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Breakfast Reboot: How one student improved peer tutoring on campus

Picture of Pierre Theo Klein

Pierre Theo Klein, an honours student in Cognitive Science described the way he digitized and streamlined the Computer Science Undergraduate Society (CSUS) Helpdesk, touching on the challenges of tutoring in an “Age of Technology” at the November 7, 2018 Breakfast Reboot. Because of his hard work, the Helpdesk went from one or two tutors at a table in a communal space to a team of tutors in a dedicated space with an online schedule.

The CSUS Helpdesk is a volunteer-based peer-to-peer tutoring service for computer science students. Undergraduate students volunteer to tutor their peers in courses they have passed. The Helpdesk is walk-in only, with students working with a tutor if one is available and has passed the course they need help with. When Pierre first started volunteering, he was struck by how inconvenient this was: students looking for tutoring did not know which tutor would be present, what courses they had successfully completed, and the Helpdesk was located in a cramped, loud space. Pierre took on the challenge of improving the Helpdesk. He explained that he obtained funding through the Tomlinson Engagement Award for Mentoring, as well as a budget from the Computer Science Undergraduate Society, and implemented three major changes:

  1. He recruited more tutors and requested they create a profile on the website detailing the courses they have successfully completed.
  2. He updated the website to include the tutors’ profiles and times they would be at the Helpdesk.
  3. He obtained a room on the third floor of the Trottier building.

While the changes he implemented have been well received, there are still some challenges Pierre would like to address:

  • The tutors are required to be on-site during the times indicated in their profiles. However, with no real supervisor on site, tutors are not necessarily accountable. In the future, Pierre would like to develop a way to better track attendance by having tutors scan in and out of the Helpdesk using their McGill ID.
  • Improved access to the Helpdesk means more students are able to seek out tutoring, which can sometimes lead to rushes and overcrowding. Upon arriving at the Helpdesk, students must let one of the tutors know they would like to meet with somebody. This can create some challenges: tutors sometimes get interrupted by walk-ins while they are working with someone else, and introverted students can find approaching the tutors intimidating and overwhelming. Pierre would like to develop a mobile app that would manage the space and allow students to join a virtual queue: instead of flagging tutors down, students could indicate their presence at the Helpdesk on the app, which would signal the tutors that students are waiting.

With a view to making yet more improvements to the CSUS Helpdesk, Pierre has created a feedback form to consistently track users’ experience. He also hopes that his peers will continue to improve the Helpdesk after he graduates from McGill.


Featured image from the Breakfast Reboot Facebook event.

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