Successful e-learning tutoring
E-learning courses have become a very popular method of acquiring new knowledge and skills. Almost all the universities in the Czech Republic off er their e-courses for their students, but also for the general public since such courses can be an additional source of income for the universities. Undoubtedly, such courses are less costly, accessible for larger target groups, and defi nitely attractive. But what are in fact the demands/ requirements for their tutoring?
The article will attempt to demonstrate how to do tutoring of e-learning courses successfully. Moreover, it will examine how the traditional role of a teacher in such courses changes and what preconditions are pivotal for the tutoring of such courses. In addition to that, it will describe a creation of e-learning courses from the pedagogical point of view. Finally, a classic example of practical e-tutoring course run at a university level in the Czech Republic will be depicted in detail together with its constraints and evaluation.
E-learning courses have nowadays become an indispensable part of acquiring new knowledge, particularly at tertiary level. Almost all the universities in the Czech Republic off er their e-courses for their students, but also for the general public since such courses can be an additional source of income for the universities. This is also true for the Faculty of Informatics and Management (FIM) of the University of Hradec Králové (UHK), Czech Republic.
Model of the e-learning courses at FIM UHK
In the Faculty of Informatics and Management, e-courses are being created in a virtual learning environment called WebCT. The faculty has been intensely involved in the application of e-learning in teaching since 1999, as its teachers continuously attempt to improve the quality of their teaching.
E-learning, which refers to using multimedia technology to improve the quality of learning, contributes enormously towards increasing eff ectiveness and effi ciency of the educational process. In the case of our faculty, e-learning also enhances learner autonomy.
Each part of the online course starts with selfstudy information input and concludes with tasks, quizzes, or assignments. Self-study is one of the most important learning methods. As Badger (2003) pointed out, time available for learners to spend on improving language skills would always be limited. For many learners, there will never be enough time or money available to attend regular language classes, but all learners can fi nd the time and money for self-study. Moreover, there are several key factors which infl uence successful self-study:
- learner motivation – job satisfaction, enhanced job performance, fi nancial rewards, possible promotion, tests and examinations
- time – it is necessary to create a level of interest in self-study that can compete with other necessary activities in learners’ lives
- learner support – close link between self-study and classroom based tasks, regular contact with a tutor, contact with fellow students, access to a language support website
- aff ordability – comparatively low cost of selfstudy for companies
- study materials – materials must be highly accessible and easy to study
E-learning started to be widely used at the faculty in 2001 when a few selected courses created in virtual learning environment WebCT (web communication tools) were introduced for part-time students. In 2002 these and other on-line courses, often called OLIVA (on-line teaching = On-Line VyukA), began to be used as a new quality support for fulltime students as well. At present more than 150 e-courses are being fully exploited in teaching at the faculty. In English teaching more than 45 e-courses are being used. Some of them, such as Teaching Written Business English, can be taught completely on-line. Usually, there are only 2-3 tutorials: an introductory tutorial where students meet their tutor who will guide and support them through the whole course, continuous tutorial where students usually discuss with their tutor the problems they come across when doing diff erent types of tasks or writing assignments, and the fi nal tutorial where students’ work is evaluated by a tutor orally. This method of teaching is particularly suitable for the university distance students and interuniversity study, the so-called IUS (Interuniversity Study) project. Moreover, sometimes there are regular classes and e-courses are used as reference courses (i.e. students can once again read the information obtained in class and do some additional exercises to practice their knowledge) for further self-study or revision of the lecture. This is, for example, true for teaching Culture and History of Great Britain or History of the USA. Finally, there exist the socalled blended courses. The blended learning is particularly suitable for language learning when conventional face-to-face teaching is sometimes necessary for developing speaking communication skills. Students can do, for example, writing and reading tasks on their own and in classes teachers can concentrate more on listening and speaking activities. One of the representative blended courses at the faculty is, for example, an optional one semester course on Academic Writing. The course exposes students to blended learning. That means they meet a teacher once into two weeks to discuss and clarify the mistakes they made in their assignments (i.e. essays), which together with a deeper self-study of the materials implemented in their on-line.
The role of a tutor
The e-learning courses, how attractive and cheaper they might seem, require, however, a new, much extensive approach to teaching. Consequently, the traditional role of a teacher is changing. That inevitably means that the notion of the word teacher itself has been shifted. In the e-learning courses diff erent names are employed, for example, coach, leader, moderator, facilitator or mediator. In this paper the word tutor is used. As Merriam- Webster’s Online Dictionary (27.1.2010) defi nes: A tutor is a person charged with the instruction and guidance of another as a (private) teacher. Therefore, to distinguish between the traditional tutor and the online tutor, the word e-learning tutor is applied in this context. Gerrard (2002) emphasises several features which diff er the traditional tuition from the online tuition. Then the online tutoring is characterized as follows:
- it places greater emphasis on written skills;
- it produces a more formal tone;
- it does not follow a linear conversation but instead promotes multiple conversations;
- it does not confi ne teaching to specifi c times;
- it places greater emphasis on student-student learning;
- it requires teachers to develop new ways of encouraging participation;
- it requires teachers to assess the worth of online contribution.
Obviously, the e-learning tutor has to exercise a wide variety of tasks:
- S/he plans, organizes, delivers and evaluates tutorials.
- S/he provides students with explicit and clear instructions and a study guide.
- S/he continuously helps students to overcome diff erent study obstacles so that they achieve their learning objectives.
- S/he consults, corrects, evaluates, feedbacks their individual assignments and sends them back, ideally within 3 days.
- S/he resolves potential study confl icts.
- S/he constantly supports and encourages students in their studies through communication tools (e-mail or discussion).
- S/he reacts at their enquiries and attempts to give them advice.
- Sometimes s/he creates content of the e-learning course and therefore s/he is responsible for its quality.
Steve Wheeler (2009) comes up with 7 skills e-learning tutors should possess:
- to support and encourage learners;
- not to be afraid to take risks with new technologies;
- to transfer good teaching skills into online contexts;
- to be good communicators in any medium;
- to be non-conformists;
- to thrive in a culture of change;
- to see the big picture (the social network).
Berge (1992), based on a thorough literature review, further developed this characterization and identifi ed four main e-tutor roles:
- Pedagogical or intellectual roles are the most important in the e-learning process. The e-tutor uses questions and probes for student responses that focus discussions on critical concepts, principles and skills.
- Social roles involve the creation of friendly and comfortable social environments in which students feel that learning is possible.
- Managerial or organisational roles involve setting learning objectives; establishing agendas for the learning activities; timetabling learning activities and tasks; clarifying procedural rules and decision-making norms.
- Technical roles, possibly the most daunting for academics, involve becoming familiar, comfortable and competent with the ICT systems and software that compose the e-learning environment.
As McPherson and Nunes (2004) state, the e-learning tutor play a critical role in e-learning, as the main agent responsible for the delivery of the courses and the support of the learners, s/he must be equipped with an appropriate set of skills and attributes in addition to subject matter expertise.
The creation of online courses can be seen in two levels. Firstly, there is a pedagogical level with approaches, rules and principles that guide content creation so that human can learn from it. Secondly, there is a technical level with particular implementation in a specifi c environment and tools. These two levels are permeated and mutually interconnected by the development process in which the course content materializes. For the purpose of this paper the pedagogical level is described only.
As far as the pedagogical level is concerned, there is no particular pedagogical approach used. However, while preparing the courses, the basic rules and principles of creating e-learning content is followed. The whole course is divided into lessons. The structure of each lesson maps the basic learning steps:
- informing of objectives
- presenting content
- assessing performance
- providing feedback
These learning steps are then transformed into the defined structure. The particular structure of each lesson is as follows:
- Goal – a short statement as a motivation to study the particular lesson.
- Prerequisites – previous knowledge required to master the lesson.
- Skills to be learned – a particular description of knowledge gained in the particular lesson.
- Body – the content in forms of exercises such as phrases, words, statements, or questions.
- Tasks, quizzes, or assignments – feedback.
The particular content in the Body part can vary based on the requirements of a given lesson. The subparts in form of exercises can repeat arbitrarily. In the body of the lesson images and links to internal or external content can be provided. Thus, the content of each lesson is semistructured in this way and this fact needs to be refl ected in technical implementation, especially in the selection of the appropriate formal language.
An example of classic e-tutoring
The Faculty of Informatics and Management has been for several years involved in the so-called interuniversity study project. That means that students from other universities (from Zlín, Ostrava, Brno or Plzeň) in the Czech Republic can choose and study some selective courses offered by UHK and vice versa. Tutors usually meet and come with a face-to-face contact with their students at the introductory and final tutorials. Otherwise, in the course of the whole semester, students work in the on-line course on their own and submit a few assignments during the continuous tutorial(s). At the introductory tutorial they are acquainted with the e-subject, its content and requirements. Moreover, they are instructed how to work in the virtual e-learning environment WebCT and they receive a written manual. Unfortunately, all the students usually do not participate in the introductory tutorial, which can cause slight problems later on, not only for the tutor but also for the students.
The principal problem seems not to be the knowledge or the operation of the virtual environment WebCT, but where to fi nd all the necessary information, i.e. which tools of the virtual environment to use in particular. The students who are not present and sometimes even those who are present at the introductory tutorial do not read a syllabus, goals of the subject or an announcement about the continuous tutorial and therefore, they miss the deadline of some assignments. Thus, they automatically lose the points for not submitting the assignment(s) on time. The second problem seems to be a lower entry knowledge of the target language in case of the e-learning language courses. This makes it impossible for some students to finish the on-line course. Nevertheless, as the evaluation forms reveal (Appendix 1), those students who finish the course successfully are satisfied with working in the on-line course on their own and at their own pace from the comfort of their homes when they voluntarily assign some time for it. Furthermore, they state that the information given to them during the whole course is very useful. Overall, the responses to the given questions are usually very positive. The only drawback is that students usually choose such e-courses because they lack some credits. Eventually, they find it a very convenient form of study.
The online teaching/learning is another contemporary trend towards personalization and individualization of learning that is supported by advancements in information technology. However, it imposes great demands on its creators and e-tutors who must necessarily comply with new requirements if they want their e-learning tutoring to be a success. On the other hand, it makes students responsible for their own work. Thus, e-learning is challenging both for its tutors and students.
- Badger, I. (2003). Self-study and the Business learner. Talk given at the 37th Annual IATEFL Conference. Brighton: Participant’s notes.
- B erge, Z.L. (1992). The role of the moderator in a Scholarly Discussion Group (SDG). Retrieved January 27, 2010, from http://www.emoderators.com/moderators/zlbmod.html
- G errard, C. (2002). Promoting best practice for e-tutoring through staff development. In Proceedings of Networked Learning 2002: Third International Conference, Lancaster University and University of Sheffi eld 26th March – 28th March 2002. Retrieved January 27, 2010, from http://www. shef.ac.uk/nlc2002/proceedings/papers/15.htm
- Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary. Retrieved January 27, 2010, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/ dictionary/tutor
- McPherson, M., & Nunes, M.B. (2004). The role of tutors as an integral part of online leasing support. Retrieved January 27, 2010, from http://www.eurodl.org/materials/ contrib/2004/Maggie_MsP.html
- Wheeler, S. (2009). Learning with ‘e’s. Retrieved January 27, 2010, from http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.com/2009/05/7- skills-for-successful-e-tutor.html
Blanka Frydrychová Klímová