The use of synchronous online tutorials to provide numeracy support for technology students

Chetwynd, Francis; Donelan, Helen; Heath, Hazel; Kear, Karen and Williams, Judith (2009). The use of synchronous online tutorials to provide numeracy support for technology students. In: CETL-MSOR Conference 2009, 7-8 Sep 2009, The Open University, Milton Keynes.



The UK Open University offers tutorial support to students in a variety of ways, including face-to-face, by telephone and online via discussion forums (Simpson, 2002). This paper describes an ongoing research project investigating the use of Elluminate, an online audio- and video-enabled whiteboard collaboration tool, to give numeracy tutorial support to students on the Level 1 Technology module T175 Networked Living. Some of the students struggle with mathematical parts of the module and therefore ways to provide additional support are of value.

Synchronous communication using voice and whiteboard can provide considerable interactivity between students and tutor, and among students (Mason & Rennie, 2008). This should be of particular value for students’ understanding of mathematical concepts and procedures. The real-time communication may also help students to feel a sense of belonging within their tutor-group (Haythornthwaite, Kazmer, Robins & Shoemaker, 2000).

Elluminate is new to the Open University (although the Lyceum in-house audio-conferencing facility was used previously (Hampel, 2006). In this research project, initial training was therefore offered to T175 module tutors to introduce them to the numerous features of the interface, to identify aspects where additional scaffolding was required, and to enable cascading of training to the students.

The focus of the numeracy tutorial is the use of a formula ‘triangle’ (Open University, 2004) to manipulate simple algebraic equations in order to carry out calculations. Sample tutorial content was created for the tutors as a set of interactive whiteboards which can be loaded into Elluminate. However, tutors are free to design their own tutorial resources from scratch, if they prefer.

The research uses a mixed-methods approach of quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis to elicit the views of students and tutors on using Elluminate. A major aim is to investigate the value of the synchronous online tutorial in aiding the students’ understanding of numeracy concepts. Students and tutors will be surveyed to elicit their views on the usability of Elluminate, any obstacles to using it, and its value for learning. Additionally, recordings of the Elluminate sessions will be viewed and analysed.

This paper will describe the approach taken for familiarisation of tutors and students with the Elluminate interface, and for the numeracy tutorial itself. Initial research findings from the surveys and interviews will be presented.


Mason, R., and Rennie, F. (2009) Elearning and social networking handbook, London, Routledge.

Hampel, R. (2006) Rethinking task design for the digital age: A framework for language teaching and learning in a synchronous online environment, ReCall, No 18, (01) pp 105-121

Haythornthwaite, C., Kazmer, M., Robins, J. & Shoemaker, S. (2000) ‘Community development among distance learners: temporal and technological dimensions’, Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 6(1), [Online] Available from: (accessed 26th June 2009)

Simpson, O. (2002) Supporting students in online, open and distance learning, 2nd edition, London, Routledge.

The Open University (2004) Open Learn IT and Computing, T175_8, ICTs: information [Online] Available from: (accessed 26th June 2009)

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