Research News from the CommLab


Karen Head at IWCA

At Georgia Tech, the Communication Center (or CommLab, as it is popularly known) is part of the Writing and Communication Program. The program’s commitment to the principles of WOVEN communication (i.e. Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, and Non-verbal) has inspired instructors to design courses that develop and refine rhetorical skills in multiple media formats including traditional essays, visual and web-based projects, and oral presentations. As a result, the professional and peer tutors at the Center find themselves working with students who bring in projects that can range from essays, presentations, resumes, scholarship applications, posters, and prezis to films and YouTube videos. Also, all the professional tutors at the Center are, themselves, instructors in the Writing and Communication Program. Moreover, the Center is unique in the sense that it is probably one of the only Centers around which is staffed by postdoctoral fellows. All the professional tutors at the Center are Brittain Fellows. To add to the mix is the diversity of the projects that are brought into the Center from the different units on campus. All these elememts make the Center a creative space where there is daily exchange of ideas related to the process of communication.

one of the Comm Lab's "cool spaces"

one of the Comm Lab’s “cool spaces”

While providing a valuable service to students is the primary focus of the Center, one of the Center’s objectives is to be a place where Writing Center research underlies and informs the Center’s work and its goal to provide the best possible service to the student body at Georgia Tech. The Center now has its own Research Coordinator: third-year Brittain Fellow Malavika Shetty, who coordinates and facilitates the research efforts of the CommLab. This has been a very fruitful year of research for the the Communication Center. The peer and professional tutors at the CommLab have been busy engaging with Writing Center research and have had great success sending their work out to Writing Center conferences and meetings. The current buzz is all about preparing for the talks and the panels that the staff will be taking part in during the next few months:

Presentations – Upcoming

The Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference
February 2013
A large contingent of the Communication Center’s professional and peer tutors will be attending the SWCA conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida at the end of February.

  • First-year Brittain Fellow Noah Mass will be presenting a paper on “Confidentiality and Collaboration: Tutoring Between Writing Center and Classroom,” in which he will examine how writing centers maintain a successful balance between confidentiality for students and collaboration with instructors. His presentation will explore the complex intersection of privacy in tutoring sessions and the facilitation of instructor goals for students.
  • First-year Brittain Fellow Julie Hawk will co-present a paper titled “Tutoring a Postdisciplinary Culture: Emerging Systems of Disciplinarity in Writing Center Practice.”  Her session rearticulates the postmodernity of writing center work through postdisciplinarity, suggesting the possibility to reconcile previously constructed contradictions within writing center practice and institutional culture through current pedagogical approaches to tutoring and new re/visions of writing center space. 
  • Undergraduate peer tutors Allison Braden (International Affairs and Modern Languages) and Lauren Townsend (Science, Technology, and Culture) will be presenting at the conference as part of a panel, along with first-year Brittain Fellow Joy Bracewell and third-year Brittain Fellow Malavika Shetty. The panel,  “Preparing staff for ESL tutoring at a new Communication Center,” will discuss how, as a new center that emphasizes multimodal communication, the Communication Center at Georgia Tech has had to adapt its services to accommodate a growing ESL student body. The panel will look at the strategies the CommLab is developing to provide crucial resources for this population.
  • Communication Center Director and Assistant Professor Karen Head, Malavika Shetty, and the two Assistant Directors of the Center, second-year Brittain Fellow Christopher Weedman and third-year Brittain Fellow Brandy Blake, will also be part of a panel at the conference. Their panel, “How does Tutoring Influence Teaching? – A Case Study of Georgia Tech,” discusses how Tutoring at the Communication Center influences their roles as teachers in the classroom.
  • Karen Head’s presentation, “Silver Beanbags and Other Ways to Use Space to Destigmatize Tutoring Sessions,” will discuss how some students feel that going to a tutoring center is a public recognition of a deficiency (only bad students go there). She will talk about how “cool” spaces create one way in which writing centers can subvert these negative feelings and connect with more students.
  • Head’s other presentation at the conference, “Rethinking Grammar Instruction: Empowering Tutors to More Comprehensively Address Tutees’ Needs and Concerns,” looks at how, historically, the approach for tutoring students has been to focus last on grammatical and mechanical issues. Head’s presentation will discuss whether it may be time to reconsider how insisting on this approach marginalizes tutees’ concerns.

IWCA@CCCC Conference
March 2013
First-year Brittain Fellows Leah Haught and Lauren Holt and Malavika Shetty will also be hosting a Round Robin panel at the IWCA Collaborative @ CCCC on March 13, 2013 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The Round Robin, “Performing Gender in the Writing Center,” will consider how gender can be performed during a tutoring session. The Round Robin will pose questions related to how much communication styles and strategies during a tutoring session are influenced by the gender of the tutee and of the tutor.

Association for Tutoring Profession Conference
March 2013
Also, in March, the two undergraduate research assistants at the Center, Jean Kang (Industrial Engineering) and Thomas Cantrell (Biochemistry), and Malavika Shetty will be presenting a paper on “Who Makes a Better Generalist? Peer vs. Professional tutors at the Communication Center” at the ATP (Association for the Tutoring Profession) conference in Atlanta. The paper will present ongoing research looking at whether there is a difference between peer and professional tutors, in terms of their tutoring strategies, while working with students whose communication projects are outside the tutor’s field of expertise.

Presentations – Past

International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) Conference
October 2012

Communication Center Director and Assistant ProfessorKaren Head, participated in a roundtable and presented a poster, while Malavika Shetty, presented a poster at the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) Conference in San Diego in October 2012.


Malavika Shetty at IWCA

Head, who is also a poet, participated in a roundtable on “Crossover Identities: Professional Creative Writers on Their Roles as Writing Center Directors.” The roundtable discussed how the experience of creative and non-creative writing and publishing lends itself to Writing Center work.  Her poster on “The Coolness Quotient: Using Modern Spaces to Destigmatize Center Use” addressed how creating engaging spaces can help writing centers connect with students.

Malavika Shetty’s poster, “A Linguist at the Writing Center: negotiating the line between theory and practice,” looked at how a background in linguistics could put one in a position to constantly negotiate the, sometimes, contradictory demands of linguistic theory and Writing Center practice.

During the first year of its existence, the Communication Center focused on getting the word out about its existence on campus. Now that the Communication Center has become an integral part of the Georgia Tech community, it has been actively pushing its research agenda. The Center now has an active research profile and is a strong presence in Writing Center conferences.  The Communication Center at Georgia Tech seems well on its way towards achieving one of its objectives of becoming a research-driven center.


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