Dr. Mike Hoffshire
Director, Student Engagement & Academic Success | Saint Mary’s College of California, Moraga, California
Given the current pandemic, institutions across the United States are quickly shifting gears to offer the delivery of student support services in a virtual environment. Responding to student needs to quickly deliver academic support modules and tutoring has been at the forefront of such conversations, with educators advocating for more funding and support to deliver such initiatives. Recently, many institutions have considered partnering with third party vendors to fill the gap in tutoring services as they see an increased use in students seeking support while attending class and studying from home in a 24/7 virtual environment. However, many professionals are unsure of the questions to ask and steps needed to onboard a third party tutoring vendor. In Spring 2018, I began vetting and onboarding such a platform for our students at Saint Mary’s College of California. The following should provide individuals seeking to implement such a platform with a starting place.
Do Your Research
There are a number of third party online tutoring platforms to consider. As such, it is important for you to conduct research on those that most interest you and your students. After attending conferences and gathering information from peer institutions, we narrowed down our selection to Smarthinking, NetTutor, and TutorMe online platforms. It is also important to consider that your institutional system may already have an online tutoring platform under contract which may limit your ability to utilize other platforms. As a private institution, I was able to extend a wider scope not having that limitation. In guiding our demos with these companies, we asked a series of questions that may be beneficial for you to consider.
- Can you provide us with an overview of your company?
- Are landing pages customizable to our institution?
- Do you offer single sign on?
- What subjects are available for students?
- Several companies offer 24/7, on demand tutoring assistance. Can you explain the log in process for students? Do any of your subjects require advanced scheduling?
- How are “minutes” for tutoring billed?
- How are your tutors trained? Are lessons with students archived?
- Is your software ADA compliant (i.e. screen reading, etc.)
- As the coordinator of the platform, what level of administrative assess do I receive? Do I receive weekly reports of usage?
- What support is available to both myself and students with troubleshooting?
Collaborate with Campus Partners
As with most projects and initiatives on campus, collaboration is key to the success of the platform selected. At St. Mary’s College of California, we included representatives from Information Technology, Student Disability Services, and other tutoring centers across campus (we utilize a decentralized tutoring model), as well as faculty/staff who were likely to interface with the tutoring platform. Utilizing such an approach allowed us to gain campus buy in as well as ensured a quick onboarding and integration of the platform into our existing campus systems.
Integrate with Existing Tutoring Programs/Structures
One of the major concerns I hear about utilizing online tutoring platforms is the fear of outsourcing academic support to third party vendors where institutions have little to no control over the content, training, and delivery of such services. While important to acknowledge, I argue that contracting with a third party vendor should be used as a supplement to the traditional delivery of peer to peer tutoring and supplemental instruction modes of delivery. These programs allow institutions to: better meet the needs of our commuter population, extend hours of operation into evening and early morning hours, increase subject area/test prep availability, and address specific problems/concepts being taught at your institution that may be beyond the scope of current student tutors.
Many of these tutoring platforms allow customizable features that allow institutions to decide what subjects to offer, what times the platform are available for student use, and limiting the amount of hours students can utilize the platform in any given week or month. These factors should assist you and your partners with determining the best manner in which to integrate the platform with existing academic support initiatives.
Additionally, it is important to outreach and provide education to the campus community regarding the new tutoring software. Examples might include notification through official communication channels with stakeholders, training of student leaders, and incorporating training materials in New Student Orientation and First Year experience courses.
It is important to assess the usage of the new tutoring platform. Important units of measurement include assessing which subpopulations of students are utilizing the platform, what hours are students most using the platform, what are the most and least utilized subjects, and if course pass rates rise as a result of interfacing with the platform. In addition to this data collection, our unit also asks students to complete a quick survey at the conclusion of each online tutoring session and at the conclusion of each semester. Qualitative data can also be collected with student users to gain insight into their experience.
Given the nature of this piece, I feel it is important to share with the readers that Saint Mary’s College of California selected TutorMe as their online tutoring platform. This selection was informed through their impeccable customer service and response to meeting the needs of all students seeking tutoring support. Students gravitated towards their easy sign on process, sleek website design and availability of course subjects (over 300) without having to preschedule appointments. As the Director of the unit, I have instant access to an administrative dashboard with real time statistics. Furthermore, we found their tutors to be well trained and knowledgeable about current tutoring pedagogy.
As a result of our partnership, we have seen an increase in students engaging with our tutoring services, particularly those identified in the “murky middle,” expanded the amount of subjects we are able to offer tutoring, and have extended our tutoring hours beyond traditional 8 am – 5 pm hours. If implemented correctly, utilizing an online tutoring platform as a supplement, rather than a replacement, to current tutoring services can yield positive outcomes for students on your respective campus.
- Based on your assessment(s), is there a need to supplement current in person tutoring/support services with a third party vendor? If yes, what steps should you take to implement such a program?
- In what ways can you engage faculty, staff and administration in the development and planning of adopting such a system on your respective campus? How do you assist in educating constituents of the need for such a program?
- When expanding services, how do you consider issues of equity (such as access to technology and various learning modalities) in utilizing such programs on your campus?
Mike Hoffshire, PhD (he/him/his) is the Director of Student Engagement and Academic Success at Saint Mary’s College of California. A queer scholar and practitioner, their research examines the identity development of LGBQ+ students and student success initiatives. Current projects include qualitative studies of faculty advisors of LGBTQ+ organizations at community colleges and the experience of LGBQ+ identified Caribbean heritage students. In addition to researching and writing, they serve as an adjunct faculty member, consultant, and presenter.