NMCC student Nore Hammudeh working with ASC Coordinator Harold “JR” Kierstead in 2019. Courtesy of NMCC

One result of shifting courses online and limiting students on campus is the changing landscape of tutoring and other forms of student support. During the fall semester at Northern Maine Community College, despite fewer students requesting tutoring overall, the number of students using Zoom tutoring increased by over 25 percent.

“Often with online classes, students have to be more proactive and take ownership of their learning,” said NMCC English Instructor Dr. Jennifer Graham, who co-authored a book about online learning best practices. “Sometimes a student may realize they need help but may be unsure of how to connect with help. Or they may be nervous to ask for help. However, it’s essential that students advocate for themselves and take that first step.” 

Traditionally, students in need of tutoring visit the Academic Success Center (ASC) on campus to use resources such as computers and printers, or possibly engage one of the tutors for help. The ASC encouraged students to schedule their sessions, but the center also provided drop-in resources to meet student needs. Tutoring services are offered at no cost to students at NMCC.

“During a normal semester, we get a lot of students who come in, use the ASC as a resource center, not just for tutoring, but to sit, relax, do homework, type a paper, and recharge,” stated ASC Coordinator Harold Kierstead. “Due to COVID-19, this semester we’ve needed to adjust that model. For the time being, everyone who visits the ASC has an appointment and is there to work with a tutor in person or Zoom with an off-campus tutor.” 

While online courses offer the benefits of convenience and flexibility, they can also pose new learning challenges. “This past semester I saw a lot more students than usual show up in the middle of the semester to receive help. We had to help some of them unlearn the mistakes they had been making, and steer them in the right direction. If they’d come earlier, they could spend more time focusing on the current material rather than trying to catch up on missteps,” Kierstead stated. “They don’t necessarily have the opportunity to raise their hand in class.” 

When asked how students should navigate these challenges, Dr. Graham said, “The very first thing to consider is their comfort level with the subject area. If they have any hesitation or questions by the end of the first week or two, they should reach out to their instructor and see what the instructor recommends. Students need to pick a point where they reassess and ask themselves: How is this going? Students should not ignore their gut instinct if they feel uncomfortable,” Graham stated. 

“There will be moments of confusion in online learning,” Graham explained. “But if you’re putting in the time and effort and still feel frustrated, then you probably need help. Once a student at NMCC asks for help, they will find themselves fully supported because Harold and his tutors do whatever it takes to help students succeed.”

These new trends in learning have also required tutoring technology adaptations that will remain beyond the pandemic. To accommodate the increased need for scheduling rather than drop-in services, the ASC implemented a new scheduling and communication system that allows for easier coordination with students. Additionally, by providing tutors with high-performance tablets that they can take home, the center offers more flexible appointments in the evenings and sometimes on the weekends, if it aligns with tutors’ schedules. 

This semester the ASC is keeping nine tutors on staff, with expertise in topics ranging from English, to anatomy, to math, and across the many trades offered on campus such as wind powered technology. 

“If you just have a question or two, reach out to your instructor; but if you’re losing touch with the material or are generally apprehensive about the subject, it’s best to get a tutor,” Kierstead explained. “Instructors have multiple courses and other responsibilities that can make it difficult to find a common time to meet with a student one-on-one, but our entire focus is solely to provide help when and where our students need it.” 

“My number one tip is to seek assistance early, don’t wait until it feels insurmountable,” Kierstead concluded.

To learn more about NMCC’s Academic Success Center and the free tutoring available to all students, visit nmcc.edu or contact the center directly by calling 207-768-2761.