The second paper of the week (Price et al., 2007) investigates the difference between face-to-face tutoring and online tutoring. They selected one OU course in which students could choose between the forms of tutoring. Face-to-face consisted of meetings, phone and e-mail. Online tutoring consisted of computer-mediated conferencing and e-mail. Aims, content and assessment were consistent for the two groups, presenting a nice opportunity for a comparative study.
Students with f2f tutoring gave more positive scores to their tutoring experience than students with online tutoring. However, their overall assessment of course quality was not different. Exam results tended to be lower for students with online tutoring.
So, do students with f2f tutoring just perceive a better quality or does f2f tutoring provide a better learning experience than online tutoring?
Interviews with some of the course students indicated that students have a variety of expectations about tutoring that are different from the actual role of a tutor in the course:
– Many students had both cognitive as affective expectations about their tutors. The authors talk about a pastoral role, involving supporting, counselling and mentoring students aimed at helping them grasp the big picture (Price et al., 2007, p.14). Unrealistic expectations may have fueled negative evaluations for online tutoring.
– Apparently, negative perceptions were related to one tutor who proved to be permanently elusive (p.16) (btw, I love this formulation). This raises some questions about the reliability of the results.
|Concept map of the study by Price et al. (2007) on tutoring|
It’s unclear whether students were informed before or during the first weeks of the course about the role of the tutor. Some participants seemed to consider the tutor as some kind of life-coach which should be permanently available for study and social problems. In H800 the tutor acts as a moderator on the forum, starting discussions, posting short, encouraging posts and providing timely feedback on the papers.
I have the impression that in online tutoring the importance of student-student interactions is higher. Many questions are answered and problems solved by fellow students. Answers from the tutor are immediately accessible to all learners on the forum, reducing the need for “personal” communication. I also guess that low login rates or weak assessment scores act as warning signals and may result in a more personal communication line with the tutor.
The authors suggest to train both tutors and students in the specificities of e-tutoring. Interestingly, they seem to conclude that online tutoring does not yield a lower learner experience (as the results seem to suggest), but that the differences are mainly due to skills (by tutors) and expectations (by students), that can be changed with sufficient training. This may well be true, but is to be confirmed in other course contexts and with less “elusive” online tutors.