You are on page 1of 11

Tutors Training Course

Module 2

THE ROLE OF THE TUTOR


IN THE VIRTUAL CLASSROOM

Tutors Training Course

Introduction

"I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think."
Socrates

In this module we begin to explore the role of the e-tutor. For this purpose we
consider the participants profile and how they learn best in an online environment
in communities of learners.

Warm up: What is the role of the tutor?

The literature emphasizes the importance of the tutor in the success of online
courses. Participate in the first discussion of this week describing the role of the
online tutor. What metaphors can you use to describe the tutors job? Feel free to
compare aspects of this role to other more familiar roles such as a teacher, guide,
moderator, role model, etc.

The tutor and the online environment


An online course is not just a text available on a computer. Like other learning
environments (such as school classrooms) it involves ideological decisions about
learning and teaching, about the benefits of technological tools, as well as
about the contents. And still the course is not complete in itself. The interaction
among participants is the essence of the course. The value of the course need
to be created by the participants as they engage with the course modules, the
communication tools, the resources, the tutor and, most importantly, the other
participants of the course.
The role of the tutor is key for the course to come to life and to be successful. The
tutor helps participants make the most of their experience in this shared learning
environment but the participants are the life of the course. Therefore the tutors
role is very much related to who the learners are.

Module 2: The role of the tutor in the virtual classroom

Tutors Training Course

Readings:

Heuer, B. and King, K. (2004) Leading the Band: The Role of


the Instructor in Online Learning for Educators. The Journal of
Interactive Online Learning. 3 (1).
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.116.402
&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Denis, B., Watland, P., Pirotte, S., and Verday, R. (2004) Roles and
competencies of the e-tutor. Proceedings of Networked Learning
Conference 2004.
http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2004/
proceedings/symposia/symposium6/denis_et_al.htm

Getting to know the course participants


What do we know about our participants?

Readings:
Describe your notions of potential participants, according to
the following attributes:

Range of ages
Social and cultural setting
Language and style of speaking
Prior experience with virtual
courses
Professional experience
Place of study
Reasons for taking the specific
course
Motivation to study

Module 2: The role of the tutor in the virtual classroom

Tutors Training Course

Considering these participant characteristics, can you anticipate


possible problems as well as opportunities for constructive and
positive work?

After writing some ideas and/or questions, read about Adult learning:
Lieb, S. (1991) Principles of Adult Learning
http://honolulu.hawaii.edu/intranet/committees/FacDevCom/
guidebk/teachtip/adults-2.htm

Optional reading:
Blondie, L. (2007) Evaluation and Application of Andragogical
Assumptions to the Adult Online Learning Environment. Journal of
Interactive Online Learning. (6)2.
http://www.ncolr.org/jiol/issues/getfile.cfm?volID=6&IssueID=20&
ArticleID=104

Adults learn best when:

1. They have clear goals

2. They use what

3. They

4. They

they already

solve

are

know

problems

motivated

Module 2: The role of the tutor in the virtual classroom

Tutors Training Course

1) They have clear goals:


Most adults approach the learning situation with clear goals. Their purpose
for taking a course may be motivated by the need to acquire a new skill or
make a decision, that comes from their work or life context. Adults need to
know the purpose for learning. Knowing ones goals helps to maintain
motivation and develop deeper understanding of the content of study. Goals
are the big picture that give meaning to what adults are studying.
The tutor can ask participants to make their personal goals
explicit or to set goals to help participants to be more autonomous.
The tutor can help participants see the connection between
their own interests and the objectives of the course to support
participants self-directed learning.

2) They use what they already know:


Adults have accumulated a wealth of experiences that they bring with them
to the learning environment. These experiences are very valuable to the
group and they are also the bases for learning. People understand new
ideas in the light of the knowledge and experience they already have.
Learners prior knowledge and experiences in the field make new
information meaningful for them. Adults are motivated and more confident
when their knowledge is recognized and valued by the group.
The tutor can create instances for participants to share their
experience and their ideas on a topic as a starting point (activities
such as case studies and group projects call upon the expertise of
group members)
The tutor can craft discussion questions that require learners to
think about how the course content can be applied to situations in
their own lives.
The tutor needs to make participants ideas welcome so that
learners feel free to express opinions, share their perspectives,
and discuss information from their own point of view.
The tutor can allow participants to gear discussion towards their
interests.

Module 2: The role of the tutor in the virtual classroom

Tutors Training Course

3) They solve problems:


Adults appreciate learning things that have practical uses that can be
applied to solve problems. Adult learners need to be aware of the relevance
of what they learn in relation to their life tasks or goals. Learners get a
better understanding of ideas when they put them in action; they use them,
and test them against real troubles. Adults learn well when they engage in
discussion and negotiate perspectives.
Tutors need to provide activities where participants engage in
solving problems while applying course ideas.
Teams of participants could work together bringing knowledge
from their diverse backgrounds to solve a shared situation.

4) They are motivated:


Adults are generally internally motivated to start a course. Online courses
take dedication and time and compete with other obligations in adults lives.
Participant motivation needs to be maintained throughout the course.
Adults are best motivated to succeed with their educational goals when they
are recognized and appreciated for their individual contributions to the class
and their accomplishments. Drawing on a learners particular contribution
during discussion can also help learners feel appreciated and respected for
their ideas. Learners are motivated when they feel ownership for what is
being created in the course and see their participation as important to the
learning community.
Tutors need to provide opportunities for participants to apply
what they are learning, validating them as learners and knowledgeable individuals.
Tutors can establish a sense of commitment to the group where
individual contributions are valued and recognized as essential to
the learning of all participants.
Tutors need to know their students in order to engage them.

Module 2: The role of the tutor in the virtual classroom

Tutors Training Course

Building a Learning Community


The success of online courses
depends on the people engaged in
them; it depends on their learning
communities.
The learning community can affect
student satisfaction, retention, and
learning.
Main challenge of online courses:

Participant feels isolated

Decreases his/her commintment to the course

Drops out of the course

Online courses have higher levels of student attrition than face-to-face courses
due, mainly, to feelings of isolation. The shared feelings and experiences of a
community reduce the likelihood that students will feel isolated and alone. The
learning community contributes to a feeling of connectedness, support, and
shared experiences, and by extension, to retention and learning success.
Another reason for building learning communities is that communities contribute
to the quality of individual learning. As part of a community, learners engage
in dialogue with other learners, using knowledge and deepening understanding.
They need to make their ideas explicit and question each other to develop shared
understandings. Learning is an interactive process in which learners actively
construct knowledge through the exchange of ideas with others.

Module 2: The role of the tutor in the virtual classroom

Tutors Training Course

What is a learning community?


Group of people with:
a shared purpose for learning
a sense of belonging
shared triumphs and trials
interaction, interdependence,
reciprocity, and trust

The defining quality of a learning community is that there is a


culture of learning, in which everyone is involved in a collective
effort of understanding. There are four characteristics that such a
culture must have: (1) diversity of expertise among its members,
who are valued for their contributions and given support to develop,
(2) a shared objective of continually advancing the collective
knowledge and skills, (3) an emphasis on learning how to learn, and
(4) mechanisms for sharing what is learned. If a learning community
is presented with a problem, then the learning community can bring
its collective knowledge to bear on the problem. It is not necessary
that each member assimilate everything that the community knows,
but each should know who within the community has relevant
expertise to address any problem. This is a radical departure from
the traditional view of schooling, with its emphasis on individual
knowledge and performance, and the expectation that students will
acquire the same body of knowledge at the same time.
Bielaczyc, K., & Collins, A. (1999). Learning communities in
classrooms: A reconceptualization of educational practice. In C.
M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional design theories and models,
Vol. II. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Module 2: The role of the tutor in the virtual classroom

Tutors Training Course

How to promote community in an online course?


Knowing how to promote community is essential to the expertise of an online
tutor.

The tutor promotes community by:


getting to know the participants and providing opportunities for them
to know each other, identify shared goals, and value each individuals
identity, knowledge and ways of learning.
providing opportunities for social interaction among participants. By
working collaboratively on projects, participants naturally create common
areas of interests and values by learning from each other.
designing activities where participants cooperate and collaborate in
small subgroups or big groups to problem-solve
asking leading questions that encourage members of the community to
invest in concerns held by other members, and to share ideas and possible
solutions
encouraging the social construction of meanings by encouraging
participants to critically evaluate the work of others, assuming ownership
of their knowledge creation and sharing.
setting clear expectations and norms of participation and understanding
of their role as members of the course community.
modeling participation and behavior.
building strong social presence by being active, checking discussion
frequently, having a voice in the course that models participation and
communication and creating solid relationships with the participants.

The tutor cant create a community. Learning communities develop when people
with common interests get together to learn. What tutors can do is provide
the conditions under which they are most likely to emerge and support young
communities to continue growing - even beyond the course.

Module 2: The role of the tutor in the virtual classroom

Tutors Training Course

Activities

What is the role of the tutor? share initial ideas

Engage with the group in defining the 3 most


important roles of the online tutor? Support your
arguments with the readings.

Make a note for yourself about something that


you found interesting, surprising, or useful in
this second week of the course.

Reading on Communities of learners:

Ritter, C. And Polnik, B. (2007) Connections: an essential element


of online learning communities. International Journal of Educational
Leadership Preparation. (3) 3.
http://cnx.org/content/m18837/latest/

Optional, additional readings:


Vesely, P., Bloom, L. Sherlock, J. (2007) Key Elements of Building
Online Community: Comparing Faculty and Student Perceptions.
MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (3) 3.
http://jolt.merlot.org/vol3no3/vesely.htm

Module 2: The role of the tutor in the virtual classroom

10

Tutors Training Course

Palloff (2010) The Excellent Online Instructor. Ch. 1


Characteristics of the excellent online instructor. Wiley.
http://media.wiley.com/product_data/
excerpt/31/04706352/0470635231-1.pdf

Module 2: The role of the tutor in the virtual classroom

11