How the Academic Success Center Succeeds Amidst Lockdown

How+the+Academic+Success+Center+Succeeds+Amidst+Lockdown

Nicholas Berube, Centurion Staff

In the summer of 2019, the Bucks’ Academic Success Center (ASC), began the testing phase with a new tutoring platform, GoBoard. With original plans to integrate the program into regular tutoring practices at the end of the Spring 2020 semester, the ASC moved to fast-track its launch at the college, following the coronavirus shutdown in mid-March.

“We were in a pretty good spot for this…We are considered a leader in online tutoring,” Director of the Academic Success Center Lauren Humphries said.

“We’ve had online tutoring when more than most schools in the area didn’t,” she added. “We’ve grown it exponentially. In the past few weeks we’ve gotten calls from schools in Wisconsin, Florida, and locally, because we tend to find the tools quickly. We had three different calls with schools in Florida when this started. We already had so much in place, it just had to do with training more tutors with online specific.”

On GoBoard, the ASC’s progressive new resource, tutors can conduct sessions using either a chat box, video conferencing, or audio calling. It also sends students automatic emails with a PDF of their sessions upon completion, as well as video recordings of sessions, if the video feature is enabled. To the surprise of the staff, students’ favorite aspect has been the share screen option.

“[It] comes with some built in references for subjects. For chemistry there’s a bond building tool to work out bonds with atoms and molecular compounds. There’s a lot of handy features- it’s a learning curve, like with anything else,” said Assistant Director Sheridan Goodwill, who oversees mathematics tutoring.

In August, Humphries will have been with the ASC for 12 years, and had been accustomed to about 1,000 out of the approximately 5,000 visitors a semester who seek tutoring, utilizing the online portal. Equipped with Scribblar, their former primary web tutoring tool, the online tutoring service was the third most popular center behind the in-person sessions available on either campus.

Now, and for the foreseeable future, tutoring sessions will be hosted exclusively through technological means.

Understandably, as Goodwill notes, “As we’d get closer to test time, we’d always see an uptick.” Goodwill has been with the ASC for just shy of a year, and reflects, “I’ve come to see bucks like a second home.”

Normally, in-person sessions last 30 minutes, and online appointments go for an hour. Goodwill said this, “eats a little into the visit numbers.” Humphries estimates that the ASC has provided between 700 and 750 sessions since the shutdown in March. The formal data recordings won’t be completed until the end of the week; she analyzes that, “Our ratios may be similar but our numbers are definitely down.”

Goodwill says that the center still experienced an influx of students seeking assistance during testing periods, but overall numbers have dropped, admitting, “Part of it is the format we are doing it on, part of it has to do with students in the healthcare field [who] are working longer hours.”

Humphries acknowledges this as a difficulty when limited to online tutoring, saying, “We have people also who are dealing with the more human facet of the pandemic, who are trying to homeschool their children while trying to take classes themselves, and so many healthcare workers, and grocery store employees. Trying to balance the human need as well as the technological need is a challenge.”

Assistant Director overseeing writing tutoring, Abigail Aldrich, suggests, “I think one thing we would love… make whatever software we use more mobile device friendly. GoBoard has a free mobile app student can use [best] if they have an iPad. If they have a Samsung or an iPhone, there are limitations. But I think all things considered, we’ve transitioned very well. We can’t replicate the services offered in person, but we’ve come very close.”

The main reason for the ASC’s departure from using Scribblar, is due to its dependency on Adobe Flash. Bucks administration is advising all staff to abandon Flash dependent programming, in favor of mobile accessibility. The sacrificed advantage of Scribblar, is its ability to embed right into Canvas, which GoBoard cannot.

Aldrich hopes that students also understand, when conveying lessons through what is often such an impersonal medium, that tutors can’t pick up on body language like they might have been able to in person. Aldrich, who’s been with the ASC since November 2018, knows this transition to e-learning has made students and tutors alike go through a series of adaptations, but is glad that tutors can still work from home.

On the downside of an all-online format, as Goodwill articulates, “Weather happens, people lose power, their laptops die, so [we’re] navigating technical difficulties you don’t always have in person.” Slight derailments like this are inevitable, but to prepare against more complex difficulties, Humphries was relieved that the regularly-scheduled spring break allowed for an online tutoring training grace period.

Another hurdle is the hiring of student tutors, amidst a solely online structure. Every semester, applications and recommendations for students to work as paid tutors at the Academic Success Center are submitted. Goodwill explains that in lieu of new protocol, “We have the interview process, on Zoom for example. We’ve [already] done some training online.” Where normally, tutors choose their preference of working on campus or online, new hires will not be afforded that choice until the campus officially reopens. “We’ll try and model this as close as we can to what we do in person,” Aldrich promises.

Training, which is conducted in three tiers of expertise, is administrated through the College Reading & Learning Association. Each level requires 10 hours of training and 25 hours of tutoring, all of which Humphries is confident can be done online.

In an email message to students on Friday, March 20, College President Stephanie Shanblatt urged students, “Don’t drop your class because you are concerned about how you will do with remote learning. Remember there is virtual tutoring available and your faculty will have creative ways to assist you.” Despite this, Aldrich feels like the number of attendees may be down because students don’t know the center is still available.

“That’s always a challenge,” Humphries expresses, “We partner very closely with faculty. We also partner with a lot of the developmental classes to reach students which may need our help. The week we moved online, on our Facebook and Instagram page, we highlighted a different tool to help students become more familiar with it. I feel like we’re trying but students are dealing with a lot right now, and it’s not as easy to put ourselves in front of them when everyone is dealing with so much.”

According to Aldrich, “On campus people have an hour between classes, but it just doesn’t quite work that way when it’s all online.” She attests that the ASC has worked to compensate for such natural shortcomings by providing video chat on GoBoard, drop-ins for quick questions, and various forms. The Bucks County Community College website tells visitors that, “sessions can be conducted by phone, Skype, Google Hangouts, and more depending on what tool you’re familiar with.”

Further complications come into play when considering the campus actually reopening. Humphries, Goodwill, and Aldrich all attest to the regular sanitization practices expounded by the ASC, even before the pandemic.

“By nature of how the tables are, and the nature of tutoring itself, you’re working with them closely. I can see us stepping up with more cleanings during the day. We’ve always done cleanings at the end of the day with disinfecting wipes. Maybe more spreading out as space will allow us to. We will do what we need to do per the guidelines we need to follow,” Aldrich affirms.

The sentiment is echoed by Humphries. “Right now, tutoring is very much so not a social distancing activity.”

None of the tutoring staff is certain if Bucks County Community College campuses will be open for the fall. As they await data to inform such decisions, they are preparing for any possible outcome.

Currently, while everyone’s still under the umbrella of e-learning, times at the ASC have become more flexible. Moving into the summer, tutors in specific subjects will be available for classes that are being provided at the given time. For other cases, students can fill out a tutor request form online, to ensure they still receive the services needed.

“One of us tends to be working all day. One of us starts working at 7 a.m. and one of us doesn’t stop working until 10 p.m. Me, Sheridan, and Abigail have divided the weekend, so one of us is checking every day,” Humphries said, adding, “The only thing some people don’t know, is that we’re willing to sit down and go test the technology [with them]. We have practice spaces available, so they can feel confident before their sessions.”

Humphries encourages students to check back with the ASC in the fall, as the “Summer tends to be when we make our biggest changes.”

To contact the Academic Success Center, call 215.968.8044, or email [email protected]