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In Praise of Online Appointments October 25, 2011

As a new tutor with the UCWbL, my appointments so far have been either in person or via email.  In both cases, I’ve felt in control of the tutorial to a greater or lesser degree.  However, there’s something to be said for collaborative relationships in tutoring as well, and the online interface was the first time that I’ve experienced this sense of working together on a piece of writing.  I recently had my first experience with the online tutorial system in my UCWbL class, Writing Center Theory and Pedagogy.  Granted, it was just in the classroom and with my fellow new tutors – we used it to look over each other’s project drafts for an assignment we’re all working on – but it was still an eye-opening evening.  I’ve been using chat functions since middle school in a social capacity but this was the first time I’d even seen the same basic platform used for tutoring purposes.

Writers and students probably have some misconceptions about online tutorials.  It seems scary to hand over your writing to someone you can’t even see, and then have them mark it up right in front of you.  The online appointment mood doesn’t differ that greatly from the feeling of a face-to-face tutorial, though.  The chat function mimics the conversation between writer and tutor, just like in a face-to-face, but each side has a little more time to consider their responses.  As a new tutor, I’ve already had a few experiences with the “um…um…” tutorial, where you just hunt for some advice to give a writer and can’t seem to verbalize it.  With online appointments, it’s easier.  You can think about what you’re going to say and (this is the important part) choose your words carefully.

The paper-viewing function is helpful as well.  With both the writer and the tutor looking at the work and able to write comments on the paper, you can be more specific about what your suggestions mean.  When I was in class and looking at my classmate’s paper, we had a whole conversation in the margins of the paper, about what she meant in her writing and what I meant by my comments.  We then used the chat function to clarify her thought process; I asked more abstract questions about her thought process, explored the nuances of her argument, and she was hopefully able to clarify her ideas to herself.

When it was my turn to be the writer and someone else stepped in as the tutor, the process was completely different but still very rewarding.  Now I had to defend my argument and, through the tutor’s comments, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of my prose.  Again, I had time to consider my responses and really think about the relevance of my reasons.  All in all it was a relaxed tutorial and I came away with a good sense of where to go next with my project.

The slight lag time in responses and the interface may take a moment to get used to, but the online appointment model has a lot of value for writing and tutoring.  It’s comfortable, easy for distance and commuter students, and fosters a really strong atmosphere of collaboration and even friendship.  Today’s students are used to working with computers on academic work, and it feels like the online appointment interface has finally evolved to accommodate the 21st century writer.

Make an online appointment with the UCWbL today and see for yourself how fun and easy it is!


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