Master of Arts in Educational Technology (OMET) Pepperdine University  
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Journal Entry - Eight [posted Monday,October 27, 2008]

A Learner Support Model Based on Peer Tutor Selection by Van Rosmalen, P., Sloep, P.B., Kester, L., Brouns, F., De Croock, M., Pannekeet, K. and Koper, R.

This article provided excellent terminology, powerful keywords and compelling concepts for my action research project. The authors, van Rosmalen et al, presented a support model in order to alleviate the workload of staff tutors (and in my case WestEd’s helpdesk and intra-office staff). It is too time-consuming and too difficult to expect the company’s overburdened helpdesk to always be available and have the capacity to answer unanticipated questions that might arise at any given time. The same goes for the few staff within local offices that are always being pulled from their busy schedules to try and assist those in need. With the knowledge and experience of inter-office peers (staff from several offices across the country), employees should be able to assist each other.

One of the most useful ideas for my evolving action research project came from this article. The authors offered a support model, illustrated in a Venn diagram, “A Learning Network for domain D.” I started to think about my proposed project in terms of how to frame a model, as did these authors, in order to better demonstrate my conceptual design.

My proposed peer-to-peer support group would be comprised of people who have the desire to learn and the willingness to share their knowledge and experience. The support activities documented in this article are very similar to the activities I intend to use:

* Develop a self-organized, distributed system of like-minded peers willing to reciprocate both time and expertise
* Ask questions to the appropriate person/s and subsequently receive relevant answers
* Maintain quality involvement, receive empowerment and valued experience in the peer support network

One of the potential problems as pointed out by this author as well as other authors I’ve read recently, is that a small group of altruistic users will be the only contributors. I can hopefully help eliminate this problem by having clear guidelines, screening the participants to insure a wide range of varied skills, and offering clear incentives for active participation.

Another important factor was determining the optimal number of peer tutors; and in my case, the entire group are peer tutors and “tutees.” The group should be large enough to guarantee an answer quickly, but small enough to avoid duplication of an answer. The authors arrived at the number five which seems somewhat small. Based on competency, content, availability and eligibility, I am proposing a support group of 25 total in order to cover these criteria. I intend to recruit only four or five participants for pilot testing. Hopefully, I can learn from this intimate group, how to sustain the social cohesion of the proposed support network.