“My students can’t write!” shouts my colleague. “I’m going to send all my worst writers to the Learning Center so your tutors can fix their essays.”
There are so many problems with this statement that I am nonplussed. When I explain that we are not a proofreading, editing, or homework completion service, he looks at me askance and asks, “If you don’t proofread their papers in the Learning Center, what do you do?”
We empower students.
We believe our students can write and can solve math problems and can understand organic chemistry. In fact, many of them do before they walk through the door. The Learning Center is not usually a last resort for struggling students or “the worst writers” but a resource for all students, including “A” students who want to refine their understanding of oxidative cleavage reactions or hone their already impressive research papers on the epigenetic regulation of stem cells. In “The Idea of a Writing Center,” Stephen North articulated the goal of writing centers clearly: “[O]ur job is to produce better writers, not better writing.” Of course, the Learning Center offers free tutoring in many other subjects besides writing, but North’s now iconic quotation informs our overarching philosophy: We foster independent learning so students can succeed on their own.
Our tutors ask more questions than they answer, they facilitate learning instead of unilaterally rectifying errors, and they respect and foster students’ sense of agency.
This is a new take on the old adage about fishing: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” If we were a proofreading or homework completion center, students would walk away with a fish but would not understand as well how to produce polished work in the future. Because we are a Learning Center, we’re much more concerned about teaching students how to fish, so they can master the concepts that would enable them to complete future assignments independently and confidently.
We are proud of our successes in the Learning Center, which you can learn more about here. As always, however, we are also looking for ways to improve. We have many upcoming projects, including Smarthinking, planned for the immediate future. Here is a sampling:
The addition of Smarthinking was not an easy decision to make. Around the state, services like those offered by Smarthinking are praised by students yet lamented by some traditionalists in learning centers. Honestly, I was skeptical at first. Would these non-GCC tutors be qualified, trained correctly, and capable of honoring our tutoring philosophy? Would we lose all of our students to this ultra-convenient online service? Would the service still refer students to other campus resources like the Math Discovery Center or Supplemental Instruction as we always have in the Learning Center? Would we be able to collect our SLO data to determine if the services were comparable to our own?
I’m glad to share that after thorough and careful research, all of my initial concerns were allayed.
The perks are clear: students have online, on-demand access to highly qualified tutors (i.e. 90% of tutors at Smarthinking hold graduate degrees in the subjects they tutor) at times of day when campus services are not available. Most importantly, the tutors are trained in accordance with nationally recognized standards set forth by the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA) and the National Tutoring Association (NTA).
Also, the Learning Center will include information on the Smarthinking landing page that directs students to all appropriate campus resources. Such notices may not even be necessary; according to my colleagues around the state, access to Smarthinking has only increased attendance in their learning centers. Moreover, students will complete the same brief surveys our in-house students complete after each tutoring session. We use these surveys, along with our tutor logs, to assess our student learning outcomes and make changes as needed.
We will pilot Smarthinking at the start of the new year, and students can start accessing the service on January 7, 2015. The actual portal on our website is still being refined, but I will soon email the entire GCC community to explain how to access the service.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.