Supporting Virtual Learning through E-Tutoring

Supporting Virtual Learning through E-Tutoring

Birgitta Kopp, Melanie Germ, Heinz Mandl
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-729-9.ch012
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E-tutoring is a hot topic in the context of virtual learning. As such learning environments become more prevalent in schools, universities or vocational training, providing adequate support for learners is becoming increasingly important – not only for individual, but also for collaborative learning. Therefore, there has been a lot of interest in using e-tutoring to foster learning processes and improve the performance of learners. Furthermore, an e-tutor can help prevent phenomena which are common in e-learning environments, such as feeling anonymous and isolated. In this chapter, we would like to first provide a theoretical introduction to e-tutoring that includes the definition, tasks and competencies of an e-tutor. Secondly, we will discuss the e-tutor in action, illustrated by a training for e-tutors and a virtual seminar which was supported by an e-tutor.
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E-Tutoring: A Theoretical Introduction

E-tutoring is a hot topic in the context of virtual learning. Virtual learning environments are becoming increasingly common in different contexts – in schools, universities and vocational training (for on overview of this development see Rudestam & Schoenholtz-Read, 2002). Therefore, the adequate support of learners is also becoming increasingly important. Furthermore, the use of collaborative learning is also increasing, which places higher demands on learners – especially when the collaboration is designed and tailored to improve learning processes and learning outcomes. As designing e-collaborative learning units is a central task of the e-tutor, e-tutoring is closely related to e-collaboration. But what exactly is e-tutoring? What are the tasks of an e-tutor and which competencies does he need?

In the first three sections, we will answer these three theory-related questions by giving a definition of e-tutoring as well as by describing the tasks and competencies of an e-tutor. We will then show the e-tutor in action in two steps: First, we will describe a training on e-tutoring with its content and evaluation data. Second, we will discuss the actions of an e-tutor during a virtual seminar and examine the evaluation data on these specific interventions.

Defining e-tutoring

Online learning is increasing in everyday work and further education contexts as well as in schools, universities and vocational training. But oftentimes the e-learning environments are designed such that learners are not able to learn with them effectively – because of technical problems, an overly complex structure of the learning environment, content that is too demanding or due to individual problems with self-directed learning and motivation. In such cases, an e-tutor is essential for handling such problems when learning in an e-learning environment.

But what is an e-tutor? There are a wide range of different names that are almost used interchangeably, but do not always mean the same thing. Rautenstrauch (2001) lists different names for an e-tutor, e. g. Tele-tutor, Online-Coach, E-Moderator, Tele-Teacher, Online-Facilitator or E-Trainer. All these names are used to describe the same phenomenon, namely the support of e-learners, even though the range of tasks may differ depending on the respective name. In order to avoid misunderstandings, our terminology describes an e-tutor as a person who supports the individual and collaborative online learning processes of his/her learners. In this definition, e-tutoring comprises all the activities of a teacher that support a learner in constructively and actively dealing with the learning environment. Thus, the e-tutor’s main function is to supervise his learners.

The tasks of an e-tutor are even more demanding since the communicative situation greatly differs between e-learning and face-to-face communication due to missing non-verbal signals and extra-linguistic signs. Furthermore, an e-tutor should be competent not only in content-specific knowledge and social skills, but also in knowledge about the functioning of the Internet, technical skills and knowledge on net-based communication (Salmon, 2000). Especially the last three competencies are relevant when learning online.

To gain deeper insight into the tasks and competencies of an e-tutor, we will describe them in greater detail in the next section.

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