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Higher Education

The practice of an institution's providing tutors is not a new: Early higher education in America was based on small lectures given by a professor to a group of students. Most often, the method of instruction consisted of drills by the instructor and recitation by the student. The phenomena of large lecture halls and examinations administered by graduate teaching assistants on computer scantron sheets was still two hundred years away.

By and large, institutions of higher education are not able to replicate the early classroom instruction. American college campuses, however, have instituted various forms of tutoring programs that provide a small group environment and a modified form of lecture and recitation. These programs include tutoring for student athletes and at-risk first-generation college students, and departmental programs for honors students, among others.

Tutors come from a variety of backgrounds and interests. Many are graduate students who work as tutors to offset the cost of graduate education; others are upper-level undergraduate students who excel in a particular subject area, or full-time teachers or employees of the institution. The role of the tutor is to complement, not replace, classroom instruction. A tutor should review classroom notes and assigned readings, and be prepared to discuss the classroom topics with his/her students. It is not the role of the tutor to re-teach the material that was covered in class; instead, the tutor should help to clarify major points or explain difficult concepts.

An effective tutor should be aware of various learning styles and should be able to recognize different methods of relaying information. For example, a student who is a visual learner may have difficulty in a history class where the instructor employs only a lecture-style mode of instruction. The tutor can assist the student in understanding the material by utilizing maps or pictures from the time period that depicts key events. The tutor must be creative in developing different learning strategies, and must not assume that all students process information in the same manner.

The most successful tutors have completed a training program. Although one may know and understand a particular academic subject, that knowledge does not always translate into the skills needed to be a successful tutor. A tutor should be trained in some theories of educational psychology and learning styles, and be cognizant of signs of learning disabilities in students. Tutors should also be well-informed about techniques that can motivate honor students since not all students who seek tutoring are borderline students.

There are several different types of tutoring programs, depending upon the target student population: for example, student-athletes, honors students, and at-risk students. Most National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) member institutions offer some form of tutoring for student-athletes. At many institutions, first-year athletes are required to attend some type of tutoring during their first year of enrollment. The purposes of the tutoring program for student-athletes are varied. Most important: students receive assistance in meeting their academic goals and meet NCAA eligibility requirements. Tutors working with student-athletes shoulder a great deal of responsibility. These students have tremendous demands on their time in addition to the time commitments of completing academic work. In addition, many of these students are first-generation college students–some come to college ill prepared for the challenges of college work. The tutor not only helps to explain and clarify academic work but can often become a mentor, friend, and role model.

Other tutoring programs such as those for honors, first-generation, at-risk students, or specialty programs such as English, mathematics, or foreign-language centers differ in that students are not required to attend these sessions. Institutions offer these services either at no charge or for a reduced fee to students.

One college, the University of South Carolina, met a demand for tutoring by establishing several tutoring centers in its residence halls through the Department of Housing. These Academic Centers for Excellence (ACE) are partnerships between university housing, the math lab, and the writing center on campus. Students can seek out tutors in the lobbies of their residence halls. Graduate students provide on-site support in mathematics and English at the ACE offices.

Tutoring in higher education cannot be narrowly defined as it is interpreted differently by various institutions. Tutoring is an important component in undergraduate education as it provides students with the opportunity to seek help in a one-on-one basis or small group setting. Depending on the institution, this goal can be accomplished in a myriad of models.


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