The Writing Center continues helping students—from a distance

(This article first appeared at the Express)

After City College transitioned to a completely online learning experience March 16, many of the on-campus tools students have depended on to ensure their personal and academic successes have shifted online as well. The Writing Center, which helps students become more effective writers, has facilitated over 160 online tutoring sessions to students since the campus closed.

Susan Griffin, the faculty coordinator of the Writing Center, has worked with instructional assistants, faculty and tutors to create an experience that mirrors in-person sessions as closely as possible.

“At the time of the appointment, all the student has to do is log into their Los Rios Gmail account, and we initiate a video call with them, like a Google Hangouts video call,” Griffin said. “We can see each other and hear each other and look at the piece of writing at the same time, so it’s synchronous tutoring.”

Tutors at the Writing Center were facilitating online sessions before the campus closed, but Griffin estimated that number was 12 per week. The increase in the volume of online tutoring sessions has created some challenges for students who are unfamiliar with the Google apps that the tutoring sessions rely on. As a result, tutors at the Writing Center, like sociology major Jazzlynn Gomez, have stepped up to help students navigate these tools.

“I was trained really well by the Writing Center staff, so I knew how to do certain things and how to explain it to the student so that we can get through it clearly and fast,” said Gomez.

By taking advantage of Google apps, Griffin said that tutors like Gomez are able to provide a similar level of attentiveness to students without sacrificing the personal element that students are missing from in-person classes and tutoring sessions.

“With all the turmoil going on out there, both because of COVID-19 and because of their classes getting switched to all online when many of them aren’t used to doing online, connecting with a person who they can talk to is helpful for them,” Griffin said.

Gomez, who is in her second semester as a tutor for the Writing Center, has noticed that students participating in online tutoring are very relaxed compared to the in-person sessions. She said that students working at home without other tutoring sessions happening simultaneously helps make online sessions successful.

“Our usual people that come in all the time were [worried] it’s going to be so different. I find that when it’s online, we’re at home, most of the time we’re both in bed or in pajamas—super comfortable,” said Gomez. “You’re in your own home, so you’re already in a comfortable space. You’re still seeing me, and I’m still seeing you.”

Griffin said that she and her team are working to make online tutoring through the Writing Center even better. They’re trying to make the process of scheduling tutoring appointments—currently done only through an online form or email—much more accessible. They’d like online chat and other options to mirror the personal element of speaking to someone to make an appointment, which, according to Griffin, will help tutors better understand students’ needs.

As the campus remains closed, Griffin hopes that more students will take advantage of the online services that the Writing Center offers. Students can continue to get guidance with writing for any City College course, scholarship application or personal statements during the COVID-19 mandatory quarantine.

“Writing, in the best of circumstances, is hard work,” Griffin said. “We’re not in the best of circumstances now with everyone having to switch over to online. We understand that it’s hard for students, and we want to do everything we can to make it easier.”

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