Writing Tutors Reflect on their COVID-Motivated Switch to Remote Support

Bates’ shift to remote instruction in March 2020 was a tremendous undertaking for all aspects of campus, the Writing Center included! Peer Educators had to learn an entirely new way of engaging with and supporting their fellow students, as well as adapting their own lives to sudden uncertainty and abrupt changes.  After the Winter Term was completed, I had a conversation with three ARC Peer Educators (Maya Chrobot ‘20, Amanda Becker ‘22 and Jillian Serrano ‘21) debriefing the experience. Read on for highlights from this conversation.

Eric:The transition to a remote campus was an abrupt shift for pretty much everyone; what was your experience with the initial transition to remote tutoring?
Jillian:Working or studying remotely has never been my method of choice so I was stressed out about how this would impact my education and working through the Academic Resource Commons. The initial transition was shaky for me and a few of my peers because of the uncertainty of how many students would seek out tutoring. Fortunately, as the online semester continued many students turned to the ARC for support.
Maya:Once I got home it was a bit difficult for me to think about transitioning my focus back to Bates and academic support. Once I did, it was actually a very helpful part of my settling-in process because I was able to focus on how I was feeling and what others were and apply that to the support and solutions we developed in those first few weeks.
Amanda:While it was definitely stressful as there were many moving pieces to coordinate, I found the initial transition to be rewarding. The whole process went relatively smoothly as a result of hard work and luck. I happened to have spent the fall semester and beginning of the winter term developing and testing synchronous writing tutoring using the WCOnline platform that ended up serving as the main site of ARC’s online work. Having explored and experimented with and gained a significant understanding of the platforms eased the transition and everyone’s commitment and openness to the ever changing conditions of working online made, from my perspective, a successful start to remote tutoring.
Eric:When you think about what’s important to you as a Peer Educator, how well did that transfer to remote support?  What went well?  What was challenging?
Maya:I really value making a connection with other peer educators, and often those moments happen in the physical space of ARC, or in other areas on campus. Transitioning to remote learning removed the physical spaces that help to create connection, which was difficult for me. The positive side to this is that I think that everyone was feeling that to a certain extent, and we all went out of our way to ensure that we still were communicating and checking in on each other.
Amanda:Online tutoring definitely makes it harder to create a space in which tutors and tutees can collaborate and can feel like equals. The barrier of the internet created an impersonal feel and added a level of formality, even when I tried my hardest to combat these issues. Even in a synchronous environment, I found it difficult to feel like the interactions I was having were truly collaborative.
Jillian:As a Peer Educator, I value being able to reach students who are afraid to ask for help. This transitioned well into remote tutoring because I could send emails on a weekly basis to the students enrolled in Organic Chemistry and Ecology and Evolution. This prompted students who would normally avoid entering the ARC to respond back seeking private appointments. It was satisfying to know that students who normally felt uncomfortable could overcome the barrier of asking for help.
Eric:Did you learn or discover anything significant as you provided remote support to other students?
Amanda:As students and as Peer Educators, we need to adjust how we think about remote academic support and online learning in general in order to be successful. We take in-person interactions for granted, but it has become ever clear that they are essential to how we learn and our success. We are prepared to succeed in a face-to-face environment, but we have a lot to learn in order to adapt our skills to maximize online learning.
Jillian:I learned that remote support requires a lot of patience because internet connection is not always the most reliable source. During moments of stress when the software was not working properly, it was reassuring to feel the patience and understanding from the tutees. This removed any extra stress because I was reminded that I was doing the best I could during this transition.
Eric:Based on this experience, what might change in your approach to academic support, or your own overall academic efforts, as a result?
Maya:Moving forward I think I will be more focused on verbal communication, and how it can affect tutoring sessions and general connections. As we are socially distancing, this is the type of communication we rely on, and I think I can be more deliberate with it now and once we resume in-person learning. 
Amanda:The question of ‘how will this translate to an online space?’ will now always be a part of any discussion regarding academic support. Any projects I take on will have two plans: in-person and online. Regarding my own academic efforts I have come to ask myself how can I succeed if this is online? A related and extremely important question, one that is essential to providing academic support and supporting oneself that I want to look into further, is how does one build students’ academic confidence in an online learning environment?
Jillian:I realized that the hours offered in the ARC are not always the most convenient for students. For this reason, I have been encouraged to find a way to provide support for students outside of my regularly scheduled hours. This past semester, our support for organic chemistry was limited to specific hours. Seeing the demand for help in this course, I plan to advocate for expanded support to match the level of difficulty in the course. 
Eric:Is there anything else you’d like to share about the events of the last two months?
Amanda:It was really great to see the ARC student staff and professional staff come together to offer such important resources for the student body. In the final week of school on-campus and the remainder of the semester at home, it felt like everything was out of our hands as students. ARC provided a point of stability for both the students taking advantage of the services and those who worked to launch and maintain ARC Online. It put some control of students’ academic futures back in their hands when they needed it the most.
Jillian:Although transitioning to remote learning and tutoring was a stressful process, I am overjoyed to know that the Academic Resource Commons continued to provide support to the students even during a pandemic. It is great to know that Bates truly cares about the academic success of their students.

Maya Chrobot ‘20, has worked for ARC in a variety of capacities.  She was a PAL Leader for General Chemistry during sophomore and junior years.  During Short Term of her junior year, she took the course Theory and Practice of Writing and Tutoring, earning the title of Bates Writing Fellow.  For her senior year, she became our Student Manager for the Writing Center, facilitating trainings and building systems to ensure that the Writing Center met the needs of Bates students.  She graduates from Bates at the end of this academic year.

Amanda Becker ‘22, also became a Bates Writing Fellow through Theory and Practice of Writing and Tutoring in Spring 2019, and fortuitously developed an interest in remote writing support through that course. In Fall 2019, she worked as a Peer Writing and Speaking Assistant (PWSA) for Professor Montgomery’s FYS and planned a pilot for ARC’s remote writing support as well.  At the start of the Winter ‘20 Term, Amanda put her pilot into action and became the Writing Center’s first Peer Tutor for Online Writing Tutoring. She will be ARC’s Student Manager for FYS PWSAs this coming year.

Jillian Serrano ‘21, worked as a Technical Writing Assistant supporting Cellular and Molecular Biology this past Fall.  For the Winter Term, she continued in that role, supporting Ecology and Evolution, and also took on the newly created role, Technical Writing Assistant for Chemistry.  In this role, she supported our initial efforts to support the lab writing component of Organic Chemistry, with great success.  She will be returning to ARC as a Technical Writing Assistant again this coming year.