Online Consulting Big Picture
  • Online consulting differs from face-to-face consulting. Don’t feel pressure to be the perfect online consultant (especially if consulting is new to you). When in doubt, remember the UWC mission on page 1 of the UWC Consultant Roadmap and our scaffolding approach to writing help.
  • Down below, we'll continue to update the UWC's online consulting advice, which builds on page 2 of the UWC Consultant Roadmap.
  • Test drive the WCOnline online platform well before your first session. You can make a session with yourself. Better yet, you can can pair up with a fellow UWC consultant to familiarize yourself with the platform. Play around. Really explore the space. If you’ve got someone else in there with you, try offering help without audio or video.
  • In the moment, don't be afraid to ask any of your fellow consultants on the floor for help. The good person at our front desk can help you borrow a Mac laptop from the Learning Centers Tech Library. Share any immediate larger difficulties—e.g., WCOnline is down—with your shiftmates, including faculty consultants.
  • Plan to use your small-group professional development meetings to share your online consulting experiences. Your group members can offer support and advice and in the process help the UWC  refine our online consulting practice.
  • Plan ahead so that you can be creative and flexible in employing technology during online sessions. See the "WCOnline" and "Beyond WCOnline" sections below for more advice.
  • Remember that the “literacy load” is much higher in chat-based online consultations for all writers. Professors and prompts often use discipline- and genre-specific language, and we have our own UWC practices and language. Your clients may not be familiar with online consultation and/or may bring other literacies, languages, and expectations to sessions. This is yet another reason to use audio and video whenever possible. If the audio and video options are not possible, allow significant wait time and be careful about the words you type (avoid idioms, slang, indirect speech).
Online Session Guidelines

Establish rapport  

  • Rapport is particularly important in online sessions, and audio (and video) is hugely helpful. 
    • Below is some sample rapport-building language.
      • “How are you doing today? Did you have any of your online classes yet?”
      • “Welcome to the strangest semester ever.”
    • Your first chat note might be something like “Hi, Tanya. I’m Tina. How can I help you today? I’ve found that enabling the microphone and camera options up above—the camera icon—makes online sessions better.” 
    • Please initiate video and audio in the session unless the writer’s situation makes it impossible. If you can’t initiate audio/video, you’ll have to work to establish rapport through chat. 
  • Considering that the pandemic is affecting everyone, it’s particularly important to establish a human connection here. People are isolated and the communication with you, especially with audio and video, has tremendous benefit, regardless of the session.
  • Normalize the online format for those who are unfamiliar. 
    • “I see you’ve been to the UWC for f2f sessions, so this will be somewhat similar. The writing center mission is the same; we’re just making it happen online.”
    • “The UWC has been offering online sessions in this format for years, but I realize it might be unfamiliar to you, so please ask questions.”


  • This may be trickier in the online format. Again, video and audio will help. However, just like a f2f session, the more information you can gather, the better your guidance will be. 
  • You’ve still got the intake form and past session reports.
  • You should still ask for the assignment prompt and the client's concerns.
    • Ask some broad questions: 
      • “How are you feeling about this assignment?”
      • “Have you gotten any feedback from the professor on this draft or on previous papers?”
      • “How is the course going?” 
    • Collaboratively establish an agenda for the session  
      • Some consultants have reported being pressured to edit or give content ideas in the online format and not knowing how to deflect this. Many online interactions students experience are transactional, so they may want the UWC session to be the same way (e.g., “I just need the answers”). Do not feel that you have to compromise scaffolding because you are in the online environment. If a client seems irritated or disengaged, ask questions and engage. Clarify our mission and approach.  
      • As in a f2f session, you can always back up and remind them of the UWC mission

Apply consulting techniques  

  • Ask questions that help the writer see issues with idea development, organization, source integration, etc.  
  • Consider how your typical strategies (reverse outline, tour of the paper, point-predict reading) might work in the online context
    • If you have audio and video, most of the techniques will be the same
    • If you only have the whiteboard text and chat, you’ll have to get more creative.
      • For the tour, you might help direct it through the chat: “Tell me what you covered in paragraph one and how this fits into the central purpose or thesis of your paper.”
      • For the reverse outline, you might refer to paragraphs by number: “Paragraph three seems to be a rundown of common counterarguments, followed by a quick rebuttal. Can you tell me what’s happening in paragraph four?”
        • You might keep track of this outline on a separate Google doc or Word file and then paste it into the chat window (or upload it) when done, so the client can see the flow of ideas and begin to make some evaluations.
  • Note-taking during your discussion  
    • The online setting makes note-taking easy. You can use the chat function to actually take notes (saying that you are doing so, and that the client can return to the session afterwards). Alternatively, you can have your own Word file or Google doc open to take notes as you read the client’s paper on the whiteboard or as the client responds to your questions. Similarly, you can take notes by typing directly into the shared whiteboard. Your text will be highlighted in a different color from the client’s text. 
  • Reading out loud (requires at least audio)  
    • This can work if you have audio, but the same cautions for the read aloud method should be observed (that it is not the best way to get at higher order concerns or get a sense of the whole paper)
    • Identify and use online resources, handbooks, style manuals 
      • Again, the online context is perfect here. You can paste links right into the chat.
      • Please do not let the links do the teaching for you. If it is a link that clarifies a writing move (like transitions) or a pattern of error (like verb tense confusion), you’ll need to explain, go through some examples (preferably from their paper), and check for understanding.

Prompt a demonstration of learning

  • Self-correction: “Let’s find another example of a comma splice. I’d like to see you find it and make the edit yourself on the whiteboard.”
  • Substantive revision: “What are some connections you see between the focus of paragraph two and the focus of paragraph three? How could you express that connection in a transition statement?”  
  • Articulation of changes or the need for change
    • For some clients, it may be difficult to type out an emerging idea. This is why audio is really important in the online session.
    • If audio is not possible, allow significant wait time for the client to type out their idea.  


  • “Is this helping you? How do you feel about the paper now?”
  • “How is this online session going for you? Is there anything I can do to make it more comfortable for you?”

Closing/Look ahead  

  • What now?  
  • Identify clear next steps. Have the student type them out or send them your typed to-do list
  • Send relevant links from the session (especially those from our UWC Writing Guides and Handouts pages)
  • Suggest booking another online session after revision  
  • Reaffirm rapport and offer encouragement  
  • Note that other Learning Centers programs (such as English Language Learner Services, the Comm Center, and the SMLC) and other relevant JMU programs (such as the libraries) are also available online.
Help with WCOnline

UWC clients who have made an appointment for an online session should log into the scheduler before their appointment time and should click on the box where the appointment is booked. In the window that opens, they should click on “Join Online Consultation.” 

UWC consultants working with these clients should also click on the appointment and then on the orange “Start or Join Online Consultation” text a few minutes before the start of the appointment. The instructions below will appear on the screen until a client uploads a paper or text. For more help, check out WCOnline's pages on synchronous online meeting resources. One of the pages there offers help about enabling your camera and microphone.

The first, best recourse when a client has trouble enabling their camera and microphone is to suggest that they restart their computer. See the "Beyond WCOnline" section below for additional options.

WC Online camera and microphone help
  • WELCOME TO YOUR ONLINE CONSULTATION! Look at the participants icon at the top right to see if anyone else is already here.
  • WHITEBOARD: To get started, import your document (using the arrows icon) or paste your document directly into this space. Changes made within the whiteboard are seen by all participants immediately.
  • TEXT CHAT: You can use the text chat tool, available by selecting CHAT below, to have a text conversation with other participants. If you do not want participants to see what you are typing as you type, turn the REAL TIME option off.
  • AUDIO AND VIDEO: If your institution has enabled audio and video consultations, you will be prompted for camera access when first joining a session.  To be prompted again, simply refresh this screen.  Screensharing is also available by selecting the computer icon in the audio and video area.
  • TOOLBAR: The icons on the left side of the toolbar allow you to work with a document's formatting. Other icons provide access to drawing tools, math tools, and import/export options. Hover over an icon to see what it does.
  • Need more help? Click the question mark at the top right of the screen.
Beyond WCOnline

WCOnline sometimes doesn't work as well as it should; on occasion, it doesn't work at all. UWC clients sometimes have trouble accessing or working in WCOnline. Groups, which often feature first-time UWC clients--often work better in more familiar online platforms.

Be prepared:

  • If you're listed as an online consultant, you should have a Zoom account and/or a Webex account--both are free for JMU users--and should be ready to supply the link to your Zoom or Webex room on short notice.
  • If you and/or your client run into serious WCOnline technical difficulties during a session, to the point that the connection fails, freezes, or is absurdly intermitent, be ready with options
  • Paste your Zoom/Webex room address and your email address into the WCOnline chat, suggesting that you reconvene in Zoom/Webex.
  • Send an email to the client, offering your Zoom/Webex room address. You can find your client's name by clicking on their name at the top left of their WCOnline appointment. to find their email address.
  • If the technology goes irretrievably wrong to the point that you run out of time, send a next email to help your client figure out next steps.

In-session options: 

  • If WCOnline proves troublesome, suggest that your client meet you in Zoom or WebEx.
  • If your client has trouble sharing their work,
  • suggest that your client email you their draft and prompt,
  • and/or suggest that they share their materials using the Zoom/Webex "Share" function.
  • If your client's document features special formatting that WCOnline does not capture, you can suggest that your client paste/send you a GoogleDoc link (this works faster/better if you suggest that your client choose the "anyone on the internet can view this document" option and then that they change "view" to "edit" before copying and sending you the link.
Planning for 30-Minute Online Sessions
  • Inform the client that the session will last up to 25 minutes.
  • Resist the temptation to dive in and start reading. It’s still important to learn about the assignment, diagnose problems, and set an agenda. In shorter sessions, these key components may need to happen at a quicker pace than they would in a normal 45-minute UWC session.
  • Consider skimming the draft silently to assess priorities. If the client doesn’t have a clear (or realistic) sense of what to focus on, consider quickly skimming the draft to diagnose problems and put forward a plan. Ideally, you might give the writer something to do as you skim, such as opening and figuring out how to share the prompt, reviewing a relevant resource from the UWC website, creating a reverse outline, or locating a paper or article that can serve as an example of the genre.
  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish in 25 minutes. It’s important to set an agenda (and expectations) at the beginning of a session. Here are some activities that can realistically happen in 25 minutes: brainstorming for and outlining a paper, reverse outlining a paper and discussing structure and flow of information, reading one or two pages aloud and giving a reader response, doing a close reading and revision of 1-2 problem or example paragraphs, or discussing key concepts (like summary vs. analysis) or concerns that have come up in professor feedback.
  • Use what you know about the genre or assignment to quickly target common pitfalls or problem areas. For example, in personal statements, students often rely on vague generalizations and clichés and need help developing concrete and personal examples. In many academic papers, introductions and conclusions need development and refocusing. In literature reviews, students often struggle with synthesizing sources and using a broad-to-narrow structure. As always, prioritize higher order concerns.
  • Consider splitting up/working independently during the session to maximize productivity. You and your client do not always have to be doing the same thing at the same time. You can give your client time to add to an outline while you look up relevant resources to post as links in the chat box. You can suggest that your client begin revising a paragraph while you compose a to-do list or a list of questions to ask the professor at the end of the session.
  • If there is more work than reasonably fits in a 25 minute session, look forward as soon as possible. Consider expanding the length of session through your next 30-minute block in WCOnline (if you have an available spot on the schedule). Alternatively, help the client book a follow-up appointment.
  • Don't forget to wrap up the session. Reserve a minute or two at the end of the session to discuss "what next" (or better yet, create a "to-do" list and share relevant resources).

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