e-Tutor Scaffolding in Online Synchronous Tutorials: Too Little, Too Much?

H.L. Lim (UAE)


Distance education, collaborative learning, computer mediated communication


The sociocultural constructivist learning perspective regards interaction as vital for supporting negotiation of meaning that leads to knowledge building. The constructivist approach also assumes that availability of tutor scaffolding through interaction enhances learners’ potential capacity for intellectual growth, and its gradual withdrawal enables greater student control over the learning process. While research on e-tutor support facilitated by synchronous computer-mediated communication (chat) technologies reported mainly patterns of tutor-domination attributable to methodological limitations, this paper examined e-tutor scaffolding patterns during chat tutorial discussions in an undergraduate course over 11 weeks and compared two tutors from different groups who facilitated the same learning activity. Quantitative discourse analysis results, on extent of e-tutor involvement in the learning process, were largely contrary to findings of tutor-domination in the literature. Comparative analysis showed varied efforts by e-tutors in providing content-related information and sharing control of discussion. Additionally, scaffolding patterns of one e-tutor revealed strong tutor support at the initial learning stages, with gradual withdrawal of control over time. Such patterns of e-tutor scaffolding found in this case study present implications for facilitating collaborative-constructivist group learning processes. Finally, this paper recommends the strategy of cyclical reflection on educator practice to improve online tutor facilitation.

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