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How Free Academic Tutoring Makes Online Learning More Manageable - Student Awards
free academic tutoring

How Free Academic Tutoring Makes Online Learning More Manageable

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We’ve all seen them, the Zoom memes making rounds across social media as students across the globe find themselves adjusting to video conferencing calls for their online classes. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the shift to online learning hasn’t been easy. Students now need to deal with their coursework more independently and for many parents, taking on the role of a teacher at home is proving to be quite the challenge. So how can free academic tutoring help with this?

Why academic tutoring matters

We all need a little help sometimes. Whether it’s a French passage that isn’t making sense or a chemistry concept that just won’t stick, tutoring has been shown time and time again to be an effective strategy to improve academic performance, especially among students with disabilities. Tutoring provides teaching that can adapt to students of all kinds, from those who are looking for support to keep up in class to those who are looking to challenge themselves. After all, in a classroom of dozens of students, it’s near impossible for a single teacher to adjust for each and every student’s learning abilities. Tutoring offers the perfect opportunity for students to engage in a personalized learning experience that encourages them to take control of their learning pace. 

Getting support from a tutor can also benefit in ways that go beyond homework help. It shouldn’t be surprising that evidence says receiving one-on-one attention in the form of personalized learning can not only improve a student’s grades but also boost efficiency and confidence in a subject. On top of that, engaging with a tutor opens up the floor to ask questions that can be intimidating to ask in a classroom full of peers, creating a positive and safe space free of judgement for self-improvement. It should also go without saying that tutors are there to help where teachers can’t, which means that no matter what your goals are, tutors can be key players in getting you to reach them.

Free academic tutoring during the COVID-19 lockdown

This pandemic has put a lot of unprecedented stress on students continuing with their studies, especially given the inaccessibility of support and resources usually in place. Libraries and in-person tutoring programs have temporarily closed down and teachers are now finding themselves in a tricky situation of needing to deliver course content and provide academic support for their students solely through electronic devices.

Although some tutoring organizations now offer their services online, the loss of jobs due to the pandemic has become a significant barrier in being able to afford those services. Even for the students whose parents or guardians continue to work in essential services, they also face their own challenges in needing to independently manage their studies without extra support from home. Of course, these challenges also add to the stress of being in social isolation itself. Thankfully, the Parsec Youth Network’s free online tutoring program is here to help.

What’s the Parsec Youth Network?

parsec youth network
From left to right: Anna Tran (Co-Founder, Director of Operations), Ayesha Hassan (Director of Research), Mindy Lu (Program Director).

I’m Anna Tran, Co-Founder and Director of Operations for The Parsec Youth Network (PYN). We’re a student-led organization connecting students to the resources they need. As a volunteer organization, we’ve provided free academic advising services, in addition to career- and academic-related opportunities for youth, on our platform since 2015. In March 2020, we launched the PYN tutoring program, a free academic tutoring service online, open to all Canadian students from grades 1 to 12.

How did the Parsec Youth Network free tutoring program come about?

In my realization that this pandemic was going to force students to make the difficult transition to online learning, an idea sparked in my head: what if I created a free online tutoring program to help? Within a night, I had 2 Google forms made (one for students to sign up, one for volunteers to apply as tutors) and launched them under the PYN. A few Facebook posts and shares later, I closed my laptop and crossed my fingers, hoping to find at least 10 people who might be interested in the program. 

The next morning took me by complete surprise. In less than 24 hours, over 50 volunteers applied to be tutors. We’re now 4 weeks into the program as I’m writing, and I’m grateful to report that we have recruited over 180 volunteer educators from all across Canada and around the world. Together with my incredible executive team members, Mindy Lu (Program Director) and Ayesha Hassan (Director of Research), we spent hours sending hundreds of emails to school boards and principals to spread the word. We’ve since manually matched over 90 students (and counting) across Ontario with suitable tutors from our growing list of volunteers. As undergraduate students at McMaster University ourselves, we understand the challenges that come with the transition to online learning. That’s why we’ve worked tirelessly to turn what started as a small idea into a fully operational program to help the students who need it most.

How does the tutoring program work?

free academic tutoring
Screenshot of me (Anna Tran) during a tutoring session with a student (not pictured) and her parent. Photo used with permission.

Tutoring sessions happen remotely (via Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.), and sign-ups are open to students across Canada. Though, it should be noted that we are mainly based in the Greater Toronto Area. All volunteers provide us with a copy of their Vulnerable Sector Screening or evidence that can verify that they have worked or volunteered with vulnerable persons within the past 12 months.

Then, our team matches tutors with students based on school subject, availability, etc. Tutors are provided with guidelines that they must adhere to, and are introduced to their matched student via an introductory email that includes a tutoring agreement contract for both tutors and their students (or their parents/guardians), where they can then arrange scheduling directly with each other. After their first session, tutors email us so that feedback forms can be provided to both parties to follow up with progress and ensure that everything is running smoothly. Should conflicts arise, students may request to switch to another tutor or end their sessions at any point.

I’m interested! How can I get involved?

If you’re interested in receiving free academic tutoring online, you can sign up here.

If you’re interested in volunteering as an online tutor, you can apply here.

A big and sincere thank you goes out to the Student Life Network and Student Awards teams for helping us share our free academic tutoring program with Canadian students everywhere, and to the volunteer tutors who have made this entire initiative possible.

References

Bernacki, M., & Walkington, C. (2018). The role of situational interest in personalized learning. Journal Of Educational Psychology110(6), 864-881. doi: 10.1037/edu0000250

Bowman-Perrott, L., Davis, H., Vannest, K., Williams, L., Greenwood, C., & Parker, R. (2013). Academic Benefits of Peer Tutoring: A Meta-Analytic Review of Single-Case Research. School Psychology Review42(1), 39-55. doi: 10.1080/02796015.2013.12087490