We recently sat down with Mark Leeming, the Learning Skills Coordinator at St. Francis Xavier University, to talk about the University’s transition to the Nimbus platform and how their tutoring programs intend to use Nimbus to assist students throughout the era of social distancing.
StFX connected with Nimbus in Fall of 2019. Leeming found the Nimbus platform allowed him to keep better track of the tutors, creating a more precise registry and a better understanding of what types of tutors are needed. Moving forwards, Leeming is excited about continuing to unify the StFX online tutoring presence via the Nimbus platform and reaching more students with easier marketing tools. The online tutoring presence will also prove useful if social distancing measures need to be enforced next fall.
Learning Skills Coordinator at St. Francis Xavier University
What sorts of barriers were you experiencing with your tutoring program before you moved to Nimbus?
Well, there used to be a central tutoring program at this university, but it expired many years ago and it was sort of tutoring wild west when I showed up. Every department has different policies – some had a close hand on things and others had a deliberate hands off policy.
I started by simply maintaining a registry and vetting tutors and my registry at first was on paper and then was just a document on a website, which served its purpose for a while, but it’s very limited. People didn’t know it existed and it was very hard to keep it up to date and, of course, in the end it’s just nothing more than a list.
I was looking for solutions and just as I happened to be looking for improvements the Students Union came along and said, ‘we’re interested in this thing, Nimbus. Do you think the university would be interested in participating?
We created a partnership [with Nimbus] fairly quickly there and we drew in the Schwartz school of business as well. We’re setting up a branch office of my Student Success Centre over there and the business school has also attempted to maintain their own tutor registry through the Schwartz Business Society, which was about as successful as my own, but it was inconsistent.
So, you were looking to kind of bring everything under one umbrella?
Exactly. It was easier to manage.
We spent some time investigating providers, there are a couple of main providers in Canada, and we decided that Nimbus was the way to go
How did the transition go, from no platform to integrating it fully into several different programs?
It hasn’t been that difficult to transition [since] I was developing a kind of registry before this. I’ve been spending a couple of years conditioning people to know that if they want to be tutors, they should come talk to me. So that wasn’t too difficult. There were some challenges convincing some people to move to an online database and scheduling system. A lot of people don’t want to include their financial details in an app, or scheduling details, they just want their name on a list to have people find them offline. But otherwise a fairly simple changeover…
The biggest change has been trying to expand it and convince more people to come online and away from the strict offline tutoring business. Convince them that there’s enough utility to commit to the process of having a profile.
And how have you been able to convince them to do this?
It’s more or less a process of attrition. In that the more people who join the more isolated the ones who don’t. The better it works, the more people will join it.
Now that you guys have been working with it for a while, how has Nimbus helped your tutoring program?
It’s helped me to know what’s going on. Knowing which courses people are searching for. It’s a lot better than the blackbox method of trying to have a tutor for everything but not knowing who’s working on what.
Being able to keep up with updating the list is so much easier, rather than sending out emails every term. My list always had a number of tutors who weren’t really active, but they were on there anyway. So that’s easier.
I can’t say whether or not it’s really expanded the number of people giving and receiving tutoring, because I really don’t know what the numbers were before. And I don’t know fully what the numbers are now, because there have been still a lot of people who remained offline. Our process of incorporating was interrupted by a certain pandemic.
What I’m most optimistic about is the student union and the Schwartz Success Center are all working on unifying the online presence and approaching students marketing, more so even than last year. This year we get to start with students before they get to campus, or to our virtual campus, or whatever happens.
Learning Skills Coordinator at St. Francis Xavier University
What do you what do your tutors think of the app? Have you spoken to any of them on using it?
I’ve spoken to some of them, not a huge number, because I don’t actually employ tutors – they’re privately employed. The platform registers scheduling and payment system. When I talk to the tutors it’s often either they’re new and haven’t used it yet, and going through the vetting process, or they have a problem. If it’s working well people tend not to speak up.
I’ve talked people who have trouble with payment system or have trouble with the scheduling system, whatever their troubles were, they were all very pleased with how well the Nimbus team responded. I mean, if you’re used to seeking tech support for apps and programs hardware or software, you’re probably used to asking questions and not getting answers for a long time.
You guys are quick.
Is there anything else you would like to mention that I haven’t asked in regard to what you’re looking at this summer?
You guys are working hard on providing an online tutoring platform, which you did, and now working on providing something for group tutoring. Very useful departments at the University are going to be interested in providing some group tutoring options, even at the department level.
Most people are generally aware that things are going to be different. And when things are different, inevitably, some students are going to suffer from that because we have to deal with the full range of humans.
Every situation will be better for some than others, and the ones that it’s bad for are going to need help. It’s good to have something like Nimbus to help that group of people get what they need.