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Virtual Consultation Training

Layla Barati, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


The goal of this lesson is to empower consultants to effectively support student learning in virtual settings. Therefore, the learning outcomes are as follows: 

  • Gain a thorough understanding of online consulting, including its advantages and challenges.

  • Develop proficiency in virtual consultation tools and platforms, allowing for effective communication and collaboration.

  • Recall and discuss strategies for various stages of a consultation, exploring their transferability from in-person to virtual settings.

  • Sharpen problem-solving skills to troubleshoot technical issues for rescheduling, audio/video problems, and connectivity issues.

  • Enhance knowledge, practical skills, and troubleshooting abilities to improve the quality of online writing center consulting services.


    • Participants will each need a computer equipped with camera, microphone, and speaker
    • Internet access
    • Tools for collaborating synchronously, such as tools for document sharing, a video meeting platform, etc. 
    • Scheduling applications (especially if the center’s platform for scheduling is separate from the platform for video conferencing) 
    • System for generating digital intake sheets 
    • Tool for populating writer intake data and submission records 
    • PowerPoint slides or a digital manual for instructions on how to conduct a virtual consultation and relevant policies/procedures (See Supplementary Materials)
    • Structures and Strategies for Virtual Consultations resource
    • Outline for Developing a Virtual Consultation Manual resource


    Day 1: Lesson Introduction  

    Part I: Discussion: Affordances and Challenges of Online Teaching/Tutoring

    The lesson is first introduced by initiating a discussion. Instructors will encourage consultants to reflect on the affordances and challenges of online learning and of transitioning from in-person to online tutoring. The discussion could also include a consideration of the tools and strategies the consultants expect will or will not transfer well into an online space. With this framework, consultants should also be encouraged to consider how the affordances and challenges apply for the writers the consultants will work with.

    Questions instructors can use or adapt to guide discussion:

    1. What are the affordances and challenges of online teaching/tutoring?
    2. In your experience, what has annoyed you or made online learning difficult? What has been helpful or made online learning easier?
    3. What consulting tools and strategies do you expect to transfer well into an online space? What tools and strategies do you not expect to transfer well?

    Possible affordances and challenges to consider:



    • Online tutoring is convenient for students. It takes away the need to commute to campus (Kourbani, 2020, p. 67).

    • The online space provides unique educational opportunities not available in-person. This includes functions such as private messaging and chat boards (Hewett, 2015, p. 49).

    • Many pedagogical theories and strategies that have not been designed with virtual environments in mind can be adapted to the online setting (Hewett, 2015, p. 52).

    • If a session is recorded, the student has the opportunity to retrieve and rewatch the recording for their benefit (Kourbani, 2020, p. 67).

    • The needs of students with various disabilities may not be easily met in an online environment (Hewett, 2015, p. 19).

    • Encouraging students to actively participate in a virtual environment might be difficult (Kourbani, 2020, p. 70).

    • Energy may be focused on trouble shooting or teaching technology rather than on the writing itself (Hewett, 2015, pp. 45-46).

    • Tutors/teachers who were trained in an in-person environment might find transitioning to a virtual setting stressful or dissatisfying (Hewett, 2015, p. 76).

    • What the student can see and hear from the screen is limited. Thus, if students hold the same expectations for a virtual consultation as an in-person one, they will likely be disappointed by the limitations of the virtual environment (Breuch, 2005, p. 30).

    Considerations for instructors:

    • Instructors are encouraged to highlight how the affordances and challenges also apply to accessibility. 
    • Instructors are encouraged to highlight ways consultants should draw on and recall in-person tools and strategies to speak to their transferability.
    • Instructors may find these to be effective scaffolding and speaking points relevant to in later sections of this training plan. 

      Day 1: Body of Lesson 

      Part II: Instruction: Overview of the Virtual Consultation Manual 

      For this section, instructors should introduce the structure, policies, and steps involved with conducting a virtual consultation in their respective writing center. For our center, we use a digital manual in Google Slides. The instructor reviews these sections and contextualizes the details for the consultants. The document “Outline for Developing a Virtual Consultation Manual,” included with this lesson’s supplemental materials, provides a framework for instructors and administrators to create virtual consultation manuals for their own centers.

      Considerations for instructors: 

      • Instructors may include a “strategies for transfer section” to draw connections to the transferable skills mentioned in the introduction discussion or skills that consultants may not have immediately considered. We often refer to Lisa Bell’s three guiding principles that apply to both in-person work as well as online work.
        • First, “produce better writers, not better writing” (North as cited in Bell, 2012, p. 352).
        • Second, encourage writers to gain skills and confidence that would help them improve their writing (Bell, 2012, p. 352).
        • Third, “work with rather than for the writer” (Hawthorne as cited in Bell, 2012, p. 352).
      • Instructors may consider including an informative troubleshooting section or a section for policies for what a consultant should do if they need to reschedule in an emergency or communicate with a writer. This is especially useful if the virtual consultations are conducted outside of in-person office hours or when administrative help is not immediately available.

              Part III: Activity: Structures and Strategies 

              To help consultants process the steps reviewed in the manual and conceptualize the structure of a virtual consultation, instructors can provide a document that outlines the steps and provides strategies for navigating the virtual space with the writer (see attached “Structures and Strategies of Virtual Consultations” document for an example). For this activity, instructors should share the document via the collaborative word processing tool used in a real virtual consultation. For our center, we found Google Docs to be most effective. Instructors can ask the consultants to look over the document by themselves first or go through the document together with them, contextualizing the purpose of each strategy and how they reestablish in-person strategies in the virtual space.

              Some strategies to consider include the following:

              • Suggest consultants keep their video on even if the writer chooses not to do so themselves. We do this in our center and feel it helps build rapport and comfort for the writer, demystifying who the consultant is on the other end of the screen.
              • Encourage writers to also share their screen, which can be particularly useful if they are working with multi-modal writing projects or other visual components.
              • Narrate your actions to avoid confusion and so the writer can follow along with ease in the virtual space (e.g., “I am going to share my screen right now so we can look at this digital handout together.”).
              • Conduct regular check-ins to make sure the writer is following along (e.g., “Do you see where I am highlighting the text?” or “Can you see where I am sharing the rubric? Would you like me to zoom in?”). 
              • Use commenting/suggesting mode to avoid directly modifying the writer’s text for them and to encourage the writer to take notes themselves. This also allows the digital document to track any relevant changes that the writer can later deny or approve, honoring writer authorship. 
              • Consider how you would navigate communication when the writer chooses not to use video/audio and only uses the chat function.
              • Continue to use adequate wait time/silence to let the writer process information, take notes, think of questions, reject/accept ideas etc.

              After going through the structures and strategies document, have the consultants work solo or collaborate in pairs to come up with more tools, strategies, and ways to transfer in-person tutoring skills into the virtual setting. Have them write directly on the shared document to give the consultants first-hand experience working on a collaborative document in real time. This serves to create a low-stakes environment for practicing the relevant technology while also reinforcing transferable skills. See the bottom of the “Structures and Strategies of Virtual Consultations” document, in the supplementary materials section, for consultant examples from one of our past training sessions.

                Day 1: Lesson Conclusion 

                Part IV: Homework: Watch a Real-Life Virtual Consultation 

                For homework, the instructor may assign a video that portrays what a virtual consultation looks like. Instructors can prepare by recording their own video with trained consultants/staff acting as the mock consultant and writer. Here, the actors may highlight tech functionality, tools, processes, and relevant tech issues one might encounter in a real session. The goal is to familiarize the consultants in training with the user interface and visualization of what a virtual consultation looks like in real time. If one cannot be created, mock virtual consultations from open resources, such as YouTube, can be used. 

                To encourage active participation, instructors may ask consultants to write a brief reflection on the video before meeting for the second day of the lesson. You may ask them to consider questions like the ones below:

                1. In what ways did the consultant navigate the document at different points of the session?
                2. How did the consultant interact with the writer at different points of the session?
                3. What strategies did the consultant use to navigate the technology at different points of the session?
                4. What strategies do you feel were used effectively? What would you have done differently?

                The instructor may end the session by allowing time for the consultants to ask any questions.

                Day 2: Lesson Introduction 

                Part I: Homework Review and Discussion

                Day two of the lesson starts by reviewing the homework video and reflection questions as a group. Instructors and fellow consultants can gain the perspective of others and consider different takes to how the mock virtual consultation was conducted. 

                Day 2: Body of Lesson 

                Part II: Activity: Technology Roleplay

                At this point, instructors should help facilitate a roleplay activity that will allow the consultants to practice setting up/partially conducting a virtual consultation in real time. This activity will also bring attention to any confusion or gaps in understanding that may not have been identified earlier. This roleplay may include asking the consultants to share the document with an instructor who will act as a mock writer, using proper sharing privileges (i.e., commenting privileges vs editing privileges to avoid the temptation of line editing), or asking them to engage with any other relevant technologies that require multiple steps and may cause confusion. 

                For our lesson, we set up our relevant technology before the lesson, including creating unique intake sheets that populate writer submissions into respective Google Drive folders for consultants to practice with. This also includes submitting an intake sheet and mock paper for each consultant in training so that they have material to work with in their roleplay. Consultants then shared the mock paper back with the instructor using the proper sharing privileges to demonstrate competency in each step of the process. To save time, instructors might consider having multiple administrators/training assistants to help check that consultants have submitted their mock papers correctly.

                Part III: Discussion: Troubleshooting

                For this discussion, instructors should present a list of hypothetical situations that consultants may need to troubleshoot in a live session with a writer. This discussion could also take place as a role play. The instructor may ask the consultants to brainstorm “what would you do if you encountered this situation in your virtual consultation?” to get consultants to think critically about the ways they may apply their problem-solving skills. A list of possible scenarios to discuss/roleplay may look like this:

                • The writer shows up to a consultation but there is no sound.
                • The writer emails to say they are in the virtual meeting room, but you don’t see them.
                • Your internet suddenly has connectivity issues.
                • The writer chooses to only use the chat function, without video or audio.
                • You see something in the background of the writer’s space that makes you uncomfortable. 
                • The writer says they can’t see you highlighting the text.
                • The writer tries to explain their writing project, but the lag from the connectivity makes it difficult to understand them.
                • The writer seems clearly distracted from something happening in their environment.
                • You have an emergency and need to reschedule the writer.

                After discussing the consultants’ approaches, instructors should offer feasible solutions or troubleshooting strategies to guide consultants if they struggled, or to give alternative strategies. This will help better equip consultants if they encounter these issues in a real consultation.  

                Day 2: Lesson Conclusion

                Part IV: Set up for Mock Consultations with an Instructor

                The second day of the lesson ends by setting up a time for the consultant and instructor to conduct a brief mock virtual consultation one on one. The mock consultation will be used to measure if the consultants have a firm grasp of the technical processes and steps of conducting a real-life virtual consultation. It will also allow the consultant the space to troubleshoot and ask final questions.


                In order to determine if consultants have met the learning objectives and outcomes, the one-on-one mock consultation serves as a check-in with the consultants, gives the consultants additional opportunities to  practice running through the setup and get advice, and provides the instructor the opportunity to clarify any confusion or gaps in understanding. Here, if either the consultant or instructor feels the consultant is not ready to begin virtual consultations, the instructor may offer additional opportunities for the consultant to practice or may offer to sit in during the first virtual consultation to make sure the consultant is supported during the transition.

                It is recommended that the instructor follow up with the consultants a week or two later to conduct an observation or formal assessment. Instructors will need to create an observation form that captures the overall learning objectives with respect to the technologies and procedures used in their respective writing centers. Instructors may also use the “Strategies and Structures” document as a framework to assess if consultants are succeeding in four major areas: 1) setting up the consultation, 2) welcoming and introduction, 3) working with the writer and text, and 4) wrapping up the consultation. 


                This lesson can be condensed by eliminating the “Structures and Strategies” section and replacing it with the roleplay activity from Day Two of the lesson. Instructors are encouraged to keep the “Affordances and Challenges of Online Teaching/Tutoring” discussion, the “Overview of the Virtual Consultation Manual” section, and the roleplay activity, as this will allow for scaffolding, instruction, and practical application for the consultants. 


                Bell, L. E. (2012). Preserving the rhetorical nature of tutoring when going online. In C. Murphy & B. L. Stay (Eds.), The writing center director’s resource book (p. 352). Routledge. 

                Breuch, L.-A. K. (2005). The idea(s) of an online writing center: In search of a conceptual model. The Writing Center Journal, 25(2), 21–38.

                Hewett, B. L., & DePew, K. E. (2015). Foundational practices of online writing instruction. Parlor Press, LLC.

                Kourbani, V. (2020). Online tutoring. In J. Essid & B. McTague (Eds.), Writing centers at the center of change, 1st ed., (pp. 60-82). Routledge.

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