In Fall 2018, I designed the following training materials for synchronous online consulting, while working as the Coordinator for Technology and Accessibility at Miami University. I conducted this training in collaboration with graduate assistant directors and veteran online consultants.
Program and Training Overview
In synchronous consultations in this context, students shared their writing through Google Docs and communicated with their consultants in real-time through text-chat in Google Docs or through a video call in Google Hangouts. The consultants were undergraduate and graduate students, and they provided synchronous feedback within 50-minute sessions. Consultants communicated with students through the writing center’s email account.
The consultants being trained for synchronous consulting had prior knowledge of and experience with face-to-face consulting. Synchronous training took place during the first 2-3 weeks of a semester, when the center had low appointment usage and offered limited appointment hours.
By the end of synchronous training, consultants were expected to do the following:
- Navigate our writing center email account to prepare for a synchronous appointment and find resources
- Flexibly and creatively apply multimodal strategies and utilize the technological platform
- Solve technology issues as needed
- Communicate in real-time over text-chat
- Navigate between verbal- and text-based communication
- Respond to graduate-level work from a specific masters program
Synchronous training was organized into 5 Modules in a hybrid design (partially face-to-face and partially online). Consultants completed some modules on their own, attended 1 in-person meeting, and then completed the final module during their regularly scheduled online consulting hours. When consultants completed tasks on their own, they were required by the university to be on-campus and clock in.
At the beginning of training, consultants received an email that directed them to watch than Introduction to Online Training video and then login to the writing center email account. From there, they began working on Module 1.
Module 1 took about 2 hours, and consultants completed the module on their own time. This module focused on introducing consultants to the logistics of synchronous consulting.
Consultants completed the following activities in order:
- Watch Introduction to Online Appointments video.
- Watch Preparing for Synchronous Appointments video.
- Complete Exercise 1: Synchronous Scavenger Hunt. Consultants completed an online form and answered questions based on the videos they had watched. In the form, they were asked to explain how students scheduled synchronous appointments, how to login to the writing center email account, how to find student appointment materials, and where to locate writing center resources.
- Complete Exercise 2: Analysis of Sample Synchronous Appointment. Consultants watched a recording of a mock synchronous consultation. Consultants were then asked to reflect on this example and answer the following questions: What are some similar practices you noticed between synchronous and face-to-face consultations? What are some differences you notice? Are there any practices or strategies you think are unique to synchronous consultations? Based on these examples, what are some practices you think are effective in synchronous consultations, and what practices seem more difficult or less effective?
- Complete Exercise 3: Universal Design. Consultants watched an Introduction to Universal Design video and were introduced to the concepts of Universal Design (UD), the “what, why, how, do” method, and direct language. Consultants reflected on the ways in which they could apply UD and flexibility in their appointments.
If consultants needed an introduction to (or reminder of) the technologies we used, they could watch the optional videos below:
Module 2 took about 1 hour. Consultants-in-training attended a mock consultation with a veteran synchronous consultant: this mock consultation focused only on taking advantage of the technology while providing feedback. The consultants split their time as such:
- First 20 minutes: The veteran acted as the consultant and modeled how to conduct a synchronous appointment.
- Next 20 minutes: Trainee practiced as the consultant.
- Last 10 minutes: Veteran and trainee discussed the session and any concerns/questions at this point.
Module 3 took about 2 hours. Consultants attended an in-person check-in meeting with me and a veteran synchronous consultant. Consultants must have completed Modules 1 and 2 before this meeting.
During this meeting, the consultants and I worked together in Google Docs and completed the following activities:
- Discuss previous activities. Consultants reflected on their experiences with analyzing synchronous sample appointments and with completing Mock 1.
- Self-assess Mock 1. Consultants discussed their synchronous mock consultations with veteran consultants. They reflected on the areas they did well and on 1-3 areas in which they want to improve.
- Discuss the technology agenda. Because synchronous consultations occur completely through technology, we find that there are two agendas: the consultation agenda and the technology agenda. Consultants were introduced to the technology agenda, which can include any of the following: (1) Solving technology issues; (2) Gauging student familiarity with Google Hangouts and Google Docs; (3) Introducing students to the technology (when needed); (4) Preparing students for what to do if they have technology issues in the middle of their session; and (5) Modeling technological tools (when needed). Consultants then watched a sample video of two consultants practicing the technology agenda.
- Find solutions to common technology issues. Consultants were given a list of common technology problems that occur in synchronous consultations. They collaborated to locate the answers in the “help” folder of the writing center email account.
- Practice fixing tech issues. Consultants practiced setting up synchronous appointments (with me or a veteran consultant as their student) and solving the technology issues discussed in the previous activity.
- Discuss graduate-level work from a specific masters program. Consultants learned about a specific masters program with the largest group of students we worked with online. Consultants noted the differences between responding to undergraduate- and graduate-level work.
- Complete Mock 2. Consultants spent 45 minutes in a synchronous consultation, with me or a veteran consultant as their student. Their “student” pretended to be a graduate student, and the consultant practiced providing feedback to a sample graduate-level paper. After 45 minutes, we re-grouped and discussed the feedback they provided.
By Module 4, consultants began working their regular online consulting shifts. They were scheduled to work at the same time as a veteran synchronous consultant, who practiced additional mock consultations with them and observed them during their first 2 real appointments.
In Module 4, the consultant and their assigned veteran synchronous consultant worked together to analyze a sample text-chat session and then practice a mock appointment through text-chat only (Mock 3).
For Module 5, consultants completed the following tasks during their regular online consulting shifts:
- Complete Mock 4. Consultants practiced 1 additional mock appointment, through video or text-chat. The veteran consultant acted as their student and pretended to be a graduate student with a graduate-level paper from a specific masters program.
- Receive 2 Observations. Consultants became available for real synchronous appointments with students and received 2 observations from their veteran consultant before completing synchronous training. During these observations, the veteran consultant sat beside the consultant (but not in view of the student within the video call) and recorded feedback in a Google Sheet, which they discussed after the appointment ended.
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