Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 17, 2021

Peer services offered virtually during an online semester

Peer services offered virtually during an online semester

By LEELA GEBO | October 9, 2020



Like classes and student groups, virtual peer services have continued virtually during the fall semester. 

When the University announced that the fall semester would be entirely online, students lives were impacted in almost every way. Freshmen experienced a virtual orientation, students browsed extra-curricular activities in a virtual Student Involvement Fair and clubs and organizations adapted to online-only operations. Likewise, peer services have adjusted their operations to serve students remotely. 

PILOT — the student-peer tutoring service — is being conducted this semester via Zoom. Some PILOT leaders, including sophomore Matt Vergel, have found that sessions have been difficult in an online-only form. 

In an email to The News-Letter, he discussed his attempts to engage with students during online lessons. 

”As a virtual PILOT leader, I find it somewhat more difficult to connect and engage with students; however, I am able to make up for this by encouraging community building with fun games and teamwork activities,” he wrote. “So far, these online activities along with online problem sets seem to be working.”

The main problem Vergel has faced is connectivity issues, which he noted are a given in a virtual world. 

Sophomore PILOT leader Isabel Veloso highlighted that PILOT leaders have had to adapt to account for students who are living in different time zones in an email to The News-Letter. 

“We have been trying to expand our hours by encouraging leaders to also have morning sessions so people across the world can have PILOT at a normal time for them,” she wrote.

Sophomore Alex Nguyen is currently enrolled in a PILOT section for Organic Chemistry I. Compared to the in-person PILOT courses he took last year, Nguyen feels that the peer-collaboration on Zoom is not as efficient as the in-person experience. 

He explained that the classroom settings of in-person PILOT sessions were more conducive to collaboration.

”Usually, you’re in a classroom and you’re able to break out into little groups and go sit somewhere,” Nguyen said. ”It’s a lot harder over Zoom. The breakout rooms aren’t too bad but the in-person is definitely a lot better.”

Veloso has also found that it is harder to build a community within a PILOT class over Zoom. However she recognized that students are facing external pressures, which could contribute to a lack of engagement during PILOT sessions.

”I don’t blame people for being disconnected in PILOT (and in class). Everyone’s in a different environment and there’s just a lot of stress in general about school and the world,” she wrote. 

Although this is Veloso’s first year as a PILOT leader, she has tried to emulate elements of PILOT courses she took as a student in-person, beginning every session with an icebreaker and a conversation about her students’ weeks. 

Similarly, the Writing Center has adapted to an online-only format. Senior Marjorie Bowerman is a tutor with the Writing Center, which offers students 50-minute, one-on-one tutoring sessions to go over written work. Like PILOT leaders, Writing Center tutors have been conducting sessions virtually, either by phone or Zoom. 

In an email to The News-Letter, Bowerman noted that she particularly misses seeing physical copies of the papers she is working with. 

”With in-person appointments, we always request students bring printouts of their assignment so we can have the benefit of reading a physical copy and writing on it,” she wrote. ”Although Zoom screen share and the comment functions on Google Docs make up for that loss, it isn't the same.”

However, Bowerman does believe that the virtual appointments are effective. 

”I don't think being remote has had a huge impact on the quality of our services this semester,” she wrote. ”I do miss the in-person interaction because I think that does elevate the experience for the student and the tutor.”

Bowerman feels that her teaching will improve once she explores innovative ways to connect with students online. 

Eunice Namkoong contributed reporting to this article. 

Editor-in-Chief Rudy Malcom is a tutor at the Writing Center and did not contribute to the reporting, writing or editing of this article.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.

News-Letter Special Editions