Sitting down with Ola Michalec, a fourth-year student and president of University of Toronto Peer Tutoring (UTPT), her enthusiasm for the club’s mandate is clear.
The program mainly targets undergraduate students, offering free peer tutoring by fellow undergraduate students.
“It’s for students, by students,” Michalec explains.
She goes on to outline the program’s operating system, and, as she does, it quickly becomes clear that this is not your average study group.
Students seeking tutoring can go online to the program’s website and create an online profile. After signing a waiver and agreement form, the club’s executive will activate the completed profile. Tutoring through UTPT is offered on a course-by-course basis, pairing students seeking extra help with successful graduates of that particular course.
UTPT provides tutoring in most of the key first and second year programs in the departments of the Faculty of Arts & Science. It is already a lengthy list, but Michalec says expansion is their main priority. “I would like to reach out to more students,” she says.
It is with that goal in mind that the club is working to expand their tutoring options to include more programs such as computer science, kinesiology, and Rotman commerce.
UTPT currently has 400 active members.
Once granted access to the course listings, prospective mentees can search through the list of available tutors in their desired course and contact tutors directly to arrange meeting times and dates that suit both parties. This flexibility is one of the reasons why Michalec thinks that the program has been so successful
Founded by students, the club has provided flexible and free tutoring options for over a decade. “Eleven years ago a group of students approached faculty and said they wanted to start a club for free tutoring — it was entirely a student initiative,” Michalec explains.
BECOMING A TUTOR
The process to become involved with UTPT as a tutor is a little more complicated. In order to ensure their qualifications, tutors have to undergo an interview process with the club’s executive. Michalec says the executive is aware that the quality of student experience is dependent on this process.
“A lot of it is dependent on the tutors you have, which is why [we] have the interview process,” she says.
In order to be qualified to tutor a course, UTPT requires students to have achieved a final grade of 80 per cent or higher in the course. During the interview process tutor candidates are asked about their motivation to join the club, and are also posed scenario questions asking them how they would approach a variety of academic and relational situations. Additionally, the tutors are asked to explain a couple of concepts in their prospective tutoring courses to ensure that they are familiar with the material and are able to articulate and explain it to the executive who in this process plays the role of an unfamiliar student.
Though detailed and time-consuming, the process improves the chances of a positive experience for both tutor and tutee. Michalec stresses that finding the perfect tutor may not happen during the first try.
“Everyone learns differently,” she says, encouraging tutees to meet with multiple tutors until they find a teaching approach that fits with their learning style.
UTPT is about more than just academics — there is also a mentorship component that evolves naturally between tutors and tutees.
“[The club] involves academic support but, at the same time, there is also a bit of mentorship,” Michalec says.
Lydia*, a tutee, found her tutor willing to provide insights beyond course concepts. “He was also able to provide advice on how to study for exams and was really knowledgeable about the course in general,” she says.
Ultimately, Lydia found a tutor who worked well with her learning style.
“My tutor was able to help me with a lot of the questions in the assigned problem sets. He also didn’t just give me the answers to the questions right away but [instead] guided me so that I could figure out problems step by step,” she says.
Christelle Broux, who sought chemistry tutoring in her second year, had a similar experience.
“I [was seeking] a chemistry tutor but notices there weren’t any tutors for the course I needed. I found UTPT after searching online, and was grateful that Vivian, my tutor, was willing to apply her knowledge of chemistry even though she hadn’t taken the course I was seeking help with,” she describes.
Broux found the program helpful and believes it contributed to her academic success. “[My tutor] was very professional during our sessions, always answering my questions to the best of her ability. I felt comfortable asking her to clarify concepts that I hesitated asking the course TA.”
For Michalec, Broux’s comfort level with her tutor is one of her personal goals for the program. “The mentorship aspect gives students someone to talk to, someone who’s been through it already and can reassure first and second year students that it’s possible to do well and that approaching instructors is not scary,” she says.
WORDS OF WISDOM
UTPT’s services are accessible to all students, and the executives strive to create a community for involved students. They are hosting their second annual Profs Vs. Students JEOPARDY event on Thursday, January 29.
Ultimately, the program seeks to provide a valuable resource that would otherwise be unaffordable for some students.
Michalec has some advice for tutors and those interested in UTPT. “Try your best to establish a connection [with your tutee] and make sure you understand that there are different ways of learning — be knowing and cognizant of that.”
As for tutees or students currently struggling in their courses, “You will survive,” Michalec says, adding, “It gets better.”
As for her final words of advice, Michalec says, “Never be afraid to ask questions or seek help or advice because someone is likely going through the same thing as you are.”
*Name changed at student’s request