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McGraw sees increase in number of student visits

The McGraw Teaching and Learning Center expects to see an increase of 31 percent in student visits this academic year, compared to last year.

The McGraw Teaching and Learning Center expects to see an increase of 31 percent in student visits this academic year, compared to last year.

The McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning has received over 3,800 visits since the start of the academic year and is expecting to receive over 7,600 visits by the end of the year. If the trend holds, McGraw will see an increase of 31 percent from last year’s recorded visits.

The number of recorded visits to the Study Halls was 5,563 in 2011-2012 and 5,800 in 2012-2013, an increase of 4 percent, according to McGraw Center Associate Director Nic Voge said.

The McGraw Center organizes so-called “Study Halls,” where students meet to work on problem sets together and can ask for assistance from other students who have previously taken the course. McGraw also arranges individual learning consultations, where consultants work with students to develop academic goals and strategies, as well as group academic skills workshops.

The number of individual learning consultations increased from 79 in 2008-2009 and 180 in 2011-2012 to 300 in 2012-2013, a 280 percent increase in the past four years. The number for this year, as of Feb. 12, is 190, putting McGraw on track for roughly 350-380 consultations by the end of the year, a 17 to 26 percent year-over-year increase.

Workshop attendance increased from 368 in 2011-2012 to over 500 in 2012-2013, an increase of at least 36 percent. Data is not yet available for fall 2013.

“The word is getting out better. We work closely with faculty to make sure they let their students in their courses know about the availability of free tutoring at Study Hall,” Director of the McGraw Center and Associate Dean of the College Lisa Herschbach said in an interview.

Partly in response to the increased volume, McGraw has recently hired a part-time staff member to oversee the learning consultation program and another associate director to run programs tailored to graduate students, Herschbach explained. She added that McGraw has recently expanded its offerings to include a series of workshops centered around science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses.

Noting as an example workshops focused on the programming language R, “The way that [a] course is designed might not leave space for the actual learning of the software,” Herschbach said. “It’s the application of the software that might be focused on.”

McGraw will soon offer Saturday afternoon Study Halls for MOL 214: Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology and possibly other courses, Herschbach added. Study Halls are typically offered Sunday through Wednesday.

In response to a December 2013 article published in The Daily Princetonian documenting overcrowding at McGraw Study Halls, McGraw has experimented with reserving some of the multipurpose rooms in the basement of Frist Campus Center for use when demand warrants it.

The Writing Center has also seen similar increases in the number of visits so far this year. Associate Director for the Princeton Writing Program Khristina Gonzalez noted that the number of conferences held at the Writing Center has risen from 2,130 during September to December 2012 to 2,737 in fall 2013, an increase of 28 percent. Reading period conferences from January 2013 to January 2014 increased from 364 to 607, 66 percent.

The Writing Center also projects that it will see a 30 percent increase in the number of conferences it holds for independent work projects to approximately 500 by the end of the academic year, Gonzalez said.

She noted that the number of Writing Center fellows, who are paid undergraduate and graduate students, has increased from seven fellows 15 years ago to 76 in 2014.

Writing Center fellows occasionally hold so-called “on the road” conferences at various locations around campus during midterms and reading periods, Gonzalez said, noting that there is not always enough space in Lauritzen Hall to meet the demand fully.

Gonzalez explained that, in regard to course papers, the Writing Center does not primarily give topic-specific or grammatical advice but instead aids in the process of thinking about and structuring writing.

“One of the biggest areas of growth that we’ve seen is students bringing in science writing,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve made a concerted effort not only to do outreach to science students and to the faculty but also to do more training with our fellows around science writing.”

“Science writing” includes advice on lab reports and grant proposals, Gonzalez said.

Helping the University’s growing international student body adjust to American academic writing if needed, working on graduate school applications and cover letters for job applications and planning for junior papers and senior theses are also growing shares of the types of conferences that the Writing Center holds, Gonzalez added. She also said writing seminars still make up “probably 40 percent” of the volume for its conferences, and many students come back to the Writing Center in later years due to positive first experiences with the Writing Center.

“I think, freshman year, everyone comes in used to being good at what they do,” said Rohan Bhargava ’14, a residential college adviser in Rockefeller College, adding that he promotes McGraw and the Writing Center to his advisees.

“The most common use [of the Writing Center] tends to be for classes, of course, for papers, but a significant number of my friends use it for grad school applications, whether it’s law school, medical school, anything like that,” Bhargava explained. “And a significant number also used it for scholarship applications.”

Data provided by Gonzalez showed that the number of juniors and seniors using the Writing Center from the first semester of the 2013 academic year to the first semester of the 2014 academic year has increased sixfold.

“I’ve heard only good things about it from most people,” Bhargava said.

“They looked over my paper and gave me some suggestions as to how to revise it. I thought it was pretty helpful to have a second pair of eyes look over it,” Anirudh Dasarathy ’16 said.

Dasarathy added that the Writing Center could benefit from increased oversight of its fellows.

“From what I hear, it’s pretty hit-or-miss,” Dasarathy said.

Gonzalez noted that the Writing Center scores highly on student satisfaction surveys.

Jack Axcelson, Wilson College director of studies, said students often learn that they have to adjust their expectations of what Princeton requires of them.

“There’s … the problem of the short teaching term, which makes things especially intense and makes the types of activities common at other colleges, like skipping class, a dangerous thing to do,” he said.

Like Bhargava, Axcelson said people often need academic support to respond to the adjustment from high school to college.

“You get a lot of people who are high-flying, academically, and when they get here, a percentage of them aren’t anymore,” Axcelson said. “It can be a little traumatic when the first midterms come around.”

Senior Writer Catherine Ku contributed reporting.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated Khristina Gonzalez’s title. She is Associate Director for the Princeton Writing Program. 

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