Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Online Tutoring

When tutoring online, I believe that it's imperative to make sure that we, as the instructors, don't come off as too cold, distant, or unwelcoming. Something that I haven't read a lot about with the notion of online tutoring is the importance for developing trust within teacher/student interactions; those are achieved through openness and encouragement with responses. 

Just a couple nights ago I had a student ask me if I could read over his college entrance essay that was due the next day. The topic was to discuss whether there were any struggles that he may have faced that would have caused his transcripts to not be reflective of his actual abilities as a student. He wrote in a very dry and simple manner with little voice, and he was well under the word limit. The directions for the essay asked for some personal insight and connection, which I felt his was missing, since his essay was just so simple and factual. This was a situation where I responded a bit differently than normal because I knew he wasn’t going to revise in great depth, but I gave him suggestions for revision anyways. This is my email response to his essay: 

Hi M..., 
You have a great sense of basic writing conventions, and you're very good with your grammar and mechanics. There were only a few common errors that I commented on for revision in the attachment. You have good organizational structure as well. If you had more time, then I would encourage you to try to add some voice and depth to your story by giving some heartfelt details. What happened? Why did you have to move? What were some specific struggles that you faced? Be personal, be real, and be specific.  Write the same way you would tell someone about how hard something was for you. They are asking you to tell your struggles, so don't be afraid to do so. What is the real story behind this story? What other challenges were you facing? If you add these things, and want me to read it again tonight, then I will, but I'll be in lab all day tomorrow and Friday. Good luck!

This was the first real contact that I had with this student, other than when he had instant messaged me prior to my response to ask me if I would look over his paper for him. He may have known me from lab, but I wasn’t necessarily familiar with him. This onetime communication might be similar to those in online writing labs.

In the world of online tutoring, emails need to be open, encouraging, and not at all critical on a personal or intellectual level. I think sometimes online communication can get too technical. We've already lost all body language cues online, so we must substitute those with an extra sensitive tone.  

In reference to tutors for online writing centers, I can see the value in being super technical, but I also think there are a lot of benefits to just being real and open with the students. I think it’s important for online tutors to be extra sensitive to their communication, and to make sure it is extremely friendly, open, approachable, and encouraging. This type of communication will help to provide a positive experience for both the tutor and student. 

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