By Steven Cooper in News
A year ago there were three different tutoring centers for math. Science tutoring used a classroom because it didn’t have its own room. None of the centers were centrally organized.
The difference between then and now? “It makes sense now,” said Tutoring Services Program Manager Janice Taylor with a laugh.
Over the last year, the Clark College tutoring department has reinvented tutoring services—merging formerly separate centers, increasing desk staff and improving tutor training. The process took a full year, and last fall was the first quarter with all of the changes fully implemented.
Taylor may be biased when she said the department has improved, but students seem to agree. In an online poll conducted by The Independent, 93 percent of the 87 students who said they have used tutoring in the last six months said tutoring was helpful. Of the 59 students who used tutoring more than six months ago, only 85 percent said it was helpful.
Taylor oversees what she calls “day-to-day operations”—scheduling, hiring, budget, training, payroll and occasionally staffing desks. But as part of the tutor reforms, Clark hired Associate Director of Tutoring Korey Marquez in October 2013. Marquez oversees what she calls “the big picture.” She ensures the different centers work cooperatively, oversees program budgets and serves on committees focused on student retention and success. She also oversees pre-college tutoring—a separate program located in the T-Building with primarily volunteer tutors.
The consolidation of different centers was one of the biggest changes, Marquez said. Not only were the three separate math centers combined, but science was also merged with math to form a “STEM Help Center.” According to Marquez, the change benefits all students. For example, before the change, if a student had a math question for a science course, it was unclear where they should go. Now it’s all in the same location. Other changes include co-locating the Language Lab and Writing Center, and creating a dedicated space for accounting and business tutoring in AA4.
Matt Hoyt started tutoring other students while still a Running Start student at Clark. Seven years later and months away from completing a Master’s of Science and Mathematics at Portland State University, Hoyt is still a math tutor at Clark.
He said the changes provide many benefits. “Having one place for students to go when they need help with this subject takes away a lot of confusion,” he said.
However, Hoyt said one side effect is that the centers have a much faster pace. The appointment system isn’t utilized as much as the previous math center, he said. “We do have a lot of appointment tutors, but there’s a lot of drop-in too and it can get quite hectic.” The faster pace can be stressful for newer tutors, but more efficient for students, he said.
In poll responses, several students disagreed that it is efficient and said the fast-paced system decreases the quality of tutoring.
Staffing has also changed. According to Marquez, prior to the reforms, tutors ran several of the centers without help. Now the major centers have desk staff.
“I think one of the biggest things is the level of service in the centers,” Marquez said. “When a student comes in, they are greeted. There is someone there to make sure they get the help that they need, rather than walking into a room, sitting down and waiting for a tutor to notice you.”
Clark also improved the training process for tutors. According to Taylor, training was minimal under the old system.
Now new tutors attend an in-person orientation, work through an online training program and are mentored by experienced tutors.
Both Taylor and Marquez said some people are still confused about how the new tutoring system works. Taylor said for a while there were fliers still posted around campus advertising the old system. Even now some faculty are unaware of the new system and refer students to the wrong buildings.
“I found a student who was sent by someone to tutoring in Foster Hall 222, which is our mailroom,” Marquez said.
Taylor and Marquez also said they work to combat the perception that tutoring is only for students who are struggling. Marquez said, “We really see tutoring as something that students do when they’re being proactive. That’s a way to deepen their learning and have that support that they need.”
Chris Luna, an adjunct English instructor who also works as a tutor, shares this perspective. “As a writer and an editor, I know that all writers need a fresh set of eyes to look at their work before it is ready to be submitted,” he said. “I encourage all of my students to take advantage of the tutoring center. I have noticed that those who use the center as a place to work on their assignments and study with others do better than those who never visit.”
Poll responses indicated some students who haven’t used tutoring are unclear of how it works. One student named Derek said, “I have been trying to attend, but I heard you have to make an appointment. My schedule does not work with that.”
According to Taylor, all centers offer drop-in tutoring. The STEM and Language and Writing centers also offer appointments.
Student Christine Harris said, “I have a really busy schedule so it is difficult to make that sort of thing work. If there was an option for virtual tutoring I would use that.”
According to Marquez, Clark is a member of an eTutoring consortium comprised of colleges in the western United States. Each college provides tutors to tutor online. “We provide 20 hours a week of tutoring as part of the consortium,” Marquez said.
The eTutoring program provides tutoring in several areas including physics, chemistry, biology, math, calculus, statistics, Spanish and accounting. Students can post questions, conduct live chats with tutors and submit papers for feedback.
Some students said there are still problems. Despite not being prompted in the poll, seven of the 104 students who indicated they used tutoring said the centers are understaffed.
Taylor and Marquez said there is better data collection under the new system. They are experimenting with the data to increase the number of tutors where needed.
Despite some problems, the majority of students using tutoring said it provides crucial help to their classes.
One anonymous student said, “I don’t think I would have finished my homework or felt half as good going into my Engineering Midterm on Thursday without it.”