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Should Tutoring Services Be Added to Our High-Enrolling Distance Education Courses?

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Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration Volume 9, Number 4, ISSN 1556-3847


The researchers of this study selected four pragmatic research questions that distance learning administrators with high-enrolling Independent Study courses, similar to those that Brigham Young University offers through its Department of Independent Study, may be interested in exploring. These questions included: (1) When tutoring services are made available in a high-enrolling Independent Study course, how much will they be used (demand)? (2) Would students be willing to pay for the service (sustainability)? (3) How will students prefer making contact with their tutor (logistics)? and (4) Does it appear that an on-demand tutoring service could scale with a growing distance education program (scalability)? The researchers selected a college algebra Independent Study course (Math 110) with its students for this quasi-experimental study. Math 110 had more than 1,400 enrollments the year prior to the study. The course consists of 17 lessons, 2 mid-course exams, and a final comprehensive exam. All of the exams are of the Speedback type, utilizing multiple-choice and matching questions that require the students to work through problems before selecting answers. All students (N = 331) who took their first Math 110 mid-course exam between October 2004 and January 2005 were included as participants in this study. The 51% (168) students who took the exam during December or January comprised the treatment group. All of these students were invited, at the time of their first exam, to utilize Independent Study's free Math 110 tutoring service any time they needed additional support for six months following the date of their first exam. As the tutor worked with students, he recorded the date, time, duration, and nature of each interaction; he also submitted students' frequently asked questions and his responses to a electronic knowledge base. The students were also asked at the end of their final exam whether or not they would pay an additional $30 fee for the help of a tutor if they were to take another Independent Study course similar to the Math 110 course they had just completed. The research question of primary significance in this study was how much students would use the tutoring service--the result was that only a quarter of the students chose to use it. Further, the tutor was able to help most students more efficiently than expected because of the emerging knowledge base that contained answers to previously and frequently asked questions. Thus, the amount of time spent by the tutor helping students and answering questions was lower than expected. The second research question focuses on the financial sustainability of the service. The findings for this research question seem to suggest that tutoring services for high enrolling courses may be sustainable for at least the following three reasons: (1) the majority (58.9%) of respondents reported a willingness to pay a $30 tutoring fee; (2) actual demand for tutoring time was less than expected; and (3) unexpected efficiencies gained through the use of a knowledge base. The results to the third research question revealed students' interest in communicating with their tutor via asynchronous email. Results to the fourth question regarding scalability is best addressed within the context of the previous findings. Specifically, the small demands per student on tutor time demonstrate the practicality of providing a tutor for high-enrollment, core-subject courses like Math where one tutor can serve thousands of students.


Williams, P.B., Howell, S.L., Laws, R.D. & Metheny, E. (2006). Should Tutoring Services Be Added to Our High-Enrolling Distance Education Courses?. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 9(4),. Retrieved July 3, 2020 from .

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