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Able to link tutors across distance while closely approximating the tenor of face-to-face tutoring (f2f), synchronous audio-video-textual conferencing (AVT) is a semiotically rich medium that sustains critical “social cues” and enhances interaction and exchange. The authors theorize and demonstrate the potential of synchronous digital exchange, including functions that surpass the affordances of paper-based f2f tutorials—such as real-time modeling and web-based referencing.
In the mid- to late 1990s, asynchronous email exchange between student writers and tutors quickly emerged in writing center scholarship as a welcome and viable model for what continues to be called “online tutoring.” Early proponents suggested that such written exchanges obviate “rambling” in face-to-face (f2f) tutorials and, by extending some degree of anonymity to the student, level the tutor-student power differential (Carlson & Apperson-Williams, 2000). Email-based tutoring has been presented as a way to focus learning about writing “through writing itself,” and thereby promote better audience awareness (Remington, 2006, p. 2).
Scholarship that promotes email-based tutoring often acknowledges the loss of phatic communication, gesture, tone, facial expression, and body language. As David Carlson and Eileen Apperson-Williams (2000) conceded, in email, “almost all meaning is carried through words alone” (p. 233). Further, according to George Cooper, Kara Bui, and Linda Riker (2000) as well as Paula Gillespie and Neal Lerner (2003), scholarship and tutor training materials about email-based tutoring routinely stress the need to compensate for ways in which asynchronous textual exchanges imperil the peer-tutoring relationship.
In this webtext we propose synchronous AVT as a positive approximation of the conventional f2f tutorial and as an alternative to email-based tutoring. By sustaining the interpersonal collaboration and dialogue that, as Stephen North’s (1984) famous essay noted, are “the essence of the writing center method” (p. 443), AVT offers writing centers a useful alternative to face-to-face and email-based sessions.