During the hour, we discussed the following questions: What unique training, if any, do you offer staff engaging in online writing tutoring? How do you structure your training (is it integrated with your face-to-face training or is it an additional “level” of training?) What training materials or activities have you found especially effective? What barriers are you facing in terms of training staff engaged in online writing tutoring?
Written by: J. M. Dembsey, MA, Northcentral University
The OWC Community will host more Virtual Conversation Hours again next fall. After each Virtual Conversation, we will post a summary of the discussion and the themes, ideas, and strategies that emerged.
We welcome you to read the summary and add your own insights and experiences in the comments below.
On May 3, 2019, the OWC Community hosted our Virtual Conversation Hour on online training. During the hour, we discussed the following questions:
- What unique training, if any, do you offer staff engaging in online writing tutoring? How do you structure your training (is it integrated with your face-to-face training or is it an additional “level” of training?)
- What training materials or activities have you found especially effective?
- What barriers are you facing in terms of training staff engaged in online writing tutoring?
All attendees discussed that they had created their own training from scratch, rather than using external resources. While it can take a lot of time and work to create materials from scratch, attendees agreed that their home-grown resources were necessary to tailor online training to their local contexts, pedagogies, and the needs of their students and staff. Their training often provided contextual information, such as introductions to the university, writing center, and student population. This was particularly important for attendees hiring new professional tutors who weren’t familiar with the institution. One attendee mentioned that both their past online centers served a specific student audience and so part of their online training focused on teaching tutors to work with students from specific programs.
Training Materials and Activities
Attendees discussed materials and activities for asynchronous online training, including:
- One-on-one conversations at the beginning of training
- Videos and quizzes completed asynchronously at staff’s own pace
- Training guides in Microsoft Word
- Mock appointments with sample papers/students
- Observations of veteran tutors
A common concern was that tutors did not understand the difference between higher-order and lower-order concerns. An attendee explained how tutors were more likely to focus on text-related errors in asynchronous because they (1) have the text in front of them and (2) potentially have an unlimited amount of time to comment on the text. Attendees discussed how the tutor’s goal should be to focus on a few areas where they can give explicit instruction that leads to a series of action steps.
One attendee had used the ORA method to direct their tutors away from catching and fixing every error. ORA stands for the following:
- Observe: make an observation about what you just read
- React: react as a reader
- Ask: end with a question
However, this strategy encouraged indirect feedback, and the attendee was beginning to question the effectiveness of this approach in an asynchronous context. For example, indirect politeness can come across to the student as irrelevant, rather than an actual suggestion to apply.
In response, another attendee suggested the “what, why, how, do” method, which they felt provided more direct feedback. This method asks tutors to answer the following questions:
- What is the issue?
- Why is it an issue?
- How can the student resolve the issue?
- What can the student Do with this information or advice?
The attendee also used the “why” as a point for tutors to consider why they are commenting on a particular issue. Another suggested activity was to ask tutors about their writing pet peeves and when to ignore them in consulting.
For tutors who are transitioning from face-to-face to online tutoring, one attendee asks their tutors to analyze sample online appointments and then articulate the similarities and differences they notice between face-to-face and online.
Several attendees mentioned that they were beginning to incorporate more peer mentoring into their training model. They noted the following benefits:
- Tutors like receiving feedback from other tutors and are more likely to “buy in” to their suggestions over the suggestions of an administrator.
- New tutors found it most engaging to learn from veteran tutors.
- Veteran tutoring staff receive opportunities for professional development and for enhancing their writing center experience.
- Veteran consultants get to share what they’ve learned and confirm strategies that are helpful.
- New tutors are exposed to several different perspectives and approaches.
- Assigning mentoring roles to tutors can take pressure off of administrators.
Peer mentoring activities can occur face-to-face, synchronously, and asynchronously. Several attendees mentioned using online observations and mock papers as a way for tutors to practice online consulting and then receive feedback from veteran tutors. One attendee from a fully online university explained that their shadow reviews were an asynchronous version of face-to-face observations. The tutor-in-training would provide asynchronous feedback to a sample paper and then meet with a mentor synchronously in real-time to discuss their process and choices. These touch points were structured and intentional but also created a mentor-mentee relationship so that new tutors are comfortable touching base when needed.
Another attendee used mock papers and mentoring to scaffold training for tutors moving from face-to-face to online. Tutors-in-training first practiced responding to genres familiar from face-to-face, such as resumes and cover letters. After these mocks, tutors-in-training compare their feedback to that of a veteran tutor and discuss their choices as a group. Later on, tutors-in-training co-consult with veteran tutors on graduate-level papers and receive written feedback.
Another idea was that if synchronous or face-to-face meetings are not possible, veteran tutors could record short videos that discuss their feedback to a student, going comment by comment to explain their choices and reasoning. An attendee also mentioned using an in-house wiki for housing all training materials and encouraging tutors to interact more with each other.