Log in and learn with online tutoring

Illustration by Blake Fernandez

Online learning is not new, though for many students it has been a struggle to adjust to. It can be hard not to feel stranded with your laptop in a whole new learning environment. Asking parents for help with math homework may have been enough to get by last spring, but there are better ways to navigate the virtual experience this time around. 

NAU has a multitude of programs in place to help students study and learn outside of their classrooms. Now is the time to take advantage of these resources so one can keep their grades afloat without feeling overwhelmed or like there is a lack of hands-on information and they must teach to themselves. 

NAU’s tutoring program is a free resource where students  can get extra help from tutors who are studying a specific subject. According to NAU’s online tutoring website, there are over 100 courses supported by the program. 

One of the program’s student tutors is Senior Jerrika Wade, who tutors in math. Wade said there are tutors available for math, physics, science, English and some philosophy, as well.

“Tutoring appointments are completely free. They are offered through NAU as a student resource and I think a lot of people don’t actually know that it exists,” Wade said. “All of us tutors are students with different backgrounds in whatever subjects we’re teaching. For me, I’m a double major, but one of my majors is math so I tutor most of the math classes.”

Wade said according to her supervisor, in-person tutoring is definitely going to change, with masks, social distancing and hand sanitizer on standby, but online tutoring is not going to be much different. She said that with online tutoring, both parties join the call and conduct a normal tutoring session. Wade said she thinks they are going to receive more traffic this semester because classes have been starting online, but the online tutoring routine will stay mostly the same. 

Another resource NAU has in place to try to help students are the Math Jacks at the Lumberjack Mathematics Center (LMC). Students who have previously taken certain math classes had a required time limit that they had to fill by working in the LMC with the math tutors. In the LMC, student employees known as the Math Jacks would walk around and help students who are studying. However, these math classes now look a lot different for students since NAU switched to online classes in the spring semester and announced that classes will remain online until Aug. 31. 

According to Mary Fulé, the program director for the LMC, the original intention for the Math Jacks was to serve as in-person tutors for students who take classes within the LMC. The four math courses the Math Jacks program is designed to include are MAT 100, 108, 125 and 114. 

Fulé said this coming fall, during specific office hours, Math Jacks will be available online for students to log in to an online chat room or Zoom call. Students do not have to make appointments to participate and can simply enter the room. Fulé said, as of now, there will be no one-on-one appointments between students and Math Jacks. She explained being online has been challenging and some students get uncomfortable interacting online, so there are starting point incentives for students in certain classes to use the chat rooms. 

“It’s a little bit more flexible this year and we’ll have that in addition to having our LMC lab open this fall starting Aug. 12,” Fulé said. “So, we will have space available for students to walk in and get help if they would like it, but they can also participate in these Zoom online sessions.”

Fulé explained even if students are planning on attending classes remotely, uncomfortable being in a space with other students or concerned about their health, they still have access to a quality remote tutoring experience. 

It can be difficult to switch from having in-person interaction to an online learning environment. People like former tutor Leo Crowder have acknowledged that. Crowder is a senior who worked for NAU’s free tutoring program last year helping students with physics and math. 

Crowder said when he would do his online sessions, it was definitely more difficult than being in person and  talking face-to-face, able to write and use whiteboards. Crowder explained that considering the circumstances, the online format still worked out well. 

“I was still able to draw visuals for students who needed to see the problems and you could share images,” Crowder said.  “If people needed help with a specific homework question, they could still share a screenshot of homework they were working on. There was some connection that was lost that made it difficult, but I mean, ultimately, it still ended up working out really well. It just took a little getting used to.”

Crowder said that when taking online classes, the biggest challenge can be time management. He explained that it is easier to be motivated and stay on top of things when you have to physically go to class and turn things in, and that it is hard when you can stay in your apartment or house all day. He said the biggest thing that can help with motivation is devoting specific  amounts of time every day to assignments and work. 

Wade said the digital aspect of online tutoring can really work in students’ favor sometimes. She said it’s a resource that can actually help people, even remotely. 

“I had a student this past spring who I helped tutor consistently and he was in Hawaii and I was at my home in Phoenix,” Wade said. “So, we didn’t even have to be on the same campus, we didn’t even have to be in the same state.”

Despite the distance, Wade said online tutoring was a helpful resource for the student she was working with. With the switch to remote instruction, it can be easy for students to fall behind on their coursework, but she explained that online tutoring can really help students get back on track and succeed. 

There are a lot of complications rising as the new semester comes closer, but those accustomed to online tutoring insist that students should not have to feel like they are in it alone. Online sessions with strangers may sound daunting, but learning to connect and being able to teach and learn online is something that everyone will have to adapt to together.