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Baldwin Center charts path forward in supporting student academic endeavors

October 2, 2020

VIRTUAL HELP: The Baldwin Center for Learning and Teaching continues to provide support for students during a remote semester.

It is officially fall in Brunswick: cooling temperatures, changing leaves and the beginning of essay-writing season. For first years, it means getting back their first college papers and potentially facing the disappointment of lower-than-expected grades.

“I was really struggling to get a strong cohesive idea throughout my paper,” said Ian Pratt ’24 of his first paper on Plato for his first-year writing seminar, “Human Being and Citizen.”

That’s when Pratt decided to make an appointment with a writing assistant through the Baldwin Center for Learning and Teaching (BCLT). The doors of Kanbar Hall, where the Center normally operates, might be locked, but that hasn’t prevented students like Pratt from getting the help they need.

“My professor brought in one of the writing assistants and they went through the process of scheduling an appointment. It was really [easy] and only took two or three minutes to sign up on the Baldwin Center website,” said Pratt.

Pratt is referring to WCOnline, a scheduling program that has been used by the BCLT in the past to manage appointments. It’s at the core of the Center’s COVID-19 response due to its virtual conferencing capabilities.

“We were lucky in that we were prepared in some ways. We didn’t have to create something new, but we had to do training for our student employees…to continue to do the work [they] would normally do in person, but online,” said Kathryn Byrnes, director of the BCLT, in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

The BCLT employs 35 student writing assistants, providing 70 hours of support available to students. Meetings are held through a student’s web browser and include a video chat function and a space on the screen where text can be collaboratively edited.

“A couple of the writing assistants said it was hard to figure out how to create connection through this structure, but then by the second week what I heard was how well it was working. Students were having those conversations they normally would have and are setting time aside at the beginning to chat and get to know each other,” said Meredith McCarroll, director of writing and rhetoric in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

The BCLT offers multiple other programs as well, including an academic mentor program.

“This year I’m working with five academic peer mentors. All of them know a lot about study strategies and have a repertoire they are using on their own but also can share with other students,” said Tina Chong, assistant director of the BCLT, in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

Chong says time management has been a common struggle for students this semester, especially as many live off campus in environments that may not be conducive to focused work.

The BCLT has created a new program called Wicked Smart to help students confront the hurdles of this virtual semester. The program consists of six, 50-minute sessions, which are held bi-weekly.

“The majority of the time is dedicated to communication between the participants and focused on peer support, so we want to find a space to see other students who are dealing with the same challenges where they can share common experiences and give each other tips,” said Chong. “We want to provide students with a space to come together and find each other.”

Lisa Flanagan, associate director of the BCLT, specializes in academic communication for multilingual speakers. She still relishes fostering community with students from Thailand, to Europe, to Japan and to Brunswick.

“Usually students come to me because they just want to sort of turbo-charge. They have all gotten into this school because they are academically gifted and motivated, but sometimes our phrasing is a little bit off, and knowing the conventions of different disciplines is difficult,” she said. “It’s a great job in that it’s like being an emergency room doctor—you never know who is going to come in and with what. Sometimes it’s a religion paper, and the next one might be sociology, and the next might be biology. That’s fun for me—I only wish I retained everything!”

Many students also make use of the BCLT’s Q Tutors, who are trained to assist students with quantitative reasoning assignments.  Maryam Akramova ’24 reached out to the Q Tutors for help with a problem set for her multivariate calculus class this semester.

“We had a one-on-one Zoom meeting—he shared his screen, I shared my screen, and we just talked through some of the problems,” said Akramova.

“I was a little nervous, … because I was [struggling], but they are there to help you; they are not there to judge you. They want to see you succeed,” said Pratt. “Even if you are not struggling, it’s always good to bolster your understanding on what you are working on and what you are learning.”


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