Online mathematics and statistics tutoring: Effectiveness and implementation issues
The technology now exists that enables educators to conduct mathematics and statistics tutoring online, that is, via the Internet. In fact, several universities, as well as many private firms, are beginning to offer such tutoring. What are the drawbacks and/or limitations of online tutoring? Are there barriers, either technical or psychological, that must be overcome in order to be effective? These types of questions motivated this qualitative feasibility case study. The study sought to explore the OT environment, in an effort to help determine its merits and drawbacks. Experienced collegiate mathematics and statistics tutors were paired with college mathematics and statistics students for the study. The pairs met for three face-to-face tutoring (FT) sessions, alternating with three online tutoring (OT) sessions during the course of a semester. The OT sessions involved the use of computers outfitted with Aiptek's HyperMeeting, a $100 system that included a digital notepad, web-cam, and a headset, along with the necessary software. Participants used a whiteboard, which allowed their communications to be seen by one another simultaneously. Results of the study indicate that OT can be effective. However, less material was covered in OT than in FT. Reasons for this difference included both technical considerations, as well as psychological issues. Participants experienced failures of the technology employed, including disconnections and audio problems. Such factors as inaudible audio and illegible writing also contributed to higher levels of confusion and more frequent mathematical mistakes in OT than in FT. The lack of a shared field of vision for separated participants also slowed the process considerably. It was observed that the ability of a tutor to read the facial and body language cues of the tutee was hampered by the medium, and that this often led to difficulty in ascertaining precisely where a tutee was in the learning process. The majority of the participants reported enjoying OT, but being frustrated at times with the technical difficulties they encountered. Those with higher levels of mathematics and technology anxiety were also those less satisfied with the OT experience. Participants also reported a loss of the sense of connection during OT sessions.