I wrote this for Upswing on August 15, 2016 as a guest blogger.
I thought tutoring online would be really different from face-to-face. I worried (to some degree) because I've nearly perfected my tutoring techniques. I've been tutoring for various college centers since 2005. I didn't want to start all over.
Although there are some things I had to get used to---mainly, the technology--- Upswing has made my tutoring online simple and as close to a face-to-face tutoring experience as possible. I have a camera, which means that tutees can always see me. Not only is this helpful for those moments when I explain a concept using my hands, but it gives that personal touch. They see my smiling face. I give them a thumbs-up when they answer my questions correctly or suggest a cool idea!
The whiteboard tools make it feel like I'm tutoring face-to-face. I can point with an arrow, circle, draw, highlight with lots of different colors, etc. I didn't know what I was doing the first time I used the whiteboard, but I just played around for a bit, and the more I used them in tutoring sessions, the more comfortable I felt.
In addition to these features, I've found that I can use the same (or similar) first four questions that I use in my face-to-face sessions. I tutor writing and ESL, so as you read through them, you might want to think how they can be used while tutoring in your discipline. I'm not including the obvious ones: Can you hear me okay? Can you see me? *thumbs-up*
Question 1: What are you working on today?
This question does two things. First, it helps me see how much they know about what they're supposed to do. Second, it subtly says that I won't do the work for them. Tutors don't do that. (Sorry!) But we do answer questions and point you in the right direction!
Question 2: Do you have your assignment instructions handy?
I always invite them to upload the instructions on the whiteboard or download them beforehand. This is because teachers often have special requirements (i.e MLA or APA). I often structure my hierarchy of concerns based on them. (i.e "You must have at least 4 credible sources; no Wikipedia!" etc.)
Question 3: When is your assignment due? And how much have you completed?
This helps me gauge how much help I can give and/or how many times I might be able to meet with the student. This is when I invite them to upload what they have. (Anything is better than nothing!) If they haven't started, and it's due tonight at midnight, I will talk to them, briefly, about time management.
Question 4: What kind of help do you feel like you need from me today?
I always take notes for this one (I do this in my face-to-face sessions, too!) because this is the most important question. One, it helps me see why they wanted tutoring in the first place, and I can ensure that I answer their concern before the end of the session. They'll probably get a bit of other help, too, but I'll answer questions about grammar if that's their biggest concern. Two, this instantly puts the focus on the student. This is their time, and they need to know it. Setting the agenda is super important!
Whether it's online or face-to-face, it's important to have a human connection with those you're tutoring. You don't have to use these exact first four questions, but you should be thinking about the first things you say and ask the tutee. First impressions are everything, so make sure it's a good one!