Creating a virtual connection

Posted on
Image of woman standing outside in the sunshine with a fence behind her.

Penny Long has been providing writing assistance to College of the Rockies students since 2012. She has worked with students in person in the College’s Writing Lab, as well as online through the Write Away service.

“I am constantly learning from my students,” she said. “They bring me their research on the most interesting topics. For instance, one student sent me an essay that spoke to the differences in learning cultures between India and Canada, which I found fascinating.”

When the College needed to temporarily restrict physical access to its campuses in response to COVID-19 social distancing requirements, Penny began offering her assistance to students through live video chats via Microsoft Teams, in addition to the online Write Away lab.

“Video chatting enables a more nuanced conversation than is possible with the online writing lab,” she said. “If the student I am working with has questions, they can ask me directly through video chat. The Write Away service does not provide this same virtual presence.”

And while she looks forward to meeting with students again in person, she sees some advantages to video chats over face-to-face appointments too.

“I am able to be literally face-to-face with students, whereas in the physical lab, we were typically seated side-by-side and looking at a paper.”

As College of the Rockies students have had to adapt to a new way of completing their learning for the semester, Penny feels that being able to connect directly with College support has been vital.

“I think that during this time of self-isolation, it is very reassuring for students to be able to see a face and hear a voice as they discuss their school work. I still provide written feedback on their essays, but having that human contact is just as important. I am also enjoying the informal conversations and the opportunity to relax and banter with students, when time allows.”

An additional perk of moving her tutoring services to video chat is her ability to reach students who attend classes at regional campuses. Those students who were unable to take advantage of the face-to-face sessions held at the Cranbrook campus can now interact directly with Penny through a live video chat.

Going forward, Penny intends to continue to incorporate the use of video chats, even after more typical business operations resume.

“At College of the Rockies, we always aim to be as inclusive as possible, and therefore, I will be making online chat an option for students, even after I return to physically working at the College,” she said. “This means students whose schedule does not allow for trips into the College, due to work shifts or geographical distance, may still have the advantages that on-campus students enjoy.”

When asked if she had a message for College students, Penny stressed the importance of reaching out at this challenging time.

“My message to all of our students, including our valued international students, would be to make use of online technologies to connect with instructors and other students. Given the constraints of COVID-19, it’s very important to stay connected. Reach out – and try to enjoy this time of reflection.”