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The nature of your role as tutor
Your tutoring role may be part-time or full-time; as a staff member, or as a freelance (self-employed)
consultant. You may be one of several tutors for the same course, who work with a senior tutor, or you may be
solely responsible for all the students in the course. You may have had a direct role in authoring the course, you
may be a colleague of the course author(s), or you might not know the course authors at all.
Salmon’s categories are mirrored closely in the work of McPherson and Nunes (2004) who define their
categories in the terms of roles. Darabi et al. (2006) provide a detailed breakdown of competencies for distance
teaching, generating a list of 20 competencies for online distance an instructor which was then prioritized
according to how practitioners felt they performed.
• Employ appropriate presentation strategies
• Exhibit effective communication skills
• Facilitate productive discussions
• Ensure appropriate communication
• Provide learners with course-level guidelines
• Employ appropriate types of interaction
• Provide timely and informative feedback
• Assess learning based on stated goals
• Stimulate learners’ critical thinking
• Monitor learner progress
• Evaluate effectiveness of course
• Encourage learners to become self-directed
• Manage logistical aspects of course
• Foster a learning community
• Create a friendly and open environment
• Use various methods of distance education
• Assist learners in becoming acclimated
• Use relevant technology effectively
• Accommodate problems with technology
• Improve own professional knowledge.’
(Darabi et al., 2006, p. 113)
Tutoring Learners at a Distance
In an examination of the distance education system and its sub-systems. Erdos ( 1967) identifies the following:
educational programme evaluation, finance, management teaching materials and student service as part of the
student service, she identifies teaching examining, counseling, admission and the relay of information. Part of
the teaching, here comes form of tutoring.
Tutoring learners at a distance can take a variety of forms. These forms explain in a way the nature of the
mediation that takes place. Most of the forms of mediation that are possible in an actual distance education
teaching situation can take place in tutorials or small group teaching. They come in form of
• tutorial letters sent to the learner
• telephone conversations with learners
• e-mail interactions with learners
• face to face teaching,
• audio or video tape teaching
• audio and video conferencing
• comments marked on assignments which are returned to learners
• Articles in Unit Newsletters.
While the role of the tutor as an intermediary places emphasis on the tutor’s ability to understand the course
text, and guide the learners through the issues raised the tutor’s own teaching ability as well as the ability to
lead a group discussion effectively are highly needed. In this respect, the tutor is expected to:
• respond effectively and early to many questions the learners ask
• initiate dialogue among members of the class to promote interaction and make up for lost time in terms
• Identify ways by which various activities outlined in the text can be carried out or evaluated.
• bring other media into use apart from print
• explain concepts learners still find difficult
• effectively use group methods in class
• Guide learners through the identification of references given and highlight other salient points such
books or authors may have emphasized.
• Provide feedback by helping learners to know the corrections of responses given.
• return early any marked assignments
• be a good model
• be able to change the tempo of discourse
• Divide class into groups to discuss some of the questions in the units and guide the process of discourse.
• Some of the issues raised here are already taken up in the way the course materials are produced. Others
are issues to be taken up by the Distance Education Unit itself. However, knowledge of the issues should
prompt course tutors to make a good job of the assignment.
• There are a number of methods in small group meetings (see Figure 1) which tutors should find useful.
Some of these will be examined in greater detail during this workshop.
• Figure 3: Small Group methods: overview
Brainstorming A technique for generating many ideas uncritically with comment and
evaluating only considered later.
Buzz Groups A short period during a lesson in which several small groups intensively discuss
a give issue, often followed by plenary.
Case Study An in-depth analysis of real or a simulated problem for students to identify
principles or suggested solutions.
A discussion in which students may raise questions or comment but the tutor
controls the general direction.
Fishbowl A discussion group in an inner cycle surrounded by a silent ‘observations’ group
often followed by plenary session or role reversal.
A group discussion in which topics and direction are largely controlled by
members of a problem.
A group with a specific open ended task which is discussed, with findings
reported at plenary session or summarized on a poster
Projects A practical group exercise or scholarly activity involving investigation of a
An ‘idea’ generating technique whereby groups of two briefly discuss a
problem, then form groups of four for further discussion prior to reporting back
Questions Tutor displays questions (on BB or OHP), gives time to think and then elicits
answers for discussion and elaboration by group. Can be used as quiz with
Role Play A technique in which participants act out different roles in particular situations
and later discuss their feelings and aspects of the problem.
Seminar Group discussion of a paper presented by a student
An exercise involving essential characteristics of a specific real situation where
participants re-enact specific roles.
A discussion organized around a carefully prepared sequence of issues and
questions to draw out the required information from students.
Syndicate Several sub-groups forming part of a larger group each working on a problem
for a set time and reporting later to the whole group
Tutorial A meeting with a small group, often based on a pre-set topic or previous lecture
Workshop A ‘hands-on’ participating experience invo0lving several methods and directed
at developing skills or attitudes.