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History of the Lab

The face of the University of West Florida’s Writing Lab has changed markedly since its inception in 1982.  The Writing Lab is now recognized as a center of academic change and innovation within both the university and the Pensacola communities.  Since the beginning, the Writing Lab's student staff has been at the heart of those changes, promoting the Grammar Hotline in the community and proposing, selling, and then implementing ground-breaking innovations in the Writing Lab itself: interactive paper reading and paper tutoring, Writing Tutorials, Grammar Mini-lessons, informational handouts, and the OWL, just to name a few. 

The university and Pensacola media have recognized these changes and have responded accordingly.  UWF spotlighted its first full-time director, Mamie Webb Hixon, on the cover of its spring 1993 issue of Nautilog magazine, which included a feature story about the Lab.  WKRG-TV in Mobile, Alabama, invited the director to appear on one of its mid-day programs in January 2003 and again in 2006 to talk about the Writing Lab and its services.  And the director has appeared on WEAR TV-3 several times to talk about the Writing Lab.  Additionally, the Writing Lab and the Grammar Hotline were spotlighted in the “Life” section of the Thursday, October 3, 2004, edition of the Pensacola News Journal (PNJ).  This article is one of five feature stories written about the Lab during its twenty-seven years at UWF.  Other PNJ articles include “Grammarian Keeps Faith in Language,” November 6, 1986; “Not Sure Grammar Is Right?” circa 1990; “Sheriff’s Employees Learn to Not Misplace Modifiers,” circa 1992 in the Education section; and “Can We Talk,” 1995.  (The “Can We Talk” article subsequently appeared as an AP release in Florida Today, October 5, 1995, as well as in the Washington Post and several other newspapers.)  In fact, we believe the Writing Lab has been featured in the PNJ more than any other student-centered program on campus.

The special editions of The Write Advice newsletter and the media appearances of the Writing Lab Director as a radio and television grammarian on BLAB TV, WUWF, and WRNE AM radio have done much to enhance the University’s image in the Pensacola community. These professional outreach services combined with the increased use of Lab services by students demonstrate a positive Writing Lab presence on campus and in the community.  

The Writing Lab has changed from a support facility for the Department of English in 1980 to 1982 to a twelve-month operation supervised by a full-time director and a full-time coordinator of academic services, starting in 2004. The Writing Lab's current coordinator is Rustian Phelps.

As a student-centered university operation, the Writing Lab has historically provided paper reading, tutoring, and other services to all students, whether or not they are enrolled in an English Department writing class.  These Writing Lab services are provided 35 hours a week. The Writing Lab has led the way in facilitating UWF students' seamless transition from high school through the University system and into the workforce.  

The Writing Lab was initially set up circa 1976 as a grant-funded program under the auspices of the Department of English and Foreign Languages to provide tutorial assistance for students preparing to fulfill the University’s Writing Skills Graduation Requirement (the Test of Standard Written English, TSWE). However, since 1982, when Dr. Stanton Millet, then-chair of the department, hired a full-time Lab Director, the Lab has outgrown its remedial mission.  At that time, a staff of only five to seven part-time graduate students was needed to manage the Lab—in one classroom (Building 52, Room 147). The Lab provided tutoring only.  Then, at the beginning of Mamie Webb Hixon’s tenure as Lab director, the Lab became a support facility for the Department of English, providing diagnostic testing and tutoring for students enrolled in the department’s required composition courses. 

After 1982, the Lab moved beyond its departmental function of providing diagnostic testing and tutoring for students enrolled in English courses. With this change in function came a change in venue: The writing Lab moved from a single classroom to what was formerly the University’s art gallery (51/158).  In the current facility, the Writing Lab's 20 to 25 employees provide essential support for the entire University:

  • campus-wide diagnostic testing;
  • instruction to students in freshman and upper-level writing courses as well as courses across the curriculum;
  • extensive supplementary testing and tutorial instruction for students throughout the university who are enrolled in Curriculum and Planning, Magazine Editing, Writing for Social Work, Art History, Environmental Writing, American History, Professional Writing, Technical Writing, English as a Foreign Language, Broadcast Journalism, Advanced Writing, Business Writing, Legal and Research Writing, Modern Grammar, and Practical Grammar, just to name a few;
  • tutorial assistance for students needing help with master’s theses and doctoral dissertations;
  • an extensively used university and community service Grammar Hotline;
  • a popular interactive paper-reading service;
  • a paper tutoring service for students referred by their professors;
  • an online service, including diagnostic and mastery testing for students in distance learning classes, the University’s OWL – Online Writing Lab, and the Live OWL.

Prior to 1982, Writing Lab tests were limited to practice TSWE’s and worksheets that accompanied the English 3200, 2600, and 2200 series of programmed instruction manuals. Now, the Lab has developed over sixty (60) informational handouts; a sample essay bank; a battery of tests and worksheets, specifically tailored for course content; and the OWL, which is listed with other universities on the OWL website.

In 2008, the Lab implemented its Skill-of-the-Week Tutoring System, which provides tutoring every hour, on the hour, using the classroom instruction model with approximately 20 minutes of teaching, 20 minutes of testing, and 20 minutes of interactive review.

Also, in 2008, the Lab received funding from the Office of Graduate Studies, chaired by Dr. Richard Podemski, to offer special paper reading services (theses and dissertations) and hours to master’s and doctoral students. 

The Writing Lab also provides essential support for the Pensacola community: 

  • copies of The Write Advice newsletter to select businesses;
  • on-the-job grammar workshops for educators, administrators, UWF support personnel, health care and legal professionals, and writers; and
  • writing and grammar workshops for middle and high school students. 

Currently, these services are provided at no charge to the community. 

By providing the services it does, the Lab has trained numerous personnel and has directly affected the quality of campus-wide employment and employment in the community.  Each semester, faculty members across the curriculum, especially in the College of Professional Studies, request trained paper readers from the Writing Lab to serve as graduate assistants in their respective departments; the Advising Center hired two lab assistants as teaching assistants; and the Office of Graduate Studies has hired a number of lab assistants as theses and dissertation readers.  Burchell Publishing, Pensacola New Journal, the Pensacola NAS Museum, and Puetz and Associates are among the many companies whose representatives/owners contact the Lab regarding recruitment of prospective writers and editors.  Local high school principals and chairs of English Departments in the local and surrounding school districts call and ask for names of potential English teachers.  Several of the department’s full-time composition instructors, adjuncts, and graduate TAs assigned to teach ENC 1101 Comp I or ENC 1102 Comp II are former undergraduate and graduate Writing Lab assistants.

Because of the Lab’s excellent reputation in the community, attorneys, educators, and other local business people frequently contact the Lab about providing assistance to some of their employees who need help with their written and spoken communication skills.

All English majors in the teacher-training track are required to complete a thirty-hour practicum in the Writing Lab.

The Grammar Hotline is a University function

From its establishment circa 1982, the Writing Lab's Grammar Hotline has attracted local, out-of-state, and even international attention and has generated tremendous publicity for this University, thus increasing UWF's visibility in the local community and throughout the United States.  Since its aggressive promotion, which was initiated by Ann Treadway in an October 1986 Pensacola News Journal article, UWF’s Hotline has responded to the inquiries of nearly 400 callers per year, inquiring about grammar, syntax, diction, capitalization, spelling, pronunciation, documentation style, and word usage.  The Lab’s utilization reports summarize calling patterns and indicate the breadth and diversity of our growing clientele, including calls from the Florida Lottery, the U.S. Senate, Dan Rather, the late William Safire, and business people and educators from around the world.