About three years ago, staff in the Learning Centre at Cambrian College in Sudbury wanted to set up an online meeting with an off-campus student. Information Technology staff recommended using Microsoft Lync, a platform for online meetings, videoconferencing, instant messaging, and other communication links that was already available at the College. Lync performed very well in a pilot test, both educationally and technically, and its use has now been expanded.
The Learning Centre offers students free tutorial services provided by part-time professors. As the service is very popular, students are limited to one hour a week in the Centre. The introduction of online tutoring using Lync makes additional time slots available, offering hours during the evenings and on Sundays when students can participate from home. This also offers assistance to students, from the comfort of their home, at a time when they might be tackling tricky homework issues. Tutoring is available to all college students in mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, and statistics.
The student reserves an hour of online tutoring time and the tutor sends them the link to be downloaded. Once logged in, they have interactive voice and visual communication. The students are given head sets, use their own, or use the microphone on their home computers to talk with the tutors. The tutors work from the Learning Centre, giving them access to a SMART Board so that the tutorials can be interactive and integrate visuals aids and illustrations.
The tutors write on the SMART Board and the students can also contribute, using a stylus or a mouse. Working with the students, tutors solve problems, discuss issues, and search for information in real time. Many professors who teach science and maths courses at Cambrian store their class slides on this system; tutors are able to access these slide sets and review them with the student.
Online tutoring can also be used for groups, with participants in different locations taking part in group activities or muting their microphones for tutor explanations and demonstrations.
Outcomes and Benefits
The response by users has been very enthusiastic, with more than 90% reporting they enjoy using the system and would use online tutoring again. They appreciate being able to work from home, with full verbal and visual communication.
Janice Clarke, the Chair of General Studies, emphasizes the visual quality of the tutoring, saying, “the online tutoring session provides immediate, interactive, visual teaching and learning”.
A video is available on The Learning Centre website that explains and demonstrates online tutoring – stressing its ease of use and effectiveness.
One out-of-town student needed tutoring help for an accounting course, which is not among the courses normally supported by tutors. However, the Learning Centre also offers peer tutoring; to meet this student’s needs, a peer tutor was shown how to operate the technology and provided effective tutoring sessions.
The staff in the Learning Centre is supportive of the expansion of tutoring for online courses, as it expands both the time and place of the face-to-face service. College management see a particular strength in its capacity to provide tutoring for online students, providing more service to students that attend the college virtually.
Challenges and Enhancements
As there is a large turnover in college registrants every year, there is always somewhat of a slow take-up in the fall. The College is looking at ways of marketing the system more effectively to increase usage.
The need to download the connection can intimidate some potential users and staff at Cambrian is looking for a solution to avoid the downloading issue. The system works very well technologically, but students are still somewhat hesitant to try something new.
The likely expansion of the online tutoring will be to offer support for English. The challenge is the Learning Centre does not provide an editing or proofreading service, and so the online tutoring has to be carefully targeted to work with students on grammatical problems. The proposed approach has the tutor and student jointly examining a draft of the student’s paper, displayed on the SMART Board, discussing solutions to recurrent problems, such as run-on sentences.
For Further Information
Chair, General Studies