On-line tutoring requires conscious awareness of many communication techniques that are taken for granted in traditional face-to-face tutoring. In this article I focus on the use of the written word for assignment review or as a part of real-time audio or video enabled tutoring sessions.
It is important that tutors respond quickly and consistently whenever providing asynchronous feedback since this can be the key “presence indicator” for the student. A 24-hour turnaround during the week and 48 hours on the weekend is fairly common. Whatever metric is used, it should be clearly communicated so that tutor and student share common expectations.
Proof of this can be found at Crossroads of Learning where assessments and ad-hoc communications between the tutors we train and their mentors take place asynchronously in writing. Based on student exit surveys we see a profound positive correlation between mentor responsiveness and the sense of connection, course satisfaction, and the self-reported improvement in tutoring skills experienced by the students.
Although positive feedback is commonly advised it is crucial to include specific reference to aspects of the students work as frequently as possible. A series of comments of the “Good job!” variety can be a turn-off for students. Tutors who include supporting information or questions and relatable tutor experiences and perspectives can extend the sense of real-world application and connectedness for the student.
At the beginning of the tutoring relationship it’s a good idea to trade introductions so that you understand a student’s background and native language and be aware of how this may affect their use, interpretation and understanding of the written word.
As an example, there are Asian and Pacific cultures where it is seen as arrogant to talk about oneself. Silence may be seen as strength. Both of these assumptions can lead to a reticence to communicate on the part of the student, requiring extra encouragement from the tutor.
Without the benefit of eye contact or body language the tone of communication comes across much stronger and can be easily misinterpreted. The tutor should take care to soften wording where possible and avoid phrasing that can be interpreted in a negative way. Try to be as specific as possible, always showing respect and positive regard for the student.
Although research and guidance for guidance in this area specific to tutors is hard to find it can be helpful to investigate resources created for online teaching such as the “Guide to Teaching Online Courses” from the National Education Association. Among other areas it discusses tone and timeliness and the pdf can be downloaded by clicking here.
In summary, tutors should take great care to strengthen their written communications. It can make or break their success with a student. Developing good communication skills and other aspects of the tutor/student relationship are covered in the Crossroads of Learning tutor training curriculum, available on-line or through a train-the-trainer/workbook program. For more information, visit our website at www.crossroadsoflearning.com.
By Bob Lasiewicz, M.A.
Managing Director, Crossroads of Learning
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