, this is because Healy presented physical forms of observation as unobtrusive, pedagogical opportunities for tutors to learn from one another. The use of email in the writing center, unlike for previous scholars, is predisposed to be both semi-public and permanent. Drawing on Foucault, Healy presented online tutoring as panoptic in nature, with tutors unable to determine when their sessions are being monitored; however, to the extent that Healy did not frame the physical center as a panoptic environment, the largest impediment for tutors taking the risks that Healy argued are valuable would have to come from the permanence of written sessions versus those that are carried out face-to-face. Healy then was able to take the same concern over representations of space that Kinkead had for the physical center and apply them to online environments. In closing, Healy focused on the need for more serious considerations of how human experiences shape online environments.

Ten years later, Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch (2005) furthered the conceptual investigation of writing centers and digital space in her article, "The Idea(s) of an Online Writing Center: In Search of a Conceptual Model." Recognizing what she sees as a tendency for physical metaphors and center-based theory to inform conceptions of online space, she questioned the ultimate value of this approach:

Whether used in a metaphoric or more literal fashion, many online writing centers have borrowed the concepts of a writing center place to define their online presence, but most of the time it just isn't the same. Online, students are limited to what they can see and hear from a computer screen, so if students go online holding the same expectations of place for online writing centers as they do face-to-face writing centers (like sitting on a sofa rather than just looking at one), they will likely be disappointed. It is for these reasons that some scholars have suggested that online tutoring—particularly asynchronous or email tutoring—falls short of achieving this warm, inviting environment. (p. 30)

She sees the tension, therefore, as one in which online spaces attempt to conform to the physical parameters of tutoring. In an attempt to show how online centers can chart a new course, she focused on writing centers that create a unique sense of place appropriate to their online environments. Functionally-oriented considerations of space might encourage OWLs to take advantage of the inherent disruption of sequential navigation that occurs for most students as they use the Internet. It is easy enough to imagine the creative use of hyperlinks, images, audio, video, web analytics, and synchronous and asynchronous tutoring intersecting one another in ways that create "simultaneous relations and meanings that are tied together by a spatial rather than a temporal logic" (Soja, 1989, p. 1). Online writing centers that could achieve dynamic, contextually driven websites that also maintaine an appropriate level of built-in redundancy to accommodate the full range of learners and student approaches to technology would appear to both physically and conceptually dwell in cyberspace.

At the same time, the passage above by Kastman Breuch (2005) also demonstrated how attempts to locate a place for online writing centers can lead to an idealization of their physical counterparts. This becomes especially apparent when put in conversation with Jackie Grutsch McKinney's (2005) "Leaving Home Sweet Home: Towards Critical Readings of Writing Center Spaces" and Melissa Nicolas's (2004) "The Politics of Writing Center as Location," both of which are discussed in our section on physical space. While Kastman Breuch (2005) argued that technology "invites us to reconsider our previous conceptual models" (p. 25), one potential problem in idealizing physical places is that it can limit our ability to creatively reinterpret design elements. Similarly, idealizing physical centers can reinscribe the tendency to shape digital space around a finite number of conceptual models regardless of their efficacy.

Despite the unique design elements that Kastman Breuch described, much of what she highlights about the Online Writery and Colorado State's Writing Studio still appear to be attempts to replicate a physical place rather than create a digital one. While Kastman Breuch noted how both have changed the conceptual model, to a café and writing studio respectively, more careful analysis is required to determine if well-conceived images, adopting the language of commerce (e.g., "Please wait one moment, we'll be right with you …"), or the inclusion of background noise truly constitutes a place (pp. 33-34). For example, if we look at Edward Soja's (1996b) work in Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and other Real and Imagined Places, it is possible to understand how these examples shape material practices (e.g., the graphics require you to wait while they load, the interface dictates how you will navigate with the system). It is also possible to see the benefit in how these websites are designed to more accurately represent the unique opportunities and limitations of the medium and to conform to the objectives of their respective institutions. Less immediately clear is how digital spaces that invoke physical counterparts allow us to truly inhabit them as unique, lived spaces.

One growing trend for online writing centers that presents unique possibilities for immersion into online environments is Second Life. While having the ability to mirror physical places in a fairly accurate fashion, Second Life also has a great deal of functionality that would only be possible in a virtual environment. Russell Carpenter and Meghan Griffin's 2010 article, discussed earlier, provides a wonderful overview of the opportunities and problems with this platform. Beyond the issue of cost, which can be recognized as a potentially prohibitive element for many digital projects, perhaps the largest consideration for tutoring in Second Life has to be the identity politics surrounding tutor avatars. Consider the following passage:

What Second Life for Dummies didn't tell me is how uncool my chosen name—Meg Unplugged—would be in an identity economy where literally any self-construction is possible. In Second Life, one can take the form of a white fox or a dragon, or sport fairy wings and a tail. If my name didn't reveal my newbie status, it would have become apparent as I fumbled through "Orientation Island," bumping into walls and furiously trying to click the unclickable. A friendly stranger in leather chaps offered to show me around. She led me to several shops in Second Life where I could change my appearance, and I acquired an entirely new body free of charge, added outfits to my inventory, and then complemented them with different hair and varying eye colors. (Carpenter & Griffin, 2010, p. 10)

In this passage more than any other in the article, Griffin exposed readers to the promise and peril of Second Life tutoring. Because the environment is so immersive, Michigan State University's Second Life Writing Center has the first tutoring session function simply as a tutorial for the world, helping writers navigate their avatars and the session-specific controls. It is easy to imagine that without such a tutorial, many writers would find themselves, like Griffin, incredibly frustrated as they kept "bumping into walls and furiously trying to click the unclickable" (p. 10).

Even after students have moved beyond troubleshooting, there is still the issue that student and tutor avatars can have "literally any self-construction" (p. 10). Griffin, understandably, demonstrates this feature of Second Life by listing the fantastic. While potentially disruptive to have a session where a fox is tutoring a dragon, the more insidious problem with Second Life for writing centers is that avatars, while helping some users feel more connected to the digital environment, also allow for users to engage in identity tourism.

From blogging to Facebook, writing center administrators need to remain aware of how "technology interfaces carry the power to prescribe representative norms and patterns" (Kolko, 2000, p. 218). Without careful consideration of the tools that we use, and how we use them, it is all too easy to use technology in a way that demarcates our online spaces, and in turn our centers, as operating with an "ideal" user in mind (Kolko, 2000, p. 218). If we choose to use spaces like Second Life, considering how contrary the idea of an "ideal" user is to the mission of writing centers, we must take the preventative steps necessary to avoid creating spaces that produce zones of exclusion or that reinforce problematic "'postbody' ideologies" (Nakamura, 2002, p. 4).

Among the more conscientious treatments of digital space in contemporary writing center scholarship is Melanie Yergeau, Katie Wozniak, and Peter Vandenberg's (2008) "Expanding the Space of f2f: Writing Centers and Audio-Video-Textual Conferencing." The mixture of audio, video, and text allow the tutor and writer to operate in a shared space, but they are also separated by the physical places that they occupy. This distance, and the ability to so readily perceive it through the audio-video components, can lead to disrupted, informal sessions. Nonetheless, in many ways AVT tutoring encapsulates the kind of hybrid system that Grutsch McKinney's (2010) argument for a "plurality of approaches" to tutoring forwarded (p. 12).

One possible solution is to disregard the notion of place and to approach cyberspace as a nonplace. As Marc Augé (1995) noted, in Nonplaces: An Introduction to Supermodernity, "The place/nonplace pairing is an instrument for measuring the degree of sociality and symbolization of a given space," not an indication that either exists in a static or absolute form (p. viii). Some of the locations that he provided as examples of nonplaces, often transit locations such as highways, translate easily to our perceptions of digital space given common metaphors of the Internet as an information superhighway.

The difficulty in locating place in digital environments might simply be an indication that it remains too unstable and decentered to situate within the existing notions of place. For writers, the work being done in writing centers is in transit, moving through the writing center environment to another location. Even the OWLs that Kastman Breuch (2005) argued are successful are so because the conceptual models provide users with simulacra of physical locations they experience in their everyday lives. If "nonplace" is a conceptual tool that helps us think about spaces, moving toward a conception of OWLs as nonplaces may help us remain more critically engaged in the construction of both our online and physical centers.

As Reynolds (2004) noted, "Once constraints become familiar—whether they are the desktop of a computer interface or the furniture arrangement of a classroom—they become encoded and thus rarely noticed or questioned" (p. 14). Perhaps, by recognizing OWLs as nonplaces, we can increase our understanding of how we are inevitably caught in "spaces of circulation, consumption, and communication" (p. viii). In turn this may lead to a greater consideration of how the spaces operate and are used at various times and by various people, when the space becomes a place and when it functions more as a nonplace, and—when we deemphasize the need for stability in online spaces, the need to transform them into inhabited places—we may be more likely to critically consider the tangible space, materials, and labor that support their existence. Additionally, to the extent that digital spaces are more readily seen as nonplaces, we also encourage practitioners to consider the ways in which this concept may be useful for physical spaces as well.


i. While 1995 was a boom year for OWL scholarship, it was followed by another five to ten years of solid production in the field. For readers who wish to continue looking into OWL scholarship, we recommend James Inman and Donna Sewell's (2000) Taking Flight with OWLs: Examining Electronic Writing Center Work. The high quality of the scholarship contained within it was, unfortunately, outside the purview of this review.

ii. A list of these works would include Chappell, 1995; Coogan, 1995; George, 1995; Harris, 1995; Harris & Pemberton, 1995; Healy, 1995; Johanek & Rickly, 1995; Jordan-Henley & Maid, 1995a, 1995b; Palmquist, Rodrigues, Kiefer, & Zimmerman, 1995; Selfe, 1995; Strenski, 1995.

Also, according to Blythe's 1997 article in WCJ, the Winter 1995-1996 edition of The ACE Newsletter (9.4) had a special issue. Blythe's article also details some conference information from that time period that would further support this claim.

iii. While, in 1996, Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy was called Kairos: A Journal for Teachers of Writing in Webbed Environments, we have chosen to use the current title to avoid unnecessary textual clutter and confusion. The journal's name change will be represented in our references page.

iv. We both agree that the basic premise for this article was interesting; however, it does not receive further attention in this review largely because of its length. In this webtext, Johnson primarily drew on the scholarship of Eric Crump and the Online Writery.

v. The first term for Lasarenko's webtext was meant to denote OWLs that provided partial online services but did not provide online tutoring, while the second indicated online writing labs that offered some form of online tutoring.

vi. The CyberTutor Project connected undergraduates in Tennessee with graduate tutors in Arkansas and was discussed in both the Computers and Composition and the Writing Lab Newsletter articles by Jennifer Jordan-Henley and Barry Maid (1995a, 1995b).

vii. As these are the first texts we discuss that were written specifically for publication in a digital environment, we think it is worth noting the materiality of these texts and its impact on our review. As the medium allows the reader to navigate in ways that are noticeably different from an article published in a print journal, there is a far greater sense of immediacy and life when reading the articles. At the same time, the fact that these webtexts remain static within their dynamic medium makes them feel even more dated. These webtexts, therefore, highlight an interesting paradox of time and space in digital scholarship. Since many of the external hyperlinks are no longer active, the webtext is at once alive and dying, thought about both in past and present tense. While drawing different responses from the reader than active hyperlinks, the decay of much of the cyberstructure that these articles are built upon still forces a more engaged reading and a more immediate consideration of the medium.

viii. Carpenter and Griffin quoted the Educational Support Management Group (ESMG) prices as ranging from $650-$899 per year.

ix. Griffin gave reason to believe that the tutor's choice of words, "well-constructed," likely indicates some combination of visual aesthetic and functionality.

x. Where early scholarship did complicate digital space, it was generally through considerations of ethos and the potential that tutors would focus on editing more than global revisions.