Why do we need tutors for online courses?

I work as a tutor for an online training provider and we are often asked, “what is the point of a tutor if they are working online?” In this article, I aim to answer that question. Obviously, it is futile to imply that we are necessary for a student’s success in passing their exams, but I do believe we do play a valuable part in their success and satisfaction. It has certainly been my experience that the greater the interaction with the tutor, the greater the chances the student will have a better experience with the course and, therefore, more likely to pass the first time. Where an online course can often fail, is in contextualising the content and making it relevant to the student’s experience and prior knowledge. By getting to know the student, even if it is through a few emails, we can really help them relate their learning to real-world examples and contextualise the technologies they encounter, both in the course and in the real world.

It is also important to give assurances and confirmation of the students learning journey. Creating confidence in the student’s ability to learn is a crucial foundation for building trust between the student and the information they are learning from the course. The sterile environment of non-contextualised learning online can really be enhanced by human interaction and affirmation. Without, the student can feel alone and unsure they are actually learning. Uncertainty and isolation can lead to failure to finish the course and create an adverse learning journey they will put them off future learning. It doesn’t have to be an isolated negative learning journey, it can be turned around by tutor support.

I could cite hundreds of articles that posit we tend to learn in different ways and in different styles – visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social and solitary. Granted, online learning covers much of that, and video tutorials can also cover many of those styles that text-based learning cannot. I would like to add an eighth style – contextualised. The majority of the exams for CompTIA, CIW, and Microsoft are based on the technologies they cover and how to implement them correctly as a solution to a problem. They are not about learning the meanings of acronyms and answering verbatim what they have read. If you are unfamiliar with the technologies you are learning, it is very difficult to contextualise why and when you would employ certain technologies with other technologies to solve the problem. In learning what an acronym can do and why we would use it, the meaning will become apparent in a multiple-choice question anyway. Let’s face it, how many “professionals” remember the exact meaning of all those acronyms they use daily? But, we all know how to use them and when to use them.

To “contextualize something [is] to consider something in relation to the situation in which it happens or exists (Oxford Learners Dictionary).

I have taught all age groups and abilities during my time as lecturer, teacher and now a tutor and I can safely say the most challenging and yet rewarding part was contextualising the learning journey. For me, code is a prime example. Every student wants to dive head first into code and get things going by building the next breakthrough app. Some students can just do this, but most cannot and will falter because they do not understand the theory, structure, and context. Every program is based on an algorithm of some sort. Even if you do not take the time to build an algorithm, one can be applied to the code. I think it essential that students at least understand the principals of algorithms and structure before they code. The program needs reason and it needs context or you just start building unstructured code. If you understand the basics of an algorithm, you understand the blocks and the separate functions/components needed to construct well-formed code. A tutor can help with that. A tutor can feedback best practice, context, and industry trends. A Boolean eLearning platform cannot.

Contextualised learning is not just about placing the technologies to help the student better understand. It is also about how you relate the learning to the individual student, so they can better learn. The very nature of eLearning means we can have students from any background. A generic eLearning platform cannot, by its Boolean nature, explain all things to all people. A tutor, however, can have a blinking good try! Trying to break down the learning journey into a voyage the student can understand and follow is invaluable, and I would argue, only achievable by contextualised learning from a tutor.

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I hope this article has gone some way in helping you understand the importance of contextualised learning. If it has…please LIKE, SHARE or FEEDBACK the post. Thank you.

About the Author, – Dr Richard Haddlesey is the founder and Webmaster of English Medieval Architecture in which he gained a Ph.D. in 2010 and holds Qualified Teacher Status relating to I.C.T. and Computer Science. Richard is a professional Web Developer and Digital Archaeologist and holds several degrees relating to this. He is passionate about the dissemination of research and advancement of digital education and Continued Professional Development #CPD. Driven by a desire to better prepare students for industry, Richard left mainstream teaching to focus on a career in tutoring I.T. professionals with real industry-ready skills that matter at The Training Room.

#ttrIT #ttrcareerinIT #ttrLearnToCode

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The Evolution of the Computer Science GCSE

During the 1980s, computer studies and computers were in their infancy[1]. The BBC Microcomputer was the only real choice for schools at the time. This early PC had very little in the way of end-user applications and relied on a BASIC interpreter to be loaded which meant the user needed to learn to program and build their own applications[2]. This resulted in schools focussing on teaching how to program a computer alongside how the computer works. As computers became more popular and more applications became available, the focus on teaching switched to how to use a computer and its applications and ICT was born during the 1990s[3].

During the 2000s, it was becoming clear that ICT was no longer fit for purpose and that students were leaving school with skills in digital literacy, but not in computing. ICT began to receive negative reports from industry, educators and students as it was seen as a boring and repetitive subject that only taught how to use Microsoft Office[4].

It was not until 2010 that The Royal Society, based on information from the Computing At School group (CAS), Ofsted, Microsoft and Google (among others), set up an Advisory Group Chaired by Professor Steve Furber FRS[5]. The reports first recommendation was to stop using the acronym ICT because of its “negative connotations” as quoted below.

  • “Recommendation 1 The term ICT as a brand should be reviewed and the possibility considered of disaggregating this into clearly defined areas such as digital literacy, Information Technology, and Computer Science. There is an analogy here with how English is structured at school, with reading and writing (basic literacy), English Language (how the language works) and English Literature (how it is used). The term ‘ICT’ should no longer be used as it has attracted too many negative connotations”[6].

Aside from the name ICT, it was becoming clear that the “current delivery of Computing education in many UK schools is [sic] highly unsatisfactory” and needed addressing[7]. Indeed, even the UK Education Sectary at the time, Michael Gove (May 2010 to July 2014), was quoted as saying the ICT curriculum was “demotivating and dull”[8]. This was brought into the headlines by the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, when he addressed the Edinburgh TV festival in 2011 saying,

  • “I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn’t even taught as standard in UK schools. Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software but gives no insight into how it’s made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage”[9].

As a result of growing pressure from industry, Michael Gove reported the UK Government would replace ICT with a new Computer Science curriculum from September 2012 (the start of the UKs academic year). In that speech, Gove posited,

  • “Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum. Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word or Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations”[10].

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Bibliography

[1] Doyle, GCSE Computer Studies for You.

[2] Brown et al., ‘Restart’.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Coquin, ‘IT & Telecoms Insights 2008: Assessment of Current Provision’.

[5] Furber and et al, ‘Shut down or Restart?’, 12.

[6] Ibid., 18.

[7] Ibid., 5.

[8] Burns, ‘School ICT to Be Replaced by Computer Science Programme’.

[9] Schmidt, ‘Edinburgh TV Festival’.

[10] Burns, ‘School ICT to Be Replaced by Computer Science Programme’.

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No more ICT…….Please!

It was not until 2010 that The Royal Society, based on information from Ofsted and Microsoft (among others), set up an Advisory Group, Chaired by Professor Steve Furber FRS . The reports first recommendation was to stop using the acronym ICT, yet here we are – 7 years later – still using IT! Why? #ttrLearnToCode

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