In this edition: "Considerations for the Wizards behind the Screens" and Spotlight of the Writing Center at Mills College.
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Newsletter of the Northern California Writing Centers Association

Volume Three, Issue One
December 2016

News and Upcoming Events:

Submit to our Spring Issue:
Please submit articles and Spotlight requests for our Spring issue to See our full call for papers at:
NCWCA & Crossings  Collaborative  2017 Conference: Exploring Shared Work in Writing
University of Reno, Nevada
Workshop: Friday, April 1st 
Conference: Saturday, April 2nd


As announced when we met in Santa Clara in the spring, this year we will merge our annual meeting with the meetings of NCNWPA and other West Coast associations in Reno, Nevada on April 1-2, 2017. This unprecedented and exciting collaboration promises to generate rich intersections between our sister organizations and the NCWCA for years to come. More importantly, we get to go to Reno! Reno is a lovely city boasting world-class dining, spectacular mountain scenery, and, not least, cheap lodging.

Check out the convention web site at


Considerations for the Wizards behind the Screens

By Jasmine Wade

Those of us who manage our Writing Center’s social media are Wizards. We may not have been blessed by a Sorting Hat, gifted an Emerald City, or charged to protect a sacred ring, but we are Wizards all the same. We are the ordinary persons hidden behind screens wielding gifs, emojis, hashtags, and statuses. The Wizard is an avatar, a shell that we face to the student body in order to elicit a particular response and reach specific goals. To the student population, we want to appear hilarious, wise, useful, and technologically savvy. When Wizards step up to the screen, we assume a role, and within that role, there are factors each Wizard must consider when creating the Wizard avatar.


The Wizard must set goals.

Goal setter is the first role the Wizard must play. In choosing how to interact with students through social media, Writing Center staff must ask the following questions: what do we want students to do? What are the particular needs for our Writing Center? We might be trying to get students to come into the physical space of our Writing Center. We might want our online presence to be an additional way students can receive writing instruction. Or we might try to transform the image of our Writing Center to be friendly, inviting, and witty. Whatever the goal, the medium and the message need to match. In their article “Writing in Multimodal Texts,” Bezemer and Kress define medium as “the substance in and through which meaning is instantiated/realized and through which meaning becomes available to others” (172). Twitter is one kind of medium. Tumblr is another.

The medium chosen should align with the goals set. This can happen in a variety of ways. If one of the Writing Center goals is to interact with students directly on social media, then Twitter might be the best choice with Facebook as a close second. If the goal is to disseminate long-form bits of writing advice to students that can be easily shared, Tumblr might be ideal. Many Writing Centers will likely have multiple goals and hopes for the Wizard, in which case multiple mediums make the most sense.

The Wizard must be a Mode Master.

Part of the beauty of social media is that it allows Writing Centers to use different modes to reach students. Modes are a social and cultural resource for disseminating information and meaning, according to Bezemer and Kress (171). Text, videos, still images, memes, gifs, emojis, and audio are all modes. In order to successfully draw students into the Writing Center’s online world, we have to be masters of all the modes. Lack of knowledge and finesse in the modes of social media create cracks in the Wizard’s avatar. Students, Millennials in particular, will see these cracks and the Wizard will be compromised, like Oz after the illusion is shattered.

Wizards are meaning makers.

Our social media personas allow us to express the rhetoric of our field and reach students in the intimate spaces of their phones and laptops. Wizards have the power and responsibility to use the modes at our disposal and make sense of academic writing. This can be anything from explaining the usage of semi-colons to cheering students on during midterms.

Through our role as meaning makers, we want students to see the online presence as wise and useful. The nature of social media necessitates that we take whatever we are trying to say and make it bite sized. We must take a wealth of pedagogical and rhetorical knowledge and break it up into easily digestible chunks. And then we slap a good gif next to it.

Twitter in particular forces the digestible chunk guideline because of the 140-character limit. While Facebook and other mediums do not formally exact these limitations, the prevailing rule throughout social media is: shorter is better. Part of building the Wizard avatar is also recognizing its limitations. Writing instructors can spend weeks teaching students how to write an excellent thesis statement. Wizards should not expect to do it in a single tweet or Facebook status.

Much of the pedagogical work Wizards do can be viewed as a “teaser” or, in the case of first year writing classes, a complement to formal instruction. Posts on any medium can be enough to get a student thinking about how to problem-solve their way through a particular writing hurdle. It can also be a way to prompt students to come into the Writing Center for more formal instruction. The Wizard does not seek to replace the teacher but rather to be a liaison, a bridge students can cross from the loneliness of the writing woes to concrete help.  

Wizards must be student whisperers.

A significant part of meaning making in social media involves being in touch with students and how they engage with various mediums. According to the Pew Research Center, most people are on social media to make connections with family and friends. So, where does that leave the Wizards among us? Millenials, as a group, are likely to use social media to “stay connected and to take advantage of social, economic, and political opportunities” (Anderson and Raine). Middle aged and older students strongly value social media “as a tool to connect with others around a hobby and interest,” according to the Pew Research Center (Smith). Thus, students (both young and older) are using social media for the opportunities it provides to connect.

They are not necessarily scrolling through our Twitter feed looking for how to use a dash. They are not on our Instagram to figure out how to organize a literature review. They are looking to connect with the Wizard, with the avatars we are building and presenting.

In order to connect with students, we need to know what is important to them. At Mills College, for instance, we have a long history of being committed to a liberal arts education rooted in social justice. That history influences the kind of students that come to us. Our students love a good cause. They also take great pride in the fact that Mills College is the first single-sex school to open its welcoming arms to trans students. By understanding what is important to our students, we can start connecting with them.

Another good place to investigate what is important to students is the first year writing program. The struggles and needs of freshmen are intense and often indicative of the trials that pervade the student body. The vulnerable first-years are looking for wise and useful people to connect with. And in many cases, the Writing Center social media pages are going to be less intimidating than a professor’s office hours or even, at first, going to the Writing Center in person to ask for help. By, in a sense, reading their minds and using available modes, we can draw them in.

Wizards are entertainers.

Students can tell if the Wizards believes what they are saying. They can also tell if the Wizards are having fun. We can use the mediums and modes available to us not only to highlight what is important to students but also what is exciting to us. This show of enthusiasm adds an authenticity and enjoyment to the Wizard avatar that implicitly invites student to trust and engage.

Whatever the goals, whatever the medium and modes, Wizards must above all adhere to the following rule: don’t be boring. Wizards are entertainers. To be clear, we are Wizards of the Oz variety, not the Hogwarts kind. We do not create magic. Rather, the magic exists in our world through technology, and we simply harness it and use it for our own rhetorical purposes. In doing this, we must grab and hold the minds of students amidst ever-increasing competition for their attention.

Works Cited

Anderson, Janna and Lee Rainie. “Millennials will make online sharing in      
          networks a lifelong habit.” Pew Research Center, 9 Jul. 2010, 
          networks-a-lifelong-habit/. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016. 

Bezemer, Jess and Gunther Kress. “Writing in Multimodal Texts: A Social
          Semiotic Account of Designs for Learning.” Written Communication, vol.
          25, no. 2, 2008, pp.166-195

Smith, Aaron. “Why Americans use social media.” Pew Research Center, 9 Jul.
          Accessed 22 Nov. 2016. 

Jasmine Wade is the Writing Center Coordinator and Administrative Assistant to the MFA in Translation Program at Mills College. She can be contacted at


At the San José State University Writing Center, student Writing Specialists have always produced original writing resources. Each Writing Specialist works on one resource project per semester. For years, those resources were always in the form of “Homegrown Handouts.” Each handout addresses a specific writing concern, provides information and models, and engages students in at least one activity. The handouts have been successful: Instructors and students at our university use them, and we’ve received messages about instructors using them from other schools and in other countries. However, once we reached 90+ handouts, we decided it was time to explore other types of writing resources.

Starting in the fall 2015 semester, we encouraged Writing Specialists to think outside the box with their resource projects. They could create handouts, but they also had the option to create videos, games, or posters; they could also write entries for our new Writing Center blog, “The Write Attitude.” The results were excellent, and we now have more dynamic resources that appeal to students’ various learning styles and are just as useful and pedagogically sound as our handouts.

The new resources have also been a great form of outreach for our Writing Center. We have expanded our online presence. We’ve had a Facebook page and Twitter account for years, but we now have the blog and a YouTube channel where we showcase our videos. In the tutoring lab, we have more tactile, visual methods for helping students learn: One Writing Specialist created a flashcard game about using articles; other Writing Specialists have used their graphic design skills to create posters that are now displayed in the lab.

We plan to continue to create unique resources that students can use both during and outside of tutoring sessions.

Take a virtual tour of the San José State University Writing Center.

Author Contact: Michelle Hager,

Call for Submissions:

The NCWCA newsletter is seeking submissions from writing center professionals — students, professors, staff, tutors, facilitators, coordinators, directors, etc. — in Northern California by January 15 for the Winter 2017 issue of our web-based newsletter.

  • Brief Articles (750-1,500 words) about tutoring and writing center work regarding theory, practice, assessment, outreach, innovation, technology, etc. We welcome a broad range of genres: personal narratives, program descriptions, qualitative or quantitative research, etc.
  • Writing Center Spotlights (250-500 words) profile one center in each issue to highlight the unique approaches of centers in our region. Let us know if you are interested and we will send guiding questions.
  • News and Events (150 words or less) of interest to the writing center community. For the winter issue, events should occur between February and May 2017.

Send articles, Writing Center Spotlight requests, or news and events to 
Read previous issues on the NCWCA website:

The Northern California Writing Centers Association Newsletter is published two to three times a year by the Saint Mary's College of California Center for Writing Across the Curriculum.

Saint Mary's College Editorial Staff: Jewelisa Harrison, Annie Keig, Camilla Marais, and Joe Zeccardi

NCWCA Advisory Board Members Scott Miller, Co-President, Sonoma State University,
Loriann Negri, Co-President, Sonoma State University, 
Sheryl Cavales Doolan, Secretary, Santa Rosa Junior College, 
Tereza Joy Kramer, Treasurer, Saint Mary’s College,
Julia Bleakney, Stanford, 
Leslie Dennen, University of San Francisco,
Meghan Facciuto, Sacramento City College,
Magda Gilewicz, Fresno State, 
Susan Griffin, Sacramento City College
Kyra Mello, Yuba Community College, 
Michelle Montoya, Truckee Meadows Community College, 
Joe Zeccardi, Saint Mary's College of California

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