Category Archives: Online tutoring


Chrissine Cairns, MA, Writing Center Tutor

The Kaplan University Writing Center (now Purdue University Global Writing Center) is a dynamic and inclusive tutoring center staffed by experts in college writing, online writing instruction, and the delivery of personalized and multimodal tutoring services, webinars, and resources for adult students online.  Housed in the Academic Support Center on KU Campus, the Writing Center is accessible to every student taking courses at KU, undergraduate and graduate.  In 2014, the Writing Center celebrated its 10th anniversary, and today the Writing Center continues its mission as a free, academic support service for KU’s diverse online students writing across the curriculum and the globe.

When the Writing Center first opened, it established itself with a website, a Q&A chat, and a paper review service.  At that time, students and tutors communicated only in writing and with printable resources.  Then in 2008, equipped with its first full-time director and staff of professional writing tutors, the center had the potential to experiment with new educational technologies, audio and video tools, and reach more students with more personalized support.

I was one of those original tutors and the founder of the English Language Learner Tutoring and Outreach Program, one of two innovative Writing Center programs developed for students struggling with the basics of writing and standard English in the text-based online learning environment.  Together, the ELL Tutoring and Outreach Program and the Writing Fundamentals Program introduced the following specialized services and resources to the Writing Center’s traditional offerings:

  • Email outreach with a video welcome to the Writing Center,
  • One-on-one tutoring in an audio-enabled, Adobe Connect tutoring room,
  • Interactive writing workshops on college writing, grammar, and plagiarism prevention,
  • Video and written feedback on paper reviews with a 24-hour turnaround time,
  • Video tutorials on college writing and grammar topics, and
  • Faculty resources and referral initiatives.

Nine years later, these services and resources are the cornerstones of Writing Center support with improved access for ELL and Writing Fundamentals students and expanded access to all students.

In 2016, self-referral web forms were added to the Writing Center’s ELL and Writing Fundamentals webpages that connect students with a tutor and personalized video feedback within 24 hours if not immediately.  Time is one thing busy, adult students online do not have to spare, and the chance to help any one student may happen only once and in an instant, so ELL and Writing Fundamentals students no longer have to be referred by an instructor to receive video feedback.  ELL students had the additional obstacle of first having to self-identity as ELL to an instructor to be referred.  Today, every student who submits a paper for review receives personalized video feedback.

Today, not one or two but all 13 Writing Center tutors are trained and experienced to tutor ELL and Writing Fundamentals.  ELL and Writing Fundamentals students do not have to wait for an appointed time to work with one or two specialized tutors.  Over the past several years, all tutoring services, outreach, and resources in the Writing Center have been recreated to be inclusive and more accessible.  They are designed with the experience and expectation that students arrive to the center at various points in their degree or career path and bring with them unique educational backgrounds and diverse cultural and linguistic histories.

Today, with streamlined outreach that connects ELL and Fundamentals students with tutors more quickly and the innovative integration of the original specialty services with the center’s traditionally offerings, the Writing Center has bridged gaps on many students’ paths to learning success.  With all-student access to more tutors, more live tutoring hours, over 500 media-rich writing guides and archived webinars, and new study skills videos, the Writing Center is entering its next phase of growth as a far-reaching, versatile, and inclusive tutoring hub that provides substantive and personalized academic support to all students with the motto, “Every encounter matters.”  Visit the Writing Center by logging into KU Campus, or check out the Writing Center’s public-facing website at today.


The Academic Support Video Series: A Resource Initiative and Collaboration

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Purdue University Global Writing Center

A tutor’s work is highly collaborative.  Tutors collaborate with students by nature, but tutors also collaborate with one another, with academic center specialists, and with faculty to develop and deliver workshops and to create and curate resources: the print and multimedia tutorials available on the university website and via the classroom portal.   Academic support resources benefit students in ways that are at once personal and far-reaching, immediate and long-lasting, and that are germane to learning—how students learn and what they need to be able to learn.


Research shows, for instance, that interactive video resources are especially beneficial for students with “deficient prerequisite knowledge, . . . non-standard learning paths, and multiple entry points into a degree” as these students will commonly need to learn how to read a data sheet, for example, before being able to use one (Nikolic, 2015, p. 1).  Study skills videos specific to online learning are particularly essential to adult, online students.


At the Purdue University Global Writing Center, online students new to academic writing have available a variety of media-rich resources designed for new and developing writers.   However, like most discipline-based tutoring centers, Writing Center resources are contextualized in writing situations.

To meet the need for resources in study skills and student engagement, the tutors of all five centers at the Purdue University Global Academic Support Center did what they do best: collaborate.  In collaboration with the KU School of General Education too, the ASC has produced a new category of video resources that target diverse entry-level competencies such as time management, computer system requirements, college reading strategies, APA formatting basics, and test-taking tips.  The videos are short, interactive, and meant to help students accomplish day-to-day tasks as well as long term goals.  Faculty and tutors can also rely on immediate access to these pertinent resources when assisting students.


You can access the first wave of the new Academic Support Videos on our public-facing Writing Center page:  Please share this page and/or any of the individual video links with your students and colleagues, and keep coming back.  As our cross-center collaborations continue, we’ve expanded the boundaries and reach of our academic support resources, so there’s more to come!


Nikolic, S. (2015). Understanding how students use and appreciate online resources in the teaching laboratory. International Journal of Online Engineering, 11 (4), 8-13.


Motivating Online Students to Achieve Success

By Kyle Harley, Purdue University Global Writing Center Tutor


As I continually see the fantastic work our faculty accomplishes here at the university, I, like many of my colleagues, wonder how we can improve further still. The process of motivating students, particularly in an online setting, proves a challenge at times. I suspect every instructor, on-site or online, would happily agree with that statement. This rarely proves much of a problem, however, as each educator possesses a different skillset to “reach” their students. Some use a more rapport-based approach with students, while others rule with an iron fist to keep students on track and dedicated to punctuality.   I recently came across a student, now one of my favorites to work with, who proved a bit of a challenge for instructors and other tutors alike. These bumps in the road, however, stemmed from the student feeling silenced and misunderstood, both in the classroom and in a tutorial setting. I began to understand the student’s frustration. Instead of suggesting that I do a better job at instructing or anything of the like, the student surprised me with a statement that really made me think differently about how we address students who lack motivation. The more that we spoke at length, the more I began to heed these simple words that we rarely hear from students:  You speak my language.

The biggest issue this particular student faced, indirectly, evolved from feeling lost within the classroom and, therefore, developing a severe lack of confidence. As most any writing instructor will suggest, students who lack confidence tend to make a few more mistakes than a confident writer. That said, the student felt that they were simply not being understood fully. After a bit of prying, the issue, much like many cases similar to this, stemmed from the student not having the confidence to ask their professor or tutor a simple question. The question, in the eyes of the student, seemed far too simple for the course when others seemingly picked up on the material instantly. After some colloquial questioning, the student revealed that they simply felt unmotivated due to their inability to write effectively, particularly with this assignment and the course itself as the pace of the material proved an issue to boot. Tapping into the notion of self-empowerment, not too often spoke of in an online setting, may well be the direction we all need to approach to better propel our students into their desired futures. So where do educators begin? First, why not ask a very simple question?

How comfortable would we be, as a student, if we completely lacked confidence?

In a simple response: not too comfortable. A good number of students, from my experience, on both ends of the spectrum, tend to feel uncomfortable with an assignment at one point in their academic career. Sure, we did as well, but why shy away from exploring the issue further? Taking the few extra minutes, possibly after class or a tutoring session, to explore these queries may well make all the difference in the world. Take the time to sit down with a student, even individually, and listen to their concerns. If the educator can identify the issue of the student, it then we can react and interact to further help students achieve their goals. Speaking of which, why not discuss that issue?

Make their goals your goals.

Why shouldn’t educators focus on the eventual career of the student? If we are here to educate, regardless of the title, our primary concern should be the student. Sure, I am not a nursing major, as many others are not as well, but does that shed our responsibility of identifying what the student wants to accomplish in their lives? Surely this will require more conversation and connectivity with our students, but nothing can help students more than knowing that they have an academic shoulder in respects. Regarding just the one example listed above, I think the case is pretty obvious in that students, amidst the lives they are living, may well need a level head to speak to every now and again. Now is not the time to assume someone else can “fix” the situation; instead, we all can sympathize with our students to comfort them in a way that they feel nurtured, at home, and willing to learn—even if some of them question us the entire way.

Next: Show them “why they are taking this course.”

Every educator, regardless of the subject matter, will likely have heard or read the following question:  Why am I learning this?  When students pose this question, ask them! Why ARE they here learning this? So many times I see students enter a tutoring room asking why they need to know A, B, and C, so why not explore the issue further with the student? Five minutes of our time can make all the difference in the world. Students respond very well to figures of authority, regardless of our style in terms of teaching. Even in a classroom setting, I still find it pertinent to take notice of every student’s name, concern, and desire regarding their academic desires. Simple dialogue, such as staying after class or a workshop, for any student, really does extend that caring element. We can all do a bit more to make our students feel comfortable in any situation—in the classroom or in tutoring. Still, how do we inspire confidence? Simple: How did you get to the place that you are in today?

By believing in yourself! Confidence requires a bit of a nudge.

We all have mentors, even harkening back to when we were in our students’ position, but how many of us take on that “ambassador” role for the university? Many, if not all of our faculty, can easily occupy this role with little worry, but even in a class of 30+, we must retain that role and make sure that each and every student feels valued. Speaking individually with students can make all the difference in the world, particularly when they have questions. The key here is to make sure that all students find enough comfort in a scholastic setting to voice these questions effectively. Even by simply staying a few minutes later just to ask if any student needs further clarification could be the turning point for a shy student to open up a bit.

It should be our top priority as educators to see to it that our students feel valued, comfortable, and confident in each academic scenario. The separation via the online medium can provide a few unexpected challenges along the way, particularly for these nervous students, but it should then be our responsibility to seek out these students and adhere to their needs. Where would we all be if someone did not take a bit of a extra time to help us, as well?



Meet the Kaplan University Business Center Tutors

Compiled by Lisa Gerardy, MA, Writing Center Specialist

Last month, we began publishing tutor interviews so that our readers could get to know the people who make the Academic Support Center a great student resource.  This week, we will meet some Business Center tutors.  Business Center tutors meet with students for live tutoring sessions via Adobe Connect.  Their areas of expertise include Finance, Economics, and Accounting, among others.  So, without further delay, here are some of the folks who work with Kaplan’s Business students.




David Levenstam

How long have you been tutoring?

Eleven years total

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I started tutoring my best friend in third grade math, and I tutored him in math through our  senior year of high school.  Then, I continued to assist him for two semesters in college accounting. In high school in Key Club I also tutored disadvantaged children in math. So, I’ve pretty much always been a tutor. I love the one- on- one interactions with students, and I love seeing the light bulb turn on over their heads when they catch on. 🙂




 Kristen Swisher

How long have you been tutoring?

Two  years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I enjoy helping students realize that they can understand the work with further explanation. My favorite thing about tutoring is that once a student has clarification of the concepts, the understanding of the assignment “just clicks.”




 Laurie Hopkins

How long have you been tutoring?

Five years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

You never know what the students are going to ask about. It helps keep your mind sharp.




Charlie Blank

How long have you been tutoring?

One year

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I love helping people, particularly when I can use my 10 years of Kaplan teaching experience to do so.




Monica Hubler

How long have you been tutoring?

Two years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I enjoy helping students understand accounting concepts.




Sharon Brown

How long have you been tutoring?

Two years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I tutor because it is important for accounting students to have a place to go to get help. In accounting there are formulas as well as a lot of terminology that has to be understood in order to learn the material. I want students to learn accounting because it is used in every business.



Tutoring Shaped for Online Student Success

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center

Benefits of Tutoring

The role of tutoring in student success has received renewed attention in higher education in recent years as more colleges and universities offer academic programs online and discover what established online schools such as Kaplan have known for more than a decade: Online support services are integral to a quality education and critical to student success.

Research I’ve conducted on student achievement shows that student services such as tutoring, library, and counseling are proven to “enhance enrollment, decrease attrition, . . . ease students’ adjustment to college, assist in their intellectual and personal growth, and contribute to their academic success” (Dirr as cited in LaPadula, 2003, p. 119). Student satisfaction at online schools has also been correlated to whether or not the students have access to online support services beyond admissions and financial aid.

Since tutoring is known to improve retention of at-risk populations such as developmental learners (Fowler & Boylan, 2010) and non-traditional learners (Goncalves & Trunk, 2014), it just makes sense to offer online tutoring at any school that offers online programs and degrees. Students who choose to study online do so for specific reasons, usually the same reasons that would inhibit them from driving to a campus tutoring center for help with a question.

My KUWC colleagues Molly Starkweather, Kyle Harley, and Amy Sexton and I presented on the role of tutoring in student success at the 2015 General Education Virtual Conference at Kaplan University in June. We shared our research on the benefits of tutoring and showed how online tutors help in ways that might surprise those whose familiarity with academic support comes from their experience with student support services on ground campuses.

An especially important benefit and role of online tutoring is social connection. Even the most competent and high achieving students are prone to the isolation that is characteristic of online education. All students need to feel connected with their learning community in order to be successful. The degree of connectedness varies student to student, of course, but many of the students who come to tutoring have an “Aha!” moment after they’ve had the chance to simply talk to a tutor about what they are working on.

In the paper, “The Role of Tutors as an Integral Part of Online Learning Support,” researchers, McPherson and Nunes (2004) explain that tutors have social, organizational, and technical roles in addition to “pedagogical or intellectual roles.” From McPherson and Nunes’s research, the social roles “involve the creation of friendly and comfortable social environments in which students feel that learning is possible”; the organizational or managerial roles involve “encouraging [students] to be clear, responding to [students], [and] being patient” (p. 4); and our technical roles are especially important because tutoring and indeed learning cannot begin until the student “[becomes] familiar, comfortable, and competent with the . . . systems and software that compose the e-learning environment” (McPherson & Nunes, 2004, p. 4).

Tutoring online is therefore different than tutoring on a ground campus. Online tutors require a different and varied skillset beyond sound pedagogy and subject mastery.

At the Kaplan University Academic Support Center, whether we are tutoring writing, math, science, technology, or business, we begin our one-on-one live tutoring sessions by asking how we can help, and our students tell us. Students aren’t always sure how or even if we can help, but a conversation then begins. Sometimes it begins with helping the student figure out the microphone. Other times it begins by interpreting assignment instructions. Our sessions might also begin by telling a worried student, “It’s okay; I understand.” Meanwhile some students need immediate assistance with an academic strategy or the solution to a problem.

Whatever the problem, it’s never as hard when you have someone to talk through it with you—especially someone who is empathetic and patient while also being able to help you get from point A to point B in an assignment. Online students rely on online tutors to help them achieve their academic goals, and we do help. We have reconceived and reshaped our roles as educators to what our unique, online students need to succeed.


Fowler, P. R. & Boylan, H. R. (2010). Increasing student success and retention: A multidimensional approach. Journal of Developmental Education, 34(2), 2-10.

Goncalves, S. A. & Trunk, D. (2014). Obstacles to success for the nontraditional student in higher education. Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, 19(4), 164-172.

LaPadula, M. (2003). A comprehensive look at online student support services     for distance learners. American Journal of Distance Education, 17(2), 119-128. doi: 10.1207/S15389286AJDE1702_4

McPherson, M. & Nunes, M. B. (2004). The role of tutors as an integral part of     online learning support. Retrieved from contrib/2004/Maggie_MsP.html