ENGL516: Connections Between Online Teaching & Online Tutoring

In signing up for ENGL516 this semester, one of the things I was hoping to get out of the class was a way to make connections between ways of online teaching and online tutoring. I’ve worked in the University Writing Center for almost two years now, and since I got into the world of tutoring by taking ENGL479 (Peer Tutoring) during my last year of undergrad, I’ve been curious about online writing centers. Specifically, I have wondered how (or if) it is possible to recreate the f2f experience a student receives in a traditional, on-campus tutoring session online.

Yesterday, I read an article by Lisa M. Lane entitled “Insidious Pedagogy: How Course Management Systems Impact Teaching.” In this article, Lane makes the argument that most faculty teaching online classes these days are simply not familiar wit how to get the most out of Course Management Systems (CMS). Furthermore, she argues that CMS setups shape teaching pedagogy through their design and function.

The downside of this, she claims, is that the design of many CMS focus on “presentation and assessment” in the form of lectures, discussions, and tests. This reflects the “traditional” view of classroom teaching, where teachers spew out information and students write it down and are expected to memorize it for the test. This is contrary to the pedagogy that many teachers claim to have these days. We know these “traditional” notions of teaching are not what’s best for students, so why are CMS setup to perpetuate them?

At the end of her article, Lane calls for more “opt-in systems” that allow teachers to essentially build the course, as opposed to “opt-out systems” that are basically pre-made and lead to teachers feeling overwhelmed. She also maintains that teachers need to focus on considering their pedagogy first and then thinking about how a CMS can help them teach according to it. But is this really something that can be learned through training? Why not just train teachers how to actually use the programs?

Anyway, this article got me thinking about online writing centers and how the software/systems in place to handle online writing consultations can also impact tutoring pedagogy. I began thinking specifically about the current setup of EMU’s University Writing Center Online and the nature of the consultations. Students submit a paper through the website, along with a description of the assignment and a list of the writer’s concerns. From there, a tutor responds to the paper via e-mail with comments and suggestions within 48-72 hours.

I think most writing center tutors would agree with me that having a f2f writing consultation–or at the very least, a real-time one–is ideal. As a peer tutor, I was taught the importance of body language, eye contact, and personal space in a consultation. I was also taught to value having a real dialogue about a student’s work, rather than just spewing out feedback and making corrections to the writer’s paper myself. And like I said, I don’t think I’m alone here in thinking this way.

But with asynchronous online writing consultations such as the current system that EMU’s UWC has in place, it is pretty clear that our basic pedagogy is not well supported. An e-mail consultation does not allow for the dialogue that is needed to hold a productive consultation. I’m not trying to bash our current system–especially because I know first-hand the effort that goes into these online consultations by the consultants to make the experience as useful for the writer as possible–but I do hope that we can someday have more synchronous online consultations in the future. Schools like U of M and others already offer live video chat consultations in their writing centers, so hopefully this is something that will not be too far off in the future for EMU.

In fact, me and some other UWC consultants put together a student survey at the end of last semester as a way of gauging the overall awareness of our current online program, as well as the demand for more synchronous methods of online tutoring. With any luck, EPEO will have this survey out soon and it will be a catalyst for some changes in the way the UWCO functions.


4 thoughts on “ENGL516: Connections Between Online Teaching & Online Tutoring

  1. Steve Krause says:

    I’ll be curious to hear about that survey too, actually. I think you are right that a more robust system might be better. Then again, if the online system is set up now to more or less convince people to come into the writing center in person, maybe it’d be bad to have an online system that is too good, if that makes sense.

    • daniellenewby says:

      That’s a good point…I don’t know that the current system is necessarily in place to encourage people to come into the UWC for a f2f consultation, but maybe that was something that Derek (and others who set up the UWCO) had in mind when it was created. Also, I don’t think the UWC has that many online consultants as it is, so having a more robust system in place would probably require more tutors and training.

  2. Derek says:

    Real-time consultation may have its advantages. So, too, can written comments on a document draft prove valuable to writers. Real-time online consulting oftentimes requires resources (computer and internet access, coordination, training, etc.) that are not easy to come by. I know these aren’t the only factors to consider, but they might help explain why the ideals of real-time or face-to-face interactions haven’t been realized in the design of the UWCO. I had a major role in building that system, so let me know if it would be helpful to talk more about why it is set up the way it is, okay?

    • daniellenewby says:

      I would like to talk about this more, Derek. I’m really curious to see what kind of feedback this survey gets (though I need to follow up with Ann again soon to find out when it’s going to actually be distributed.) I agree that there are a lot of benefits to the way the current system is set up, and I think our current UWCO consultants do a great job of responding to writer concerns while also getting them to think further about the text they’ve produced (for example, by asking the writer questions in the margins)–things we’d strive for in any f2f consultation, too.

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