Tutoring Through the Interface
Laura Feibush, Penn State University
Based on research into the field’s best practices, this three-part learning module is intended to train writing tutors to conduct writing tutorials in synchronous, online environments (Zoom, Skype, WCOnline, etc.). The training consists of 1) a video presentation (created by the author), 2) a role-playing activity in which participants enact mock tutoring sessions (prompts generated by author and participants), and 3) a follow-up discussion (facilitated by the training leader with discussion questions provided by the author).
This lesson plan combines critical interface studies and writing center pedagogies to build tutors’ resourcefulness when navigating technological hiccups across constantly-changing platforms. Throughout the session (ranging from 1-2 hours depending on the length of the follow-up discussion), tutors will 1) develop awareness of interface concepts pertinent to online writing tutoring, 2) think critically about the limitations and affordances of various interface features, and 3) practice adapting to unexpected scenarios in synchronous, online tutoring.
Tutors leave the session empowered to think through—and enact—how best to utilize any digital interface through which their tutoring may take place.
Writing center space
Since 2020, synchronous, online tutoring has emerged not just as a convenience or emergency stopgap, but as a matter of access and inclusivity, an expectation in 21st-century life. The hardware and software apparatuses used to facilitate it, however, are often beset by lagging wi-fi, non-verbal cues cloaked by offed computer cameras, or, simply, by users’ inexperience and everyday disruptions. This lesson plan combines critical interface studies and writing center pedagogies, to build tutors’ resourcefulness when navigating technological hiccups across constantly-changing platforms.
Through this lesson plan, tutors will: 1) develop awareness of interface concepts pertinent to online writing tutoring, 2) think critically about the limitations and affordances of various interface features, and 3) practice adapting to unexpected scenarios in synchronous, online tutoring. Tutors come away empowered to think through—and enact—how best to utilize any digital interface through which their tutoring may take place.
Activities in this training ask tutors to troubleshoot potential problems with the platform and modality that they will use to conduct sessions, following Beth Hewett and Christa Ehmann Powers’s (2008) recommendation that trainings be “done through the online medium with which employees will ultimately interact.” Further, by introducing critical interface studies, which examines the role of interfaces, especially how they guide the actions and expectations of users, the training transcends—or “outlives”—any particular software. Instead the focus is to give tutors skills that are portable across different programs and setups (Hewett and Powers, 2008, p. 263). Participants are guided towards making the often-invisible, or taken-for-granted, elements of digital interfaces more visible to tutors and available for their use (Emerson, 2014; Feibush, 2018).
The module is best administered after tutors receive basic, first-semester training on writing center methodologies. It may be useful for tutors to experience a few in-person tutoring sessions first, as parts of the training discuss how in-person dynamics may be maintained across modalities. Trainers are encouraged to utilize whatever hardware/software setups with which they generally host online tutoring, but programs that allow for a range of interactions—video, audio, and messaging features, for instance—provide the widest set of choices (and contingency plans) for tutors and tutees.
Thus far, this training has been administered at two college writing centers, where participants were undergraduate peer tutors at residential, four-year campuses; however, with a flexible, three-part structure, this training can be adapted for a variety of formats, modalities, and audiences. Our tutors engaged in lively follow-up discussions, asking clarifying questions about online, synchronous tutoring and sharing what they had learned through the role-playing activity. Trainers felt the activities conveyed online tutoring concepts in a thorough, yet manageable, way and provided tutors with valuable practice in an array of online tutoring situations.
Synchronous online or hybrid
TIMING & OCCURRENCE
Lesson Time: 1-2 hours
Laura Feibush, Penn State University
Laura Feibush is Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Penn State Harrisburg, where her work focuses on listening as rhetorical praxis. Feibush teaches critical writing of all kinds, specializing in first year composition, public and professional writing, and writing across media. Her peer-reviewed research and writing has been published in Composition Forum and Praxis: A Writing Center Journal.