Help the writer set goals at the beginning of the session and be realistic about what you can accomplish in the time you have.
Online sessions tend to take longer than face-to-face sessions because you have to type out everything you want to say. Discuss this with the writer at the beginning of the session and decide together what you should focus on given the time constraints. Encourage the writer to make additional appointments if you don’t think you’ll be able to address all of their concerns in one session. Setting these expectations in the beginning of the session will help you to avoid feeling rushed.
Let the writer know your expectations for the session.
Before you begin working, explain that an online session is a conversation just like a face-to-face session: you’ll ask questions and make suggestions, and they can make changes to the document. This way the writer will know that they’ll need to be engaged throughout the session, and that you won’t be just “checking” the paper for them.
You may also want to set expectations for “chat speak,” either by directly telling the writer it’s ok to use informal language in the chat box or by simply using that language yourself. This can help to speed up the session, and may alleviate any concerns the writer has about writing “perfectly” while chatting with you.
Check in with the writer throughout the session.
In a face-to-face session, you can usually tell whether a writer is following you and feeling good about the session through their body language. Since you can’t see this body language online, it helps to directly ask every now and then: “How do you feel about what we’ve discussed so far?” “Do you have any questions?” “Should we keep going?” etc.
Use exclamation points, emoticons, and extra friendly language to keep the tone of the session light and show personality.
It’s hard to make a connection online, and it’s easy to misinterpret tone. Don’t be afraid to go a little over the top with the friendliness, and use all the tools available to do that.
Link out to resources and encourage the writer to revisit the session.
One advantage of online sessions is that you have the whole internet at your fingertips. Whenever appropriate, send the writer links to relevant resources online. Also, remind them that the session will be available throughout the whole semester – they can click back in at any point to review what you discussed.
Give the writer the benefit of the doubt.
Online conversations can be complicated. Tone is often lost, and we miss a lot of important nonverbal cues when we can’t see each other face-to-face. But don’t assume the worst just because you can’t see what the writer is doing on the other side of the screen. Some writers might not be as engaged as we would like, but it’s just as possible that they’re having a technical problem, or are distracted by others around them, or are just struggling to keep up with the conversation. Give the writer time to think and respond, and try not to jump to conclusions about their level of engagement or expectations.