Category Archives: Tutors

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNER SUPPORT AND THE MAKING OF AN INCLUSIVE WRITING CENTER


Chrissine Cairns, MA, Writing Center Tutor

The Kaplan University Writing Center is a dynamic and inclusive tutoring center staffed by experts in college writing, online writing instruction, and the delivery of personalized and multimodal tutoring services, webinars, and resources for adult students online.  Housed in the Academic Support Center on KU Campus, the Writing Center is accessible to every student taking courses at KU, undergraduate and graduate.  In 2014, the Writing Center celebrated its 10th anniversary, and today the Writing Center continues its mission as a free, academic support service for KU’s diverse online students writing across the curriculum and the globe.

When the Writing Center first opened, it established itself with a website, a Q&A chat, and a paper review service.  At that time, students and tutors communicated only in writing and with printable resources.  Then in 2008, equipped with its first full-time director and staff of professional writing tutors, the center had the potential to experiment with new educational technologies, audio and video tools, and reach more students with more personalized support.

I was one of those original tutors and the founder of the English Language Learner Tutoring and Outreach Program, one of two innovative Writing Center programs developed for students struggling with the basics of writing and standard English in the text-based online learning environment.  Together, the ELL Tutoring and Outreach Program and the Writing Fundamentals Program introduced the following specialized services and resources to the Writing Center’s traditional offerings:

  • Email outreach with a video welcome to the Writing Center,
  • One-on-one tutoring in an audio-enabled, Adobe Connect tutoring room,
  • Interactive writing workshops on college writing, grammar, and plagiarism prevention,
  • Video and written feedback on paper reviews with a 24-hour turnaround time,
  • Video tutorials on college writing and grammar topics, and
  • Faculty resources and referral initiatives.

Nine years later, these services and resources are the cornerstones of Writing Center support with improved access for ELL and Writing Fundamentals students and expanded access to all students.

In 2016, self-referral web forms were added to the Writing Center’s ELL and Writing Fundamentals webpages that connect students with a tutor and personalized video feedback within 24 hours if not immediately.  Time is one thing busy, adult students online do not have to spare, and the chance to help any one student may happen only once and in an instant, so ELL and Writing Fundamentals students no longer have to be referred by an instructor to receive video feedback.  ELL students had the additional obstacle of first having to self-identity as ELL to an instructor to be referred.  Today, every student who submits a paper for review receives personalized video feedback.

Today, not one or two but all 13 Writing Center tutors are trained and experienced to tutor ELL and Writing Fundamentals.  ELL and Writing Fundamentals students do not have to wait for an appointed time to work with one or two specialized tutors.  Over the past several years, all tutoring services, outreach, and resources in the Writing Center have been recreated to be inclusive and more accessible.  They are designed with the experience and expectation that students arrive to the center at various points in their degree or career path and bring with them unique educational backgrounds and diverse cultural and linguistic histories.

Today, with streamlined outreach that connects ELL and Fundamentals students with tutors more quickly and the innovative integration of the original specialty services with the center’s traditionally offerings, the Writing Center has bridged gaps on many students’ paths to learning success.  With all-student access to more tutors, more live tutoring hours, over 500 media-rich writing guides and archived webinars, and new study skills videos, the Writing Center is entering its next phase of growth as a far-reaching, versatile, and inclusive tutoring hub that provides substantive and personalized academic support to all students with the motto, “Every encounter matters.”  Visit the Writing Center by logging into KU Campus, or check out the Writing Center’s public-facing website at http://library.kaplan.edu/kuwc today.

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Harnessing the Power of Mindset


By Amy Sexton, Writing Center Tutor

Flash back to April 4, 2016:  It is the championship game of the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Basketball tournament, and North Carolina and Villanova are tied at 74.  It’s Villanova’s ball, and with only 4.7 seconds left in the game, it is almost certain the two teams will go into overtime play. Then Villanova player Kris Jenkins throws up a three-point shot from just past the center line of the court, a shot that was so far away that it seemed very likely that it would not even reach the goal.  Miraculously, the shot lands in the basket with barely a nanosecond to spare, and Villanova joyously becomes the 2016 NCAA National Champions.

After the game, a reporter interviews Jenkins and asks him if he could believe that he had made the shot (Murray, 2016).  Jenkins responds, “I believe every shot’s going in, so” (Murray, 2016).  The reporter interrupts with a credulous follow-up, “Every one?” “Every one,” continues Jenkins, “so I thought that one was going in too” (Murray, 2016,)   I watched the game-winning shot and the post-interview live, and I was impressed by Jenkins’ mindset.  In fact, his declarations reflect a mindset that all college students, not just college athletes, ought to have.

Mindset is defined as  the “ability of the brain to form points of view in order to adopt behavior, formulate lifestyles, rethink priorities, make choices, and pursue goals” (Poplan, 2016).  As a tutor, I often hear students approach their studies with a mindset that inhibits learning and undermines their efforts.  They say things like “I’m a bad writer.”, “I’ve always been horrible at math.”, or ask “How horrible is this paper?”.    While they may have experiences that make these feelings seem valid, and some subjects may come more easily to them than others, approaching any learning task with a mindset of “I can do this.” will generally lead to improved learning and success.

As a personal example, math and science are subjects that I generally find difficult to understand.  I especially struggle with comprehending topics like algebra, chemistry, and physics, and I worked very hard in high school and college to earn reasonably good grades in the math and science courses that I was required to take.  One summer when I was in college, I worked as an in-home tutor, and one of my students was in high school and needed a jump-start for her upcoming algebra class.  “How can I possibly tutor algebra when I barely understood it myself?,” I wondered.  Regardless, my job was to tutor my assigned students in all subjects, so I borrowed a high school algebra text from a friend and began working through the problems with the mindset that I could learn the material and help my student learn it, too.  Before each of our sessions, I worked out problems in the text, and then I taught her what I had learned.  Together, we learned a lot of algebra that summer.

This experience taught me that I could do things that I did not think I was capable of doing. It was my first time realizing the power of mindset, and it served me well a few years later when I  had to complete tough graduate courses like research methods and statistics in order to earn my master’s degree.

The next time you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do that.”; think instead, “Okay, I can do this. This shot will go in!”  Whether it is a difficult course, a tough assignment, or a challenging exam, a positive mindset can help you power through and realize success.  Granted, you may not win a championship basketball game or be drafted into the NBA, but a positive, can-do attitude and mindset can definitely help improve your GPA!

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References

Murray, S. (2016, April 4).  Kris Jenkins- Villanova national championship post game interview [Video file].  Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8DcKfEtQjk

Poplan, E.  (2016).  Mindset.   Salem Press Encyclopedia.  Retrieved from http://www.salempress.com/

 

 

 

 

Saving Time with Tutoring


By Amy Sexton, Writing Center tutor

Managing our time successfully can be a challenge for all of us, and college students may be especially busy.  They are juggling school assignments, papers, and seminars and various other major responsibilities including families, jobs, military service, and community work. In the Academic Support Center, we understand that students’ time is limited and valuable.  This is one reason that our centers offer a combined 150 live tutoring hours per week: we know that attending tutoring can actually save students time.

Kaplan students often visit Live Tutoring for help understanding new and/or confusing course concepts or terminology, for example. Because all Kaplan University Academic Support Center tutors hold graduate degrees in their fields, tutors will most likely be very familiar with the concepts or ideas that students are learning about and will be able to explain them in ways that foster understanding. Students can spend a lot of time alone struggling with working a math problem, troubleshooting a PowerPoint issue, or figuring out how to cite an unusual source, or they can invest 20 minutes into a tutorial session and speak to an educator who can provide expert and immediate guidance, feedback, and support.

Academic Support Center tutors are also extremely knowledgeable about the resources in our centers, including archived workshops, written tutorials, podcasts, and short videos.  We can quickly and easily direct students to these so they do not spend a lot of time searching for the best resource. We can even show them how to most effectively use the resources and services that we offer.

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Tutors can also help students save time by clarifying assignment directions, helping them plan realistic schedules for completing big assignments, pointing out errors in their work, unraveling common misconceptions, brainstorming ideas with them, providing feedback, suggesting revision strategies, sharing our own tips for successful study habits, and much more.

The next time that students say that they do not have time to go to tutoring, ask them to consider the opposite perspective:  seeking tutorial assistance can, in reality, save them time.    If they are Kaplan students, direct them to the Academic Support Center for live tutoring so that they can learn first-hand how working with experienced and professional tutors can help them find answers to their questions, get their course work done more quickly, and save time in the process.

 

Using Video Feedback to Help Students Learn about Plagiarism


By Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

As part of our paper review service in the writing center, we routinely provide personalized video feedback along with written comments.  I have found that video review works especially well when I review assignments that have recognizable issues with plagiarism.  We often see possible plagiarism in student’s papers, especially when students are just beginning to learn and use citation.   While our paper review service is not a plagiarism detection service, we are often able to discern problematic areas in students’ papers. Since any issue with plagiarism (intentional or unintentional) can mean serious consequences for students, I usually point out any areas in their papers that may be indicative of plagiarism.   Writing centers are, as Buranen (2009) points out, uniquely positioned to be a “safe place” for students to learn about plagiarism and avoiding it in their writing (p. 8).  Addressing plagiarism concerns can be tricky, though.  Students sometimes equate plagiarism with cheating, and they may react defensively if they feel someone is accusing them of doing something wrong.    Fortunately, a video review provides an excellent vehicle for addressing plagiarism issues in students’ writing through relevant and supportive feedback. For an example, please view the partial  review below (3:53) in which I discuss possible plagiarism in a sample paper:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxxtQh-CefarMFhjQmFWZFRQb1k/view?usp=sharing

One reason that video feedback works well for addressing plagiarism concerns is that the student hears the voice of the person providing the feedback.  If tutors and instructors approach instances of plagiarism with tact and kindness, students will hear these positive elements in our voices, which may dissuade them from immediately reacting in a defensive manner.  If students only read our written comments about possible plagiarism, they may not detect either tact or kindness and instead focus on negative emotions, including anger, defensiveness, or indignity – all emotions that are  decidedly not conducive to learning.

Video feedback also gives educators the ability to show rather than just tell, as I illustrate in the example.  We can show students which words appear to be appropriated verbatim without correct quotation.  Often times, we can easily find sentences that students may have copied from an internet source and included in their own papers, and we can show students these original sources during the screencast.  We can also add missing quotation marks to demonstrate changes students need to make.  If the issue is with lack on in-text citation, we can actually add example in-text citations, again giving students a clear picture of what they need to do to correct any issues.  We can also show students how to use the “Find” function in Microsoft Word in order to ensure that they have matching in-text citations and references.

By using screencasts to provide feedback when students present with possible plagiarism issues in their writing, both tutors and instructors can enhance students’ understanding of what constitutes plagiarism.  In the process, we help create those “safe places” (Buranen, 2009, p. 8) where students can then begin to transform into scholars and researchers who engage in academic discourse and research with integrity and confidence.

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Student watching a video review

References

Buranen, L. (2009, Jan.-Feb.).  A safe place: The role of librarians and writing centers in addressing citation practices and plagiarism.  Knowledge Quest, 37(3), 24-33.  Retrieved from http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/

 

Math Center Tutors


Compiled by Lisa Gerardy, Writing Center Specialist

 

The Math Center is the second oldest center in the Academic Support Center.  It was started by Dr. John Eads in 2006.  Since then, the Math Center has added many resources and services.  In addition to meeting students in Adobe Connect for live tutoring sessions, math tutors also review projects, hold workshops, give video examples of math problems, and create resources. Here are a few of our wonderful math tutors.

 

 Melissa Derby

How long have you been tutoring?

Seven years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I enjoy helping others and seeing  them learn.

 

Joe

Joe

Joe  Iannuzzi

How long have you been tutoring?

Four years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I enjoy tutoring to help students in their study of math. Sometimes we get the “aha” moment while at other times we just get them through an assignment or project. I also tutor to keep my teaching/tutoring skills sharp.

 

Samuel

Samuel

 Samuel Chukwuemeka

How long have you been tutoring?

Three years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

Sometimes, math textbooks are not fun to read. Sometimes, videos do not cover everything. Sometimes, PowerPoint presentations miss several steps on how the answers are obtained. So, a student may need to talk to someone who can explain this “foreign” language. That is where Tutor Samuel steps in.

 

Michael

Christopher

 Christopher Zapalski

How long have you been tutoring?

Three years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

The most rewarding experience of being a tutor is that we get to explore the issues from the bottom up. This is how the student processed the information and is now putting it into practice. Think of it like bouncing a ball. Our job is to make sure after the ball hits the pavement; it goes right back to hand!

 

Miguel Lopez

How long have you been tutoring?

One year

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I tutor because it gives me a great opportunity to teach, which I love to do. In particular, I enjoy tutoring because it allows me to target individual student needs, while it keeps me on my toes.

 

Anthony Feduccia

How long have you been tutoring?

One  year

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I  enjoy the challenge.  I never know what math topic will be asked next.
It’s always great to hear students say, “Oh, of course that was my error” after pointing out a mistake; or, “Wow, now I understand” after explaining a topic.

Re-establishing Manageable Expectations in Tutoring


Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

 

shutterstock_3629801Here at Kaplan University, our respective support centers housed within the Academic Support Center are lucky. I say this  simply because we possess the ability to share experiences, challenges, and, of course, triumphs between our centers. With this, however, comes a very unique conversation, and one that I found most interesting while creating training tutorials.

Prior to even working on the tutor training project,  my biggest concern  revolved around using neutral language when writing the material for specific tutorials and resources. Because I work only in the Writing Center, my expertise, to be fair, is a bit limited. I tend to write for writers about writing, so I needed to establish some sort of common ground between all of our respective centers. Instead of focusing on the subject matter between each different center and catering the training materials accordingly, our team identified the commonality  that each tutor wrestles with constantly—time, or for that matter, figuring out how to best use the time we have with students.

At first glance this may appear rather simple.  A student enters a tutorial service seeking assistance, each session lasts a specific amount of time, and the student moseys off to accomplish his or her  task upon concluding the tutorial session. Sure, those occasions happen periodically, but what of those situations where a student may not know what he or she  needs assistance with? What if the student has never explored the given concept and, despite your invaluable skills, accomplishing an overview in 20 minutes seems impossible? More often than not, these situations become reality and require a bit of appropriate action in the form of a friendly refresher. With the help of many of the fantastic folks here across the Academic Support Center, these three, very pragmatic reminders  help shed light on the appropriate way to guide our students toward academic success.

1.) Establish what you can accomplish in the time frame of the tutoring session—be realistic.

To put things into perspective for the student, understand his or her reason for attending tutoring first and foremost. A simple greeting, of course, goes a long way, but understanding the student’s  intent for attending academic support services remains key to getting the session started. In the rarest of cases, tutors may also need to usher students to other support centers, so take this time to be sure the student is in the appropriate location. Next, after understanding the student’s intent, rationalize a bit. What can you feasibly accomplish in the time frame allotted for the session? If the student comes in seeking a review of a paper reaching the 40-page mark or an equation that will take hours to complete, rationalizing what can feasibly be accomplished from the get-go allows for a more productive and focused session. Sure, you may not accomplish all of what the student sought after, but at the very least the tutor used the time wisely. This also allows for a bit of reciprocity as the tutor may suggest that the student continue work on what he or she  produced in the session before returning for more help. We can do a fantastic amount of great deeds for our students, but, unfortunately, we cannot extend time. Therefore, simply be honest with your students; they will appreciate it when they come back in the second and third time.

2.) Remain consistent with your session format: Greet, assist, conclude, and invite back.

Of the three suggestions, this tends to outweigh the others in that, regardless of the student or the assignment at hand, each session should conform to a general model. The best and simplest way to ensure accurate timing involves sticking to a rather rigid routine with the freedom to adjust accordingly during the tutoring itself. In terms of percentages, ten percent of the session should be devoted to greeting and concluding the session accordingly; the remaining eighty percent, of course, occupies the duration of the session. Certainly these numbers will fluctuate a bit based on the context of the session, but the majority of the session must be devoted to actual instruction. By limiting the introduction and conclusion of the session to approximate times, this best assists the student with feeling like he or she was  treated to a service and not just ushered through so that the tutor can take the next student. From a tutor’s perspective, this also allows for more productivity and will actually assist further with time management. By actively thinking of three sessions per hour or even two sessions per hour, tutors can then be better prepared for what all they may have to accomplish.

3.) Keep control of the session; you are the professional, so make the experience professional and consistent for the student.

Extrapolating a bit off of the last reminder, maintaining control of the session is key to accomplishing a consistent model that the tutor can then replicate elsewhere. We want our students to interact with us, of course, but too much interaction, or too little, for that matter, can lead to awkward questioning or, in extreme cases, resistance from the student. As we want to always avoid these situations, adhering to the student’s request is just as important as making a suggestion for a better, alternative route. As we are the professionals in this situation, we should  never feel that we  are unable to discuss a different plan of action with the student so long as the end goal of the session pairs with the student’s satisfaction. More often than not, when a student comes into a tutorial service frustrated and irritable, this more than likely stemmed from confusion.  A  bit of guidance, as we are all more than capable of providing, helps immensely. Building this level of professionalism will also  help build our reputation, so take the time to assert your expertise while also ensuring that the student receives the best help that we can offer.

All of these reminders may seem like the re-invention of the wheel for some tutors, and that is a fantastic problem to have. For the others, much like myself, seeing this on the page really does make a difference. By focusing our time on the respective sections of each tutorial session, this difficulty becomes one of the easiest aspects of our job. Once in the rhythm of establishing a goal early and vocally with the student, sessions tend to move more quickly, as many of our tutors are happily reporting. It is because of our expertise that we can make adjustments accordingly.  As our outreach  continues to improve, both in numbers and in quality,  prioritizing these tasks will elicit increased student satisfaction across all centers.

Addressing the Whole Student


Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

There seems to be a fascinating approach to coaching overpaid athletes these days in the form of addressing the “whole player.” I say this in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion because being paid $250,000 per week must be incredibly difficult. I can only imagine the corners they must cut to make ends meet.

Levity aside, I really began assessing this notion of the “whole player.” How can this be defined? The “whole player” includes the human being behind the flashing lights and immense paychecks. These people have families, other interests, plenty of obligations, and  emotions. In very much the same way, when considering our students, how often do we consider the “whole student?”

The need to address the “whole student”  became much more evident when I helped a student nearly in tears. The shakiness of her voice, coupled with what she viewed as scathing comments by her instructor,  set the tone for our live tutoring session. After prodding a bit and uncovering the requirements of the assignment, the student appeared to calm down considerably—that is until I pulled up the draft to dissect some of the commentary. Immediately she shut down;  the sea of commentary filled the margins from the first page to the last and seemed to overwhelm her.  Many of the comments hearkened back to three weeks prior when the student, based on her word, had to miss a considerable amount of class time due to a variety of issues concerning her mental health.

Questioning becomes immensely important during these sort of therapy-like sessions. One wrong move could spiral the student further out of control, so I decided to keep the focus on the issues the instructor continually brought up. What happened three weeks ago? How, with my degrees in English, could I help with any sort of mental health issue? At the time I found myself a bit nervous, but I decided to just listen. That’s it. Sure, our session ended up being a bit longer than most, but after ten minutes of airing her frustrations and explaining her issue, her tone completely changed.  After this session, I tried to think about it from a student’s  perspective.

What kind of people did we enjoy most in school?t I think I can speak for the majority when I say that most of our favorite teachers, tutors, and faculty were individuals who truly cared—and cared for the students around them. We are all professionals, here to help, and when this student was finally able to openly and honestly speak about her condition and how it directly impacted her ability to meet deadlines and accomplish tasks she could not understand, she found a sympathetic ear. I may not have a fancy couch in my office where students can  vent  frustrations while I jot notes on a pad of paper aimlessly, but simply listening, a very honest skill, meant the world to her. We have all been in similar situations at some point, especially during our first years in a collegiate setting. Most of my best memories and interactions with professors occurred in a private setting where I could further explain any given issue and gauge the professor’s persona. Sometimes, realizing that a human being, more than likely burdened with multiple other issues, sits behind the name that we see on the screen remains key. Taking a bit of extra time out of your day to understand where a student is coming from, regardless of  if you agree with it or buy into it, alleviates a great deal of student-felt stress. By realizing that a student is, in fact, a whole person, we can then begin to progress forward as I did in this session.

My student became jovial, even joking with me to an extent in following e-mails regarding her progress on the next assignment. She became whole again, and it all boiled down to the simplest of mottos, one which I aptly remember from a bumper sticker: Bark less and wag more. As professionals in the field of higher education we must remember that students, at times, need a bit of extra attention to really bring out the best in their abilities. I still work and communicate with this student quite frequently, and I fully intend on continuing my work in this area to see a fantastic person reach her lofty and achievable goals.