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Throwing a Research Party

June 23, 2022

At W&J, our library is part of the Academic Affairs department of the college. Also, in the Academic Affairs department is our Writing Center and the Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL) Tutors. This arrangement is somewhat new since our Writing Center is about to celebrate their 1-year anniversary and even though PAL Tutors have been on campus for awhile, until last year they were part of the Student Life department.

A few years back, I had read an article that introduced me to the concept of a research party and since I read that article I’ve been trying to make it happen in my library. Here’s a link to that article, Throwing a Research Party, Deconstructing the Reference Desk: Bringing a Social Component to Research by Jennifer Hunter & Christina Riehman-Murphy, if you’d like to read it: https://www.jstor.org/stable/90009948.

My attempts at throwing a research party were complicated by a library renovation and then a global pandemic but finally last fall I had my chance. A new coordinator of the First-Year Seminar (FYS) experience wanted to implement several sessions outside of class time and have FYS faculty encourage/require their students to attend a certain number of them. I had been working with our new Writing Center Coordinator and she was on board with doing a Research Party with me as a joint-session for the FYS cohort. We picked a date near midterm, decided to hold it in the library classroom, and wrote a blurb that pitched it as a one-stop-shop to have your questions about research & writing answered. At the last minute, I reached out to PAL tutoring to see if they wanted to join the party. They were unable to have tutors on hand but we were able to get information about their hours and subject coverage that we could share with attendees.

The night of the session, I along with two writing center tutors and the writing center coordinator, set up in the library with snacks and waited for people to start trickling in. What happened was that at 7pm, when our session began, about 30+ first-year students showed up ready to hear a presentation as that is what the previous sessions had been like. We pivoted and gave a quick presentation on the services that the writing center, the library, and PAL tutoring could provide. We had slides on repeat with the locations and hours for each support area and many students took pictures on their phone of the hours and ways to contact each center. Only a few students from the first group actually stuck around to ask questions. Our session was scheduled to be 2 hours long and, in that time, maybe 10 or 15 more students came through. In those smaller groups, even though the students didn’t come with a specific question, we were able to talk to them about their needs and several indicated that they would be making an appointment with the writing center in the future. So even though I think we failed at the concept of a research party, I think we succeeded at reaching a record number of students and helped to give the new writing center the exposure they needed to make students more aware of their existence.

We are doing another joint-session with the writing center and the PAL tutors this fall but we’ve pivoted from the concept of a research party to a scavenger hunt/trip around the world of academic support. Instead of a one-stop-shop, we’re going to create a passport and ask students to visit all three locations – the library, the writing center, and the tutoring lounge. At each stop they’ll get a short presentation on what types of services are provided and get their passport stamped. We’ll also try to have some candy or other treats to give away. The session is still happening near midterm so if students have a question we are encouraging them to go to that stop last so that they can stay there and work with someone who is on duty. If they don’t have a specific question at least they will know where each support service is located, recognize at least one person who works there, and hopefully be more likely to return when they do need help. I’m excited to see how this iteration of the workshop goes and I’m still looking for opportunities to throw a successful research party in the library.

Has anyone else collaborated with writing centers or tutors on their campus?

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