Points to consider when personal tutoring remotely

By miranda.prynne, 19 January, 2021
With many remote students feeling anxious, personal tutors are often the first port of call. Michael Draper talks through things to consider in order to maintain a supportive and helpful relationship with tutees from a distance
Article type

This video will cover: 

00:54 Establishing effective modes of contact and communication with tutees 

02:34 Setting clear boundaries around what you can advise on and what requires a referral  

05:43 Signposting useful information and guiding students on issues of concern 


Hello, my name is Professor Michael Draper. I’m based at Swansea University where I am the director of the Swansea Academy for Inclusivity and Learner Success. And I’ve been asked to produce a short podcast around the topic of personal tutoring in an online environment.   

We’re living in unprecedented times, as we know. It’s unprecedented for us, it’s unprecedented for our students and, of course, most of our teaching is now taking place off campus and remotely, of course.  

And this has meant that our relationships with our students through personal tutoring and academic mentoring has also moved to remote online contact and delivery. So how best to manage that change in delivery of personal tutoring? 

Well, one of the things that I think that needs to be discussed at the outset with students is how best they can contact you and how best you can contact them. Give them the choice. Not everybody likes to Zoom or video conference for example, and so students need to understand that they can contact you by email or indeed by the good old-fashioned telephone should they need to.   

So give them the option of how best to maintain that personal tutoring relationship with your tutors. 

Now the next step, I suppose, is manage boundaries and expectations.

With the move to online delivery there is a, perhaps, expectation that you’ll be available at 24-hours/seven, and of course that isn’t going to be the case.  

With increased flexibility produced by online delivery, students may feel that there’s increased flexibility in contacting you. And of course, you need to manage your time, as well  as manage students’ time, most efficiently.   

And so what I would suggest is you make it clear the parameters of your contact hours, so students are aware when they can contact you and will be best able to get a response.   

Now, virtual office hours: are they going to be the same as your usual physical contact hours?   

Again, you need to make that clear to the students. It may well be that you want to change them and make them more flexible in terms of contacting you.  

Alongside expectations and boundaries, I think it’s also important to let students know what it is you can and cannot help with.   

Now as a personal tutor, as an academic mentor, students will see you as the face of the university, the first point of contact and rightly so, especially in difficult times.   

However, you need to be aware of your own limitations as a personal tutor, what you can best advise on, or direct students towards other advice available in the institution, who may be able to actually advise better in relation to the particular issue the student has.   

And so those boundaries around what it is you can and cannot do need to be made clear to a student.   

Now of course most academic matters, you are professionally qualified to actually advise on, and so it would be natural for you to actually ensure and give clear advice to students on those academic matters.  

But when it comes to welfare and indeed mental health issues, you’re not necessarily going to be professionally qualified to give advice, especially in relation to mental health. And so you need to be able to signpost effectively.  

So one of the questions I would ask you is do you know how to signpost? Do you know how to best refer your students on to services within your institution, so your students can get the best advice and support?  

You are, I suspect, if you’re a personal tutor, very good-hearted and well-meaning and want to help your students whenever they’re in distress.  

Now you will be the first port of call, you will be able to offer them sympathy and some initial advice, however if you’re not professionally qualified as a counsellor you should not be giving advice to students in relation to anxiety or mental health issues, and they do need to be referred on.  

You can ask the obvious questions along the lines of, “Have you contacted your general practitioner?” for example. And if they haven’t, then you should be able to actually access through your institution the referral services to which you can refer your student.  

So referring is very important because if things go wrong, and we all hope they don’t, you’ll be judged against the standard in which you hold yourself out as having. So if you start to give advice as a counsellor when you’re not professionally qualified, the fact you’re well-meaning will not matter. You’ll be judged against the standard of a professionally qualified counsellor.   

So there’s an issue of liability I think that you need to be aware of.  

So refer on when you can, know how you should refer a student on and how best to advise a student to do that.  

So that’s all around boundaries and expectations, now moving on to the actual relationship itself then.  

What you should be doing if you can is providing additional information to students remotely, either through the virtual learning environment of the institution, where commonly asked questions are made available to students.

So that there is an ease of access, when they need it, to those commonly asked questions without needing to come to you on each occasion that they might have a particular issue.   

And so one of the things you can do is send a personal email or other message to a student advising them of the range of services on offer but also where they can find information. 

Now, no doubt the university will be doing that anyway, but as we all know students tend to ignore information communicated to them from a central source within the institution.  

However if they see your name, then they are most likely to open up an email or other message and actually read it and no doubt thank you for that as well.  

What I’ve noticed in relation to personal tutoring is that with a move to online assessment, students have become particularly anxious over the format of that assessment and they do need academic advice on it.  

And of course as a personal tutor you will be able to give that advice in relation to whatever assessment regulations and policies have been adopted during Covid-19.  

What I have recommended, certainly within our institution, in relation to online assessment, is the enhanced activity of predatory essay mills, those third parties external to the university,  offering so-called academic support services to students.  

So online tutoring sites, for example, essay mills, have become very active recently and what I think you can do as a personal tutor is to reassure students that if they are approached by such a service provider, not to feel alarmed, not to feel they are being singled out, because this can enhance student anxiety especially around assessment time.   

So you’re able to reassure students that if they are approached, that they can actually discuss that with you and perhaps you can take action within your institution to block sites or access, for example.  

So it is not unusual for students to receive direct, basically, offers of support from these third-party services. Students may be worried as to how they get their information, but you’ll be able to reassure them that they can speak to you and you can take appropriate action to perhaps block their university email account if it has come to them through that account. 

So I think in relation to assessment you can also give reassurances to the regulations or information your institution’s placed out around, for example, safety net regulations or no detriment.   

And no doubt, as I know, there are conversations within the higher education establishment at  the moment, as to whether or not those safety net or no detriment policies should continue beyond the initial academic year in which Covid-19 has hit.  

So there’s a range of issues that, no doubt, students will be contacting you about.   

The important thing is to make it clear to students when you are available, how they can contact you and to maintain that personal relationship between the personal tutor and the personal tutee, so that they feel supported by the institution and feel supported by you.  

This video was produced by Michael Draper, director of the Swansea Academy for Inclusivity and Learner Success at Swansea University.

With many remote students feeling anxious, personal tutors are often the first port of call. Michael Draper talks through things to consider in order to maintain a supportive and helpful relationship with tutees from a distance