Virtual Tutoring

The first reading this week was “New Media and Online Tutoring” by familiar authors, Fitzgerald and Iannetti. Because the field of those who instruct Writing Center tutors is so narrow, it makes sense that we refer to the same authors. This week’s topic is very techy, which is exciting for me because I love technology and frequently work better online than on paper. However, in tutoring, these non-traditional sessions poise challenges because we as tutors have to amend our practices. The first section of this reading deals with “What’s Old” about the topic (p 167), and discusses the ways that this tutoring is nothing new, because writing has always involved technology and technology has always involved writing. While this was not the author’s intent, this made me think of the diction used when discussing programming: words such as “language”, “syntax”, “fluent”– we speak about programming languages the same way we speak about other languages. In this sense, technology is not without language. It is also worth remembering that tutoring is also about helping people, regardless of how.

The article discussed in depth the idea that tutoring in this form is rhetorical. This is because the rhetoric refers to communication and how communication is used to achieve goals. The forms of communication in tutoring change when tutoring is online instead of in person, but this is to be expected because the most effective rhetoric is always contingent upon the situation. That is a primary component of rhetoric: catering to your audience. The shift from tutoring in person to tutoring online posies its own specific challenges because the tutor cannot gauge the student’s reaction to any comments the tutor makes. It also becomes harder for the tutor to gauge cultural differences, miscommunications, etcetera and to fix them. Thus, the tutor has to choose their words with care to try and choose the words that are the least likely to be misinterpreted. The tutor also must be hyperconscious of his or her tone because tone can be misinterpreted the same way that words can. This article gave useful advice on how to communicate both online and in person. The author also had particular advice on how to adapt one’s rhetoric, but in ways that were more generally applicable than specific– which is ironic, because rhetoric is generally more specific because different strategies are more or less effective with different audiences. Overall, I thought this reading was useful.

The second reading was “Responding Online” by Ben Rafoth. While the author of this reading was not as familiar as Fitzgerald and Iannetti, many of the concepts he spoke about were familiar. We have seen concepts such as minimal marking and prioritizing global over local concerns before, which makes sense because they are cornerstones to having an effective tutoring practice. This reading brought up the interesting notion that online tutoring might have more intricacies than face to face tutoring, which is debatable. I think that in person interactions have more depth because, quite simply, there are more to them. Online interactions refer to text: text sent to a tutor, text sent back to the writer. In person interactions mean that text needs to be spoken word, and there are also various elements of reading body language etcetera that add levels of depth. Nonetheless, the author argues that these intricacies result because the tutor has to consider how the reader will perceive the message without seeing or hearing the tutor’s body language and tone. He suggests that tutors should refrain from suggesting too many changes because the reader may be overwhelmed. The reader could also have trouble figuring out what the tutor meant to emphasize. For instance: if the tutor points out both global and local errors, the reader could fall into the trap of prioritizing local errors over the global errors just because it is easier. Although this is just one example, it is worth noting that the importance of prioritizing does not go away.

Overall, I thought these two pieces of writing were similar but interesting and I enjoyed seeing where they overlapped. For example, they both emphasize the importance of thinking of the client’s point of view and how the client would be likely to interpret the comments of the tutor. However, the different authors approach this in different ways: Rafoth emphasizes that clients may be overwhelmed and want to prioritize lower-level concerns while Fitzgerald and Iannetti emphasize the use of rhetoric to negotiate the priorities of the session. However, both make it clear that there is some consistency in tutoring online versus tutoring in person, like the prioritization of global over local concerns and the negotiation of these priorities or the use of rhetoric to make sessions overall more effective. Online the tutor’s role evolves but does not change entirely. It is our job as tutors to make sure we are utilizing different tools to make sessions most effective.

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