During the hour, we discussed the platforms attendees use for their synchronous and why they chose their platforms, exploring: What are the successes or benefits to each of these platforms? What are the weaknesses or failures? What other questions do you have regarding technology platforms?
On April 12, 2019, the OWC Community hosted our first Virtual Conversation Hour focused on synchronous tutoring. During the hour, we discussed the platforms attendees use for their synchronous and why they chose their platforms, exploring:
- What platform do you use for your synchronous tutoring (e.g., Skype, Google Docs, etc.)?
- How did you choose the platform? What considerations went into that choice?
- What other questions do you have regarding technology platforms?
Attendees were using many different platforms for synchronous tutoring. These platforms can be organized into three categories, and they are often used together for synchronous tutoring.
All-In-One Audio/Chat & Document Sharing
- Adobe Connect
- Blackboard Collaborate
- Google Docs
- Google Hangouts
- Skype for Business
- WCOnline (also integrated with scheduling)
Document Sharing Only
Choice of Platform
As it’s clear based on our discussion, while the focus in asynchronous tutoring is the platform for scheduling and screencasting feedback, for synchronous tutoring the focus is on how to pair audio/chat and document sharing with students.
Attendees mentioned many different reasons for choosing their platforms, including the following:
- The platform was free or their institution had an account, so the cost didn’t come out of the writing center’s budget.
- Their institution used a particular ecosystem (e.g., Google or Microsoft) for all of their technology, and so students used a particular platform in other contexts at their institution. This also meant that the institution’s technology departments supported the platform.
- The platform eliminated the need for other platforms (e.g., the all-in-one audio/chat options).
- The platform provided the communication options their students preferred (e.g., chat instead of video).
- The platform allowed users to save the chat log and refer back to it for training or as a record for students.
As with asynchronous tutoring, decisions about which platforms to use for synchronous tutoring is dependent on institutional context and the institutions’ student body.
Attendees also discussed who uses synchronous tutoring at their writing centers and whether there were any restrictions on who could use the service. Most attendees offer their online synchronous appointments to any student, but there were a few considerations:
- One attendee mentioned that any student can use their online tutoring, but they market specifically to an online program at the university.
- Attendees from community colleges or with a high percentage of non-traditional students mentioned that it was important for students who attend classes on-campus to still have access to online tutoring.
Generally, attendees didn’t report limiting their online tutoring to a specific student population, and many attendees mentioned the benefit of offering online tutoring to students both on- and off-campus.
Attendees also asked how others manage troubleshooting technology during a synchronous tutoring appointment or explain the online tutoring process before students make an appointment. Attendees emphasized that using platforms that were easy-to-use and familiar to the institution helped with technology issues. Additionally, many attendees used confirmation emails once students made an appointment to explain the technology to students, and a few attendees had how-to videos on their website.
Generally, there was agreement that technology issues can be a barrier for both students and tutors. While some attendees have specific technology training for their tutors, a few were still working on that training. This seems like an area where we can share more best practices to help tutors prepare for synchronous online training.
If you have any how-to or technical videos that have worked well for your tutoring, or if you have any training documents you’d be willing to share, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or post in the comments below to share.
Group or Drop-In Synchronous Sessions
Attendees also discussed their experiments with drop-in synchronous sessions. One attendee had successfully used Adobe Connect to allow drop-in sessions, which their tutors, and a few attendees mentioned others at their institutions doing something similar for things like math and language tutoring.