The worldwide abrupt transition to distance learning for students this year came with its set of challenges. For some, it was the lack of internet access or learning devices at home. For others, it was the difficulty in staying motivated online without the familiarity of face-to-face connections with teachers.
To help bridge some of the education challenges brought upon by distance learning, NYU Abu Dhabi Community Outreach and the Hilary Ballon Center for Teaching and Learning developed a virtual tutoring project to support students in Abu Dhabi schools with limited resources with their homework and projects. A big goal for the tutors was to encourage and motivate their young tutees in grades 5 to 13 to keep up with their learning journey during COVID-19.
The project paired volunteer tutors made up of NYUAD students, alumni and staff, with school learners in virtual sessions to support their mathematics and science work.
As it takes a lot of effort to engage tutees you have only just met virtually, tutors had to get creative to get them excited and confident about this new way of learning.
Ludien Yen from Class of 2023 brainstormed and came up with an idea to motivate his grade 6 student by drawing her favorite subject — rabbits. After one third of a lesson, they would draw one third of a rabbit. They would continue the lesson until the entire rabbit was completed.
Other tutors developed PowerPoint slides and quizzes before each tutoring session, shared YouTube videos on physics experiments, or created customized lesson plans on subjects their tutees were excited to learn more about.
A Community Builder
Clare Eayrs is a research scientist for the Center for Global Sea Level Change. Along with two colleagues Jhon Moncada and Mainak Mondal, the three volunteered for the program after it came up in conversation during their weekly team meeting.
The program was also a great opportunity for staff to get to know and work alongside students, Eayrs added.
A Therapeutic Experience
It’s not just academic support these tutees needed. Being home most of the time puts students at risk of loneliness and poor academic performance. Unexpected connections blossomed during these tutoring sessions. “I could see (they) needed a friend just as badly as they needed help with their homework,” said Noor Altunaiji from NYUAD Class of 2022.
Tutoring these students was also a therapeutic experience for some. “Being able to be that pillar of support for someone else made me feel less lonely during quarantine,” said Thais Alvarenga, NYUAD Class of 2023. “It gave my college online experience the human touch that we wish to maintain when practicing physical distancing, and it reminded me that physical distancing does not mean that you have to be socially distant from others.”
Saying goodbye during the last session was inevitably hard for NYUAD Class of 2020 alumna Vongai Mlambo. “We had become so integral to each other's lives in the past couple of months and that inter-existence is something that I have found to be rewarding,” said Mlambo.