Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Evaluation of Synchronous Online Tutoring for Students at Risk of Reading Failure

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Evaluation of Synchronous Online Tutoring for Students at Risk of Reading Failure

Article excerpt

Distance learning programs in K-to-12 education have seen large growth over the last decade. Much of the appeal of distance education is that it provides students access to broader educational opportunities (e.g., specialized coursework) than are otherwise available (Cavanaugh, Gillan, Kromrey, Hess, & Blomeyer, 2004). In 2005, the U.S. Department of Education issued the first comprehensive examination of distance education in K-to-12 schools; the authors reported that 36% of public school districts and 9% of public schools had students enrolled in distance education courses in 2002-2003 (Setzer & Lewis, 2005). They found that a greater proportion of districts located in rural areas than in suburban or urban areas indicated that they had students enrolled in distance education courses (46% compared with 28% and 23%, respectively). Schools that served upper grade levels were far more likely to offer distance education than those serving lower grades. Overall, 38% of high schools offered distance education courses, compared to 4% of middle or junior high schools, and less than 1% of elementary schools. Finally, advanced placement and college-level courses were the most common types of courses to be delivered through distance education in 2002-2003 (Setzer & Lewis, 2005).

In 2004, Cavanaugh and colleagues reported the results of a meta-analysis examining interactive (i.e., videoconferencing and telecommunications) K-to-12 distance education technologies. They selected studies that (a) focused on interactive distance education technology, (b) were published between 1999 and 2004, (c) included quantitative outcomes from which effect sizes could be extracted, and (d) were free from obvious methodological flaws. In 19 studies meeting these criteria (a total of 929 participants), results indicated a near-zero overall effect size of .015 (in favor of distance education conditions) based on a significantly heterogeneous sample. Subsequent investigation of moderator variables revealed no additional findings of consequence. Cavanaugh and colleagues concluded that students could experience similar levels of academic success whether courses used telecommunications or traditional classroom settings. However, 74% of the studies were conducted in the secondary grades (Grades 6-12), and none of the studies identified participants as lower performing, at risk, or receiving special education services. Only 26% of the studies were on elementary level reading. Thus, further research is needed to determine whether similar technologies can be used with younger students at risk of academic failure.


Although several years of research supports the use of tutoring as an effective practice to teach reading (e.g., Gunn, Smolkowski, Biglan, & Black, 2002; Haisley, Tell, & Andrews, 1981; Kamps et al., 2008; Van Norman & Wood, 2008), access to high-quality tutoring services--especially in urban and rural areas--is often a limiting factor. Real-time two-way audiovisual technology provides one possible means for making high-quality tutoring more widely available. When using this online format, tutors can be as flexible in their instruction as with face-to-face instruction, including their use of materials; online tutors can use text, white board overlays, video, and audio as well as, print materials and so on (Beth-Marom, Saporta, & Caspi, 2005). Online distance tutoring that closely approximates face-to-face instruction may bolster the argument Clark (1983, 1994) and Russell (1999) made of "no significant difference." Unfortunately, previous reviews of literature have found very little evidence on the use of synchronous online reading instruction being delivered to students at risk of reading failure in the K-to-12 area.


Historically, large numbers of students have struggled in reading and contentious debates rage over how best to teach reading. …

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