Natalie Perez, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
The global pandemic has radically impacted our lives; it has caused changes in our routines from work to school and changes in our relationships including social and family dynamics, to name a few. For many, the pandemic has been a huge source of global trauma, and this macro-level trauma has also been met with national trauma from murders of Black, Brown, Asian, and minority people to civil unrest, let alone personal stressors like writing essays and trying to work while going to school (Stanaway, 2020). Like many students, writing tutors have not been spared the slew of difficulties and traumas that have resulted since the onset of the pandemic (Perez, 2022). Unsurprisingly, most support services, like writing centers, were forced to transition their work from campus to online delivery formats (Cahill, 2020). For some tutors, this transition was drastic, as they pivoted from in-person, campus environments to online only environments, but, for others, the transition was seemingly less daunting, due to prior online experiences (Perez, 2022).
Nevertheless, macro and micro levels of trauma have permeated our environments, and, in reflecting on this reality, I began to wonder how writing tutors were feeling and what their experiences were like transitioning from campus to exclusively online settings. Although scholarship has contributed to a number of valuable research related to tutors and tutoring, when seeking to learn more about writing tutors’ transition process from campus to online delivery formats, it became apparent that this phenomenon was largely under researched (Ntuli & Gumbo, 2019; Abbot, Graf & Chatfield, 2018). The more I attempted to learn more about this phenomenon through research, the more my curiosity grew. I was eager to learn about writing tutors’ experiences transitioning online and the degree of complexity this pivot had been for tutors. I was also interested to learn about tutors’ experiences online, especially during these unprecedented times. Digging deeper into scholarship regarding educators and the online environment, I found that time and resources were not spared to understand the complexities of instructors transitioning and doing their work online (Shakeeb, 2020; Jonker, März, & Voogt, 2018), but tutors’ experiences pivoting and working online was relatively unknown (de Metz and Bezuidenhout, 2018). Unlike many instructors, writing tutors often juggle between work and school and are a type of middle-person, as they navigate power dynamics and support for students (Spigelman & Grobman, 2005; Harris, 1995). Not only did literature present a gap about whether or not writing tutors and instructors had similar or different experiences transitioning online (Perez, 2022), but another gap was the ways that writing tutors were managing their work, especially given their experiences amidst the trauma-filled world around them.
In addition, with the advent of technology, the ways tutors support students have evolved over the years to include online tutoring. For instance, talking about writing is one of the most common practices of a tutor during writing sessions (Howard & Schendel, 2009). However, the spaces where writing tutors interact with students has changed. Some writing centers offer asynchronous email tutoring, discussion boards, or screencast recordings, where tutors and students are not usually interacting at the same time (Martinez & Olsen, 2015; Boone & Carlson, 2011). Synchronous tutoring has increased in popularity, and this type of tool allows tutors and students to interact often simultaneously (de Metz & Bezuidenhout, 2018). During online synchronous tutoring sessions, tutors and students may either interact verbally, textually, visually, or a mixture of two or more interaction types (Yeh & Lai, 2019). While there are a number of tutoring modalities available, not all writing centers and tutors facilitated online tutoring prior to the pandemic. For instance, Yeh and Lai’s (2019) study found that it was not uncommon for some writing centers to only offer writing tutoring at a campus-based writing center.
That said, scholars in the tutoring field have issued a call for more rigorous empirical research to better distinguish between the assumptions and realities of tutors (Rennar-Potacco, Orellana & Salazar, 2017), and I answered this call by engaging in a study aimed to explore a tutors’ lived experience with the online environment. I was also curious to explore the ways the COVID-19 pandemic might or might not have influenced the lived experiences of writing tutors. I used a qualitative, interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) research design to explore the realities that a tutor experienced while transitioning their work online and working through the global pandemic. My aim was to use IPA to inform the reality of online tutoring as well as the impressions that the online environment had on a writing tutor during the pandemic.
This study had two research questions: 1.) What are the past and present lived experiences of a tutor transitioning to online environments? 2.) How does a tutor make sense of the online environment?
It is imperative to highlight my positionality. Firstly, I am a white female and dedicated caretaker. I have worked as a peer tutor, professional tutor, interim tutor coordinator, and tutoring researcher for the past decade in the United States, where I was born and raised. While I used to consider myself an insider, or emic to the field, since I no longer work in education, I conducted this study as an etic, or outsider of the field. Although an etic, I have a range of experiences in two different fields – for instance, I studied composition and rhetoric during my undergraduate and graduate days, but I also have a doctoral degree in educational technology, and I see the potential for online learning and teaching.
I committed myself to “exploring, describing, interpreting, and situating the means” of how my participant made sense of their own experiences (Smith et al., 2009, p. 40). I also focused on listening intently and offering an empathetic ear to not only seek to empower but also understand and bring voice to the deep challenges, pain, and, at times triumph, that one writing tutor faced during the year of 2021. The following sections include the study’s methodology, findings, and results.
I sought to explore the lived experiences of a tutor providing online writing tutoring, using a qualitative interpretive phenomenal analysis (IPA) study. Qualitative, phenomenological research is a valuable research approach, as it illustrates human experiences using the explanations and stories shared by individuals involved in a particular phenomenon (Donalek, 2004). To understand the lived experiences from the point of view of a participant means it was essential for me to take into account the participant’s own beliefs and feelings (Maxwell, 2013). I asked questions during the pandemic like, “What does it feel like to only be able to tutor online?” This qualitative design allowed me to perceive the study participant as feeling hopeless at times while empowered during other moments in their lived experience. Though limited in scope, this project contributes to the effort to introduce increased empirical research to writing tutoring literature and honor the voice of a tutor by illustrating their lived experiences with the online tutoring (Maxwell, 2013).
IPA is a type of qualitative research design that focuses on understanding how people make sense of their life experiences (Smith et al., 2009). One distinct advantage of using an IPA design for this study was its focus on gaining an understanding of ways events invoke meaning for individuals in particular situations (Ary, Jacobs, Irvine & Walker, 2018). A phenomenology operates under the assumption that there are “multiple realities” and, as such, individuals perceive situations differently (Ary, et al., 2018).
An IPA design incorporates three guiding theoretical principles: phenomenology, hermeneutics, and idiography (Smith, 2011). To ensure a phenomenological-grounded study, an individual should be selected for a study who can richly describe their experiences (Smith et at., 2009). To ensure a study is idiographically-grounded, the researcher must situate participants in their unique contexts to explore their unique experiences (Smith et al., 2009). In this way, an IPA study does not attempt a bring a nomothetic view of knowledge. While a nomothetic perspective, often used in science fields, seeks to generalize broader understandings of the world, an idiographic perspective focuses on gaining a deeper understand of specific human experiences by detailing the individual context and experiences of each individual in an attempt to ensure their unique stories are brought to life (Smith et al., 2009). This meant that rather than making assumptions of all individuals, which has been a common approach in tutoring research, I chose to review a particular case to explore the phenomenon of online tutoring, which previous studies have called for (Abbot et al., 2018; de Metz & Bezuidenhout, 2018). Lastly, an IPA study must be hermentuallically- grounded, in that the researcher must engage in different levels of interpretation (Smith et al., 2009). Typically, data interpretation progresses, as the researcher’s analysis deepens (Smith et al., 2009). Overall, without the phenomenological and idiographic approaches, there would not be anything to interpret; yet, without the hermeneutics, the interpretation of the phenomenon, and uniqueness of it, is lost. Hence, all three philosophical principles are essential to the use of IPA. Another unique aspect of an IPA design is the number of participants. IPA is quintessentially “participant-orientated” (Alase, 2017), and its design quality is more interested in the depth of an individual’s ability to describe and make sense of their experiences (Smith et al., 2009). Consequently, it is not uncommon for an IPA study to contain as little as one participant and as many as twelve (Pietkeiwicz & Smith, 2012). In fact, several notable IPA studies contain an analysis of one participant but illustrate a rich depth of analysis and description of experiences (Smith et al., 2009; Pietkeiwicz & Smith, 2012; Miller, Chan, & Farmer, 2018).
Participant Details and Setting
This study explored the lived experiences of one tutor. The participant was selected based on their depth of experience working as a writing tutor, both in campus and in online settings, within a public university in the United States. The participant self-identified as Japanese and female. She was 28 years old. To protect her confidentiality, details about her state were removed, and the participant was given a pseudonym (Creswell, 2007). In this study, the participant is referred to as Leilani. During the study’s recruiting process, an email was sent out to all writing coordinators at a particular public university within the United States. The email included a survey asking potential candidates to provide details about their tutoring and online tutoring experiences. Leilani willingly completed the survey.
Leilani was selected as a participant for this study because she was the respondent with the most amount of experience tutoring as well as most roles held. Her roles within the writing center included tutor, graduate tutor, assistant administrator, and program coordinator. After completing an extensive semester of training and learning about campus-based tutoring, Leilani began working as an undergraduate tutor in spring of 2013. She tutored students on campus for a semester before beginning to tutor online in fall of 2013. Over the years, Leilani worked at two different writing centers, a campus writing center and an online writing center. Upon graduating, Leilani enrolled in graduate school within the same university and continued to work as a tutor at both centers. Several years later, after completing her Master’s degree, Leilani enrolled in a doctoral program and eventually started working as her campus-based center’s assistant director. In spring of 2020, Leilani accepted a role as the program coordinator for her university’s online writing center, which was not connected to her campus center. However, Leilani continued to maintain her relationship with the campus-based writing center and offered ongoing support. I did not personally know Leilani prior to her engagement in the study.
A demographic survey was used to collect information about the Leilani’s experiences and background before being invited to participate in the study. Once IRB approval was granted, Leilani was asked to sign a consent form prior to engaging in the study. I facilitated two semi-structured interviews with Leilani. One interview was conducted during April of 2021 and the other was during December of 2021. I developed a protocol with interview questions and prompts, processes, ground-rules, and an area to take notes (Creswell, 2007; Miller, Chan, & Farmer, 2018). The creation process for the interview question was guided by the study’s context, nature of IPA research, and literature (Malmqvist et al., 2019). To review the protocol and instrument questions, refer to Appendix A.
I collected data using two semi-structured interviews and audio prompt recordings while using structured and open techniques to allow the participant flexibility when answering the questions (Creswell, 2007; Patton, 2003; Burck, 2005; Ohman, 2005). I structured the interview and prompts to obtain both past and present constructions, such as thoughts, feelings, and emotions (Patton, 2003) as well as future constructions. Technological software was used to collect the interview recording and diary prompt recordings (Creswell, 2007).
Data Analysis Procedures
I transcribed the audio recordings using a technological software system that was set to private-mode to ensure confidentiality. Once the audio files were transcribed, I listened to the raw recording and edited the transcribed text. I then shared the final transcripts with Leilani for review and to confirm that the transcripts were accurate. Once confirmed by Leilani, I engaged in the IPA process, which is a seven-step process outlined by Smith et al. (2009) including: 1.) read and re-read transcript, 2.) conduct initial and exploration noting, 3.) develop emergent themes, 4.) search for connections across emergent themes, 5.) move on to next transcript, 6.) look for patterns across transcripts, and 7.) take interpretations to a deeper level.
I adopted Smith et al.’s (2009) recommendations for coding techniques. After reading and re-reading the transcript, I began step two using descriptive coding. Once I analyzed the entire transcript with descriptive coding, I coded the entire transcript using linguistic coding. This type of coding focused on honing in on unique words, pauses, or interesting statements that might reveal more about Leilani’s experiences. Next, I completed the final coding process for step two using conceptual coding. This type of coding process was used to explore broader concepts that Leilani’s stories revealed. After conducting initial codes, in step two, I moved on to thematic coding in step three. During this step, I reviewed all the codes developed in the analysis and began to synthesize codes into unique categories. After categorizing the codes, I shifted to step four and began to generate themes. Once themes were created, I moved on to step five by placing the first transcript aside, and re-starting the same aforementioned steps with the second transcript. After analyzing both transcripts separately, I moved to step six and looked for patterns across both transcripts. After identifying patterns across both transcripts, I moved to the last step. In step seven, I focused on exploring ways to dive deeper with my analysis. To do so, I engaged in a mixture of literary and conceptual coding to identify the study’s final framework focused on grief, while also illustrating the “supra-themes” and “sub-themes.” Supra-theme and sub-themes are the names of the final coding outputs used in IPA research (Smith et al., 2009).
While the stages in the coding process might seem neatly packaged by moving through the steps in a linear process, in reality, Smith et al. (2009) makes it clear that this process is anything but linear. Coding is almost always iterative and non-linear, but researchers should complete each step at some point in their coding processes (Smith et al., 2009). My analytical process was anything but neat and tidy. In fact, the steps in my analysis were oftentimes quite blurry. True to the nature of IPA, I constantly moved back and forth between all seven steps of analysis (Smith et al., 2009), sometimes skipping from step three to step seven then back to step two. Consistent with Smith et al., (2009), my own analytical process was highly iterative and reflexive, Smith et al. (2009) reinforce that the process can feel “messy,” but necessary to interpret how a participant makes sense of their own experiences.
Unlike other types of qualitative research, the intention of an IPA is to learn and interpret the lived experiences of a research participant by understanding the perspective of the participant and amplifying the individual’s experiences (Alase, 2017). IPA studies should include mechanisms for trustworthiness, member-checking, triangulation, and auditing as well as quality verification, and I used several strategies to ensure study rigor, including bracketing, audit trail and reflexivity, member-checking, piloting, including thick and rich descriptions, disclosing positionality, and describing limitations (Alase, 2017).
This study had several limitations including the purposeful lack of randomness. It also only collected data about a participant from one organization. While this study cannot be generalized, it can still add to the body of qualitative research by exploring the experiences and perceptions of an individual and producing a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of online tutoring (Nawaz, Ali Jariko & Mushtaque, 2017). Another limitation was the participant’s accuracy of descriptions, since this study beckoned a retrospective viewpoint. Since Leilani’s experience had already passed, her ability to recall her experiences might not be entirely accurate (Hycner, 1985). Truthfulness was another limitation, as the participant might not always be truthful for various reasons (Cypress, 2017). Lastly, my influence as a researcher was a possible limitation, as I could have unknowingly influenced Leilani. While I tried mitigating these elements with rigor, they are still important to consider.
The study’s findings are described using a narrative approach to illustrate the common supra and sub-themes identified in the data analysis. It is not uncommon for IPA scholars to use metaphors to capture the experiences of participants in illuminative ways (Smith et al., 2009). Hence, to engage with Leilani in her meaning-making process and accept the hermeneutical task of interpretation, the findings outline Leilani’s story using Kübler-Ross’s (1969) stages of grief.
Kübler-Ross’s (1969) Stages of Grief
The five stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (Kübler-Ross, 1969). While the Kübler-Ross (1969) framework for grief was never designed to package emotions into neatly designated sections or a clear linear progression, the framework can assist in framing and identifying why individuals may feel a certain way. There is no one typical loss, as a person’s grief is uniquely individual and their own (Kübler-Ross, 1969), which makes an IPA study most appropriate to make sense of Leilani’s experiences from an idiographic perspective. Framing the study’s findings through a grief framework was not purposefully employed prior to the analysis, but rather, it was the result of deeper interpretation through the iterative IPA process. In particular, Leilani expressed a range of emotions through her transition online, and Kübler-Ross’s (1969) theory seemed to mirror the ways Leilani described her feelings at different points or stages in time, as she moved through her online journey.
Journeying Through Grief: A Metaphorical Analysis of Findings
During my time with Leilani, I felt her words were laced with authenticity, sincerity, and a genuine willingness to be transparent. She spoke candidly about her experiences, and she told me about her pain and hardship. Through Leilani’s attempts at making sense of her experiences, and my analytical processes, I gained a sense that Leilani was engaged with Kübler-Ross’s (1969) five stages of grief while transitioning her work as an online tutor. The following sections detail Leilani’s lived-experiences with online tutoring in light of Kübler-Ross’s (1969) stages of grief.
Leilani’s story begins with a sense of denial that started before the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, her experiences with the psychological state of denial began back in 2013. At this time, Leilani had just started working as an undergraduate writing tutor. She had completed a “robust” training program that was a semester long, and during that training, she learned about campus-based writing tutoring practices. Leilani was also informed about online tutoring, but her trainer skimmed over online tutoring, since her center did not provide online services. When I asked her what she thought about online tutoring at that point in time, Leilani said, “I could not conceive of tutoring working well online.” In fact, she told me that she could only conceive of “tutoring working well face-to-face.”
Although Leilani initially felt in denial about the possibility of online tutoring, the concept intrigued her. Leilani’s campus had an online tutoring center that was detached from the campus writing center. After a semester of on-campus tutoring, Leilani decided to try out online tutoring.
Before training online, Leilani had to complete online tutor training. During her training period, she was emailed a two-page handout that highlighted online tutoring best practices. The online tutoring program coordinator also scheduled Leilani to shadow two asynchronous online writing tutoring sessions, so she could get a sense of what online tutoring looked like. During this time period, 2013, Leilani’s center mostly provided asynchronous email tutoring. I asked Leilani how she felt about online tutoring before starting her first session as an undergraduate writing tutor. When reflecting on how she felt, Leilani said:
Um, it was a shock. It was a big shock. […]. Um, transitioning was at first very rough. One of the things that I enjoyed in the writing center was I was around other people, like, I was, I had immediate access to other people who were doing the same things. My co-workers were, you know, always in the writing center. I had mentors, meaning there were graduate assistants who I really looked up to as having more knowledge than me […]. So when I went to [the online writing center] that support system wasn’t there.
Leilani cited community and access to her peers as important to her on-campus experiences. When she entered the online tutoring environment, she quickly felt a deep sense of shock, as she realized her community and support network was inaccessible online. Support, for Leilani, meant not only being physically near writing tutors during her working hours, but also consulting with experienced graduate tutors and administrators who provided tutoring strategies and support. Leilani’s campus-center, with its peers and mentors, was more hands-on in supporting Leilani’s development and served as a space to connect and socialize with her peers, whereas Leilani’s online experiences were absent of the social and support dimensions that she valued on campus.
Kübler-Ross’s (1969) framework defines denial as a space that helps individuals to “survive the loss.” During this stage, individuals are in a state of shock and denial (Kübler-Ross, 1969), struggling to make sense of their loss. When Leilani described her campus writing center community, she framed her conversation mostly around her connection with fellow tutors and staff members. While Leilani seemed to enjoy the social aspect of going into the center and talking with her peers, she also talked about the collegial support that she relied on during her sessions, especially as an undergraduate tutor. Online, Leilani lost her support system. She said, “It was a shock, a big shock,” as she pivoted online, indicating that Leilani was dealing with a sense of denial, as she processed that her anchor of support was not available online. Not only the quantity of support, but arguably quality of support, due to experience of the campus staff.
In addition to challenges with a loss of her tutoring support community, Leilani also discussed her experiences with online tutor training. She noted:
The training wasn’t as robust as being [on campus]. The training was like, let’s, here’s some guides to asynchronous tutoring and synchronous tutoring that were one-page guides. […]. We did not have the tutor support system that we did at the [campus] writing center, where we would all gather together once a week and talk about our experiences tutoring for that week, or anything came up, or if anyone had any questions. […]. The training wasn’t as robust, and I couldn’t really rely on my fellow tutors for mentor, mentorship and support like I had done at the [campus] writing center.
Leilani’s comments indicated that she did not have a positive online tutor training experience. In fact, the lack of training she experienced made her feel unprepared to do her work online. While not stated, her story suggests a deeper psychological distress. Even though she had prior experience tutoring for a semester, Leilani seemed to feel like a fish out of water; uncomfortable and unsure of her ability to tutor online. Arguably, Leilani lacked the confidence she had built in her campus center with the help of her support system. This lack of confidence seemed largely influenced by her loss of community, and it reinforced what an important role her campus-based support system played in her experiences as an undergraduate writing tutor.
Overall, Leilani initially viewed the online tutoring environment from several positions of denial. On one hand, she was initially in denial about the possibility of tutoring online. A semester later, she faced a new form of denial regarding the loss of her community. While facing denial, Leilani’s points of reflection mark a clear shift in her psychological orientation. Particularly, Leilani’s realization that she lost her community propelled her towards the next stage in Kübler-Ross’s (1969) model. After processing the reality that she did not feel confident tutoring online and lacked a network of support to rely on, Leilani’s initial shock began to transition into anger.
Leilani’s shift from training to engaging in her first online tutoring session marked a change in her affective orientation, and it was through this experience that she went from shock to anger. After completing online writing tutor training, Leilani told me that she nervously conducted her first online tutoring session. The session was an asynchronous email tutoring session. Leilani was told to review an essay that a student had emailed to the online tutoring center. During her first session, Leilani was expected to ask questions and try to support the student with their writing process. I asked Leilani what she remembered about the feelings she experienced working through her first online session in 2013. While reflecting, Leilani expressed a sense of anger or frustration. In particular, Leilani made a remark that entertained the concept of moving away from the denial stage and entering into the anger stage. She explained:
When I first had, like, my asynchronous tutoring sessions, it was like, oh my god, um, I can’t tell if a student is understanding what I’m saying because they’re not saying much. They’re just saying, ‘okay, okay, okay.’ Um, I really don’t understand sometimes. I don’t understand where they’re going with their paper, and I have a limited amount of time. And, I have to rephrase my questions into a written format. I couldn’t see the students’ faces. I couldn’t hear their voice, to hear, like, if they were really getting it. If they were upset about something, so all those cues were missing. And I was just, I was just lost.
In this story, Leilani told me about all the challenges she faced when trying to communicate with one of her students. She framed her reflection as a comparison of environments. Leilani recalled her campus-based experiences and explained how different her online tutoring experience had been. Her recollection seemed to reflect her lack of confidence. Leilani talked about not being able to understand her client, and her tone and gestures indicated that this first experience was frustrating. She could not deploy her same strategies to read her client’s nonverbal expressions to gain a deeper sense of their thoughts or feelings and the “limited amount of time” was difficult.
Yet, even with her frustration, lack of confidence, and feelings of loss, Leilani did not give up. She chose to move forward and complete her session, despite her discomfort. Kübler-Ross’s (1969) model indicates that anger arises when an individual accepts the reality of their loss. From an interpretative lens, Leilani indicates that she begins to realize and accept her reality. While working through her first online tutoring experience, she begins to quickly identify challenges that were unlike her campus-based experiences. Not only was she working without her support system, but Leilani discovered that asynchronous email tutoring forced her to reflect on the ways she was trying to diagnose her client’s needs and craft her communication in a way that brought value to her client. She learned that tutoring without the support of nonverbal cues was difficult. And, in hindsight, she realized that nonverbal cues were important to the way she had been tutoring, at least up until her first online session.
Interestingly, although Leilani had at least 3-months of tutoring experiences before pivoting online, her first online experiences suggest she still felt like a novice tutor. Leilani was no longer a confident, well-trained tutor, but a beginner who was trying her best to manage new expectations of online tutoring. This was tough for her to accept. Even though Leilani felt frustrated, she was compelled to move forward and do her work well. After feeling loss, Leilani decided to take action.
Temporary Fast Track to Acceptance
After tutoring online for a time, Leilani decided to return to her campus writing center. She explained that while she was totally “bought into the idea of online tutoring,” she was not okay with the isolation she experienced online. After facing denial and then anger, Leilani decided to metaphorically “go back to the past” (Kübler-Ross, 1969) by going back to her campus writing center. Although Leilani continued to work as an online tutor, she chose to simultaneously work on campus over the years until 2020.
From 2013-2020, Leilani’s campus writing center and subsequent community and support networks were still accessible. She discovered that while online tutoring had its benefits, such as a flexible work schedule, it lacked the support and community she craved. To offset the isolation she felt online, Leilani returned to work at her campus-based writing center “on and off” as an undergraduate tutor and graduate tutor from 2016-2017. Then, she transitioned to being the writing center assistant director in 2019 and was there until 2020. Between shifting back and forth between online and her campus-based center, Leilani never lost touch with her campus writing center. She consistently engaged in collaborative and meaningful relationships with staff members and students; this set-up was ideal for Leilani. While working as an online writing tutor, Leilani was able to cope by staying engaged on campus. In this way, Leilani’s experiences suggest that she bypassed the stages of grief and fast-tracked her journey to acceptance. However, this reality did not last long.
Re-Starting the Stages of Grief
Interestingly, Leilani did not talk about her new roles as being big moments for her; rather, they seemed to be almost natural movements, as she progressed in her knowledge and studies and work. Leilani talked less about her movement from a writing tutor to a graduate tutor and then to an assistant director, but rather talked about an important moment during 2020. In particular, at the start of Spring 2020, Leilani accepted a new role as a program coordinator for her online writing center; the same online center she had started at back in 2013. After leaving her campus-based center as an assistant director at the beginning of 2020, Leilani had no idea what would follow later that year.
Several months into her new role as a program coordinator, the COVID-19 pandemic began to disrupt institutions around the country and the world, and it left a lasting impression on Leilani. She shared several stories about the initial campus shut-down and subsequent fall-out. When I asked about the fall-out, Leilani told me that, like in 2013, even though she had left her role at the campus writing center, she still maintained a deep relationship with the campus writing center. However, “the pandemic changed everything,” she remarked. This comment alluded to a state of shock she experienced. Leilani told me that she could not have ever imagined that her campus-based center would shut down. While still processing the reality that her campus center had shut down, Leilani told me that she was asked and agreed to help her campus-based writing center shift online. I asked Leilani how she felt about the pivot online, and she said that it felt “surreal.” Then, she paused for a moment to think about her experiences regarding the rapid shut-down and said:
Seeing their, seeing their, um, [campus] co-workers every day and having that space and suddenly it’s not there. It was a big loss for a lot of us because that was our, you know home.
Leilani went on to explain what “home” meant for her and so many of the tutors and staff at her campus center. It was a space to “keep everyone together.” A space to build community and a place where Leilani felt she belonged. Her experiences revealed that her writing center was more than a space of work, it was a place for living, connecting, and being comfortable. It was home. With the shift online, Leilani faced denial in a new, more inconceivable way. She was psychologically shaken by the loss of her home. Her reflection suggested that once the pandemic began, Leilani yet again lost access to her comfy place, her community, and her support network. Faced with the reality that her center was closed, Leilani had to re-face the stages of grief and re-negotiate this new journey.
The concept of “home” is an interesting difference from Leilani’s initial experiences with her campus-based center. It seems that as she spent more time residing in her campus center, her perceptions of the writing center evolved from a space for work and development, as an undergraduate, into a place of comfort, as an administrator. In this way, Leilani’s new sense of denial was arguably even deeper and more difficult to process compared to her previous experiences negotiating the denial stage. She lost a place rich in meaning and belonging, and it felt unbelievable.
After processing her initial shock, Leilani talked through her experiences with frustration. She had poured so much energy into making her campus center feel connected, but when the pandemic shut-down her center, she observed the impact on her center’s community. Leilani described working diligently to build relationships and create a homely place. She said when the campus center transitioned completely online, she struggled to “keep everyone together,” while also observing “how much it impacted the tutors and how much it impacted our students.” Perhaps, interpretatively speaking, Leilani saw her relationship building work torn down. She went on to note that while online meetings were on option, they were “not the same as being in the center.” Her experiences with online meetings could not replicate the somethingness about community and physical togetherness that her campus center cultivated. Leilani felt the fruits of her labor had decreased with the shift and that was difficult and frustrating.
Leilani faced a number of emotional challenges with her pivot online, as a result of the pandemic, but her work as a tutor seemed less impacted. She talked less about her work-tasks as a tutor and the ways they changed or did not change with her re-transition completely online. However, Leilani did remark that she saw “less students.” In fact, both the traditionally-online center and campus-turned-online writing centers both supported less students with the onset of the pandemic. “We went from something crazy like 80 to 100 appointments a week down to like 20,” said Leilani, as she thought about the impact of the pandemic on the centers.
Re-starting the stages of grief was unexpected for Leilani. As an undergraduate, she seemed to have been able to escape the grief process by reverting back to her past. However, as a new program coordinator and pseudo-assist director to her campus writing center in online transition, her grief process was inevitable. Leilani’s experience’s reveal that she had to yet again face denial and anger. After working through 2020, she eventually moved to bargaining.
Like us all, Leilani wanted to return to pre-pandemic life. I asked her to tell me more about her feelings after working online for a time. She chose to respond by talking about her experiences with the online environment from past to present and the ways her mindset has changed about the online environment. When answering my question, I noticed Leilani’s eyes veered to the side, and she paused for a time before making the following remark:
Um, it was interesting, just you know your questions made me think how much my perspective has changed on the topic since way back in 2013. […]. Because of what we’re going through right now but um yeah there was a big aha moment – I was like, ‘Oh yeah, online writing centers can do everything.’ I guess I was wrong.
Her statement is multifaceted, but reveals a new way of thinking when compared to her past experiences as a new undergraduate online tutor. Her statement suggests the online environment is lacking. She indicates that online writing tutoring cannot do everything. And, for Leilani, this means that the online environment cannot be everything that Leilani wants or needs. The online space cannot maintain her community, relationships, and support that same way her campus environment did. A deeper reading of Leilani’s comments reveals that tutoring is not simply about communicating with students – it has distinct layers, based on Leilani’s experiences. For Leilani, tutoring and the campus-based writing center is about the social and emotional support networks and homely place, and the online environment does not address her needs the same way that the campus environment did.
Kübler-Ross’s (1969) model finds that during the bargaining stage, individuals usually want life to return as it was. Leilani’s words are soaked in a desire to return to her normal. She draws a new realization about the online environment as a program coordinator, that is, the online environment was not all that she thought it was. I dug deeper and asked Leilani to tell me more about what she meant by the online environment not being everything she thought it could be. Leilani told me that she developed “grandiose ideas” about online tutoring as doing everything that a campus-based session could do. It was not until the closure of her campus-based center that she realized the online environment had gaps. This realization indicates that Leilani’s choice to return to her campus-based center as an undergraduate might have been, at least in part, subconsciously driven by her desire for support. It was not until the pandemic that Leilani came to the conscious realization about how impactful the campus support network was to her, and she wanted it back.
In the bargaining stage, individuals might also find fault in themselves (Kübler-Ross, 1969). Leilani’s self-critical statement, “I guess I was wrong” adds a layer of self-deprecation consistent with bargaining experiences. Her final comment expresses a deep chasm between the two tutoring environments that is fueled by network. Interestingly, Leilani seems to indicate that while the practice of tutoring might not have been very different, her experiences connecting to her support network were not the same. Online, Leilani suggests a deep challenge connecting with staff, not with students. Whereas, on campus, Leilani indicates that connecting with staff worked, mostly because she had close proximity to her peers or leaders and could easily interact and observe them in their work. For Leilani, it was as if re-opening her campus-based center would allow her to connect again. She could, yet again, remove herself from the stages of grief.
In the depression stage, individuals will often bargain for a time, before turning their attention to their present situation, which is when grief enters on a deeper level (Kübler-Ross, 1969). Individuals may feel intense sadness, reflection, and feel alone (Kübler-Ross, 1969). Importantly, in the depression stage, individuals might not always experience depression, from a clinical sense; but, they may feel and experience sadness. When I asked Leilani about how she felt about the future of online tutoring, she spoke about her feelings of loss. Leilani said:
I was the assistant director during the whole pandemic thing, during the switch. They [campus writing center] have like 15 to 18 tutors and a lot of them were used to going into the writing center. […]. And it just, uh, I, I, just have a huge question mark in my mind as to where things are going with online writing centers. If this is, you know, after the pandemic settles down, if we’re all going to go back to face to face, what is the field going to look like? […]. Um, I see how much people miss the face-to-face and on-campus interaction. Um just, I guess transitioning, I guess, um, transition the whole experience of me training, it felt surreal. [..]. Um, it was kind of, it was, it felt I guess, I should have been happy, but, at the same time, I felt like it was a loss.
Leilani told me that she had supported her campus center’s training, technology onboarding, and even attempted to integrate community-building elements to help the close-knit community feel more connected from a distance. While she strived to make her beloved campus community work, Leilani made it clear that online was very different than on campus. While she talked about how much the tutors had missed “seeing their co-workers every day,” a deeper interpretation of these comments suggests Leilani was talking about herself. Leilani is embodied in her reflection of the tutors’ loss – she was the tutors. Leilani’s statement, “I see how much people miss face-to-face,” hints at her own internal sense of loss and sadness. Being able to see people face to face was important for Leilani. She missed the physicalness of being with people – being in a place and interacting face to face mattered to her. In this way, Leilani was the one who felt a “big loss.” She was the one who had been displaced because her home was taken away from her. Leilani’s words echoed a deep sense of loss with less of her network of support and more with her place of comfort and access to her social community. Although,these feelings were magnified by the pandemic. For many, life was filled with everyday challenges – billions of people lost their routines, access to spaces and places, and people, which caused unprecedented difficulty for many. These environmental challenges seemed to magnify Leilani’s distress. She wanted to return to the normalcy of life and that included returning to her campus writing center.
Adding to the layer of environmental concern, Leilani also discusses a broader reflection and concern about the field, after the pandemic is over. While she comments on “the field,” the context of this comment seemed rooted in her community. Leilani’s perceptions suggested that she feared her community might be gone forever, which was “surreal” to her. She could only feel sadness, isolation, and loss at the reality that her community might not ever return. These concepts mirrored elements in the depression stage. When loss is fully settled in one’s soul, this reality can be understandably difficult (Kübler-Ross, 1969). Leilani mourned the loss of her community. She could no longer rely on her anchor, and she was faced with accepting the reality that her community was gone and that it might return anytime soon, or it might not return at all.
Leilani’s move to acceptance came slowly, and it required tremendous change and growth to accept that she could not return to the past, at least not anytime soon. After experiencing the stages of grief, an individual might never feel “okay” or “all right,” but they might eventually accept that they must learn to live in a new type of reality (Kübler-Ross, 1969). Acceptance might arise through fragments that eventually lead to larger, more tangible changes such as learning to reorganize roles and re-adjust through new norms (Kübler-Ross, 1969). The more we talked about her experiences with online tutoring and the more Leilani had space to process and reflect, I found that she expressed a sense of acceptance. While talking through her experiences, and reflecting on the reality that she no longer had access to the same type of campus community, Leilani talked about her ability to form a new type of relationship online with the help of synchronous technology. She explained:
Um, at first the online environment felt a little bit cold just because I was used to being in a big room with other tutors and other clients. And, one of the, um, one of the definitions of what makes a writing center is kind of like a comfy homey feel; a lot of writing centers are, are, built on this idea of being not, decidedly non-academic – meaning they’re supposed to resemble a home and not a classroom in appearance. So, there’s sofas, there’s coffee, there’s open spaces with lots of chairs. So, I was missing that homey comfy aspect when I transitioned into a stark white online space [laughs]. Um, with, uh, just a white board, just with a chat box.
Um, so that, that, was interesting, but I have learned that there is warmth in online writing center tutoring and that really comes from the interaction between tutor and client. And, seeing the whiteboard just filled with text and seeing it filled with color, because on, with WC Online, whenever you edit a piece of text, it highlights it in a color that is assigned to you. Um, so I’ve learned that online, the online space even though, at times, it can be isolating. There is more, there is still warmth; it is not the comfy home, it’s not the comfy physical home that I am used to with face-to-face tutoring. But, with my clients, we can make it very colorful; we can make it very alive. We can still have the same productive warm discussions that we would have at a face-to-face center.
Acceptance did not come overnight for Leilani. In fact, it took her time to grieve and mourn the loss of her campus-based writing center, with the onset of the pandemic. She had to learn to reorganize her role and carve out a space to listen to her needs, to move, change, grow, and to eventually evolve as not only an administrator but also a tutor. Leilani talked about her campus-based center as a “comfy” home, and it might always be the space she felt most comfortable. And, while her campus-based writing center might never be fully replaced, with its coffee, open spaces, and easy-access to community, Leilani made it clear that, even in a stark white space, she was able to adjust and begin to enjoy her work and form a new type of community – one with her students.
Leilani valued residing in the same place as her peers, but once her campus center closed, she lost access to face-to-face social interactions on campus. Without her campus place, she found herself changing gears and re-focusing on a consistent point of interaction – her online students. Leilani talked about “warmth” coming from interacting between herself and her students. Collaboratively, Leilani and her students engaged in colorful interactions, discussions, and relationships that were akin to her campus-based experiences. Building relationships with students online seemed to have revitalized Leilani’s affective orientation, leading to her accept online tutoring as a space that could be meaningful and valuable to connect with others while also engaging in writing tutoring support.
Initially, Leilani viewed the online environment as dead; it was sterile, white, and cold. And, perhaps asynchronous tutoring might still be cold. However, she eventually found acceptance, as she engaged in relationship-building with her students during synchronous tutoring sessions. Little by little, Leilani’s mindset changed. Her new relationships seemed to allow her to combat feelings of isolation and sadness.
Leilani’s psychological distress eventually faded out of our conversations. She expressed a re-shifting in her mindset that allowed online tutoring to be reborn. With synchronous technology, the online was no longer a space that was cold and dead, but rather one that was warm and alive. Even though Leilani confessed that she did not believe that the online writing center could entirely replace her campus support network, she did believe that the online writing center worked as an outlet to build meaningful connections with others. While the online environment did not provide her with a comfy, homey type of place, it offered Leilani an outlet to form a type of community and connection point with her students, which she found meaningful. In this way, Leilani would likely never forget her campus center, but accepted her new-found reality and carved a way to function despite her loss.
The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience of a writing tutor transitioning from campus-based to online settings. Additionally, I wanted to learn whether or not the COVID-19 pandemic influenced a writing tutor’s experience working in the online environment. To do so, I listened to the stories and experiences of Leilani, a writing tutor, graduate tutor, and administrator. During our interviews together, Leilani made comments such as, “That’s a good question,” and “Here’s an example of that…” These comments made me feel that she was engaged in a rich sense of reflection and meaning-making. Leilani and I turned our videos on while talking during our in-depth interviews, and Leilani’s use of non-verbal expressions were meaningful, as they helped to illuminate her reflection process. She used hand-gestures throughout our conversations, and, at times, turned her head to the side, took long pauses, or looked away to ponder a question before answering. The following sections offer a discussion of the study’s findings with respect to the research questions and literature. This section ends with implications for practice, future research, and a conclusion.
Research Question 1: The Transition Process as a Journey through the Stages of Grief
Leilani’s past and present experiences with online tutoring were framed in the stages of grief, but bound in an initial discomfort with the practice of online tutoring. The study also found that having access to a support network was a critical and valuable part of the participant’s tutoring experiences. Both past and more recent instances of denial were wrapped up in losing access to one’s campus-based support network. The online environment seemed absent of tutoring development and mentorship as well as the ability to socialize with peer tutors.
The Kübler-Ross’s “Anger” stage was characterized as the frustration felt from experiencing psychological distress, arguably, an absence of confidence and comfortability online, which suggest that even though tutors may be confident in campus-based tutoring, it does not mean that confidence carries over to online tutoring. Perhaps the pandemic magnified the desire to return to a sense of normalcy, as the participant had a strong desire to return to life pre-pandemic, a characteristic of bargaining. Feelings of isolation bottlenecked, and influenced the participant to move into the next stage of the grief cycle, as she reflected on the deep loss she felt from the comfort and interaction of her campus center. Eventually, the participant identified a way to obtain a form of social community through synchronous tutoring with her students. Although, the social community experienced online was not the same as the social community experienced in campus-based settings. In this way, the socialness and physical beingness of the campus environment was special and non-replicable online. This finding reveals that both community and support networks might be more difficult to build and maintain in online environments compared to campus ones.
Research Question 2: The Online Environment as a Dichotomy from Desert to Oasis
The online environment, for Leilani, was initially viewed as a place for work, not for relationship building. When she began tutoring in 2013, Leilani talked about her asynchronous, email tutoring experiences. The lack of synergy and relationship building was a challenge with asynchronous tutoring. However, through the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the closure of her campus-based writing center, Leilani’s perspectives of the online environment changed. While the online tutoring was initially antithetical to her campus-based writing center, synchronous chatting or video or audible tutoring offered a unique counter to one-way asynchronous email tutoring. With collaborative interaction, using online synchronous technology, Leilani gained access to two-way, reciprocal conversations. Although interaction was not always with a peer or administrator, the dyadic interaction largely influenced Leilani’s mindset to accept the online environment. In this way, the online environment changed from a desert to an oasis of sorts. In other words, Leilani was relieved that she was able to interact with people in the midst of the traumatic pandemic days. This finding indicates that synchronous online tutoring can bring a number of benefits to a tutor. And, while it might not ever replicate support networks and the sense of “being” in a campus center, this study demonstrated that synchronous technology can support enriching interactions between a tutor and her students.
Implications for Online Tutoring Scholarship
This study reinforced prior research suggesting the online environment can be “cold” (Harris, 1998) and challenging (Rafoth, 2009). Additionally, it also addressed the concept of collaboration, which is an important element addressed by numerous scholars in the writing center field (e.g., Bruffee, 1984; Harris, 1995; Grimm, 2011; Brown, 2015). While previous scholarship reinforced that students might benefit when their online tutors socialize and collaborate with them (de Metz & Bezuidenhout, 2018), this study found that tutors might also reap benefits, such as meaningful relationship development, when tutors engage in collaborative discussion with their students.
Research related to tutor training suggested that tutors need online preparedness. A survey research study of 28 math tutors, who tutored asynchronously and synchronously, recommended that online tutor training include training on how to use technology and the nuanced communication elements in online tutoring sessions (Johns & Mills, 2020). While the sample size was small and the study focused on online tutoring, this study’s findings reinforce the need for robust tutor training for online tutors. This study found that even though tutors might engage in online tutor training, writing tutors might receive less online-focused tutor training as compared to campus-based tutor training.
Implications for Practice
Based on the study’s findings, several implications for practice were revealed including the need for robust online tutor training that contain authentic learning experiences, increased integrated virtual support, and wellness programs to support tutors with their online transition.
Integrated Virtual Support Community
While asynchronous email tutoring may work for students, it might not always be the right fit for tutors. In fact, a mixture of asynchronous and synchronous tutoring sessions might be an ideal fit for tutors who work remotely. For instance, Leilani struggled to find a community online, and it took synchronous technology and growth to identify a new community, her students. Leilani’s experiences reveal that, at least in her situation, there is a genuine opportunity for her writing center and likely others to combat potential isolationism faced by online tutors. Writing centers might consider ways to build out purposeful virtual support systems for their tutors, such as weekly virtual “teaming” events, meaningful messaging channels for daily connection, purposeful connection meetings, and more (Perez, 2022). Tutors might also have preferences or ideas to support the development and maintenance of virtual support communities, and they should be consulted. Regardless of strategy, online tutors need support and community, and writing centers must build systems to support their online tutors. That said, it is also important to question and further explore whether or not virtual support systems provide the same sense of belongingness and connected-support that campus-based tutors might experience. It is critical to question the extent to which online support systems work or do not work to meet writing tutors professional support needs.
Tutor Wellness Programs
The COVID-19 pandemic has left deep-rooted marks on individuals, landscapes, and communities across the globe. Leilani transparently shared her worries, frustration, pain, and anxiety about her own community and the ways she saw the pandemic potentially influencing it for better or for worse. Not only was Leilani worried about the influence that pandemic might have on the tutoring field, but she also revealed the seemingly endless ramifications the pandemic had on her mental well-being. From both a student and employee perspective, Leilani experienced deep grief at the loss of her campus-based community. From feelings of shock, frustration, isolation, and sadness, among other emotions, Leilani’s experiences suggested the need for wellness support. While institutions may offer counseling or related mental health services, students might not always engage in those services or recognize the need to engage in those services. This presents an opportunity for writing center staff to more proactively connect with mental wellness and support services on campus and potentially build stronger pathways that might make it easier or more readily identifiable for tutors to engage with. One example is for writing centers to invite a campus representative from a wellness center to conduct presentations or even offer services to tutors. Writing center staff might also consider other wellness opportunities such as health and wellness days, where tutors are provided paid days off throughout the semester to focus on taking a break and engaging in mental and/or physical wellness opportunities. There are a number of ways to promote health and wellness, and online tutors might benefit greatly from more direct tutoring wellness programs and services.
Formal Online Tutor Training with Authentic Learning Experiences
Leilani discussed the challenges she faced transitioning online and the ways her tutor training influenced feelings of distress. For instance, she referenced the lack of a robust online tutor training and absence of a support system as being important factors that made her transition online more difficult. There is an opportunity for writing centers to enhance their online tutoring practices and create robust, formal online training. This training should include authentic learning experiences – where tutors are also engaged in a shared community – to aid tutors in gaining comfort and build relationships during online tutoring. One example is to build training that invites tutors to discuss, explore, act, and construct meaningful information embedded in their work online, which could include simulation-based learning, where tutors engage in hands-on sessions where they facilitate an online sessions with an actor (e.g. mock tutoring); or, online facilitation strategies, where tutors experiment with different strategies to tutor (e.g. tutors are given a technical problem that they must solve without being able to observe their student), to name a few (Perez, 2022).
This study included an analysis of one tutor’s meaning-making processes. Even with its small sample size, I believe it has assisted in informing a number of future research opportunities. For one, I recommend conducting research that explores ways to build and maintain a sense of belonging and community for online tutors. Secondly, I recommend conducting design-based research to investigate ways online tutor training might be designed to foster authentic learning experiences for tutors, such as using AI, VR, or other opportunities that might offer new or different ways to facilitate mock learning or simulation-based learning. Thirdly, I recommend further inquiry around integrated wellness support for online tutors. It is unclear how tutors may or may not be cascading mental wellness or burnout concerns to their supervisors. This begs the question: To what extent are writing center staff members engaging in policies or practices that support online tutor wellness? Further research related to the impact of online tutor wellness in the online environment is recommended.
From a phenomenological perspective, I attempted to capture one tutor’s lived experiences with online tutoring. It is important to call out that this study sought to celebrate an idiographic perspective of knowledge. While nomothetic perspectives can be valuable and tend to seek to determine and generalize broader understandings of the world, an idiographic viewpoint illustrates the uniqueness of an individual’s world-views and celebrates the inherent personal value of their experiences. I believe this tutor’s experiences should be recognized and valued, and, at the same time, I acknowledge that this experience might not be generalizable from a statistical perspective. Nevertheless, this tutor’s experiences highlight the need for more research and empirical inquiry related to online tutors.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a fast and forced transition online for institutions, including writing centers, around the world (Kelly et al., 2021). While some writing centers offered online tutoring prior to the pandemic (Neaderhiser & Wolfe, 2009), this study revealed that the pandemic still caused distress, pain, and difficulty for a writing tutor with years of prior online tutoring experience. In fact, the loss of a campus-based community presented a unique phenomenon for one tutor, and it influenced the restart of a tutor’s grief cycle as well as propelled them to re-transition online.
Through this study, I also highlighted challenges that the online environment presented. For instance, this study reinforced inherent challenges embedded in the online environment, such as “coldness” (Harris, 1998; Perez, 2022) and the importance of collaboration between students and tutors in online sessions (de Metz & Bezuidenhout, 2018). Additionally, the study highlighted the value of tutor training, but it also found that there might be discrepancies between the degree of preparedness for campus-based tutors compared to online tutors (Perez, 2022). These findings reveal the need for more empirical studies to give a voice to online tutors, and I issue an urgent call for future research studies related to online writing tutoring to aid tutors, staff, administrators to best navigate and leverage this twenty-first century delivery format.
Overall, the journey transitioning online is complex, and the pandemic likely complicated the transition for more than one tutor. In transitioning and navigating online spaces during the pandemic, writing tutors likely faced psychological distress. This study reinforced the value that mere experience can bring and the ways that engaging in a cycle of grief might influence views and values towards the online environment, especially synchronous tutoring. In this way, one tutor’s unique experiences revealed that the online environment can offer a unique portal that allows tutors to connect, work with, and build meaningful relationships with students in the digital world. It also magnified the potential gulf tutors might have faced or continue to face when working remotely, without the ability to physically meet and connect with campus-based peers and administrative staff members. While online tutoring, especially through synchronous means, might allow tutors to build a meaningful oasis of interaction with their students, this study found that, at least for one tutor, a meaningful network of community and support was not replicable in the online space. In this way, synchronous technology may invite a type of interaction oasis, but it might not entirely produce a place that meets the community desires or needs of tutors, whether undergraduates or administrators.
Abbot, S., Graf, A. J., & Chatfield, B. (2018). Listening to undergraduate peer tutors: Roles, relationships, and challenges. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 30(2), 245-261.
Alase, A. (2017). The interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA): A guide to a good qualitative research approach. International Journal of Education and Literacy Studies,5(2), 9-19. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1149107.pdf.
Ary, D., Jacobs, L. C., Irvine, C. K. S., & Walker, D. (2018). Introduction to research in education. Cengage Learning.
Brown, S. G. (2015). Campus writing centers, student attendance, and change in student writing performance. Aquila. https://aquila.usm.edu/dissertations/119.
Bruffee, K. A. (1984). Peer tutoring: A conceptual background. In Brown University Conference on Peer Tutoring, Providence, RI
Burck. C. (2005). Comparing qualitative research methodologies for systemic research: The use of grounded theory, discourse analysis and narrative analysis. Journal of Family Therapy, 27, 237-262. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6427.2005.00314.x
Boone, J., & Carlson, S. (2011). Paper review revolution: Screencasting feedback for developmental writers. NADE Digest, 5(3), 15-23. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1097602.pdf
Cahill, L. (2020). Webinar: Transitioning your writing center online. A Blog of WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship.
Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among fiveapproaches (2nd ed.). Sage Publications, Inc.
Cypress, B. S. (2017). Rigor or reliability and validity in qualitative research: Perspectives, strategies, reconceptualization, and recommendations. Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing, 36(4), 253-263. https://doi.org/10.1097/DCC0000000000000253
de Metz, N., & Bezuidenhout, A. (2018). An importance–competence analysis of the roles and competencies of e-tutors at an open distance learning. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 34(5). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.3364
Donalek, J. G. (2004). Demystifying nursing research: Phenomenology as a qualitative research method. Urologic Nursing, 24, 516–517.
Finlay, L. (2011). Phenomenology for therapists: Researching the lived world. West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell.
Gallagher, D. & Maxfield, A. (2019). Learning online to tutor online: How we teach writing tutors. In How We Teach Writing Tutors. A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship.
Grimm, N. (2011). “Retheorizing writing center work.” In L. Greenfield & K. Rowan (Eds.), Writing centers and the new racism: A call for sustainable dialogue and change (pp. 75–100). Logan: Utah State University Press.
Harris, M. (1995). Talking in the middle: Why writers need writing tutors. College English, 57(1), 27-42.
Harris, M. (1998). “Using computers to expand the role of writing centers.” In Electronic Communication Across the Curriculum, (Ed. Donna Reiss, Dickie Selfe, & Art Young). National Council of Teachers of English.
Harris, M. (2010) Making our institutional discourse sticky: suggestions for effective rhetoric. The Writing Center Journal, 30(2), 47-71.
Hycner, R. H. (1985). Some guidelines for the phenomenological analysis of interview data.Human studies, 8(3), 279-303.
Howard, S. A., & Schendel, E. (2009). Making the writing center a writing environment. Student Summer Scholars, 30. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/sss/30.
Johns, C., & Mills, M. (2020). Online mathematics tutoring during the COVID-19 pandemic: Recommendations for best practices. PRIMUS, 31(1), 99-117. https://doi.org/10.1080/10511970.2020.1818336
Jonker, H., März, V., & Voogt, J. (2018). Teacher educators’ professional identity under construction: The transition from teaching face-to-face to a blended curriculum. Teaching and Teacher Education, 71, 120-133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2017.12.016
Kelly, B., McCormack, M., Reeves, J., Brooks, D. C., & O’Brien, J. (2021). 2021 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report: Information Security Edition. EDUCAUSE.
Kübler-Ross, E. (1969). Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Southern Illinois University. Retrieved from https://www.siue.edu/counseling/pdf/stages%20of%20grief.pdf
Kübler-Ross, E. (1969). On death and dying. New York: Macmillan.
Malmqvist, J., Hellberg, K., Möllås, G., Rose, R., & Shevlin, M. (2019). Conducting the pilot study: A neglected part of the research process? Methodological findings supporting the importance of piloting in qualitative research studies. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 18. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406919878341
Martinez, D., & Olsen, L. (2015). Online writing labs. In Foundational practices of online writing instruction (pp183-210). Anderson, SC: Parlor Press.
Maxwell, J. A. (2013). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach (applied social research methods) (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Miller, R. M., Chan, C. D., & Farmer, L. B. (2018). Interpretative phenomenological analysis: A contemporary qualitative approach. Counselor Education and Supervision, 57(4), 240-254. https://doi.org/10.1002/ceas.12114
Nawaz, M., Ali Jariko, M., & Mushtaque, T. (2017). Phenomenological research, a reflex account. International Journal of Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods, 5(20), 1-9.
Neaderhiser, S., & Wolfe, J. (2009). Between technological endorsement and resistance: The state of online writing centers. The Writing Center Journal, 29(1), 49-77.
Ntuli, C. H. S., & Gumbo, M. T. (2019). Tutors’ views on the integrated tutor model in open distance learning. Perspectives in Education, 37(2), 53-66.
Ohman, A. (2005, September). Qualitative methodology for rehabilitation research. Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, 37(5), 273-280. https://doi.org/10.1080/16501970510040056
Patton, M. Q. (2003). Qualitative evaluation checklist. Evaluation checklists project, 21, 1-13.
Perez, N. (2022). “Who Am I?”: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of tutors’ lived experiences providing online writing tutoring. Doctoral dissertation, University of Hawai’i. ProQuest.
Pfrenger, W., Blasiman, R. N., & Winter, J. (2017). “At First It was Annoying”: Results from requiring writers in developmental courses to visit the writing center. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal.
Pietkeiwicz, I. & Smith, J.A. (2012). A practical guide to using interpretative phenomenology analysis in qualitative research psychology. Journal of Psychology, 18(2), 361-369.
Rafoth, B. (2009). “Responding online.” ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors (2nd Edition)., (Ed Shanti Bruce & Ben Rafoth). Boynton/Cook, pp. 149-160.
Rafoth, B. (2010). Why visit your campus writing center? Writingspaces, 146.
Rendleman, E., Livingston, J., & Rose, S. (2019). A” Quick-Fire” study on effective frequency thresholds for mandatory writing center visits. CENTER, 23(2), 42.
Rennar-Potacco, D., Orellana, A., & Salazar, A. (2017). Innovations in academic support: Factors influencing student adoption of synchronous videoconferencing for online support in high-risk STEM courses. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 18(3), 1-92.
Shakeeb, S. (2020). Remote Online Teaching (ROT) in response to COVID‑19 pandemic: Exploring instructors’ experience. The Maldives National Journal of Research, 8(1).
Smith, J. A. (2011). Evaluating the contribution of interpretative phenomenological analysis. Health psychology review, 5(1), 9-27. https://doi.org/10.1080/17437199.2010.510659
Smith, J. A., Flowers, P., & Larkin, M. (2009). Interpretative phenomenological analysis: Theory, method, and research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Spigelman, C., & Grobman, L. (2005). On location: Theory and practice in classroom-based writing tutoring. University Press of Colorado.
Stanaway, C. (2020). The stages of grief: Accepting the unacceptable. University of Washington. Retrieved from
Thanaraj, A. (2016) ‘Making a transition: The development of academics’ role and identity in online teaching ‘, Practitioner Research in Higher Education Journal,10(2), pp. 40-53.
Yeh, H. C., & Lai, W. Y. (2019). Speaking progress and meaning negotiation processes in synchronous online tutoring. System, 81, 179-191. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2019.01.001
INTRODUCTION (3-5 minutes)
Thank you for joining me today for the interview for my research project. I’m Natalie Perez, and I am a current Ph.D. student. You can reach out to my advisor and/or the Human Studies program, and that contact information is listed within the consent form that you signed.
The purpose of this research study aims to better understand your perceptions of online tutoring and your reflections on your tutoring role and transition into the online environment.
- There is a low level of risk to you with the design of this interview. Your identity will be kept confidential and will not be linked to your responses. I will not report any information that could potentially make the respondent identifiable. The data collected today will be kept confidential. Only my dissertation advisor will have timed access to the transcript but not the audio-recording.
- You have the right to review the interview transcript or any data collected today. You have the right to withdraw from the study at any time without prejudice. You can also leave or not continue at any time during our interview. You have the right not to answer any of the interview questions if you feel uncomfortable doing so. If you don’t feel comfortable answering a question, please let me know. You can simply say, “I’d rather than not” or “can we move on to the next question,” or in whatever way is most comfortable for you. The only purpose of this interview is to form a part of this research project.
Confirm permission to record the interview session
- As a part of the coursework requirement, I need to audio record our interview. Only the interviewer has access to the audio recordings. Transcripts will be submitted to the course instructor for review but will be destroyed as soon as the project is completed. I will not use any names but will use descriptors in the transcripts
- I will never share information that could enable you to be identified for this interview. The interview data is collected for the coursework only.
- Do you have any questions about the informed consent information?
- Do I have your consent to proceed with the interview?
There are no right or wrong answers. Your perceptions and experiences are the core focus of the interview. Your responses are completely confidential. Our interview should approximately take 45-60 minutes to complete. Please let me know if you need to take a break, pause or stop at any time during our interview.
- Do you have any questions regarding the ground rules that were just mentioned?
- Do you have any questions before we begin?
- I will begin recording the interview now. [click record].
BODY OF THE INTERVIEW/ASKING QUESTIONS (45 minutes)
Transition (4 questions)
We will begin by talking about your experiences with tutoring. When did you begin tutoring in campus- based settings? When did you begin providing online tutoring?
Pre-Online Tutoring: I’d like to take some time to reflect back in time before you began online tutoring and learn more about your thoughts about online tutoring.
- Before you began online tutoring, to what extent did you imagine or not imagine your role would be like as an online tutor?
Starting Online Tutoring: Now, I’d like to learn more about your story transitioning to online tutoring. I’d like you to reflect back on the time that you started online tutoring.
- Could you describe the feelings you experienced before starting your first session? What were your feelings like after getting through your online tutoring session?
- Did anything make it easy or not easy to transition?
- From your perspective, are there more differences or similarities between your campus- based tutoring sessions and your online tutoring sessions?
- Could you provide an example of the differences? or similarities?
Post-Online Tutoring: Now that you have been tutoring online for a time, I’d like to learn more about your perspectives from your experiences from starting to tutor online to your thoughts and experiences now.
- To what extent has online tutoring been what you expected or not expected?
a. To what extent has your role as an online tutor been the same or different than you had expected?
3. Have you fully transitioned online, or are you continuing to transition online?
Potential follow-up questions:
- Can you share an example of this?
- How did you overcome those challenges or conflicts?
Role (5 questions)
Next, I’d like to learn more about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences about tutoring roles.
- What do tutor roles mean to you?
- How would you define your role as a campus-based tutor?
- How would you define your role as an online tutor?
- What do you think about online tutoring and your role?
- Has your role changed or not changed as a result of online environments?
(Asynchronous? Online Synchronous?)
- What is an ideal tutor role?
- Is this ideal role the same or different for traditional and online environments?
- To what extent have you achieved or not achieved that ideal role?
- How do you see the role of a writing tutor in the future?
- How do you imagine the role of an online writing tutor in the future?
Online Environment (3 questions)
Our final few questions focus on the online environment. I’d like to learn more about your thoughts and feelings about tutoring online. My first question is:
- How do you feel about the online environment through your transition online? a. What has made you feel this way?
- What do online tutoring sessions mean to you? a. What made you think this way?
- Is there anything in the online environment that you have learned, are learning, or need to learn for online tutoring?
- How do you feel about this?
WRAP UP (3-5 minutes)
Is there anything else you would like to add or is there anything that I should have asked that I didn’t?
- Thank you so much for your participation today. Please be reassured that I will not report any information that could potentially make you identifiable. What you have shared with me during the interview will remain confidential.
- I may follow up with you to confirm the accuracy of the data I have collected. I would like to ensure that I have not misinterpreted anything said during the interview. Please contact me should you have any questions and or concerns.