Tutoring is an invaluable service that you can offer students of all levels to encourage their academic success and independence. When moving tutoring to an online platform, there are some great opportunities as well as some challenges. Here are some guidelines to help you be successful with online tutoring.
Selecting the right tools is important. From the scheduling software to the virtual meeting platform, you will want to utilize tools with a solid reputation, skilled technical support, and easy to use interfaces for both students and tutor. When the lead-up to the meeting is simple and straightforward, the meeting is more likely to start smoothly. The tools we recommend using are Accudemia or AccuCampus for tracking student attendance, Zoom for the online meeting platform, and Google Docs for sharing content and notes. For an online whiteboard, check out Scribblar and GoBoard.
Providing clear expectations to the student for the meeting beforehand will be key to a successful meeting. Reach out to students ahead of their first online tutoring session to explain and answer questions about the meeting platform. Let the student know how you will be connecting, what and how they should send the coursework that they wish to address, or what to have in front of them for the meeting. Instruct them to join their meetings 5-10 minutes early to make sure everything is set up and ready. An appointment scheduling system like Accudemia or AccuCampus will allow you to automate the appointment scheduling, reminders, and tracking.
If you are working from home, find a quiet place where you will not be interrupted. Arrange your furniture and computer equipment so that you will be comfortable while looking professional. It’s also important when using web cameras to check what is visible on the screen.
There are a few different models for the structure of a tutoring session. Jenna Grogan from the University of Florida proposed an Appreciative Tutoring Cycle which is a mix of MacDonald’s 12 step Tutoring Cycle and the 6-step Appreciative Advising Model formulated by Bloom, Hutson, and He. Grogan’s model lends itself well to the online environment. Here are the six steps.
First welcome the student warmly. At the start of the meeting, focus on putting the student at ease, and then set the tone for a productive virtual session. Having to connect remotely, especially for the first time, can elevate stress levels. In addition, students aren’t coming just to chat; they are working hard to understand concepts that seem out of their grasp. Approach the session with a smile and the mindset that you will be able to help them.
Virtual meetings lack some of the shared experience factors that are inherent to a face to face session: being in the same space with the same people, the same environment, and similar physical and emotional experiences that happen on campus. You might need to compensate for this in the virtual environment. Ryan Warren, Tutor and Creative Director with Prepmatters, likes to create a shared experience to break down this barrier by watching a shared viral video, blog post, or song at the very beginning of the session with the student. This allows tutor and tutee to form a connection over a low or no-stress item. He also recommends speaking to something in your physical space, such as telling the student you are shutting the door or taking a sip of tea, as a way to bring them into your world and thereby further deepening the connection. See Warren's article here.
Allowing students to comment on their space and sincerely listening will also help connect with the student on their level. Showing consideration for their circumstances will go a long way to build trust as you begin assisting them.
If you can provide webcam feed, this can bring back some of the non-verbal signals that are often lost in a virtual encounter; however, remember some students are camera shy and prefer not to be seen. Additionally, talking through your physical actions will help to bring that element to the meeting. For example, you might tell the student you are writing their concern down on your notepad or you are opening and reading the textbook for clarification.
Identifying the purpose or goal of the tutoring session comes through asking positive, open-ended questions, gathering information and assessing both the student’s strengths and the task at hand. We recommend role-playing these questions with other tutors to get a feel for what questions work best.
Set a plan for the session by prioritizing the specific concerns of the student, taking into consideration the timeframe of the session and the immediate needs of the student. This is where tutors should begin to have the student explain their procedure and then the tutor can assist by discussing this and other approaches or strategies with the student. Reviewing the pros and cons of each strategy can help students to learn problem-solving techniques and reach the ultimate goal of academic independence.
Ask the student to apply the procedure as discussed and summarize the content and process. In this step, watch for the “Light Bulb Effect” and have the student do most of the talking. Encourage and point out the student’s strengths as they work out the problem.
Then you enter into the reinforcement and celebration of accomplishments to build the student’s confidence and ensure they can repeat these strategies on their own. You can present more sample problems for the student to work out and commend them when they find their way along and build their understanding.
Talk about the next steps, schedule or confirm future tutoring sessions, and show appreciation to the student for their efforts, reminding them of their strengths and the progress they have made. End the session on a positive note with hope for their continued academic success.
Your institution may require tutors to keep notes or complete an assessment of the session. Enter or write these notes before moving to the next meeting before you forget important details.
Technical difficulties are a likely possibility and you need to be prepared. Think of anything that might go wrong for you or your students and determine the proper course of action before these things occur. For instance, what will you do if the internet goes down? Know who you can contact and have their contact info on hand. Of course, you might not think of everything that could happen, but you will be miles ahead if you have already engaged your problem-solving skills and know-how to navigate possible difficulties.
Inevitably, meeting virtually can lead to distractions. Changing pace or subject matter quickly can draw in a student whose mind may be wandering. Leaning in closer to the webcam and microphone and slowing down might indicate to a student who is trying to hide that they are texting from you that you are aware and are waiting for them to come back to the task at hand. You may need to be more direct in your speech and vocabulary since non-verbal communication is minimized.
Pausing for students to elaborate and contemplate is essential to allowing the learning process to take place. Patiently wait for the student to talk through their thought process to ensure they solidify the concepts and procedures on their own.
Continue to show your students appreciation for their efforts and know that we appreciate all you do to serve your students.
We hope you find these tips helpful. We’d love to hear from you. How do you approach online tutoring? What questions do you have? Let us know in the comments below.
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