Toys and Transformations in Online Tutoring

The author, as illustrated by cartoonist Abby Howard.

The author, as illustrated by cartoonist Abby Howard.

By Mike A. Shapiro, @mikeshapiro.

Mike is a graduate student at UW–Madison, where he is completing a Ph.D. on the modern novel and where he is a TA in the Writing Center.

At last week’s Midwest Writing Centers Association conference, we asked the folks who attended our panel whether their centers were tutoring online. Many of them said they were toying with the idea.

What a layered metaphor that is! Compared to the careful pedagogy, scholarship, and hard work of teaching students, one by one, how to become more effective writers, online instruction can feel like a kind of toy.

Yet the superficial unseriousness and gadgetry of online instruction have given us permission to experiment online in a way we might not risk experimenting in our physical centers, and throughout the MWCA conference I heard dedicated, serious scholars speak with delight and energy about the ways they have been toying with online tutoring to reach new students and to improve the quality of all their tutoring. The improvisations of our work online force us to invite the trickster not to our table, as Geller et al. have it, but to our screens. Continue reading