Remote challenges inspire updates for future of SBCC online tutoring

Screengrab+of+the+Cartwright+Learning+Resources+Center+website%2C+where+students+can+find+information+on+how+to+contact+the+department%2C+hours+of+availability%2C+and+how+to+interact+with+tutors+in+real+time+using+the+chat-box+feature.

Jacob Frank

Screengrab of the Cartwright Learning Resources Center website, where students can find information on how to contact the department, hours of availability, and how to interact with tutors in real time using the chat-box feature.

Jacob Frank, News Editor

The challenges City College tutors are facing interacting with students remotely during the pandemic are reshaping the system to make resources both stronger and more accessible in the future.

Since the college closed its doors last March along with the Cartwright Learning Resources Center, tutors and students have been adapting to a newer hybrid system that will remain even after the pandemic ends.

“It has gotten so much better,” CLRC Supervisor Barb Freeman said. “Even when we go back, I think we will do things in a way that still supports people in the online presence, differently than we did in the past.”

There are approximately 183 total tutors currently working for the college, according to documents provided by Vandana Gavaskar, faculty director of Learning Support Services. 

“This is the largest program I’ve ever run,” she said.

Before the pandemic, 300 tutors with over 580 job assignments would be scattered throughout two-dozen different locations on campus. This includes math tutors, English tutors and any tutor assigned to a specific department or classroom.

The CLRC, however, is the main hub for the writing center and drop-in/general tutors.

Drop-in/general tutors answer any questions about the basics—turning in assignments, navigating through Canvas, and the most frequent request: how to use an add-code. 

Many tutors are students who have been in the same shoes as those looking for assistance.

“I can relate with the people at the other side,” said Diego Bier Valle, a drop-in tutor and economics major at City College.

He’s now in his last semester at City College, but during his first week as an international student from Honduras, he was totally lost until he found some guidance.

Now he is one of four drop-in/general tutors working four days a week through the tutoring website. During almost a year of being a tutor, he hasn’t stepped foot in the CLRC.

“It’s harder, of course it’s harder than doing it face-to-face,” he said.

Valle waits for questions to come through the chat-box feature on the website, and if the students need more help, he sends a Zoom link.

He said it’s not uncommon to spend a solid hour with a single student on multiple occasions, and despite the pandemic, tutors are doing their best to provide help.

“Being a tutor, you need to have patience,” he said.

Troubleshooting has been one of the most important challenges for tutors to overcome—working around bad connections and technical difficulties and becoming comfortable with processes that may be new for both tutors and students.

“That I think we have all gotten much better at, and probably students too,” Freeman said.

Although their online services are getting better, they can’t replace the in-person connection completely.

“If I was walking past and somebody needed help with something, or was looking around for a tutor, I could see that,” Freeman said. 

Those in charge at the learning center have a new goal of making their services more accessible and less intimidating. Different City College students have different needs, and a more flexible online presence will cater to a wider range of students, making sure no one is left behind.

“My concern is just that we’re doing everything we can to reach the greatest number of students we can,” Freeman said.

CLRC tutoring hours can be found on the college’s website here.