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Center for Teaching and Learning

Focused Inquiry Groups (FIGs) - Title III

Assessment of Online Tutoring

Area of Inquiry

Chabot College has an expanding distance education program in which increasing numbers of students take courses online every year. Unlike students taking courses at the campus, however, students in these courses have no access to a tutorial services program, despite the fact that Chabot is required to make all student services available to online students. At Chabot this is a particularly conspicuous inequity since the tutor program at Chabot has increased in size and use over tenfold since the inception of the current tutor program that is part of the Learning Connection. This term there are 135 tutors working in the program, the highest number in Chabot’s history. These tutors offer services in nearly all the academic disciplines of the college, from every division, as well as vocational programs (including the EMT, CAS, Digital Media, and Mass Communications programs).

The retention rates of students taking online courses at Chabot are lower than the retention rates of students taking courses in classrooms. There are many possible causes for this. It is axiomatic within online instructional programs that many students signing up for classes online have unrealistic expectations, one of which is that taking a class online is going to be “easier” or less demanding than taking one in the classroom. There are other, equally intuitive, possibilities, for instance that since online instruction is still relatively new, students are not yet as fluent in this modality as they can be expected to be as classroom students. The “culture of the classroom” is well documented. But the culture of online instruction? Many of the possible causes of the lower retention rates in online courses, therefore, may be beyond solutions offered by instructional staff. But others are within our grasp, and they are equally feasible. Chief among these is the possibility that tutorial assistance for online students will not only offer students instructional support targeting their specific needs as they take their courses, but decrease the isolation that online students often feel.
At this time, online tutoring is still being researched across the nation, and is the topic of discussion of major professional organizations, like the College Reading and Learning Association. The efficacy of online tutoring is still being documented, and many forms of online tutoring are currently in practice nationwide, ranging from sophisticated programs that offer synchronous tutorials, to simpler ones that offer discussion boards that tutors visit at set times during the week, to respond to messages left for them.

This Faculty Inquiry Group will bring together a group of Chabot faculty who have experience with online instruction and have expressed an interest in studying online tutoring. The team will work together for the two semesters in the spring and fall of 2010 discussing ways that tutorials can assist students, and how this can be accomplished online, and piloting online tutorials for the purpose of assessment of the services and the software used in the pilots. The software program they will use, TutorTrac, is currently in use by other community colleges, and has been previewed by Dennis Chowenhill and Jan Novak. The tutors will be trained to do this work by the Tutor Training Coordinator, Angie Magallon, who will be working with tutor trainers in the disciplines, a few of whom have already expressed an interest in being part of this project.

Focus questions for this FIG:

  • What do we know from our shared experience about the learning needs (specific to individual disciplines) of our students?

  • What are special learning needs of online students, according to discipline?

  • Which of these learning needs can be addressed by tutor services?

  • What tutor services are most needed for specific disciplines?

  • To what extent can tutors online provide the services identified, above?

  • Will the Tutor Track software enable the college to provide the tutor services identified?

The work of this team will include:
  • Discussion of tutor support possibilities for students, including a review of existing services at Chabot

  • Consideration of the special learning needs by discipline, and possible roles for tutors in meeting these needs

  • Discussion of the extent to which tutorial services identified by the above discussions can be offered effectively online

  • Identification of special disadvantages and advantages of online tutoring

  • Examination of the Tutor Track online software, in terms of our students’ needs.

  • Design of pilots of online tutoring, including possibly an Online Writing Lab (OWL)

  • Training of selected tutors for pilots

  • Observing, critiquing, and assessing pilots

  • Recommending further action at the end of the year

Discoveries from Spring 2010

The focus of our earliest discussions was the learning needs of students seeking tutoring in both online and on campus courses. After much discussion, our conclusion was that the learning needs in on-campus and online courses don’t differ all that much, although writing skills are perhaps more important for online students, since online classes usually involve so much writing. In all of our courses—across disciplines—our students need to develop critical reading and critical thinking skills. Our students are most likely to seek tutoring when they need help with specific assignments, and although students may simply want good grades on their assignments, learning takes place when tutors are able to ask the right questions, questions designed to help the students do the necessary thinking to complete their assignments. Because the learning needs of online students are so similar to the learning needs of our on-campus students, and because our on-campus students might also seek online tutoring, we decided that our online tutoring program should be as similar as possible to on-campus tutoring. A survey of online students last year found that a large majority of online students wants online tutoring to occur in real-time and with voice communication. We concluded that tutoring software that offered the option of real-time voice communication with tutors would be preferable.

We reviewed online tutoring programs at several other community colleges and previewed two types of online tutoring software: TutorTrac and CCC Confer. Our conclusion was that CCC Confer is superior in almost every respect, and it has the added benefit of being free. Our plans for the fall are to set up a pilot tutoring pilot involving three classes across disciplines, including face-to-face, hybrid, and fully online classes.


  •  Michael Langdon - English (FIG Leader)
  • Jan Novak - Business, Coordinator of Chabot Committee on Online Learning
  • Wanda Wong - Computer Science/Business
  • Christina Moon - World Languages
  • Jaswinder Bhangal - Business/Accounting
  • Aldrian Estepa - Psychology
  • Michael Thompson - History
  • Ramona Silver - Humanities & Language Arts Chair of the Committee on Online Learning







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