Editor’s note: As writing centers adapt to online tutoring, it’s a good time to share how to train our tutors to adapt to an online space. Dr. Maria Eleftheriou (Director of the American University of Sharjah Writing Center) offers six strategies to support tutors as they work in an online space. The strategies are based on her 2013 study “Online Tutorials: Opportunities and Challenges” which was published in the 17th volume of Academic Exchange Quarterly. Dr. Eleftheriou originally posted these strategies in a communication on the MENAWCA listserv. In case you have not subscribed to that, we strongly encourage you to do so at http://menawca.org/home-page/members

Thank you so much, Dr. Eleftheriou, for these thoughts!


At the American University of Sharjah (AUS) Writing Center, we are still figuring things out as we go along, but for what it’s worth, here are a few thoughts. Although I considered many platforms, including Google Meet and WC Online, I decided to use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra because it is the platform AUS is using; moreover, we have tech support for this platform, and the students are familiar with it.

I trained our tutors to use the Collaborate platform, and all training was conducted online. We […] also discussed strategies to facilitate online tutoring. [To compile the strategies], I drew from findings of a study I conducted in 2013 to inform my online training. These findings from my 2013 study were helpful when I started online writing center training:

Advise tutors to confirm students’ comprehension before moving on to the next point. 

Checking for student understanding could be emphasized during training and could compensate for the lack of non-verbal cues. Long silences could be avoided by repeating and rephrasing questions; however, it is important to encourage students to be responsive and necessary to allow sufficient time for thought and reflection. Strategies such as asking open-ended questions, asking for clarification of specific points and checking for understanding should encourage student participation and enable tutors to assess student progress.

Encourage tutors to create opportunities for rapport-building, which can start when they first make contact with their students by e-mail. 

Tutors can address their students by first name, introduce themselves, and express an interest in the tutorial. During the tutorials, it is recommended that tutors call their students by first name, find opportunities to offer praise, empathize with students, and engage in casual conversation at the end of the tutorial.

Recognize that the face-to-face settings cannot be reproduced in every circumstance.

Although it is possible to install a program for drawings and illustrations, it is more practical to make use of the on-line format’s current strengths. Tutors who are accustomed to using written notes to illustrate the structure of an essay, for example, must adapt to the on-line format. If they had access to an on-line image of the structure of an essay, they could direct the student to the image, thereby achieving the same result. Assembling and organizing relevant on-line resources provides the tutors and students with materials to access during their tutorials.

Suggest to tutors that they offer students the option of recording their tutorials. 

NNS students may appreciate being able to review their tutorials as they write and revise independently.

Recommend to tutors that they make extensive use of the whiteboard. 

The whiteboard fosters facilitative tutoring and active student participation. Tutors can highlight problem areas on the screen and encourage their students to write and revise on the whiteboard.

Develop support systems for on-line tutors. 

It is not feasible to replicate the support systems available in the face-to-face physical environment in a virtual environment. It is, however, possible to create alternative support systems such as blogs or discussion groups where tutors can exchange concerns and ideas relating to the on-line format. By sharing experiences, they can collaborate and become aware of the potential of on-line communication.

If anyone has any questions, or if there is some way that I could help, please contact me at meleftheriou@aus.edu.

Dr. Maria Eleftheriou is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the American University of Sharjah. In addition to directing the AUS Writing Center, Maria researches the relevance of established writing center models in Middle-Eastern contexts. Her research interests include tutor training models, writing center assessment, on-line writing instruction and writing assessment.


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