A pioneering group of six B.C. post-secondary institutions have pooled their resources to help hundreds of students online – extending valuable in-person learning support services. The WriteAway e-tutoring experiment has been so successful the group is looking to expand to other institutions and other subjects.
One year ago these early adopters – College of the Rockies, Douglas College, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Simon Fraser University, and the University of British Columbia – were soon joined by Camosun College in this bold, innovative educational service.
By providing an online tutoring service like WriteAway as a complement to in-person writing and learning centre help, students who are not able to visit campus services, or who prefer online interactions, may remain fully supported in the B.C. post-secondary system.
WriteAway has been built on best practices developed by other successful collaborative online services such as AskAway, the provincial post-secondary library reference service supported by 30 institutions.
Driven by collaboration
The WriteAway service is offered through a platform called eTutoring, developed by the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium (CTDLC) and supported and hosted in B.C. by BCcampus. Once a student has created an eTutoring account, he or she can ask an eQuestion (a quick question about writing or grammar) or upload a draft assignment to the online system for feedback. Papers enter a queue and tutors respond on a first-come, first-served basis, with a goal response turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours.
Participating institutions each contribute tutoring hours to the service. These hours are pooled so tutors can assist students from any of the six institutions. To ensure consistency in tutor feedback, protocols have been developed to guide responses. Protocols and best practices have been guided by CTDLC documentation and continue to be shaped by writing support specialists from participating institutions – another example of the collaborative nature of this unique service.
Making an impact
Throughout the 2013 pilot year, WriteAway was opened to selected groups of students at each of the six institutions in three terms: Spring (February 25 – April 12), Summer (May 27 – August 9) and Fall (September 16 – December 6). During the year, over 1,200 writing assignments received tutor responses and 28 eQuestions were answered.
Student feedback on WriteAway has been overwhelmingly positive. Students who completed post-usage surveys over the 2013 year (106 surveys were received in total) rated the helpfulness of their session 3.66 out of a top score of 4.
During the fall term, 65 students participated in a WriteAway survey. Responses to questions like “How has receiving feedback from a WriteAway tutor made a difference in your writing/coursework?” reveal students have noticed improvement in their academic writing, increased confidence from having a qualified tutor review writing, and appreciate the convenience of an online service.
Nancy Squair, WriteAway institutional coordinator and English instructor at Douglas College, recently spoke about the benefits institutions receive by participating in WriteAway. By offering dual modes of tutoring, institutions are able to offer their students not just more points of access to support, but also the ability to choose a mode of tutoring that will be most effective for their needs. Institutions also benefit by joining a community of practice where professional knowledge is shared between all participants.
The future of online tutoring
WriteAway moved from concept to implementation in 2013, and the original WriteAway Concept Committee became the B.C. eTutoring Concept Committee, an umbrella group formed to guide the development of collaborative online tutoring services within British Columbia’s post-secondary sector. The committee has recently assembled a Math/Statistics Exploratory group, which is investigating how Math and Statistics support could be offered within the B.C. eTutoring framework.
BCcampus, the BC Electronic Library Network, and Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, UBC have thus far provided generous funding support for WriteAway, while participating institutions compensate tutors for their time. The BC eTutoring Concept Committee is planning for the 2014/15 pilot year, with a goal of developing a sustainable funding model for the service.
WriteAway has begun its second pilot year with more institutions interested in joining the collaborative. As the service continues to gain momentum, more students in the province will receive crucial support as they strive to achieve their learning goals.
“I feel more confident when I am submitting an assignment that has been reviewed by someone else. Sometimes, I am unsure whether I am even in the ballpark with an assignment, so having it reviewed helps.” – College of the Rockies Student
“[WriteAway tutors] point out some of my mistakes and it allows me to avoid them next time.”
– Douglas College Student
“WriteAway is a great option for UBC students who are unable to access the UBC Writing Centre’s tutorial service because of time constraints, location, or mobility issues. Our face-to-face service is heavily utilized, and having WriteAway as additional support has been beneficial for many students, especially those who commute to UBC.” – Bryannie Kirk, UBC Writing Centre Program Assistant