Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Tutor
In recent weeks, more than one conversation on the topic of compassion surfaced among tutors and, oddly enough, I am very fortunate in that I simply listened. Now, I fully understand that this comment is absolutely groundbreaking and will forever change your day in so few words, but, levity aside, how often do we really trek down that “extra mile” to better understand our students’ concerns? If only to be the proverbial shoulder for a few minutes’ time, I think we can all benefit from a trip down Humble Lane, and my voyage began with a student who certainly needed the few minutes of humanity that sometimes avoid us entirely.
I wish I had a long and detailed narrative to accompany this experience, but the student was unable to grasp the assignment instructions in their original format. Never have I felt so poorly as an academic than at that moment; likewise, never did I feel more of a responsibility to put myself in her shoes and take a few steps, if only for a second. The assignment itself was not to blame—nor the professor, which I find myself excited to admit. Instead, the problem here, and I am not so sure that it is so much of a problem as it is a simple oversight, reverts back to our distance and lack of a physical presence in front of students. The primary concern of this student stemmed from not feeling comfortable enough in the online classroom setting to pose the question, and, as I am roughly paraphrasing, speak confidently with the professor regarding said concern. So I began to wonder.
Like in a face-to-face setting, we interact with many different individuals, and I stress the term individuals for a reason, which becomes even more complicated with the great services that we provide; but that comes with a bit of fine print—right?
Both fortunately and unfortunately, we do not physically see these students’ emotions when their faces curl up in confusion regarding an assignment, a grade they do not agree with, or even a term we use in seminar that sounds more akin to a foreign language than our own. We simply do not have that consistency; unless, of course, all parties partake in the technology available, but again we cannot presuppose our students’ technology, again, due to distance.
That said, are we truly that unfortunate? As experts in this cacophony that we term as the Internet, I think it is becoming more of our responsibility to try and find that comfortable ground to help students actualize their goals. Sometimes, despite our wanting to do so, this includes rephrasing an entire assignment, on one’s own time, to better assist our students. To put the matter into context, think of it this way: Some assembly required. We all love to read that, right? Well our students’ needs sometimes take on an added clause, and maybe asking just a few more questions would open their minds up enough to feel comfortable in this online learning environment we have created. Surely the convenience of being primarily online comes with the added perks, so my challenge to all those teaching in this e-world of ours remains simple: Go that extra mile. Corny as it may well be, at the end of the day, just hearing the person’s voice change from absolute distress to a happy and content student justifies our work—and I think we all could use a but of sunshine during what appears to be the second ice age. Be the warming presence that our students will return to.