The Revealing Shift to Online Tutoring

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By Kari Karlsbjerg

An Eye-Opening Experience

At Vancouver Community College’s (VCC) Learning Centre, answering student questions is our business, and ever since the abrupt move to online instruction last March, our students have had A LOT of questions. Overnight, our usual focus on providing English, job-hunting and study-skills assistance for our students dramatically expanded to include answering questions about the new logistics of accessing their classes, questions about their kids’ schools, plus listening to their fears about the daily rising COVID-19 numbers and worries about the future. The hundreds of hours of online one-on-one EAL tutoring sessions we have done with VCC’s students over the last eight months has truly been an eye-opening experience. We have discovered firsthand the isolation of so many of our immigrant students, the challenges of the deepening digital divide, and the substantial changes required to effectively tutor students in an online setting.

Some Background

For some background, VCC students can sign up for three 30-minute online tutoring appointments every week. We provide English, career and study skills tutoring to any VCC students taking English courses from LINC to Pathways to University Transfer and all the career programs, like Hospitality. To ensure that our students received a continuity of support, we moved all tutoring services online in mid-March. We shifted to using the WCOnline video tutoring platform, which allows us to have video chats with students while simultaneously looking at their questions and papers posted on the shared Whiteboard. 

Isolation

The blurring of boundaries that naturally resulted from the location shift from campus to private online meetings in our homes resulted in students sharing far more about their lives. As the months went by, a concerning issue came to the forefront – the deep loneliness of many of our immigrant students who had few local connections and felt cut off from their homeland. It was not uncommon for us to hear that speaking with us was the only conversation they had in a week besides their limited online classroom time. On the lighter side, online sessions in their homes also lets student show us other aspects of their lives and personalities by showing us their beloved pet or special piece of art or decoration in their home. 

The Digital Divide

Online tutoring also exposed the two vastly different digital worlds of our students: one group accessing our services through the latest expensive devices using speedy Wi-Fi connections and the other group struggling to access our session using ancient used computers and unreliable, dodgy internet connections. Unfortunately, the second group rarely signed up more than once for online tutoring sessions as it was just too frustrating and discouraging for them and almost impossible for us to give them any meaningful assistance. In addition, many low-level students simply lacked the basic English skills required to book an online tutoring session. As a result, the change from face to face sessions to online ones has meant that we have sadly lost much of our LINC four and lower level students. 

Adapting

Online appointments have resulted in a few changes to our regular tutoring practice. One of the most significant is in the way we start our sessions. In person, we could incorporate body language and indicate our welcome by smiling and pulling out a chair for the student while making small talk. However, online, it is harder to give a warm and personal welcome, and it feels so cold and robotic to directly move to asking how we can help them. Therefore, we make a point of looking directly in the camera and give them a smiling welcome using their name. We use the reader-response method of tutoring writing and insist that the students make their own edits during the discussion, but their slow typing speed can make the process frustratingly slow in the online setting. On the other hand, online video chat tutoring has been revolutionary for tutoring EAL students with their pronunciation and speaking skills. The private nature of the sessions completely removes any of their previous embarrassment of practicing sounds and doing minimal pair drills in a public library setting and there have been some stunning improvements as a result. 

The Final Word

All in all, online tutoring is working out and the English tutors have been fully booked since March. We are grateful that we can continue to be the backdrop of support for our students as they progress through their years at VCC. 

A Question

How has your institute dealt with transitioning online? Share your ideas in the comment section. Let’s work together!

Kari Karlsbjerg has been an English Tutor with the VCC Learning Centre for over 12 years. In addition, shenew best-selling bilingual guidebook, Everyday Vancouver (https://everydayvancouver.ca/) which contains practical cultural information about regular daily life that Korean newcomers need to feel at home here in Vancouver. Previously, she wrote similar books on everyday life and culture for Chinese newcomers that were published in both Canada and China in: “My New Life in Vancouver “and “Vancouver 365” which are also  bilingual (English and Mandarin).

#CdnELTchat summary for November 10, 2020 (Time-Saving Tips )

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#CdnELTchat summary for November 10, 2020
Jennifer Chow

How do we complete everything we need to do at work AND find time to practice self-care? It has always been a juggling act for educators to find enough time to do all their work, meet the demands of their personal lives and take care of their physical and mental health. It has been even more difficult to manage time during COVID-19, as the boundary between work and home becomes increasingly blurred. 

Thank-you to the educators who shared their time-saving tips and tricks during the November 10 #CdnELTchat. We hope you find strategies, resources and advice that will help you become more productive and efficient. 

We’ve collected the tweets from our chat in Wakelet, but here are some of the highlights from our discussion: 

  • How to stay organized for teachers: keep a routine for teaching to ease anxiety, use a month-at-glance paper calendar, use an e-calendar to block off time for breaks and tasks, use Google Keep to keep track of to-do lists

  • How to stay organized for students: teach social emotional learning skills and self-regulation skills, provide consistent structure for students when sending announcements etc., encourage students to prioritize tasks at the of lessons, establish email and file naming for students

  • Beginning-of-term short-cuts: clean up documents that you need to reuse, record a welcome video, record instructional videos for LMS navigation before the term starts, set up e-calendar, check for broken links in LMS, plan assessments and assignments for the term so they are spaced out, create Google slide templates for breakout rooms, reuse announcements from the previous semester, create a Google Classroom to store links and files to resources 

  • How to mark smarter: do one question/page in batches to save time and to help intra-rater reliability, use digital rubrics that populate the grade book, use dual monitors to mark online assessments, customize feedback and create a drop-down list of them in a Word doc rubric  

  • Time-saving tips for teaching online: do a time audit of how much time you’re planning and prepping, establish boundaries to reduce stress and build resilience, use keyboard and desktop shortcuts to save time and avoid ergonomic hazards, split videos into segments in Google slides
  • Things you should let go: let go of things that students won’t notice, avoid checking emails after a certain time, skip any optional work activities that don’t bring you joy, consider how much time a commitment will take away from your family or personal time before you say yes, evaluate how much time you spend scrolling social media sites

We encourage everyone to continue the conversation using the hashtag #CdnELTchat. Here are the questions that we didn’t get a chance to discuss during the chat. 

#CdnELTchat

We hope #CdnELTchat can provide the space for #ELT educators across Canada and beyond to do that too. We’ll be doing some informal chats between our scheduled chats as a way to check in and support each other. 

#CdnELTchat is a collaborative effort that we hope will lead to more reflective practice for all of us involved in ELT. If you are interested in joining our team, or have any ideas for topics, please send @StanzaSL, @EALStories, @Jennifermchow, or @ELTAugusta a tweet. Our Padlet is also always open for your questions and comments. 

Use the hashtag #CdnELTchat anytime to connect and to share information of interest to the #CdnELT community. 

Jen Bio Pic

Jennifer is passionate about learning how technology can empower her students. After experiencing how technology enabled her to stay connected as an educator, a parent and an active citizen, she is motivated to find the same opportunities for her students. Twitter: @jennifermchow

 

#CdnELTchat summary for September 29, 2020 (Supporting the Continuation of Learning and Teaching during COVID-19)

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#CdnELTchat summary for September 29, 2020
Jennifer Chow

For many of us, we are in our second term of remote learning. What are the successes and unique challenges #ELT instructors have had? How can we create and maintain a sense of community with our colleagues and students during this time? What kind of support do we need in order to foster a sense of well-being?

Thank-you to everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to participate in #CdnELTchat’s discussion on Supporting the Continuation of Learning and Teaching during COVID-19. 

We’ve collected the tweets from our chat in Wakelet, but here are some of the highlights from our discussion: 

  • It’s important for teachers and instructors to think about our mental health and sustainability, especially since the future is still uncertain. Creating online content while teaching is exhausting for many teachers, so we don’t need to perfect. Good enough is good enough.
  • Equity is still a big problem as some students don’t have access to the necessary technology and/or digital skills to engage in online learning. 
  • Focus on building relationships to establish trust between teachers and learners. Start with essential digital skills and add to them slowly over the term. 
  • Use ready-made online materials that are available on @TutelaCanada. Many teachers have embraced using @H5PTechnology
  • Respect student privacy by not forcing them to turn their cameras on. Use polls and breakout rooms to foster interaction. Provide prompt feedback, virtual office hours, and use Q & A forums to increase engagement.
  • Provide weekly drop-in times for colleagues to connect and socialize. Organize online reading or research groups for professional development. 

We encourage everyone to continue the conversation using the hashtag #CdnELTchat. Here are the questions that we used to guide our chat. 

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.

During the chat, @KraseNetzel shared with us how @DawnTorvik started a WhatsApp teachers’ group and regularly inspires colleagues to share victories and problems. We hope #CdnELTchat can provide the space for #ELT educators across Canada and beyond to do that too. We’ll be doing some informal chats between our scheduled chats as a way to check in and support each other. 

#CdnELTchat is a collaborative effort that we hope will lead to more reflective practice for all of us involved in ELT. If you are interested in joining our team, or have any ideas for topics, please send @StanzaSL, @EALStories, @Jennifermchow, or @ELTAugusta a tweet. Our Padlet is also always open for your questions and comments. 

Use the hashtag #CdnELTchat anytime to connect and to share information of interest to the #CdnELT community. 

Jen Bio Pic

Jennifer is passionate about learning how technology can empower her students. After experiencing how technology enabled her to stay connected as an educator, a parent and an active citizen, she is motivated to find the same opportunities for her students. Twitter: @jennifermchow