In recent years, there have been extensive discussions in the information system (IS) community on how to best respond to developments in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry. Some of these discussions have focused on the changing skills of IS graduates and have identified the need for graduates to have an integrated understanding of business processes and the ability to work effectively in teams to solve key business problems in the ICT industry. To better respond to the ICT changes, many firms have implemented companywide information systems called enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to Many scholars believe that e-tutor support in a virtual learning environment is critical for the success of a student’s learning experience. Several reasons support this belief: “practical reasons such as reduction of drop-out rates, theoretical reasons such as mitigating student isolation, and moral reasons such as the obligation to help students succeed” (Denis, Watland, Pirotte, & Verday, 2004). Notwithstanding, the e-tutor profile is still uncertain and calls for deeper investigation and analysis. This paper aims to present a framework of competencies for specific e-tutor roles, through a literature review and personal experience.
Probably used for the first time in 1997 in online educational programs for American schools, the term e-tutor is now normally used in various countries and contexts. Other expressions currently used in literature to refer to this figure are online tutor, online moderator/e-moderator, distance education tutor, e-teacher, cyber-teacher, online facilitator, and so forth.
What do these expressions stand for? Various authors use these terms with different meanings. While it is emphasized that in distance education the e-tutor intervenes as a “mediator” between the institutions, the course’s subject matter, and the students, the term is, however, also used in a wider sense as proposed by Cornelius and Higgison (2000): “We use the term ‘tutor’ in its broadest sense to include, amongst others, academics, faculty, instructors, corporate trainers, animators, facilitators, moderators, subject specialists and learning support staff. The term online tutor includes any person undertaking a role to support and enable students to learn online effectively”.
According to Jaquinot (2002) e-tutoring is a service given to the students in distance learning in order to make “the signs of presence appear”. Laurent, Gagne-Iattoni, and Lessard (1992) describe online tutoring as a wide advising activity, the objective of which is that of breaking isolation. Simpson (2002) and Lentell (2003) stress that the figure of tutor in online learning environments is necessary to make the student overcome isolation.
Among the e-tutor functions Barker (2002) cites pastoral care, while Rayn, Scott, Freeman, and Patel (2000) and Lentell (2003) advocate the facilitator role in the Rogerian sense. In these definitions attention is given to the individualization of the learning program, the support provided in order to overcome learning difficulties, and the importance of this figure in satisfying the relational need that the e-learner may feel.
Other analyses propose to consider e-tutor roles in the framework of the pedagogical model of the course where the e-tutor operates. Berge and Collins (1996) distinguish between three roles: instructor, facilitator or moderator. Briefly, in the role of instructor the e-tutor is more oriented towards support of contents and must be a subject matter expert. As a facilitator the e-tutor is mainly engaged in guiding discussions, providing methodological support and motivating online learners. As a moderator, the e-tutor takes care of managing interactions, discussion groups and online collaborative groups.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Synchronous Communication Tools: Synchronous communication tools enable real-time communication in a “same time-different place” mode, and allow people to connect instantly and at the same time. They include different tools such as video and audio conferencing, and real-time text-based tools (chat rooms, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and ICQ (I Seek You) instant messaging services).
E-Learning: A Neologism created at the start of the ‘2000s to indicate a set of methodologies aimed at using the ICTs in order to provide learners with learning resources and interactions free from temporal and spatial constraints. Three main solutions can be distinguished: content + support, wrap around, and integrated model. These three structures are respectively based on content, teacher’s support for activities between peers and the Internet, and the collaborative learning group.
E-Moderator: The term is used to refer to a tutor who stimulates and guides the interactions between a group of students engaged in sharing knowledge and comparing points of views in a virtual learning environment.
Facilitation: This concept goes back to humanist psychology and particularly to Rogers. Starting off from the supposition that all human beings by reason of their psychological structure are apt to develop their potential, learning is intended as a process of facilitation oriented towards an offering of support to the abilities of self-management and self-development that individuals naturally possess.
E-Tutor: The term is used in literature together with other expressions like online tutor, e-moderator, facilitator, and so forth. to indicate an educational figure of crucial importance in the online teaching and learning context. E-tutoring covers a wide range of roles, which Berge (1995) has categorized into four main areas: pedagogical, social, managerial, and technical.
Computer Mediated Communication (CMC): It refers to human communication via computers and includes different forms of synchronous (i. e., instant messages, chat rooms) and asynchronous (i. e., e-mails, Web forums, blog) interaction between two or more individuals. Studies in CMC focus on the social and emotional effects of different computer communication systems.
Asynchronous Communication Tools: Asynchronous communication tools allow communication at different times and different places. These tools enable people to connect together at each person’s own convenience. They include different tools such as e-mail, listservs (automated e-mail lists), bulleting boards, newsgroups, blogs, and wikis.
E-Tivity: The term has been introduced by Salmon (2002), who defines e-tivities as a framework “for online active and interactive learning”. The e-tivities main features are: “A small piece of information, stimulus or challenge (the “spark”); online activity which includes individual participants posting a contribution; an interactive or participative element- such as responding to the postings of others; summary, feedback or critique from an e-moderator (the “plenary”)” (Salmon, 2002).