The Dual Mindset – Placing Traditional and Online Education on Equal Footing

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Brief Abstract

As the online degree market expands, it is essential to remain competitive in how we serve students and vigilant in how we assess services. At our institution, administrators promote a dual mindset when working with on-campus and online students, thus ensuring all learners have equal access to campus resources.


I have been the Director of the Math & Science Resource Center at Indiana University East since 2004. I have been a math mentor/tutor for over 20 years and a math instructor for the Mathematics Department for more than 15 years.

Extended Abstract

“As institutions of learning increasingly turn to technology to deliver instruction, the on-line writing center will become much more the norm, if not the model for how to blend technology and pedagogy” (Gillespie, & Lerner, 2000, p. 146). The authors’ prediction rings true today when we consider how co-curricular programs have moved to the center of student success and retention efforts in many institutions of higher education, including our own.

When serving online student populations, it is important to know where your students come from. For example, does your institution have students who reside outside of your geographic region? This belief was expressed in Dr Chris Schultz’s ACTLA Keynote address: “You can’t meet your students where they are until you know who they are” (ACTLA, 2022). As emphasized by our Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Engagement in Academic Affairs, campus services should have a dual mindset when serving in-person and online students. This means that one should always consider both student populations when adding new services or improving existing services. The same sentiment is echoed by the Director of the Office of Online Education: "If universities want to stay relevant to modern learners, or even just keep their doors open, they must put online education on equal footing with on-campus education. The market demands it. Learners are increasingly likely to be older … with careers and responsibilities that make it impossible to go to campus full time" (Foley, 2020).

Thanks to visionary leadership at our institution, the dual mindset has been in place since the inception of online services in 2009. Online academic support services were designed to complement existing campus services. For example, writing services provide online wrap around support for all students from first year through to graduation (bachelor’s and master’s degrees). This ensures online students have access to similar support from the same tutoring team. The same is true for math services. Synchronous online sessions complemented with wrap around asynchronous support for 100 & 200 level math courses ensure the same service is available for online students. Like in-person services, online support facilitates a smooth transition “handshake” from Online Math Support to Online Supplemental Instruction when students reach 300-400 level math courses.

To best meet the needs of all students, tutors are trained as a single team to focus first on higher order concerns before moving on to lower order concerns for both in-person and online consultations. Higher order concerns may involve commenting on the paper as a whole. For example, does the paper follow the assignment guidelines? Do the paragraphs have adequate support or development? Low order concerns may involve misspellings, grammar problems, sentence-level concerns, etc. Higher order concerns should always come first, else the consultant is at risk of mimicking an editing service. In math and science sessions, addressing higher order concerns first translates to the tutors providing conceptual support. Workers are trained to comment about overall conceptual errors in the student’s thinking before moving on to specific computational errors, sign errors, etc.

It is important to monitor the wellbeing of each worker as a Learning Center Manager. “You can’t pour from a cup that’s empty” (Raine Porter, Student Keynote, ACTLA 2022). The Writing Center Assistant and Math & Science Resource Center Assistant act as liaisons between student workers and Center Managers. The Center Assistants help monitor local and distance workers for burnout and fatigue to help them maintain a healthy balance between academics, personal life, and tutoring responsibilities. Experience shows that it is harder to spot problems and attempt interventions when dealing with remote workers. Thus, Learning Center Managers and Assistants should develop strategies to effectively monitor the well-being of online workers. When caught early, imbalance can often be handled by listening to the worker or by temporarily reducing their workload so that they can bounce back. On occasion, to handle more advanced situations, the worker may be referred to the Center for Health Promotion.

To ensure online support is on par with in-person support, multiple forms of assessment are conducted throughout the academic year. The first assessment is student impressions, which are captured through automated feedback in real time throughout the semester. This allows administrators and tutors to adjust in a timely fashion to better serve the students. The automated feedback is in place for online asynchronous and online synchronous support. Similar feedback will be coming soon for in-person consultations in the walk-in Centers.

Student Feedback is based on a 4 point scale with 4 being “Stongly Agree” and 1 being “Strongly Disagree”. Feedback is collected for six key aspects of the online support and submission process. See the table below for student feedback results:

Student Feedback

Writing - Spring 2022 Average

  • The review I received helped me improve my assignment = 3.76
  • I understood all of my tutor’s suggestions = 3.74
  • I felt the review was a fair assessment of my assignment = 3.80
  • Submitting an assignment was easy =  3.88
  • The wait time for my review was reasonable = 3.79
  • I would recommend this tutoring service to other students = 3.91

Math - 2020 – 2022 Average

  • The review I received helped me improve my assignment = 3.81
  • I understood all of my tutor’s suggestions = 3.85
  • I felt the review was a fair assessment of my assignment = 3.86
  • Submitting an assignment was easy = 3.82
  • The wait time for my review was reasonable = 3.85
  • I would recommend this tutoring service to other students = 3.92

Anecdotally, this is what students had to say about online writing and math support for the Spring 2022 term: “This was a challenging and time consuming problem. I appreciate the time and effort given by both Tutor 1 and Tutor 2. That is some commitment” (Calculus 2 student). A Calculus 1 student said: “Really glad to get this clarification on the content!” A graduate student in Social Work said: “Tutor 3 provided great comments and suggestions. She was prompt and her assistance was much appreciated!” And finally, an undergraduate student submitting a paper for an English class commented: “All I can say is, "WOW!" Tutor 4 did a fantastic job, was very thorough, and I appreciate the time she took to help me.”

The next assessment to ensure the same level of support is provided to all students happened when the Higher Learning Commission visited our campus in February 2022. At this visit, the 2019 High Impact Practices and Engagement Analysis showed that the Writing Center and the Math and Science Resource Center (combined as “Academic Support” in the analysis) are consistently among the top three most effective cocurricular programs at IU East (as cited in Indiana University East, Assurance Argument, 2021). The campus Student Engagement Division is continuing to assess and improve co-curricular student services through pre and post assessments, using Qualtrics surveys of services and their workers.

Following the Higher Learning Commission’s visit, our campus is continuing the assessment of both in-person and online co-curricular programs. However, instead of assessing all components at once, student services units will be assessing one component at a time on a rotational basis. Schendel and Macauley (2012) caution in their book titled Building Writing Center Assessments that Matter: “Don’t assess everything all of the time” (p. 121). Following their advice, during the 2021-2022 academic year, all of the campus co-curricular student services conducted critical thinking assessment of workers in each unit using Qualtrics surveys. A Critical Thinking Pre-Test was conducted in Fall 2021, and a Critical Thinking Post-Test was conducted in Spring 2022. The tests were conducted by the Assistance Vice Chancellor for Student Engagement in Academic Affairs who will work with the Office of Institutional Research, Effectiveness, and Planning to perform a qualitative analysis of survey results, including analysis of the open-ended questions in the surveys.

In conclusion, as the online degree market continues to expand, it is essential to remain competitive in how we serve our students and vigilant in how we assess our services. At our institution, faculty, staff, and administrators strive to maintain a dual mindset when working with on-campus and online students. This deliberate mindset allows us to ensure all learners have equal access to campus resources and services.



Foley, C. J. (2020, February 19). From the desk: Director says online education is a university’s ‘heart and lungs’. News at IU.

Gillespie, P., & Lerner, N. (2000). The Allyn and Bacon guide to peer tutoring. New York: Longman.

Indiana University East. (2021). The 2019 high impact practices and engagement analysis. Assurance Argument.

Porter, R. (2022). Student keynote address. Association of Colleges for Teaching and Learning Assistance.

Schendel, E., & Macauley, W. J. (2012). Building writing center assessments that matter. Logan, Utah: Utah State UP.

Schultz, C. (2022). Keynote address. Association of Colleges for Teaching and Learning Assistance.