Volunteer e-tutors fill gap at school, earn teaching experience

stock-photo-1465891-study-kidVolunteer e-tutoring programs for elementary school students are rare, write three Canadian researchers in a recent issue of the British Journal of Educational Technology, but if a workable program could be designed, they could provide needed one-to-one interaction for children who need extra help.

The researchers tested a volunteer e-tutoring program for elementary school students using preservice teachers in a teacher education program as tutors. While there were some hitches, tutors and students reported having positive experiences as a result of the program, the researchers report. The study focused more on the viability of such a program rather than on the academic impact on the elementary school students.

“Both school children and preservice teachers potentially benefit from online tutor-tutee instructional interaction,” they write. “Children benefit by individualized learning support; preservice teachers benefit from authentic instructional experience with Internet technologies.”

Videoconferencing, websites

To build a rapport between the tutor and the elementary school student, videoconferencing was incorporated into the 8-week e-tutoring program. The tutor and student had three 10-minute videoconferencing sessions. Both the elementary school and the college had videoconferencing capabilities. The student left class for each of the scheduled video conferences. Leaving class was seen as one of the drawbacks of using videoconferencing although it did help build rapport with the tutor, the researchers write.

Each tutor created a web site for his or her own child with Web Course Tools (WebCT), a secure Internet-based system that offers a range of tools such as email, chat, quizzes, whiteboard (real-time writing and drawing on simulated canvas), course content, organizer pages and links to other sites. Participating tutors reflected on the experience of e-tutoring on web-logs. All the tutors were students in an instructional technology course.

Ten elementary students were selected to participate in the program because their teachers thought they could benefit from added help. The teacher education students earned 15% of their final grade in their instructional technology course by participating in the e-tutoring program. E-tutoring was substituted for regular coursework.

Thirty-eight of 54 students in the instructional technology course applied to participate. Ten of the teacher education students were selected to participate primarily because of their interest and experience in Internet technologies. The teacher education students were asked to commit for 10 weeks, including 2 weeks to create a website for their child.

All of the websites developed by the tutors for each of their children included personalized support for learning. One site used large pictures of dogs as icons because the student expressed an interest in dogs and another used a child’s favorite movie as the theme. E-tutors used a variety of approaches to support learning including attaching grammar worksheets to emails and links to interactive websites.

As well as the positive feedback from children, tutors and parents, researchers received comments about difficulties with the e-tutoring program.

“E-tutors, in the early stages of teacher education, may have had difficulty reconciling the disparity between children’s grade placement and their actual academic competencies,” the researchers write. “More advanced preservice teachers may be better equipped to identify, for example, child reading level and adjust instruction accordingly.”

One parent noted that the online activities were too difficult and that the child would have benefited from easier instructions. Another parent commented that involvement in the program put even more pressure on the child. A few tutors expressed uncertainty about whether the child was making any progress and learning. Other tutors wanted more face-to-face interaction.

The teacher education students received a median grade of 81% for their participation as e-tutors. Two of the 10 tutors received marks of 60% for their e-tutoring work.

“Within the group of motivated and technically capable students, many, but not all, have the skills and attitudes necessary to e-tutor school children in need of supplementary educational support,” the teachers write.

“Technology education students: e-tutors for school children,” by Genevieve Marie Johnson and Sharon Bratt, British Journal of Educational Technology, Volume 40, Number 1, 2009, pp. 32-41. Published in ERN January 2009

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