-Nathaniel Stickman, Contributing Writer
After a successful pilot this summer, the Mississippi College Writing Center is unveiling a new option this semester: online tutoring. Alongside the face-to-face tutoring already offered by the Writing Center, this new avenue provides a great additional resource for students to find collaborative engagement and assistance with their writing wherever they are. And despite the very different method, online tutoring provides the same levels of thorough insight for one’s writing as in-person Writing Center sessions.
Everyone is welcome to work with a tutor online, but the ability to “visit” the Writing Center online presents a particularly advantageous resource for students who are not on campus often, like those commuting or taking online courses. Abbie Walker, one of the online tutors from this past summer, explains that “it allows more of a custom experience for students, especially those who live off campus and aren’t always able to come into the Writing Center.” With online tutoring, one can get writing assistance from virtually anywhere.
And because of that, this option will be beneficial for students generally. Jamie Eggleston, another Writing Center tutor who has worked with online tutoring, finds it to be a great resource for those whose schedules make it difficult to visit the Writing Center in person—“online tutoring can allow you to quickly and easily make use of your valuable time, with travel time to the Writing Center a non-issue.” And another online tutor, Elaine Everett, reiterates this point, saying, “The writer could even still be in his or her pajamas in the dorm, which is a huge convenience for a busy college student.”
The process of setting-up and having an online session is straightforward and simple, and the Writing Center’s LibGuide page gives a visual guide to get one started. (The guide can be found at mc.libguides.com/writingcenter/onlineappointmentguides.) For those familiar with setting up appointments through the Writing Center’s webpage, online tutoring just adds an additional selectable option to make a regular appointment an online one, and then gives a link to begin the “visit.” “Signing up for online tutoring involves no extra work outside of signing up for an account to schedule any appointment,” Jamie says—it allows “a writer to either schedule an online or face-to-face appointment with just a few clicks.”
The online tutoring itself takes place in an interface with two main features: a window to display and edit a paper in real-time and a regular chat window to talk with a tutor. Communication in an online Writing Center session is thus largely through text, which is perhaps the most different feature of online sessions versus face-to-face ones. However, if one’s computer is equipped with a microphone, the online tutoring session also has an option for audio communication that can bring things a bit closer to in-person discussion.
Jamie explains that “online tutoring works much like a regular session, but the use of a different form of communication can change some dynamics of interaction. It can take time to ‘get the ball rolling,’ but it becomes natural after that set up period when both parties are invested and ready to go.”
Because of online tutoring’s differences, it does favor different situations than face-to-face tutoring. Typed communication takes more time and care than speaking to develop an idea clearly, so often it will be more effective at covering concepts and ways of dealing with issues than at addressing numerous smaller issues. Online tutoring also calls for more direct communication and less suggestion, since it lacks things like facial expression that enhance face-to-face communication. Comments thus take more forethought in online sessions. As Elaine describes, “In online tutoring, if the writer doesn’t talk about their frustrations, it’s hard to know if he or she is having trouble or not.”
The convenience of online tutoring, however, means that it can be easily accessed to develop ideas, direction, and to work out issues, and one can even more easily make use of multiple sessions throughout the writing process. That said, it is important to consider what needs a paper has and how best to address them when choosing between online and face-to-face tutoring—both have their strengths, so it helps to weigh the options and play to those strengths that best fit the situation. Of course, there is nothing at all against using both online and face-to-face tutoring, which can be an effective way to engage with a wider range of issues.
Overall, the new availability of online tutoring presents a solid asset both to the Writing Center and to Mississippi College students. “As a tutor,” Abbie says, “the experience is both educational and fun.” Online tutoring thus takes the Writing Center’s encouraging, collaborative community and makes it available to a broader audience of MC students. “In this time of growing technology,” Elaine explains, “it’s a refreshing addition to the MC writing center. Tutors can help even more people become better writers.”