The role of the teacher when engaging in e-learning undergoes constant change. The role played by online tutoring and its importance has been considered as a vital factor in the provision of E-learning solutions. This being the case, identifying the role of the tutor and ensuring that the necessary skill sets are available is paramount to the success of the e-learning platform. The E-tutor plays a crucial role as the chief representative for delivering the course content and as the main and crucial support to the learners.
The E-tutor should therefore not only be equipped with the skill sets and the appropriate subject matter expertise, they should also fit into four main roles that can be defined under social, managerial, pedagogical and technical. The E-tutor also needs a combination of skills that would encompass IT expertise along with expertise in using online learning resources, communication technology, and in providing the right environment to the learner. There have been different names assigned to the tutor in online interaction– coach, tutor, leader, facilitator, moderator, mentor, mediator, motivator, so on and so forth. Nevertheless, the names that are in vogue and seemingly appropriate are tutors, experts and learners. We can look into the academic tutors as those who provide support to the students throughout their learning process. When educationists and tutors evaluate their roles as academic tutors, when familiar face-to-face teaching does not seem to work in an online teaching environment we see that professional practices are changing.
The role of the E-tutor is generally not very different from the traditional teacher but all the same there are subtle differences. The responsibility of the E-tutor is at both the technical and educational level. There are three categories – the organisational, intellectual and the social.
There are generally four main e-tutor roles which can be enumerated as follows:
The Pedagogical or the intellectual roles are by far the most important whereby the E-tutor has to probe and question the student regarding critical conceptions, ideas, principles and skill sets. This role particularly involves tasks such as bringing focus into relevant content and opening up discussions, promoting interest and productive conversation, ensuring that the students are guided well while maintaining the student’s involvement in deliberations, debates, discussions and summarising apart from the vital task of interpreting on-line discussions.
Social roles would encompass ensuring a friendly and comfortable social circumstance and environment whereby the student feels comfortable learning. This role is generally considered as the critical factor for success in on-line learning. This role, in, particular should ensure opportunities for participants to get introduced and identification of and dealing with students who are reluctant to participate. This role is also one where the E-tutor has the additional task of ensuring that the right communication takes place whereby the social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds of the students are taken into consideration. The task of minimising offensive, humoristic, troublesome, disruptive and unruly behavior falls on the E-tutor, in this case. Establishing code of conduct and the right etiquette for interaction online in a learning environment also falls on the E-tutor.
Managerial / Organizational roles would incorporate the setting of learning goals and objectives and establishing the agenda to ensure these set objectives are met. This particular role as an E-tutor would also involve clarification of guidelines, directions and decision- making norms. As part of this role, the E-tutor has to remain patient, respond appropriately to student’s comments / contributions, encourage participation of the student community with comments, etc.
The most difficult part of the role would be the Technical aspect where the E-tutor is expected to familiarise himself and become comfortable with ICT systems and software that make up thee-learning environment. This would also mean ensuring that the students become comfortable with the ICT by providing technical guidance by offering study material, guidance, directions and feedback on al technical problems while enabling learning among members of the online groups etc.
From the above-mentioned four areas we see that the role of the E-tutor differs from that of the traditional face-to-face delivery in many ways such as:
- Greater need for written skills
- Requirement for monitoring multiple conversations happening simultaneously
- Being equipped to teaching at specific times online
- More of focus on student learning and student – student interaction and learning
- Teachers have to be equipped to provide more encouragement to participants
- Teachers required for accessing the worth of online contributions