Focus on Faculty/Staff
Chesapeake College services evolving along with its students

Expanded evening hours, synchronous online tutoring among initiatives

Posted on Wednesday, May 08, 2013


Chesapeake College’s Academic Support Center staff gathers in the center’s science tutoring room. Clockwise, starting at top left. Melina Baer (standing) tutor Jonathan Williams, tutor Angela Walls,tutor Valerie Taylor, receptionist Julia King, Matt Pantusa, student Sam Ijeomah, lead writing tutor Taten Sheridan, lead science tutor Marylu Towey and Jud Riggins (Project Mainstay) and tutor Audrey Roberts. Photo by Marcie Molloy. 

WYE MILLS – Chesapeake College’s students are evolving. Melina Baer believes the college’s support services need to change right along with their students.

Baer, in her second year as the college’s director of academic support, is leading an effort to adapt the Academic Support Center’s hours and offerings to changing student needs. That means everything from synchronous online tutoring as late as midnight, to increased tutoring in courses with low success rates, to an emphasis on using support services to create more independent students.

"We have to identify our students’ support needs and then find ways to meet those needs," said Baer, whose staff provided approximately 2,000 tutoring sessions during the Fall 2012 semester. The center also served approximately 850 students in Fall 2012 through embedded tutoring, where a tutor actually sits in on a class and then provides in-class and out-of-class tutoring based on student needs.

Baer came to Chesapeake in 2011 after serving as director of the Writing Center, Writing Across the Curriculum, and Developmental Studies at Jackson State Community College in Tennessee. She said one of her first tasks upon arriving at Chesapeake was to determine when – and how – students wanted access to academic support and redirecting resources to meet those desires.

"We found not that many students wanted help really early in the morning and we had almost no students here on Fridays," said Baer, who was able to offer more late-night hours by closing the Academic Support Center on Fridays.

A more fundamental change was revamping online tutoring to better reflect student study habits.

"Previously, a student might email a paper in to an online tutor on Saturday night and not get a response until Monday morning," said Baer. "Now we do synchronous online tutoring that’s open three nights a week until midnight. Many online instructors require assignments to be turned in by midnight each Sunday, so we added 7-to-midnight online tutoring on Sundays."

Surprisingly, Baer said it wasn’t hard finding tutors to fill the late-night online time slots.

"We have tutors who like to stay up late, too," said Baer. "The tutor who works those late-night hours – I didn’t really have to convince her."

In addition to shifting hours and delivery methods, Baer said the center’s philosophy has transitioned to providing students with the tools to become better students.

"I think our job is to make ourselves obsolete one student at a time," remarked Baer.

"Everybody’s goal is to make students more independent," added Peggy Robinson, who tutors students in math.

"We want to help students develop the tools they need to succeed on their own," said Taten Sheridan, the center’s lead tutor in writing. Baer said this semester’s science study sessions are an example of that philosophy in action.

"In the beginning of the semester, Marylu (Towey, Chesapeake’s lead science tutor) was leading the study sessions," said Baer. "Now, the students are leading the sessions. Some of them come here when they’re not scheduled to be here for tutoring to study together. That, for me, is the ideal situation. We want to be teaching them how to study and make use of the resources available to them so they don’t need us."

In keeping with that philosophy, Baer said her staff is promoting "more engagement between students and tutors." While Baer said previously a tutor might simply edit a student’s writing assignment to help correct its deficiencies, that responsibility is being shifted to the student with tutoring guidance through the process.

"It’s okay to let a paper out of here that’s not perfect," said Baer. "The paper has to reflect what the student can do, not what the tutor can do."

Matt Pantusa, who tutors in math, said the center staff also encourages students who are succeeding academically to take advantage of available services.

"Students don’t have to be struggling academically to come see us," said Pantusa, who said students can benefit simply from more in-depth discussions of ideas and philosophies raised in class. "Higher-level students are now taking advantage of what’s available here."

Students who have used tutoring services are among the center’s biggest fans.

"When I first came to college I hadn’t been in a math class in 30 years," said Easton resident Jennifer Pring. "In my house, math was a traumatic experience. To have a tutor like Matt (Pantusa) who has a sense of humor about it makes it a lot easier for me."

Pring said students shouldn’t hesitate to use the college’s support services.

"You’re actually going to feel empowered and smart," said Pring.

Pring also praised Project Mainstay, a federally funded program designed to help students stay in school, graduate, and transfer to four-year institutions, which is housed within Academic Support.

"When I signed up for Project Mainstay, [director] Marian Herb told me to utilize all the services the college offers," said Pring, adding that Herb’s advice was right on target.

A key center goal that is close to fulfillment is upgrading of the center’s College Reading and Learning Association accreditation to Level 3, which is the highest certification level possible. The staff is currently going through the required training and Baer expects the center to qualify for the highest-level certification for the start of the fall semester.

Baer said further enhancements of Chesapeake’s online tutoring capacity remains one of her major goals.

"I don’t think we’re doing enough to support students who attend entirely online," said Baer, whose staff are investigating web cams and screen-sharing capacity that would likely make online math tutoring more effective.

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