Tutoring Through the Interface
Laura Feibush, Penn State University
After completing the training, tutors should be able to:
Introduction (app. 15-20 min.)
This introductory prompt/discussion could be conducted by the trainer and tutors synchronously as a group or outlined in an email that would be sent out to all participants ahead of time. This opening discussion may take around 15 minutes.
Recall a time (perhaps very recently!) when a technological issue disrupted a learning environment such as a class, a workshop, a study group, a meeting, or a tutoring session (this could be an online or in-person experience). How did you end up having to adapt to continue with the interaction/learning goals? Maybe you changed rooms, restarted your computer, or turned off your computer camera.
Do you think that the learning experience was “successful” in spite of the mishap? How did it change the experience when you had to quickly solve the problem and carry on with your learning in a different, unexpected way?
Things get even more interesting when technology comes more overtly into play. Consider: When was the last time you needed to use a new software for a learning experience? Was there a learning curve to it? Compare: Do you have “favorite” or “least favorite” programs for doing things? Why is that?
It’s always a challenge (large or small) to get to know a new software, unless it’s extremely intuitive–almost as though the interface “disappears”–or we have a chance to try it in a relaxed environment. Then, right when we get comfortable, our favorite program reinstalls and includes a bunch of new features, some helpful but others confusing. For instance: When was the last time your Zoom software needed to install updates to improve its available features or security? Or maybe Gmail changed the layout of your inbox, and it took some time to get used to?
We can recognize that software is always changing, requiring us to continually adapt to different platforms and/or modalities and all the different features they bring with them. This will also be the case when it comes to synchronous, online writing tutoring—the software we use now may not be what we use in another few years, and we periodically encounter problems like slow internet, glitchy cameras, or broken audio. Other times, a tutee may log in to an appointment in an unexpected way, like from their mobile phone rather than their personal computer. So, how do we prepare ourselves for unexpected change or in-the-moment adaptation? This lesson plan asks us to become more aware of how we interact with online tutoring software, and practice the types of chaotic, unexpected situations we are likely to encounter with them at some point in our tutoring.
The following invitation can prompt tutors to generate a scenario for the role-playing portion of the lesson plan below. This writing task will take around 5 minutes.
Write down one technological “worry” you have with regard to peer tutoring online, a situation you hope won’t occur but suspect might. For instance, a student doesn’t want to turn on their camera, or you find that the tutoring software is down for maintenance right when you go to log in for a scheduled session.
Body of Lesson (app. 35-40 min.)
Part 1: Video Presentation
First, participants will watch a 15-minute video (written and filmed by the author) which can be viewed at any time before the training session. The video provides context for synchronous tutoring approaches, quick tips to make the most of pre-session emails and video-conferencing setup (framing, lighting, etc.), and then focuses further on communicating through digital interfaces, covering concepts such as frames, screens, and features like chat and whiteboard functionalities. It then touches briefly upon reminders for post-appointment elements such as collecting tutee data or composing a follow-up email.
Part 2: Role-Playing Activity
Next, students complete a five-minute free-write to create a “paper” for their mock sessions to focus on. The free-write is simply intended to generate content for the role-play session, so it can be on a topic of the students’ or the trainer’s choosing, or students can use a paper they are already working on.
Then, tutors work in pairs to participate in a role-playing practice activity that they conduct in an online, synchronous platform for around 15-20 minutes. The tutors should use whatever software they expect to encounter as part of their tutoring for the role-play activity, such as Zoom or WCOnline, etc.
One member of each pair will be given a prompt for the mock session, which will consist of different technical difficulties that could occur in a synchronous, online environment. Example prompts for role-playing technical mishaps are provided by the author below. They can also be generated by students or trainers based on their experiences or concerns. Have students generate a technical “worry” in the introduction to the lesson plan (above) or in addition to their free-write. Collect these and use them as prompts for different pairs.
Administrators can decide exactly how they want to organize the activity: trainers can assign tutors 1-2 problems to contend with in their tutorials or give pairs a list of issues to choose from. If one technological problem is easily solved, tutors can keep the tutorial short (5-10 minutes), or tutors can be directed to conduct the mock tutorial for the full 15-20 minutes to observe how the technological issue affects the rest of the appointment.
Sample mock session prompts:
Tutors conduct the role-play for 15-20 minutes by moving into breakout rooms or logging on to their chosen software. Based on their prompt, one participant may simulate disruptions or limitations to the tutorial. They then return to the main group at an appointed time to participate in Part 3 of the lesson.