Even before Mason’s new, bright, and spacious Lab for Writing and Communications held its formal grand opening recently in the Johnson Center, the Lab was already a success. Writing Center Director Susan Lawrence explained that soon after they finished the last coat of paint on their 20 individual consulting and training rooms, the Lab has been essentially booked solid with students looking for help with myriad writing and communication projects. “We are busy every hour we’re open,” says Lawrence.
The Lab has been six years in the making — built with the thought of combining what was the previously separate Comm Center and Writing Center. The Communication Center primarily focuses on helping students with speeches and oral presentations and the Writing Center focuses on written projects.
While the result is a winner, the path to its completion included a series of important steps forward, helped in part by 4-VA@Mason. As Melissa Broeckelman-Post, professor and basic course director of the Communication Department explained to 4-VA@Mason Campus Coordinator and Vice Provost Academic Affairs Janette Muir at the grand opening, “Without a doubt, 4-VA@Mason can and should take credit for helping get this to the finish line.”
The first step in support of the effort started in 2017-2018 when 4-VA@Mason awarded Broeckelman-Post with a Collaborative Research Grant to undertake a complete redesign of Mason’s COMM 100 and 101 courses, which were facing three challenges: increasing enrollment warranting a cadre of new instructors, reductions in teaching space, and needed revisions in course structure. The grant provided funds for a serious critical analysis of this important Mason Core course and produced an efficient and effective course redesign. Moreover, the redesign created cost savings which helped introduce individualized coaching sessions in the then “new” Communication Center where students could meet with student communication coaches to get feedback on outlines, video record and practice presentations, practice interviews, and work on developing group presentations.
The second 4-VA@Mason contribution came in the 2019-2020 academic year, when Brockelman-Post received a second grant for her proposal entitled “Communication Across the Curriculum: Creating Faculty Resources for Building Communication Skills in the Discipline.” This project resulted in the creation of a robust set of resources to support faculty and student learning, including online tools, individual and small group faculty curriculum consultations, and in-class workshop resources to encourage faculty to embed communication skills development within their disciplinary courses.
The most recent 4-VA@Mason assist, currently underway, is to support a thorough, multi-faceted research study across communication centers at three 4-VA universities – Mason, JMU, and Virginia Tech – to determine best practices for tutor training. Assessment data will be collected via qualitative interviews with tutors at each of the participating institutions and a nationwide survey of communication center administrators, administrative assistants, and tutors. The findings will be used to create open-access communication center online training modules for training future communication center tutors at participating institutions.
“Mason’s Lab for Writing and Communication is leading the way nationally in student communication support , and we’re proud that 4-VA@Mason has been a part of this success story,” concluded Muir.