Category Archives: Distance students

Let’s write together this fall

Welcome new graduate students and welcome back returning students!

Writing is a big part of your work as a graduate student. Frequently we write alone, and that can feel isolating. Now that we are keeping our physical distance from one another, this sense of isolation can be profound. A great way to break out of isolation and kick-start your writing is to connect with your peers and write together and/or share your writing. Wendy Belcher, editor, teacher, and the author of Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, is a proponent of making your writing social, whether through involvement in a writing group or with a writing partner. Writing with others can allay writer’s block and other forms of anxiety, make you more productive, and help you feel connected to others.

If you’d like to start your own writing group, The Thesis Whisperer has some tips on how to start your own “Shut up and write” group (you can modify to create online or socially distanced meetings).  Another resource—this one developed here at UVic—is The Thesis Writing Starter Kit, which can also be modified for online meetings.

If starting a writing group isn’t your thing, or if you simply want a pre-made writing group, why not join our virtual writing room on Wednesday afternoons? It’s a great way to set and accomplish small goals while writing in the (virtual) company of others. No registration required, just drop in on Wednesday afternoons between 2 and 4 p.m. (September 9-December 4). You can come in for all or part of the session. A tutor from the Centre for Academic Communication will be there to answer any questions and facilitate.

 Zoom link: 

We look forward to seeing you!

Doubting my Ability to Complete my Master’s Program

By Barb Fouts-Melnychuk

This is my first official blog post and I am thrilled and nervous to write at the same time.  I have just finished my seventh course for my master’s program in Curriculum and Instruction focusing on Literacy.  At this point in this 13-month journey I fall asleep if I sit still for more than ten minutes.  Hilarious but true!  Being a literacy consultant, doing a master’s program and trying to balance a family simultaneously is tough.  What made the workload even tougher is having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and a learning disability.  Translation:  I do not process directions, readings, people’s comments or class discussions in the patterns my classmates did.  My unique learning style translated to 25 very rewarding years teaching junior high, or as you say in BC, middle school, but the learning style has not made grad school easy.

I started a master’s program in July 2017 because as a consultant last year in Alberta, I supported 13 junior high schools and coached 100 teachers.  I was asked to come back month after month and every meeting there were more and more teachers in attendance.  Junior high teachers want to adopt practices that transform their student learning.  In my school district in Edmonton, there are 100,000 students, and approximately 263 schools.  Translation:  many teachers want to adopt their classroom practices to meet the varied needs they see hourly. My master’s program has given me the language and capacity to walk into every classroom or school, see the strengths of the staff, listen to their “what if we could . . .?” questions and find the scaffolds and strategies to support the inquisitive professionals. The master’s program also highlighted my learning disability and required me to ask for help.

I have always had difficulty writing for academic purposes because I could not understand the patterns I was to follow.  I saw connections between the theories and classroom practice. Twenty-five years of reading, studying, practicing and planning, which resulted in 55 to 60-hour work weeks, allowed me to find ways to motivate and engage my students. My whole career I was able to get results from students that were supposedly unattainable or from the students who don’t care. In my classroom I have LOVED making literacy theory practical for my students and my colleagues!   What my insane work schedule did not do was develop my writing skills for academia.

Then the Learning and Teaching Centre came on my radar after a professor this summer handed back a paper saying, “Barb you get the ideas and theories, but you need an editor to find the transitions and develop the coherence.”  The comment was said with kindness and in support, and I had already come to this realization during my last 12 months.  One of my supportive cohort members suggested the Centre for Academic Communication (CAC). I was spending HOURS trying to meet the academic standards and barely making it.

It is so humbling to ask for help once again in my academic studies.  New to me, NOT!  My grade 12 Chemistry teacher was so excited when I got a 67% on the provincial diploma exam.  He told me that mark meant more to him than so many of the students who got honors because of the hours of work he saw me put in that did not result in higher grades.  Yet now I was in a master’s program asking for help. Did that mean I did not actually have the stuff to be here?

At the CAC I asked for an editor and received a writing coach!  What a delightful surprise.  Someone who read aloud what I had written and allowed me to hear the lack of coherence and then that same someone asked me to clarify how the ideas related?  These were easy questions and I quickly rattled off the answer and then typed as if the keys were on fire and I had to quickly unload my ideas from my hands.  The words flowed from me because the gift of ADHD is that I learn the material to a level of specificity that most people don’t see.  My brain wants to understand the theory of literacy to the degree that I can disperse the theory into practical application for all the teachers I support.

I would leave an hour’s session at the CAC so excited and energized that many of my cohort group are planning on using the writing supports during the 2018-19 year as we complete our project.  My fellow grad students could not believe I revised 800 words in 45 minutes and took the quality of my writing to a much higher standard.  Not only was my writing more aligned with masters degree benchmarks but my confidence soared after each visit.  I started to realize I could write and that I was in grad school for valid reasons.  I want to help teachers so that I am really helping teenagers embrace the potential they have and encourage them to heal and bring hope to combat some of the ugliness in our world.

Who knew one hour could do so much?  Luckily, I did not, and I was so grateful to have been able to sign up for three hours in my last week.  My writing abilities can almost leap tall buildings in a single bound and it’s just in time.  This master’s project is going to take every writing skill I have and now I have more.


About Barb

Barb has taught junior high/middle school for 25 years and is now a literacy consultant with Edmonton Public Schools.  She has taught for many years, in all four disciplines, but landed in English Language Arts.  Her love of diverse learners has allowed Barb to teach the spectrum of learners who are gifted to learners identified with special needs.   Barb is part of the international Freedom Writer Teachers and is looking forward to the year when she finally figures out all there is to know about teaching. She can be reached at




Long Distance (Tutoring) Relationships at the CAC

By Gillian Saunders

Gillian Saunders, EAL specialist and distance tutor at the CAC

“Are you a distance student”? If you’ve been on the CAC’s tutorial booking site, WCONLINE, in the past year, you might have noticed this question on the landing page. The CAC has been offering distance help for a few years now, but the procedure for booking has changed a bit recently, and “real time,” or “synchronous” options are also now available: you can now “meet” with a tutor via phone, Skype, or WCONLINE’s online meeting space. I’ve been the main distance tutor for over two years now, and it’s been an interesting journey and one of the most rewarding parts of my work at the CAC. What follows is a few details about distance tutoring, my experiences as the distance tutor, and some specific information on how the distance tutoring works.

When I was offered the opportunity to take over the Centre for Academic Communication’s distance tutoring two years ago, I didn’t hesitate. Working in my pajamas?! Yes, please! The number of students in distance programs is constantly growing, and I wanted to try a few new things. We decided to keep the email account that we were currently using for quick questions and returning feedback, but moved bookings to, and set up a schedule for synchronous meetings. At present, UVic is one of only a handful of Canadian universities to offer real-time options for distance tutoring.

In spite of common perceptions that email interactions with distance tutors are one-sided and limited in what they can accomplish, I’ve found mostly the opposite. Distance tutoring does, in some very useful ways, actually exceed some of the limitations of face-to-face sessions. With any of the real-time distance options, and also with the written feedback option, students have a record of their interaction with the tutor, whether it’s the chat interaction in WCONLINE or a recording of a phone or Skype conversation. I can recommend links to helpful resources and websites, and these can easily be revisited later at the student’s convenience.

Although we do try to limit the distance appointments to students who really can’t make it to campus to see one of our tutors in person, we feel strongly that academic communication support should be accessible to all, for whatever reason. Are you on co-op? Working during CAC hours? Have small children at home? Distance tutoring is here for you. There is also evidence that distance tutoring may be especially useful for students with writing anxiety or disabilities. Distance tutoring makes both the writer and the tutor “invisible,” to a certain extent. Perhaps there are some cases when it’s best to focus on the writing itself – to take the focus off the writer altogether and work on the product instead. I have worked with students with physical and mental health issues, learning disabilities, and vision impairment, and students calling from rural Alberta in the parking lot of a motel. I’ve also received writing from students that is intensely personal. Maybe you’d rather not work on a personal reflection piece about your experience with depression or sexual abuse with someone face-to-face? Distance tutoring is here for you, too.

If you do need to use our distance tutoring options, there are a couple of things you can do to get the most out of your session. First, if you’re requesting written feedback, picture a human on the receiving end of your appointment. Talk to me! You can use the comments function to ask questions in the margins of your work. Some common questions that might be easily resolved this way include, “Is this sentence too long?” “Do I need a transition here?” and “Does this information fit better in this paragraph or the previous one?” Next, include whatever instructions or guidelines you might have, and any relevant background that I might need in order to understand what you’re trying to accomplish. If you only need help with one section, highlight that section, or let me know that you haven’t written the introduction yet, so that I don’t wonder where that is. If you’ve received any previous feedback from an instructor and you’re working on improving a specific aspect of your writing, that’s useful to know, too. Keep in mind that appointments are meant to last as long as our face-to-face options: that’s 30 minutes for one slot, or 60 for two that are booked together.

Finally, give yourself enough time to make revisions and possibly get a second round of feedback, if necessary. Many students find it useful to get some written feedback first, make revisions, and then follow up with a phone or Skype appointment to get clarification, ask questions, and confirm revisions. If your assignment is due Friday, you’ll need to submit it by Tuesday afternoon in order to be guaranteed written feedback by the end of the day on Thursday. Don’t wait until the last minute! Revisions often take longer than you think they will. Remember that we’re not an editing or proofreading service, so no changes will be made for you. That doesn’t help you become a better writer or a more effective editor of your own work.

At the end of last term, I asked some of UVic’s distance students about their experiences using our distance services, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Although most indicated that they would rather meet in person if this were possible, they also thought they had been able to get what they needed from the distance tutoring options. After having helped almost 200 students via our online tutoring options over the last year, up from almost 140 in the previous year, I can only imagine and hope that the number of distance tutoring users will continue to grow. Face-to-face and distance tutoring have the same goal of helping students to become better writers. Both methods can achieve this goal, I believe, if they are managed thoughtfully and used with a good understanding of their possibilities and limitations.

If you have any questions or concerns about distance tutoring and what it can do for you, please email

Distance Tutoring at the CAC is user friendly!