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Best Practices in Online TutoringBest PracticesIn Online TutoringCherie Mazer, Ed.M.About the authorCherie Mazer, Ed.M., is the principal of mLearning, LLC, a Doctoral Candidate (2014) in the CarnegieProject on the Education Doctorate at University of Central Florida, a graduate of the Harvard UniversityGraduate School of Education, Technology, Innovation, and Education program, a former facultymember of Wright State University and the Air Force Institute of Technology, and a lifelong learner.She has also authored and developed K-16 educational programs implemented throughout theUnited States.

Best Practices in Online TutoringTable of ContentsIntroduction 2Background Information Trends Driving Growth in Online Tutoring The Unique Benefits of One-to-One Online Tutoring222Current State of Research in Online Tutoring4Study Methodology, Setting, Population, and Sample5Findings from Post-Session Surveys5Findings from the Review of Recorded Tutoring Transcripts Cognitive Support Practices Socio-Affective Support Practices Motivational Support Practices Meta-Cognitive Support Practices66889Conclusion9NotesBest Practices in Online Tutoring10Page 1

Best Practices in Online TutoringIntroductionOnline tutoring is an emerging practice in higher education. Faculty and administrators considering adoption of onlinetutoring look to the research to evaluate new educational practices. Unfortunately, the research about online tutoring lagsthe practice. To help fill that gap, this study, commissioned by Tutor.com, and prepared by an external evaluator, analyzes350 sessions of tutorial dialog between human tutors and higher education students as well as student comments aboutonline tutoring sessions. The purpose of the study was to determine if online tutors rely on research-based pedagogicalpractices associated with gains in learning outcomes. The analysis revealed that the practices of online tutors closely parallelthe research-based best practices of face-to-face tutors.Background InformationTrends Driving Growth in Online TutoringAs higher education institutions face the challenge to educate a rising tide of increasingly diverse students, there is anupward trend to deliver online educational services.1 In the US, from 2000 to 2012, undergraduate enrollment in collegesand universities increased by 41 percent from 15 to 21 million students, the highest 12-year increase since the 1970s.2 Andenrollment of post-secondary students is expected to continue to hit record highs through 2021.3 Students, are increasinglyolder,4 employed,5 less prepared for the rigors of academia,6 and require tutoring and remediation assistance. In Fall 2012,over 42 percent of all students in degree-granting institutions were 25 years or older.7 And, the growth rate of students over25 years old outpaces that of the traditional college student age 18-24 – a trend expected to continue.8 Students continueto balance work and school, with 41 percent of full-time and 76 percent of part-time undergraduates (ages 18-24) holdinga job.9 In tandem with burgeoning enrollments, a greater proportion of students enter college underprepared in basic skillssuch as English and Mathematics. Of the high school graduating class of 2013, nearly 31 percent of all 2013 ACT-tested highschool graduates met none of the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, meaning they were not prepared academically for firstyear courses in English Composition, College Algebra, Biology, and social sciences. Accordingly, over one-third of first-yearundergraduate students reported enrolling in remedial or developmental courses. Increasing enrollments of students jugglingschool, work, and home obligations in need of convenient individualized teaching assistance is driving the adoption of onlineeducational services that depart from traditional face-to-face instructional support.The Unique Benefits of One-to-One Online TutoringThe phrase online tutoring refers to a variety of forms, technologies, and practices and may also be called web-tutoring ore-tutoring. Online tutoring may be simply an asynchronous communication between a student and teacher via an e-mail ortext exchange, or a synchronous exchange via video chat, audio chat, or text chat augmented with white board technologies.Online tutoring can also refer to pre-published computer-based tutorials or adaptive software systems (also called intelligenttutoring systems) without the human component. This study examined the Tutor.com tutoring sessions and the studentcomments that are facilitated by a proprietary online platform. The student and a human tutor are connected via synchronoustext messages and an interactive whiteboard. When a student logs on to the web-based tutoring service, he or she is matchedwith an appropriately trained tutor in a private, virtual, online space.24/7 anytime, anywhere individualized one-to-one instructionWhile face-to-face tutoring is an effective practice, for students who hold a job or manage a family, the logisticsof scheduling and meeting at a designated time and place may be a barrier to use. Many students struggle with theirassignments late at night and on the weekends or whenever they can work it in their busy schedules.1In this report, the results from the post-session survey conducted by Tutor.com (a convenience sample) are reported with descriptive statistics. The investigator also performed a qualitative review of open-endedcomments. The survey sample size was 149,490 with 54,940 multiple-choice survey responses (representing a 37 percent response rate) and 16,192 open-ended responses.Best Practices in Online TutoringPage 2

Best Practices in Online Tutoring “it’s great especially for me being a mom and having a part time job. I’m getting help and not having to find ababysitter while I go meet with a tutor.” – Statistics student“Before I discovered this service I was constantly struggling with my algebra homework, and I wasn’t able to get anyhelp in a timely manner. I was falling behind and now I am able to catch up with confidence! I’m not just getting theanswers I need I’m actually learning how to do it.” – Algebra studentA logical companion to online learningFor the growing number of distance learners, campus learning assistance centers may not be a logical solution. Over 33percent of all higher education students take at least one online course (7.1 million), with that number expected to doublein the next five years.13 Also predicted is the growth of student-directed or self-paced learning for courses in onlinelearning.14“I find this service very helpful since I am in an online course. I do not have much interaction with the instructor.”– Statistics student“Taking classes online is hard enough and trying to figure solutions out on your own can be unbearable!”– Chemistry studentOn demand efficiency e efficiency of a tutoring solution without signing up for office hours, showing up at a pre-determined place at a specificThtime, may promote greater help seeking frequency. For example, students who are stuck on a math problem and can’t moveahead, students who seek reassurance on a worked problem, or who need a boost to get started on an assignment, can logon with an online tutor and quickly and efficiently get assistance and move on to assignment completion. “I was checking for understanding while reading my stats text. I wasn’t able to get the same answer the textbookprovided. My tutor worked with me to uncover my error. I didn’t want to move forward without understanding a keyconcept needed to complete my assignments for the week.” – Statistics student “Before I started using tutor.com I would have spent unnecessary hours on homework rewriting equations becauseI did not know where I was messing up. Now I try it a few times, and if I am still confused I sign on here and get help.It saves me so much time.” – Chemistry student e ability to efficiently seek help to complete assignments has the potential to reduce a student’s decision to drop a course.ThFor some students, the spiral of falling behind with assignments, doing poorly on a test, and eventually dropping out of acourse or a program may be halted with greater and more efficient access to tutors.“ My first few weeks of the course left me wanting to drop it and change my plans. After finding out that [my University]offered this service, my view of the course has changed. I get excellent, helpful tutoring when I need it on the subjectsthat I struggle with!” – Accounting studentThe human touch While there are many supplemental computer-based tutorials like Khan Academy or those provided by educationalpublishers, students are not always able to diagnose the gaps in their knowledge in order to apply an online interactiveexercise or print tutorial to their assignment. The ability to work with a professional human tutor and apply what is learnedin the session to their assignment improves student engagement and confidence. Human tutors are also more adept atencouraging, motivating, and empathizing with a struggling student than even the most sophisticated computer-basedintelligent tutoring systems.Best Practices in Online TutoringPage 3

Best Practices in Online Tutoring “i learned things from my tutor that i didnt understand in the book. it makes a world of difference when somebodycan show you the way. i felt like i was stumbling in the dark. And i was beginning to worry that i would have to take thiscourse again.” – Economics student “There is much anxiety and stress as I learn to use the computer, navigate the blackboard, re-learn basic English skills,and try to continue to maintain a home life. The tutor was very encouraging, informative, and eager to assist.”– English studentStudies show students are more likely to seek help online lthough many colleges offer a plethora of remediation and instructional support options, many students do not takeAadvantage of the services. Besides the logistical difficulties of arranging a face-to-face meeting, there are other factors thatmay deter students from seeking help. In a study to explore the effect that a learning environment has on help-seekingbehaviors of college students, Kitsantas and Chow discovered that: 1) students prefer to seek help electronically from theirteachers rather than meet in person; 2) students whose classes have a web component seek help more often than students ina traditional class with no web resource; and 3) students report that they feel less threatened to seek help using an electronicsystem.15 “I am so glad I swallowed my pride and reached out to tutor.com for help. My tutor was kind, supportive and most ofall helped remove the roadblock I had so that I can move forward with my research paper. I can’t express the relief andexcitement I feel after this one session!” – English student iven that help seeking is positively correlated with student achievement, increasing student participation in tutoring is aGdistinct advantage of a web-based learning environment. In a study conducted by Karabenick and Knapp assessing collegestudent’s help-seeking characteristics in large face-to-face college classes, the researchers discovered “that students who feelthreatened by help-seeking reported they would be more likely to avoid doing so.”16 Often, a student needing the mostassistance feels the most threat and is least likely to seek help like a tutoring service.17 For many of these students, withoutthe convenience and efficiency, they would not seek help. For low performing students, meeting face-to-face with a tutormay pose the threat of embarrassment, while the virtual tutoring environment allows a “cloak of anonymity.”18 Many factorsmay contribute to low participation in face-to-face tutoring services for which web-based tutoring offers solutions.Current State of Research in Online TutoringThough the efficacy of face-to-face tutoring is supported by numerous studies,19 20 21 22 23 in the emerging field of onlinetutoring, there are few research studies examining the practice.24 Although online tutoring is an emerging educational trendwith academic research lagging the practice, two studies set in higher education contexts reported significantly higher learninggains, better attitudes about help seeking and more frequent help seeking by students.25 26 Despite this dearth of studies, theadoption of online tutoring by public, private, and non-profit institutions continues to expand.27 28 As online tutoring entersthe mainstream, one-to-one individualized virtual tutoring is being delivered at scale. For example, Tutor.com delivered nearly1.4 million online sessions in 2013. To help fill the research gap in this emerging field, this qualitative study was conducted toexamine the practices of online tutors to answer the following question: Do online tutors draw from research-based pedagogicpractices associated with gains in learning outcomes?Best Practices in Online TutoringPage 4

Best Practices in Online TutoringStudy Methodology, Setting, Population, and SampleFor this study, the Tutor.com 2013 higher education recorded tutoring sessions, transcripts, and student surveys provided thestudy population. To select the session transcripts, this study incorporated a mixed-methods approach combining a quantitativerandom sampling technique used to select cases for qualitative analysis of transcripts and recorded tutoring sessions. Interviewsof company personnel and a document review of quality assurance procedures and documents were also performed. A stratifiedpurposive sample of cases from the 2013 higher education tutoring sessions was selected from each of these subject areas:Business, English, Math, and Science (Table 1). The 350 randomly selected sessions were coded for types and variations oftutoring practices.Table 1. Subjects and Topics of Cases ReviewedEnglish Composition – Writing ProcessMath Algebra II Mid-Level Mathematics (Remedial Algebra) College StatisticsScience Biology Chemistry Earth Science Organic Chemistry PhysicsTutor.com has a quality assurance system that begins with vetting, testing, and performing background checks on potentialnew tutors, followed by an onboarding and mentoring process to orient tutors to teaching expectations and standards, aswell as a continuous improvement monitoring system of sessions. Tutor.com rates tutors by a complex algorithm measuringa variety of factors. With an emphasis on effective tutoring practices and customer experience, Tutor.com has developed anextensive network of tutors available 24/7 with expertise in 40 subject areas. To evaluate the practices of this network of tutors,350 cases were randomly sampled from the higher education market tutoring sessions delivered in 2013. The post-sessionstudent survey and comments were also reviewed to triangulate the findings. Although Tutor.com evaluates all tutors andcontinuously monitors their performance, this study serves as an external independent evaluation to determine whether thetutors use research-based pedagogical practices associated with gains in learning outcomes.Findings from Post-Session SurveysFrom the 2013 post-session surveys, Tutor.com earns high marks from higher education students.Table 2. Responses to survey questionsSurvey QuestionIs this service helping you complete your homework? (n 18,455)Is this service helping you improve your grades? (n 17,970)Is this service helping you be more confident about your schoolwork? (n 18,075)Yes (percent)969697No (percent)443Note: The response rate was approximately 12 percent on these survey questions.Best Practices in Online TutoringPage 5

Best Practices in Online TutoringTable 3. Student ratings of Tutor.com for higher education learning sessionsMy learning session was:ExcellentVery r of responses43,8555,9372,5051,1101,533Note: The response rate was approximately 37 percent on this survey question.Findings From the Review of Recorded Tutoring TranscriptsSuccessful tutors, whether online or face-to-face attend to four categories of learning: 1) cognitive support by providing contentand disciplinary expertise, 2) socio-affective support by encouraging the learner, 3) motivational support, and 4) meta-cognitivesupport by helping students develop learning strategies and study skills.29 Using these four aspects of learning as a framework,the Tutor.com sessions were reviewed and the observed tutors’ interactions with students were coded into categories that alignwith practices supported by research-based studies.Students arrive in a tutoring session with a broad range of knowledge, preparedness, learning preferences, and beliefs abouttheir ability to complete the assignment. In assignment completion tutoring, students present most commonly with oneof three scenarios: 1) the student began an assignment but reached an impasse and needs help to proceed, 2) the studentcompleted an assignment and engages a tutor to review their progress for accuracy or suggestions for improvement, andsometimes 3) the student has not started the assignment and seeks to work on it collaboratively.In the sessions reviewed, the tutors were commonly observed to engage in the following research-based best practices intutoring. Students also commented on their appreciation and effectiveness of these practices.Cognitive Support PracticesPre-assessment of assignment, student’s prior knowledge and skill level uickly orienting the session, the tutors queried the students about the assignment and their request for assistance to fullyQunderstand the task. Once the task was clear, the tutors assessed what the student already knew. By activating the student’sprior knowledge, the tutor connects what the student already knows with new learning. “To counteract building onmisconceptions, tutors must make the student’s “thinking visible” and find ways to re-conceptualize faulty conceptions.”30“ I appreciated how [the tutor] used questions to prompt my thinking and then “listened” to my ideas. He gave me time tothink His patience allowed me to see logical connections” – English studentActive learning through guided inquiry, guided coaching, or scaffolding o guide or coach a student through a learning process is the gold standard in effective tutoring. A student may enter aTsession hoping that the tutor will just give them the answer. Effective tutoring sessions require tutors to seize the briefwindow of opportunity to help a student learn how to do an assignment, understand a concept or process, or simply howto learn. The tutors observed, routinely, lead the students through a series of prompts or leading questions, stimulating thelearner’s prior knowledge and guiding them through the process. The tutors assessed what the student already knew andworked just at the edge of their understanding by scaffolding the learning. Scaffolding refers to actions by a tutor to supporta student to build their own knowledge and involves a dialogue between tutor and student. Scaffolding helps students toregulate their learning, interpret, and connect new information with prior knowledge.31Best Practices in Online TutoringPage 6

Best Practices in Online Tutoring “The tutor took “the time to explain what things mean and allowed me to be a active participant until I had someunderstand of what was going on.” – Algebra II student “The thing I appreciated the most was that he guided me along the lines that I needed to be led without doing the workfor me. It’s that, ‘teach a man to fish’ theory that was wonderful and helpful.” – English student“ The tutor helped me understand how to come up with the right answers without flat out giving them to me.”– Accounting studentWorked at the student’s level of knowledge utors often assessed the student’s grasp of the necessary vocabulary, a process, equation, or background knowledge throughTasking questions to establish a baseline of knowledge. Once established, the tutor could communicate at the appropriatelevel. Tutors were observed to often switch approaches once they assessed the student’s level of knowledge. For studentswho lacked foundational concepts, especially in math related subjects, tutors often shifted gears and moved back to laying asound foundation before attempting to teach the assignment.The tutor “made sure I understood everything perfectly before moving on.” – Physics student The tutor “ took the time to help me, and made sure that I understood each problem, but he didn’t stop there hewanted to make sure I understood the principle so I could do a problem similar in the future, but without any assistance.”– Accounting studentEncouraged a student explanation of concept or problem e tutors were often observed prompting the students to explain the concept or process before they answered a questionThposed by the student. While tutors often must offer an instructional explanation, it is more effective if first a student isencouraged to generate their own explanation of a process or concept. Student explanation forces students to make theirknowledge explicit (visible thinking) to the tutor and themselves.32 Through this process, the student may detect his/herown error and become alerted to a misconception to be corrected. While it may be the goal of many tutors to guide thestudent away from errors, it is better to allow the error to tease out the misconception. “I liked that this tutor helped me to reason through the process for each problem. I felt like I obtained a betterunderstanding of the concepts when I began to think through the problem for myself.” – Economics student The tutor “helped me learn for myself from my mistakes and provided helpful information that will forever be useful.”– Essay Writing studentProvided student-centered instructional explanations hile it is optimal to use guided inquiry and prompt student explanations to fully engage a student, tutors often must relyWon instructional explanations. Instructional explanations are effective, according to Wittwer and Renkl, if they are adaptedto learner’s knowledge, focus on concepts and principles, and do not replace the learner’s construction of knowledge.33Active learning is student-centered, so instructional explanations, though delivered by the tutor, must consider and involvethe student to be effective. The tutors observed were mindful of these best practices in instructional explanations and soughtto involve each student in the process of discovering the answer or solution to a problem. The tutor “explained complicated differential problems to me in a way that made so much sense I appreciate the tutorstaking the time to explain ideas behind the math.” – Calculus studentBest Practices in Online TutoringPage 7

Best Practices in Online TutoringThe tutor “broke it all down to easily understandable phrases.” – Algebra II student The tutor “explained them in a manner so that I could understand why we do things the way we do them to get to thesolution. Having him put a reason behind the purpose made it all so clear to me.” – Algebra II studentSocio-Affective Support PracticesOne of the key challenges for an online tutor is the lack of paralinguistic clues or non-verbal elements of speech, suchas intonation, a sigh, loudness, pitch, etc. and kinesics, the interpretation of body language. The face-to-face tutor candetect boredom, confusion, or if the student is following an explanation. The online tutor must “check in” to determineunderstanding more frequently than a face-to-face tutor. Additionally, the tutor must closely craft his/her response andprompts since online text messages, like e-mail, run the risk of not fully or correctly expressing the tone of the “speaker.” Thetutors observed carefully established a friendly rapport, chose encouraging words, and monitored progress and how the studentwas feeling about the session. In the sessions reviewed, care was taken with students to establish a professional connection,reassure the student when they did not know how to proceed or produced a wrong answer, and to motivate the student tocontinue. Student comments revealed that before the session many students lack confidence and at times were embarrassed and“feel stupid” to ask questions. However, students only reveal those feelings in contrast with reporting the relief when the tutorput them at ease, was patient, and made them feel comfortable with the learning exchange.The tutor “breaks things down where I can understand in a way that does not make me feel stupid.”– Accounting student he tutor “gave suggestions that were so on point. He knew and understood what my intents were. It was like I wasTreally in the room with him.” – English student The tutor “kept me engaged, learning and was most especially patient with me. I can’t thank him enough for helping menot only understand everything with humor but with sincere understanding of my struggle.” – Accounting student “I was a little afraid with the whole online tutor thing. I am a little old school and with that, the belief that person to personcontact is important especially when trying to learn or understand something like math but I am absolutely addicted toonline tutor[ing] from now on :-)” – Algebra II studentMotivational Support PracticesTutors can help a student increase their academic motivation in a variety of ways. Boosting a student’s self-efficacy is one ofthe primary means of motivating a student to continue learning. Self-efficacy is a student’s belief that they are able to completea task, an assignment, or understand a concept. By the tutor guiding a student to complete an assignment or understand aconcept, the student can gain self-efficacy. The student’s belief that they can achieve academically is a means to increasingacademic motivation and retention in a course or program.34“I would have quit out of frustration long ago, just like I did in High School without your help.” – Algebra II student “I would not have made it thus far without this program. It has given strength and the courage that has been needed tocontinue with my head up and not down with shame.” – English student “working with[ the tutor], I did not feel dumb for getting answers wrong. In fact I learned a lot from the mistakes I had made for years.” – Algebra II studentSome students express doubt in their ability to understand the assignment, especially in mathematical concepts and processes.The tutors observed reacted with reassurance when students expressed doubt or embarrassment. When they queried students,tutors often followed with a qualifying statements like: “It’s okay if you didn’t know. I’ll walk you through it. We can work onBest Practices in Online TutoringPage 8

Best Practices in Online Tutoringthis together. That’s what we are here for.” Post-session studentcomments often started with descriptive phrases like: I was nervous,afraid, disheartened, apprehensive, confused, completely lost, stumped,stuck, overwhelmed, or stressed and then followed up with contrastingstatements like: but after the session I was extremely happy, grateful,thankful, amazed, or the session was: awesome, helpful, and/or great.The word cloud to follow is a visualization of the most common wordsin the post session comments.Besides reassuring statements, the real build on self-efficacy came whenthe tutors moved the students through the assignment and the studentunderstood how to proceed on their own. Many students were observedto experience that ‘aha’ moment where the metaphorical light bulb isilluminated. For some students, the tutor simply reassured them thatthey were on the right track or that his/her approach or answer wascorrect. Each act promoting self-efficacy is an integral building blockof motivation.The session “made me feel confident that I now have the potential to finally pass my college algebra course.”– Algebra studentMeta-Cognitive Support PracticesMeta-cognitive support refers to teaching the student how to learn, how to think, how to organize information or time, andgenerally how to tackle the task of being a student. Tutors who guide students on how to reflect on their learning encouragethe student to become an independent learner. This practice was not as commonly observed perhaps due to the limited time inthe session or perhaps the tutors did not see an opportunity to address meta-cognition. Though some tutors were observed whomasterfully encouraged reflection and brought the student to a deeper understanding of the topic.ConclusionThe results of this study demonstrate that good practices in tutoring transcend the medium. The tutors evaluated in thisstudy employed the same research-based practices used by effective face-to-face tutors. The differentiators in online tutoringare outside the student-tutor dialogue. For students, the access to one-to-one human tutors, the convenience, efficiency,and possibly anonymity are drivers of adoption. For institutions, the drivers may include the ability to scale one-to-one,individualized tutoring for growing enrollments of students who need supplemental learning assistance and thereby increaseretention or to provide a companion service to growing online course and program offerings. As with online courses, thedemonstration of quality is less about the medium than it is about the teachers engaging the students with effective curriculaand teaching methods.Best Practices in Online TutoringPage 9

Best Practices in Online TutoringNotes1Allen, I. Elaine, et al. 2014. Grade change: Tracking Online Education in the United States. Sloan Consortium. PO Box 1238, Newburyport, MA 01950.2Integrated Postsecondary Education System. 2013. http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/3National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics: 2012. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/4National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics: 2012. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/Aud, Susan., et al.

Best Practices in Online Tutoring Page 2 Best Practices in Online Tutoring Introduction Online tutoring is an emerging practice in higher education. Faculty and administrators considering adoption of online tutoring look to the research to evaluate new educational practices. Unfortunately, the research about online tutoring lags the practice.