As classes have moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic, so have many of the student resources regularly offered on the Knox College campus. Red Room, Knox’s robust network of student tutors, is one of those.
Student Success Coordinator Kelly Wallenfelsz and Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning John Haslem recreated Red Room’s high-quality tutoring sessions remotely, using a variety of communication platforms to craft the most effective experiences as Knox students adapt to taking classes online.
Through a combination of software—Slack, a communication channel to pair students with tutors; GoBoard, a virtual whiteboard; and Google Meet, which allows students to connect face-to-face—students seeking help are connected with tutors directly.
At the helm of the remote tutoring process are Red Room Online captains Caitlin Edelmuth '20 and Farid Freyha '20, who connect tutors and tutees. “As a captain, we facilitate everything,” Freyha said. “Once a tutee messages a channel [on Slack], if a tutor isn't replying in a minute, I will message the tutor and tell the tutee to hold on for a minute, we will get them a tutor, so there’s no problem.”
Freyha, a business major and psychology minor, started at Red Room as a French tutor, went on to record and manage tutoring data, and is now a Red Room captain.
“It’s like they’re walking into Seymour and somebody’s there to say, ‘Hi,’” said Wallenfelsz of the Red Room captains. “I wanted to keep that personal thing where, if they don’t immediately connect with a tutor, there's somebody there to check in.”
Putting the student experience first, Wallenfelsz explored many communicative pathways that students would be able to access remotely. Maintaining the personal aspect of tutoring was crucial to Red Room Online.
“We understood that [students] were going to be experiencing a lot of stress, a lot of difficulty, a lot of uncertainty,” said Haslem. “And we’d probably be exhausted, fatigued, and easily discouraged if we were to offer a program that was difficult to access or was ultimately not useful to them. And so I think our primary concern, then, was to look at the program through their eyes.”
From the beginning, Haslem said, they set out to build a remote tutoring program “that would be useful, that would be familiar, that would be easy to access.”
Red Room tutors helped Wallenfelsz and Haslem conduct three beta tests of the system, feeling out what remote methods worked best for their tutoring disciplines and communicative styles. Wallenfelsz explained the usefulness of the GoBoard system: Its virtual whiteboard feature automatically saves PDFs of problems or explanations at the end of each tutoring session, so tutees can easily identify their concerns.
Red Room Online uses multiple online platforms to accommodate the tutoring needs of the many academic disciplines represented by Red Room’s tutors. “We told the tutors to use whatever mediums they wanted to use to make sure that they are tutoring properly, based on their comfort level as well as the tutees,’” said Freyha.
Already, Red Room Online has experienced significant student activity, seeing many students attend tutoring sessions and return for multiple tutoring sessions as well.
“There’s certainly no replacement for actual human interaction,” Haslem said, “but we really want the students to have good, useful, familiar experiences, maybe talk to other students as they do on campus, and certainly feel good about coming back themselves and sharing news of the service with other students.”
Knox students can log in to Slack and join Red Room Online.
Pictured at top of page: a screen-capture of a tutoring session on GoBoard describing the process of genetically modifying banana plants.