We began the week talking about the practices for online tutoring suggested in the Bedford Guide, Chapter 6. Bedford says that, “traditional students increasingly expect various components of their college experience to be digital” (74). I agree with this. As a “traditional student,” I expect colleges to have websites, and for those websites to be comprehensive and well-designed. I expect to be able to do things digitally that in the past would have required face-to-face contact. I think that the best thing about online tutoring is that it makes options for connecting students to resources almost limitless. Bedford suggests, “if you have access to other technologies, such as audio software, consider embedding audio comments in your advice as well” (78). I argue that EVERYONE has access to audio software. All you need is a basic webcam and a dropbox or similar account, and you can link tutees to videos or audio clips of yourself. However, I think that the use of stock comments that Bedford suggests can get into dangerous territory. Students should always be aware that they are connecting with another reader, not a robot. I very much like Bedford’s suggestion to put online videos on the Writing Center website. I would love for our WC to have a YouTube channel where we give quick tips about writing and engage an online community.
Next, we read “Do You Understand? A Practical Guide to Synchronous Online Tutoring.” I thought that their tip to embrace online silence was good. They warn against thinking that because a tutee is silent, they don’t understand. I think a better tip might be to embed questioning for understanding into the comments themselves. I did not like the article’s suggestion that online tutoring should recreate face to face tutoring. It’s great to talk about agendas and rapport like in face to face tutoring, but there are things you can do online you can’t do face to face, and they should be embraced.
Wednesday, we read a self-study of chat room conferences by Dan Melzer. I loved the way Melzer said that online tutoring differed from face-to-face in some good ways. Melzer said, “Although I agree with Barbara Monroe that online tutoring is a ‘genre unto itself,’ I also want to show how we can draw on f2f tutoring strategies when we tutor online” (10). I think this is a much better way to think about online tutoring. Melzer’s self study showed him that he was only able to use small talk to establish rapport when he had repeat visitors (10). I would think that online communication has small talk more built into it than face to face, so this is surprising to me. Melzer was able to use humor, but sometimes it backfired because the tutee could not tell tone in text. Melzer talks about conversation overlap, saying, “Although these misunderstandings were frustrating at first, soon I got used to this overlapping conversation style and I learned to be flexible about moving back and forth. I also learned to constantly signal to the student when we overlapped and I needed to move backwards, or when the overlap caused a misunderstanding” (11). Melzer’s attitude toward overlap seems healthier than artificially embracing online silence as suggested by “Do You Understand?”, but I think both are strategies that can prove useful. What I was really interested in was Melzer’s journey toward breaking up the “walls of text” he found himself sending. He began by breaking up comments to get them to students faster, and then progressed to asking more questions to strike a balance. It seems like because he could see exactly who was doing most of the talking, he was able to adjust his comments to strike a better balance between tutor and tutee talk, something that would not be as obvious in a face to face session (12). Melzer makes a great point when he says, “The problem was not so much with the technology, but with the way I was using the technology” (12). Technology is increasingly being used as a viable form of communication. Online tutors just need to tap into the forms this conversation is taking,
Friday, we read “Teaching Writing as a Process Not Product” by Donald M. Murray. Murray uses beautiful language to make his point that it is important to focus more on teaching the process of writing than getting the final product. About the product-centered approach, Murray says, “Our students knew [their essay] wasn’t literature when they passed it in, and our attack usually does little more than confirm their lack of self-respect for their work and for themselves; we are as frustrated as our students, for conscientious, doggedly responsible, repetitive autopsying doesn’t give birth to live writing” (3). This is exactly the attitude I see from students who come into the writing center. Telling students their writing is bad just makes them feel even less ownership of it. Murray says the first step to turning toward process-centered writing is “shutting up. When you are talking he isn’t writing. And you don’t learn a process by talking about it, but by doing it” (5). According to Murray, in order for students to come up with their own ideas, you have to let them. One of the implications of this approach is that “The student uses his own language. Too often, as writer and teacher Thomas Williams points out, we teach English to our students as if it were a foreign language. Actually, most of our students have learned a great deal of language before they come to us, and they are quite willing to exploit that language if they are allowed to embark on a serious search for their own truth” (4). I absolutely believe that it is important to validate students’ dialects. Standard English should never matter on a first draft. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter at all; however, since it does, I think it’s important for us as teachers to explicitly teach it while still validating students’ home language or dialect. Murray also says something which would make tutoring so much easier: “The student should have the opportunity to write all the drafts necessary for him to discover what he has to say on this particular subject. Each new draft, of course, is counted as equal to a new paper” (5-6). If students were allowed to draft until their paper said what they wanted it to, not only would the drafting process be more meaningful to them, but you wouldn’t get the problem where a student who has to completely redo a second draft is at a severe disadvantage.
Going along with the ideas about the writing process presented by Murray is the suggestions for the writing process in Chapter 4 of the Bedford Guide. I found the suggestion for working with text at a computer particularly helpful. The Guide suggested using the highlight, underline, or bold functions to “ask writers who overuse the forms of the verb to be to highlight all verbs in a portion of the text” and to “have writers highlight the main idea or topic sentence in each paragraph” (46, 47). It also suggests using Enter to break a part of the text into its component sentences, making them easier to see and to examine how the sentences interact. Lastly, it says you can cut and paste the main ideas from each paragraph to make a reverse outline so you can more easily talk about it. All of these things actively involve the tutee and can be done in online or face to face sessions.
Overall, I think it’s important to remember that just like every session is different, different formats for sessions, from paper-based to computer face-to-face meetings, to online meetings need both tutees and tutors to adapt and take advantage of the opportunities the format provides.