By Brigette Dumblauskas, Lead Online Tutor
In the spring of 2015, the Writing Center collaborated with a few of our wonderful English faculty members to try something new for CLC: offering online writing support. With a growing selection of online course options and students enrolling from places near and far, it seemed we owed it to online students to make writing tutoring available to them, especially since coming in to one of the physical writing centers was simply not feasible for many of them. (Travel from Haiti to Grayslake for a one hour tutoring session? Not happening.)
We’ve come a long way since that first semester, expanding from offering online tutoring in just three course sections to welcoming students enrolled in any CLC online course to work with a writing tutor online. When people who are used to face-to-face tutoring in the physical writing center hear that I tutor online, they sometimes grimace a bit and ask, “How does that work?” The answer is it works pretty well, partly because the online environment offers a lot of flexibility, not only in terms of time and location, but also in mode of interaction.
We let students choose how they want to work with a tutor. Some students, such as those who do course work in the wee hours of the morning when this tutor, at least, is fast asleep, prefer to work with a tutor asynchronously, exchanging ideas in writing through email or Google Docs. This allows students to work whenever their schedule allows and also makes taking the sometimes scary step of asking for help easier for those who are shy or uncomfortable approaching new people. On the other hand, those who like face-to-face interaction can schedule an online video conference with a tutor using Blackboard Collaborate. This allows the student and tutor to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices. Another synchronous option, and one of my personal favorites, is meeting in Google Docs for a live text chat. In Docs, we can read the paper together, pointing and highlighting, then discuss ideas in the side text chat column. By providing these options, we try to make it convenient and comfortable for students to get the support they need.
And it’s working. With over 300 students having reached out to the Online Writing Center and many of them returning from semester to semester, we feel good about our ability to engage with our online students just as we do with our in-person students. In the coming semesters, we hope to continue to support our online community of students. It feels great to open my email in the morning and see a message from a student saying, “Thank you! You helped me so much!”
For more information about writing support for online students, please contact Brigette Dumblauskas, Lead Online Tutor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jenny Staben, Writing Center Faculty Coordinator, at email@example.com.