Online tutoring - computers as cognitive tools
In such a setting learners are expected to study course material in isolation and be assessed through Tutor Marked Assignments and Examinable Components or Invigilated Examinations; online communication is merely used here to complement or replace other means of communication (mail, telephony, facsimile, f2f) between tutors and learners in presenting tutorials and responding to student queries. At its best, it is (also) used to deliver Computer Marked Assignments (CMAs) following the tradition of the Computer Assisted Learning approach (CAL) in use since the early '80s, which is brought to a state of the art for use on the Web (Pownall, 1998).
Consequently, one would not expect that online tutoring  - standard keeping  - in such a instructivist oriented setting (Gagne et al, 1992) will require different skills other than knowing the technicalities for handling the medium. Although the significance of these new technical skills should not be underestimated, teachers, faculty members and staff in this setting will not be encouraged or trained to reach beyond the first two elementary stages of CMC literacy described by Gray (1997) and the use of computers will be confined to 'productivity' and 'delivery'.
The basic principles underlying schooling in the Industrial Age, according
to Jesse Goodman (Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 65, No.1, Spring 1995)
were: social functionalism; efficiency and productivity; individualism;
In today's Information Age, the skills required are: a) abstraction; b) system thinking; c) experimental thinking; and d) collaboration (Reich, 1992 & Martin, 1998).
Considering this and the fact that the Internet and particularly the Web could easily be considered the ultimate constructivist learning environment, tutors should be seen as knowledge builders and learners as apprentice knowledge builders going through "cognitive apprenticeships" (Means, 1994). The nature of the interaction in these environments leads to new paradigms for teaching and learning, with both unique problems of coordination and unique opportunities to support active, collaborative (group or team-based) learning.
Hence, tutoring online involves not only teaching and coaching but also producing learning resources together with students. This brings us in front of a number of issues which necessitate the acquisition and/or development of very different skills from the ones which are part of a f2f tutor's profile.
1. Judicious use of one's own personal qualities i.e. personality, presence,
self-awareness, sensitivity, confidence, courtesy, patience, approachability.
Impact minimised online
2. The ability to establish & maintain rapport.
Severely reduced effect online
3. Understanding individual learners' motivation, needs, expectations,
background, ability, learning style, culture, and responding to them.
Clues obscured online
4. Use of voice i.e. audibility, projection, modulation, speed, clarity
Becomes use of written word
5. Lesson preparation & planning showing awareness of level/ability,
time of day, normal concentration curves, and anticipated learner difficulties
which will influence timing, balance of activities, patterns of interaction,
limitation of aims, choice of aids, materials and methods.
Online courses must prepare larger chunks at a time, therefore less easy to adapt to individual classes of learners; method and mode more restrictive
6. Classroom management i.e. organising physical resources, giving instructions,
controlling changes of pace, grouping and activity.
Asynchronous online, students set own pace
7. Techniques for presenting material to make it clear, memorable, motivating
and involving, checking learners' grasp of concept before moving on.
Relies wholly on written word online, hard to check understanding until after formal assessment
8. Questioning techniques that include and involve everyone.
Used sparingly online - questions hidden in debate, easier for students not to respond
9. Setting up logically sequenced and meaningful tasks, collaborative
and individual, that aid learning.
Asynchronous collaboration is more time-consuming
10. Use of aids i.e. books, worksheets, board, pictures, objects, video,
audio tapes, OHPs, IT.
Decidedly more technical online
11. Correction techniques - knowing when, how and what to correct.
Easier to do subtly online
12. Ability to adapt and extemporise, deal with the unexpected, have
subject knowledge at your fingertips.
Online, can look things up, plan changes
13. Ability to create, evaluate, adapt and exploit course materials.
Online, poor materials cannot be compensated for by on the spot explanations or cleverly devised activities
14. Net weaving, ability to weave threads.
Often critical in an on-line environment
15. Protecting against information overload
16. Collaborative learning techniques.
The need to understand the benefits and limitations of collaborative learning techniques
17. Monitoring and directing student interaction appropriately.
The need to cope with "listening to all the conversations and maybe even different dinner parties that are going on at the same time" is one of the deepest skill levels peculiar to online tutoring.
18. Structuring peer feedback and evaluation of ideas
It may be the case that the role of future successful *tutors* won't be to simply facilitate or moderate, but to be the model learner able to demonstrate the ways learning is generated. This can even be read as: Generating learning through learning how to learn in a non-competitive environment [Msg #205].
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