Developing Online student tutoring through a standardized process

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The objective of this research is to develop online student tutoring by creating a continuously improving standardized process for IB online student tutors tutoring their peers while using lean thinking as the theoretical framework. The standardized process is designed to support the current development of online student tutoring.
1. Bachelor’s thesis
International Business Online
Annika Englund & Martha Ketonen
Developing Online student
tutoring through a standardized
– Lean thinking for Online student tutors
2. Bachelor’s Thesis | Abstract
Turku University of Applied Sciences
International Business Online
2021 | 68 pages
Annika Englund & Martha Ketonen
Developing Online student tutoring through a
standardized process
- Lean thinking for Online student tutors
Online learning is part of the modern transformation of higher education, the
need to provide guidance and support to university students is recognized by
higher educational institutions and tutoring is one solution to respond to the
students’ needs. The need of peer-to-peer tutoring for students in distance
learning is just as important as for those studying on-site.
The objective of this research was to develop online student tutoring by creating
a continuously improving standardized process for IB online student tutors
tutoring their peers while using lean thinking as the theoretical framework. The
standardized process is designed to support the current development of the
online student tutoring.
The methodology used for this project is a mix of qualitative and quantitative
methods supported by participant observation. Participant observation is used
because of the authors’ direct experience in the tutoring practices of Turku
UAS’s IB Online degree programme. The results showcase three main issues:
the absence of training that online student tutors get access to, absence of a
structured process and confusing communication methods.
Keywords: Student tutoring, online learning, online communication, lean, lean
processes, standardization, lean tools
3. Opinnäytetyö (AMK) | Tiivistelmä
Turun ammattikorkeakoulu
International Business Online
2021 | 68 sivua
Annika Englund & Martha Ketonen
Verkko-opiskelijatuutoroinnin kehittäminen
standardoidun prosessin avulla
- Lean-ajattelua verkko-opiskelijatuutoreille
Verkko-oppiminen on osa vastausta korkeakoulutuksen nykyaikaiseen
muutokseen. Korkeakoulut ovat tunnistaneet, että opiskelijat tarvitsevat verkko-
oppimisen rinnalle ohjausta ja vertaisoppimisen keinoja. Tuutorointi on yksi
ratkaisuista vastata opiskelijoiden tarpeisiin. Tarve vertaisopetuksen saatavuudelle
on aivan yhtä tärkeää etäopetuksessa opiskeleville kuin heidän paikan päällä
opiskeleville kollegoilleen.
Tämän tutkimuksen tavoitteena on kehittää verkko-opiskelijoiden tuutorointia
luomalla jatkuvasti kehittyvä standardoitu prosessi. Verkko-opiskelijatuutorit
ohjaavat ikätovereitaan käyttämällä tukenaan lean-ajattelua teoreettisena
kehyksenä. Standardoidun prosessin avulla voidaan tukea verkko-
opiskelijatuutoroinnin jatkuvaa kehittämistä.
Tässä projektissa käytetty metodologia on sekoitus laadullisia ja kvantitatiivisia
menetelmiä, joita tukee osallistuva havainnointia, jota käytetään koska tekijöillä on
välitön kokemus Turun ammattikorkeakoulun IB Online -koulutusohjelman tutorointi
käytännöistä. Tulokset osoittavat kolme pääongelmaa: koulutuksen puuttuminen,
johon verkko-opiskelijatuutorit pääsevät, strukturoidun prosessin puuttuminen sekä
hämmentävät viestintämenetelmät.
Asiasanat: Opiskelijatuutorointi, verkko-oppiminen, verkkoviestintä, lean, lean
prosessit, standardointi, lean-työkalut
4. List of abbreviations 7
1 Introduction 8
1.1 Research needs and motivation 10
1.2 Research objectives and questions 11
1.3 Thesis structure 12
2 Literature review 13
2.1 Tutoring 13
2.1.1 Benchmarking tutoring provided by TUO 15
2.2 Online learning 15
2.3 Online communication 17
2.4 Lean 18
2.5 Standardization 20
2.6 Standardizing processes with Lean thinking 21
2.7 Used Lean methods and tools 23
2.7.1 PDCA development method 23
2.7.2 Kata method 25
2.7.3 A3 method 26
3 Methodology 28
3.1 Methods 28
3.2 Data collection 29
3.3 Qualitative interviews to online student tutors 30
3.4 Qualitative interviews to IB Online teacher tutors and assistants 31
3.5 Other ways of collecting data 31
3.6 Publishing the results 32
4 Results 33
4.1 Online student tutor interview results 33
4.2 IB Online teacher tutors and assistants interview results 40
4.3 Online student tutoring survey results 47
5. 4.4 End products 58
5 Research conclusion 65
References 69
Figure 1 The thesis structure. 12
Figure 2 Question 5. 50
Figure 3 Question 7. 51
Figure 4 Question 8. 52
Figure 5 Question 9. 53
Figure 6 Question 10. 54
Figure 7 Question 11. 55
Figure 8 Question 12. 56
Picture 1 Continuous improvement using PDCA (Frendall and Thürer, 2016b,
120). 24
Picture 2 Improvement Kata (Lean Enterprise Institute, 2021). 25
Picture 3 Example of an A3 document (Holt, 2019, 62). 27
Picture 4 Online student tutoring process cycle. 59
Picture 5 Online student tutoring A3, user guide. 62
Picture 6 A3 IB Online student tutoring. 63
6. Table 1 Number of enrolled students in IB Online by Spring 2021. 29
7. List of abbreviations
BBA Bachelor of Business Administration
IB Online International Business Online
IB Online students International Business students
THESEUS Open Repository of the Universities of Applied
TPS Toyota Production System
TUO Turku University of Applied Sciences Student Union
TURKU UAS Turku University of Applied Sciences
UAS Universities of Applied Sciences
8. 8
1 Introduction
Higher education is a space for long-lasting and inclusive innovation to achieve
self-sustained development (Tang et al., 2020, p. 5). Therefore, no wonder that
training and education are considered as the best protection against exclusion
and lack of prospects (Finnish Government, 2021).
The internet has revolutionized human operations and has taken commerce and
services online along with academic education (Kananen, 2015, p. 11). The
natural arrival of online learning is part of an answer to the modern
transformation of higher education (Bach et al., 2006, p. 5). The advancement
and reach to technologies allow students to access education from any place
and time hence making learning more accessible (Cook, 2005, p. 1).
The need to provide guidance and support to university students is
acknowledged by higher educational institutions. Tutoring is one solution
developed by these institutions in their attempt to respond to the student’s
needs. (Veiga Simao et al., 2008, p. 76.) Students online that are separated
from their peers do not have to study in isolation by themselves and should join
other learners in an electronically supported community (MacDonald, 2008, p.
Tutoring embodies structures and characteristics of considerable range and
diversity, it can vary from legal tutoring to educational or institutional to mention
a few (Veiga Simao et al., 2008, p. 74). The dimensions that can be found in
higher education provided tutoring go from legal and administrative, curricular,
or educational, personalized, practical, distance tutoring, to awareness of
diversity and peer tutoring (Boronat Mundina et al., 2005, pp. 71-72).
Tutoring is an interactive process where experts or trained people help or
support people with less skills or lower level of knowledge or expertise in a
meaningful and organized way (Ullah et al., 2018, p. 1). Peer to peer tutoring is
an element where mentors simultaneously play an intermediate role and act as
instructors for the students in their charge (Veiga Simao et al., 2008, p. 75).
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Peer to peer tutoring enjoys great popularity in many foreign universities, due to
the level of communication and the degree of empathy that is achieved between
pairs of equals (Boronat Mundina et al., 2005, p. 72).
Peer to peer proves to be successful if a tutor and tutees are engaged in
cooperative work and meaningful activities under a planned and structured
program (Gordon, 2009). Distance tutoring is a distinctive dimension that is
supported in a technological training environment, capable of diversifying the
sources of knowledge and providing help to the student (Boronat Mundina et al.,
2005, p. 72). Like traditional learning, online learners have the need for tutoring
as well (MacDonald, 2008, p. 16).
Standardization is the process of developing protocols to guide the creation of a
good or service based on the agreement of all those involved in the industry,
standards ensure that goods or services produced in a specific industry are
given with consistent quality (Corporate Finance Institute, 2021).
Standardization is not an obstacle for development but works as the necessary
foundation on which the future improvement will be based on (Santos et al.,
2006, p. 2).
Fredendall and Thürer characterized the basis of lean thinking in a nice and
simple way: When implementing a new system not only know-how is required,
but also one must understand the know-why to succeed (Fredendall and
Thürer, 2016a, p. XI). Lean is about achieving operational excellence
(Fredendall and Thürer, 2016a, p. 1) and it is about continuous improvement,
there is no lean unless there is not a constant progress (Santos et al., 2006, pp.
1 - 2). Many higher education institutions have implemented lean initiatives
(Sunder, 2016, p. 1101) that have led to significant improvements in efficiency
of processes, through for example eliminating waste and non-value-added
activities (Sunder, 2016, p. 1100-1101). By using the theoretical framework that
lean thinking entails, the authors developed a continuously improving
standardized process for online student tutors, a process that seeks to develop
alongside with Turku UAS continuous quality growth.
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1.1 Research needs and motivation
There are 23 Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) in Finland providing
education that is administered by the Ministry of Education and Culture
(Vipunen 2021). In 2020, there were 39 222 new students pursuing bachelor’s
degrees in Universities of Applied Sciences (Vipunen 2020) and 14 Bachelor’s
level online degrees in Finland (Studyinfo 2020). With the increasing numbers
of students and while more studying is conducted online, the need for online
student tutoring is on the rise. In January 2020 five tutor guides in English were
available through the Open Repository of the Universities of Applied Sciences
called THESEUS. However, very little information regarding student tutoring in
Turku University of Applied Sciences could be found from THESEUS.
Turku University of Applied Sciences Student Union (TUO) facilitates and
provides tutoring for degree and international students (Ratilainen 2013, p. 29)
studying on campus, but does not currently provide tutoring to the International
Business Online (IB Online) degree students. Instead, the Online degree
students are tutored by other Turku University of Applied Sciences (Turku UAS)
Online degree students.
The student tutoring operated by the IB Online degree programme students,
has been conducted to the best of knowledge of the online student tutors
without a structured or standardized process, training, planning nor with clear
guidelines on the roles, duties or responsibilities of the online student tutors or
head student tutors.
Officially Turku UAS asks a one-year tutoring cycle from the student tutors
(Ratilainen 2013, p. 30). Therefore, to assist the student tutors in their work as
online student tutors and to standardize the online student tutoring a
standardized process was needed.
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Motivation for the thesis came from the authors’ own experiences as IB Online
degree students, IB online student tutors as well as for Annika working as the
head online student tutor and Martha as the IB Online degree’s assistant and
realizing how the lack of standardized online student tutoring process makes
the online student tutoring quite challenging. Quoting the father of the Toyota
Production System Ohno Taiichi: “Without standards, there can be no
improvement.” We, the authors, wish to standardize and hence improve the IB
online student tutoring process while increasing the quality of the online student
tutoring and thus creating more value for the degree programme.
1.2 Research objectives and questions
The objective of this research was to develop online student tutoring by creating
a continuously improving standardized process for IB online student tutors
tutoring their peers while using lean thinking as the theoretical framework. The
standardized process is designed to support the current development of the
online student tutoring.
The original aim for the thesis was to create a standardized online student
tutoring process for the Turku UAS IB Online degree students but it can also be
utilized by other degree programs that operate online and use online student
tutors to support new students.
The following research questions were investigated:
1. How does online student tutoring support online students?
2. What type of tutoring are online student tutors currently providing?
3. What type of student tutoring do the online students want and need?
4. How can the online student tutoring be supported?
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1.3 Thesis structure
The first chapter introduces the needs and motivation for the research by giving
general information about online student tutoring as well as online studies after
exploring the background information the chapter presents the thesis objectives
and the research questions. The literature review takes place in chapter two
where we give the theoretical framework to tutoring, online studies, online
communication, lean thinking, standardization and used lean tools.
In the third chapter we explain the type of research made and the methodology
used to collect the data. The analysis of the obtained data and interviews
process is presented in chapter four and finally, in the fifth chapter we present
the conclusions of the research. Figure 1 has a visual representation of the
thesis structure.
Figure 1 The thesis structure.
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2 Literature review
2.1 Tutoring
The aim for education in Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) is to prepare
students for working life, to support students’ wellbeing and to contribute to their
success as individuals and social operators (Komulainen et al., 2016, p. 11).
According to Lonka, Vaara and Sandström (2015, p. 315) “education methods
are becoming more student and thought-activating and student-led.” Students
are expected to regulate their own learning and that of others, thus motivation,
engagement and well-being should be facilitated (Lonka et al., 2015, p. 315).
Student tutoring intends to provide mentoring, increase the student’s wellbeing,
and support individuals in their ability to cope with their new student life based
on the needs and situations of each student (Ratilainen, 2013, p. 29-30).
Tutoring is by nature individualized which allows the tutor to focus only on what
students need to know at that moment (Chin, et al., 2011, p. 1). The interaction
of the tutor with the tutee(s) and the environment is the foundation of effective
tutoring experiences (Johnston, et al., 2018, p. 6).
Each relationship between the student tutor and the student is unique
(Ratilainen, 2013, p. 29) but what most successful tutoring partnerships have in
common is acceptance of meeting the students as they are (Chin et al., 2011, p.
31 and 36). For the tutors, it is important to be patient, observant, ask questions
and try to understand the students at their level (Chin, et al., 2011, p. 31). As
tutoring is not a stable teaching characteristic it should be conducted according
to the situation and persons involved (Savin-Baden and Wilkie, 2006, p. 45).
Tutoring in higher education can be provided in many forms, the most common
ones are teacher to student tutoring and peer to peer tutoring (Veiga Simao et
al., 2008, pp. 74 - 75). Martínez (2007, pp. 110 - 111) perceives the university
teacher tutor not only as the caretaker of the human and scientific growth of the
student but also as the person responsible of the student’s entire learning
process whilst helping the student to find his/her strengths and weaknesses.
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The student tutor aims to increase students’ sense of community by enhancing
the lives of other students with a broader spectrum than studies alone
(Ratilainen, 2013, p. 30). Student tutoring can also improve the student tutor’s
social skills, loss of stage fright, confidence in public speaking and
preparedness for responsibilities (Ratilainen, 2013, p. 34).
Savin-Baden and Wilkie (2016, p. 44) characterizes tutors as more facilitators or
coaches than conventional teachers; their tasks can include, among others,
supporting social interactions, encouraging a proper development of group
work, assisting during study conversations, and evaluating the practices.
Tutors play a crucial part in TUAS’s tutoring cycle (Ratilainen 2013, p. 29), and
personalized tutoring can make big impacts (Chin et al., 2011, 27). Student
tutoring helps students feel better, gain new skills, and make them feel more
confident about themselves and their future and improves the student tutors
team working and group directing skills (Ratilainen 2013, p. 34). The tutoring
given to the student during the first year is focused on creating an encouraging
and positive team spirit, as well as getting started with studies and familiarizing
into the University’s ways of working (Härmä and Joshi, 2013, p. 18).
Editors Johnston and Burke (2016, p. 6.) mention three concepts that tutors go
through during the tutoring experience. The first concept is the learner model,
here the tutor gets all the possible information on the tutee(s) and with this
information the tutor makes instructional decisions before, during and after the
tutoring experience. (Johnston et al., 2018, p. 6.) The second concept is called
the domain model, which is the tutor’s lesson plan, meaning the content that will
be presented to the tutee(s). Finally, the third concept is the pedagogical model,
that includes the strategies to bring together the content and the tutee(s) and
provide the learning experience. (Johnston et al., 2018, p. 6.) The models are
part of the cycle that online student tutoring goes through and therefor they are
important to the thesis and the online student tutoring process.
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2.1.1 Benchmarking tutoring provided by TUO
Benchmarking is a process by which companies examine the best practices of
other companies and select these best business practices as their own
standards (Frendall and Thürer, 2016b, 125). Via their website TUO provides an
online application form, tutoring application criteria and information on
responsibilities of a student tutor. To become a tutor for TUO the student needs
to participate on a mandatory two-part training and at the end of the tutoring, the
student is rewarded with 3 credits. ( b.)
To apply to become a student tutor the applicants fill out an online application
along with a 2-3-minute-long video. The selected applicants take part in a group
interview. ( b.) Through the online and video applications,
applicants are evaluated in a scale of 1-3, based on the extent of the
application, the tasks of a peer tutor, answering the questions in the application
and video form, the reasons for applying, the suitability for peer tutor’s role,
level of commitment/time management, strength and weaknesses and
challenges of tutoring ( a). Student tutors are selected based
on the application forms, video applications, interviews as well as credit score
and studies success ( b).
As mentioned in the motivation for this thesis, TUO does not provide training to
online degrees student tutors in Turku UAS, but only to on-site student tutors.
2.2 Online learning
Distance technologies have unlocked new potential in higher education
(MacDonald, 2008, p. 1). The arrival of online learning is part of the modern
transformation of higher education (Bach, Haynes, and Lewis-Smith, 2006, p.
5). Online learning has proven in the last decade that is far more than a just
trend, every year an increasing number of universities enter the arena with new
online learning programs. (Cook, 2005, p. 28.) Keystone Insights indicate
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currently 11,081 fully online schools around the world registered in their data
base (Keystone Online Studies, 2021).
Online schools headed a transformation in education by taking what was known
as correspondence education, meaning classes and courses completed via
mail, and mixing it with elements of conventional education, such as immediate
interaction and access to extensive learning resources such as online libraries
(Fandl and Smith, 2016, p. 25). While the entire study teaching process is
carried out online and formed in a technology-oriented manner studying is
facilitated by clear structures and predictable functions (Joshi et al., 2020, 19,
27 and 31).
“An online degree refers to a degree that is completed online.” (Joshi et al.,
2020, 12.) Online learning is real-time, attending, interactive, guiding, and
communal form of studying independent of time and place (Joshi et al., 2020,
10). Online studies offer the flexibility to combine work, family, hobbies, and
studies, but requires commitment, self-direction and above all, new learning
skills from the student (Joshi et al., 2020, p. 36). An online degree can be used
to enable students to study at higher education as part of a diverse life situation
(Joshi et al., 2020, p. 39). Even though online schools differ from conventional
universities in some matters, getting access to the same information, resources,
and professors is just as easy for students enrolled in an online school as it is
for those in traditional ones (Fandl and Smith, 2016, p. 54).
Studying online gives students good basics to work in the increasingly digital
global environment of work life (Joshi et al., 2020, p. 54). According to Pallof
and Pratt (2013, p. 137) for some students online studying is easy and
successful while others struggle. Students in an online learning environment
should not feel alone or isolated, but rather work together and feel safe (Pallof
and Pratt, 2013, p. 144-145, 161). If students enjoy their university experience,
they will cope better with their studies (Ratilainen 2013, 28). Through online
student tutoring, online learning students can get the help to make their
studying experience easier whilst getting a sense of community.
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Pallof and Pratt (2013, p. 162) also agree that, for online students, affiliation is
vital for their learning development and, that students have a need to be part of
something – to be able to depend on one another and to work together for a
common goal. Pallof and Pratt (2013, p. 39) argue that “collaborative activity
can help to reduce the feeling of isolation that occur when students are working
at a distance.” Building new relationships can make significant contributions to
distance learning (Pallof and Pratt, 2013, p. 30).
Encouraging students to become part of joint online classrooms increases
motivation, collaboration, and willingness to be involved. It also helps the
learning community to get to know one another while creating social
connections. (Pallof and Pratt 2013, p. 174.) Student views should be heard and
taken seriously in any development work of degree education, and online
programs are no different (Joshi, 2019).
When studying online, creating good habits like time management and
organization will help the online student reduce stress (Fandl and Smith, 2016,
p. 58). The online student must be self-directed and self-initiated, they need to
follow the progress of their studies accurately from the beginning as they are
responsible for the progress of their studies (Joshi et al., 2020, p. 32).
2.3 Online communication
In a traditional classroom, communication between the teacher and student and
between students generally occurs at the same time and place (synchronous).
However, in distance learning, communication can be synchronous or
asynchronous, meaning that it does not take place at the same time and place.
(Smith et al., 2008, p. 99.)
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One of the biggest challenges in online group work are that communication is
highly text- based and lacks non-verbal cues that give clarity to messages’
meanings. Secondly, this communication style, leaves permanent data of
academic and behavioral shortcomings, and it takes away the sense of
apparent urgency from group members who have diverse working styles
though, the latter can also happen in face-to-face learning. (Witt, 2016, p. 461.)
Additionally, online discussions can get out of sync because of slower typists’
answers, if he or she responds to a comment after several other points have
been made, the responses no longer follow in order. Regulations for
participation should be established from the beginning so that the students have
clear expectations of how the online communication will work. (Smith et al.,
2008, p. 104.) The main discussion area of an online course should be
corresponding to what it would be in a face-to-face classroom (Smith et al.,
2008, p. 102). The selection of a suitable communication method reduces
challenges and facilitates interpretation (Dimitrova et al., 2007, p. 6).
2.4 Lean
Lean production is a long-term approach or strategy in the management of
operations (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 17). The strategy of Lean is to develop the
operations from the current situation towards the goal status of the future
(Petersson et al., 2018, p. 51). The Lean approach has been selected because
it is a method to develop processes and, as it has been established, tutoring is
a process no matter if it is conducted on-site or online.
Lean is an activity that never ceases but is constantly in process. In short, the
aim is to increase value with a vision to remove waste. (Petersson et al., 2018,
p. 17–18.) Waste meaning any non-value-adding activity (Yankelevitch and
Kuhl, 2015, p. 12 and 28). Any complex processes are breeding grounds of
waste (Yankelevitch and Kuhl, 2015, p. 12).
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Lean production had its first steps towards what we call Lean these days by
Henry Ford in the beginning of the 1900s when he started to develop an
efficient manufacturing system for the auto industry with an integrated lean
concept (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 39). Ford believed standardization was a
necessity and he believed every step of the manufacturing process needed to
be of quality (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 39-41). In the 1940s a structured a
system of policies - the Toyota Production System (TPS) was created by Taiichi
Ohno – TPS being considered as the base of Lean. (Petersson et al., 2018, p.
The goal of Lean is to adapt the functionality to the best possible and to suit the
needs of all parties involved (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 20). Lean also aims to
increase productivity, efficient use of resources, to reduce waste, increase
employee participation, and to understand the bigger picture yet while working
with the details. It is a whole in which the intention is a win-win situation for all,
i.e., the activities should benefit all stakeholders. (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 31
and 33.) What makes Lean different to other operations is that in Lean it is
believed that the best people to improve the work are those working daily on the
process (Frendall and Thürer, 2016b, p. 129).
Also, Lean processes do not start on their own, but are initiated and driven by
signals from customers (Yankelevitch and Kuhl, 2015, p. 38). Lean thinking
follows a certain pattern of activities that are surrounded by organizational
values. These values include principles, methods/working methods, and results.
Principles is a way of thinking to find the right solutions, the methods/working
methods is the way on how to translate thoughts into results, and lastly results
are working according to values, principles, and the methods/working methods.
(Petersson et al., 2018, p. 54.)
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Lean has two main principles: Just-In-Time (JIT) and Jidoka, and two basic
prerequisites: standardization and leveling. In JIT, the product is delivered at the
right time. The basic principles are: Takt, flow and pull. Takt refers to the
support given to the company's operations and processes. Its purpose is to
brighten expectations, synchronize operations, and create a monitoring system
for deviations. (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 98–100.) Flow is one of the key
elements of lean mindset aiming at as efficient processes as possible
(Yankelevitch and Kuhl, 2015, p. 40) where products, materials and information
are in constant motion and gaining added value (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 110).
Pull, on the other hand, controls the flow processes (Petersson et al., 2018, p.
Jidoka is about efficient flow that produces value. The goal is flow and resource
efficiency. Flow efficiency shows how much of the lead time of products is
productive while the value flow itself can be calculated. (Petersson et al., 2018,
p. 198.) Jidoka takes action that makes things easier to do right from the start
and stops the process if something goes wrong or requires too much time. It is
therefore a question of built-in quality and of stopping on an error when it arises.
(Petersson et al., 2018, p. 87–88.) Leveling means getting the workload into an
as even flow as possible over time (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 76–79).
2.5 Standardization
Standardization is a straightforward improvement method where each process
step is carefully analyzed to standardize a process and to set a goal for
improvement (Frendall and Thürer, 2016b, 30 and p. 124). When it comes to
lean it is a significant part of Lean work (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 79) and it
means defining best practices in a process and ensuring they are followed by
everyone (Yankelevitch and Kuhl, 2015, p. 65). A standard defines boundary
conditions on how a certain task, process or service needs to be done to meet
the standard (Frendall and Thürer, 2016b, p. 121) and is about defining clear
roles and responsibilities (Ortiz, 2021, p. 142).
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Standardized processes allow greater productivity, quality, and consistency
(Yankelevitch and Kuhl, 2015, p. 60). Standardized work processes reduce time
variance, improves performance and coordination between suppliers,
customers and those involved in performing the tasks. Via standardization each
task is done using the same method and by taking a standard time. (Frendall
and Thürer, 2016b, p.122.)
In standardization everyone is aware of the standardized process. It allows
faster and more complete training, showcases clearly what needs to be learned
and when, and eliminates shortcuts that may endanger quality. It also requires
rework to correct problems. (Frendall and Thürer, 2016b, p.122.) A standard is
valid if it is the best solution and is used until a better solution is found and
decided on (Petersson et al.; 2018, p. 129).
Standard operations address the quality standards that need to be met, the
sequence the work will be performed as well as the quantity of inventory that is
maintained (Frendall and Thürer, 2016b, p. 122). To sustain improvement, it
needs to be standardized. Standardization makes it possible to assess current
performance, to create plans and implement them to improve future
performances. (Frendall and Thürer, 2016b, p. 120 and 125.) Standardization is
especially important to be able to find deviations, increasing predictability and to
create learning (Petersson, 2018, p. 129).
2.6 Standardizing processes with Lean thinking
Standardized work intents to capture the best current way of doing work (Holt,
2019, 94) and the most important standards in Lean are to constantly question
the basis for continuous improvement by defining baseline performances yet
allowing creativity to occur (Frendall and Thürer, 2016b, p. 120). It also supports
all Lean tools (Holt, 2019, 95). Continuous improvement requires a structure in
all activities and with all parties involved (Petersson et al., 2018, 183).
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Applying lean principles can provide a clear picture of the situation and
determine needed corrections - lean thinking revealing hiding process problems
(Yankelevitch and Kuhl, 2015, p. 13 and 37). Lean recognizes the value of
standardized work and one of the most important standards in lean is to
constantly question standards (Frendall and Thürer, 2016b, p. 120).
In lean thinking it is an expectation that everyone is engaged and one’s thinking
is equally critical as their labor to succeed (Yankelevitch and Kuhl, 2015, p. 35).
To sustain improved performances, long-term commitment and significant effort
are required (Yankelevitch and Kuhl, 2015, p. 72). Obtaining a universal
agreement on a standard creates a benchmark that one can use to return to
confirm and, calibrate, and for continuous Improvement to occur (Yankelevitch
and Kuhl, 2015, p. 61).
We, the authors, aim to create a standardized process that will guide future
student tutors and head tutor during their time serving as tutors. By using the
theoretical framework of lean in the process, an always evolving blueprint for
tutoring can be created. As mentioned by Frendall and Thürer (2016b, p. 129)
the best people to improve the work are those working daily on the process and
we have sufficient knowledge of the task sustained by our own experiences as
student tutors, head tutor and degree programme assistant. Another reason to
use a lean approach to develop the process is backed up by Yankelevitch and
Kuhl (2015, p. 38) where the authors mentioned that “lean processes do not
start on their own but are initiated and driven by signals from customers”. This
thesis was initiated by collectively shared opinions of the actors, and it would
benefit the not only the future actors, but also the receivers (future students)
and the institution itself.
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2.7 Used Lean methods and tools
The Lean method is about continuous improvement (Petersson et al.; 2018, p.
325) and for continuous improvement to occur it requires an implementation
structure (Petersson et al.; 2018, 183). Lean tools are designed to improve
processes (Yankelevitch and Kuhl, 2015, p. 5) and lean improves operations
through various methods (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 124). Following are the lean
methods and tools that are the most relevant for this thesis. These tools are
significant for the online student tutoring process because they are methods
that provide constant development and improvement.
2.7.1 PDCA development method
PDCA is a method of systematic development that comes from plan, do, check,
and act, i.e., plan, implement, review, and standardize (Petersson et al., 2018,
p. 177). It is also known as the continuous process improvement (Petersson et
al., 2018, p. 177; Yankelevich and Kuhl, 2015, p. 72). The method is suitable for
all development work (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 178). The authors chose the
PDCA systematic development method because it goes along with Turku UAS’s
ways of working and the institution’s constant aim for excellence in action in its
operations. Below can be found picture 1 with a visual representation of a
continuous improvement cycle using PDCA. In the picture a process is
improved for example, using PDCA. Improvement is then standardized so it can
be sustained. Through the standard the next improvement step is provided. All
while the process goes through the PDCA cycle.
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Picture 1 Continuous improvement using PDCA (Frendall and Thürer, 2016b,
The planning sets a target and draws up a plan of the necessary measures. The
problem is clearly defined and the root cause, i.e., the real cause of the
deviation, is investigated. Then to proceed according to the plan and review,
i.e., evaluate. (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 178–179.) The purpose of the
development work is to take the work to a higher level and the aim is to
establish a new level through an agreed standard.
The aim is also to ensure that the new level achieved becomes permanent.
(Petersson et al.; 2018, p. 179) With the PDCA cycle continuous learning can
be institutionalized, risks limited, and continuous improvement initiatives
perpetuated (Yankelevitch and Kuhl, 2015, p. 73). Petersson et al., (2018, p.
177) and Yankelevitch and Kuhl (2015, p. 72) describe PDCA as a systematic
development method for processes. By using said method, that is an essential
part of the lean philosophy, the process of student tutoring can continuously
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2.7.2 Kata method
The Kata method is one of the means of achieving a culture of continuous
improvement. Kata sets target modes for observing obstacles, exceptions and
problems that are reported immediately, and which, through small steps and
multiple repetition, achieves a routine of continuous improvement. (Petersson et
al., 2018, p. 325.) Picture 2 visually shows the four-steps used in improvement
Kata. First one must understand the direction or challenge and grasp the
current conditions. Then the next target condition needs to be established and
one must move towards the target condition by way of conducting experiments.
Picture 2 Improvement Kata (Lean Enterprise Institute, 2021).
Kata is divided into two ways – an improvement Kata and coaching Kata.
Improvement Kata describes the continuous improvement routine, and the
coaching kata is a way to teach the previously described routine. (Petersson et
al.; 2018, p. 326.)
In connection with the two Katas, the coach asks five questions, these
questions are used to coach through the continuous improvement:
1. What is the target condition, as related to the current state?
2. What is the current situation?
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3. What do you think is preventing you from achieving the goal?
4. What next step will you implement?
5. How quickly will we be able to review what we’ve learned from this
next step? (Petersson et al.; 2018, p. 327.)
These questions are put in the A3 user guide template that is found in the end
product section of this thesis. They are written there to help the template users
go through the continuous improvement cycle of the A3 template.
2.7.3 A3 method
The A3 method is about creating a development routine, improving
communication and learning. The name comes from the paper size, A3, that is
considered the correct size to describe development activities. It is suitable for
all development of activities and can be used to describe any improvement in
performance. It is also an efficient tool to communicate issues, tasks, and
results. The A3 titles may change based on the use of the method, yet it is
always based on the PDCA. (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 316–317.)
The form has two sides that represent the development work’s two stages: The
left side contains an understanding of the situation and the causes of the
problem, and the right side consists of the measures to get into target mode.
(Petersson et al., 2018, p. 316–317.) Each section logically builds on the
previous one ensuring quality at all levels of improvement and provides a
framework for learning and standardizes the documentation. (Petersson et al.;
2018, p. 316–318) Below in picture 3 we can see a clear example of an A3
template that defines the problem, target setting, root cause, countermeasures,
results and sets a standard.
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Picture 3 Example of an A3 document (Holt, 2019, 62).
The essence of the method is not the format used, but the process it provides.
The A3 is not to be used as a one and done form of a report, but it is an
ongoing process that is constantly replenished. (Petersson et al., 2018, p. 318–
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3 Methodology
3.1 Methods
This project is a combination of mix of methods research supported by
participant observation as a data collection method. Participant observation is
qualitative, and its importance is on finding the meanings that people attach to
their actions (Saunders, et al., 2012, p. 340). Mixed Methods Research is
defined as a style of research that combines qualitative and quantitative
methods into a single study (Saunders, et al., 2012, p. 161) Quantitative
research aims to generalize and qualitative research to understand a
phenomenon and to create a foundation and theory on that phenomenon
(Hughes and Davies, 2014, p. 9).
The purpose of quantitative research is to discover answer to questions by
applying scientific procedures which in turn, have been developed to increase
the likelihood that the answers gathered are relevant to the question asked and
that they will be reliable and unbiased (Hughes and Davies, 2014, p. 9).
Qualitative research on the other hand, is an activity that locates the observer in
the world. It consists of a series of interpretive material practices that turn the
world into a set of representations that can include but is not limited to field
notes, interviews, conversations, photographs, recordings, and memos to
oneself (Hughes and Davies, 2014, p. 9.)
Saunders, Lewis, and Thornhill characterize participant observation as the
researcher’s attempt to fully participate in the lives and activities of the
members in the research group, allowing the researcher to become a member
and enabling him/her to share their experiences not only by observing what is
happening but also by feeling it (Saunders, et al., 2012, p. 342). The authors
used participant observation as a data collection method because of their direct
experience in the tutoring practices of IB Online. Participant observation is used
as an attempt to get to the cause of “what is going on” in a social situation
(Saunders, et al., 2012, p. 342).
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Using participant observation as a research method the researchers took into
consideration the subjectivity that they brought to the study based on their
previous roles as student tutors, head of student tutors and assistant to the
degree program. However, the researchers gave their opinions in the most
professional way possible, avoiding impacting the results. The collected data
came from the surveys and interviews done to the closest relevant groups
involved in online tutoring. The study participants consisted of student tutors,
degree programme assistants, teacher tutors and degree programme students.
3.2 Data collection
For the quantitative part, the authors sent an online survey with a total of 15
questions via Webropol to all students enrolled in IB Online in Turku UAS. The
survey was completely anonymous to ensure that the confidentiality of the study
participants would remain intact. The number of online students’ participants
was formed by three different generational years of the degree program, and
the total population that got access to the survey was of 104 online students.
The rate of participation was of 24,96%. Table 1 gives a detailed explanation of
the number of students per generational year from student groups that started
studies during year 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Generation Number of students enrolled by Spring
PINBOS20 45*
*The number of students enrolled in PINBOS20 has changed ever since due to transfers from
students in other degree programs.
Table 1 Number of enrolled students in IB Online by Spring 2021.
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The survey sent in January 2021 was open for the students to answer for a
period of seven days and the researchers offered a raffle of two 20-euro gift
certificate to all of those answering the survey.
By interviewing the three different groups mentioned above, the aim was to
achieve a greater closeness to be able to collect feelings, ideas, experiences,
and perspectives i.e., achieve a more reflective perspective to the topic.
Simultaneously, the purpose of the quantitative research was to get to the
conclusions based on the online survey results.
Online surveys had both closed and open-ended questions and functioned as
descriptive research. To get the students to participate we first created a short
23-second video asking the students of classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020 in IB
Online to answer the Webropol survey and at the end of the video we
mentioned the raffle of two gift cards between the students who had answered.
After reaching out with the video via messaging app WhatsApp, we then shared
the Webropol link of the survey to the students of the classes mentioned above
also via WhatsApp and e-mail.
3.3 Qualitative interviews to online student tutors
The past and present online student tutors were contacted primarily via different
social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Instagram, secondly via e-mail
as we, the thesis researchers, had more personal relationships with our peer
online student tutors and wanted to use the platforms we generally used with
them. However, these personal relationships did not influence the veracity of
their answers as the authors asked questions that had nothing to do with our
existing relationships.
Before the interview, we sent via email the research purpose, the approximate
length of the interview as well as the interview questions to give the
interviewees time to prepare if so desired; it was also mentioned that the
interview would be recorded to write a transcript of the discussion and that the
recording would be deleted once the transcript had been written.
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The online student tutor interviews were conducted via Skype for Business and
Microsoft Teams. IB Online degree has had a total of 12 past and present
online student tutors, nine out of the twelve online student tutors were available
for the interview – making the response percentage into 75 per cent. The other
three online students were interested in participating, but due to busy schedules
were not able to do so. However, having a 75 percent of the online student
tutors interviewed fulfilled the high participation rate we expected.
3.4 Qualitative interviews to IB Online teacher tutors and assistants
Having the opinion of both, the IB Online teacher tutors and the degree program
assistants was important for the research to understand how they viewed the
importance of online student tutoring; the two groups were contacted via email
to agree on being interviewed. So far, IB Online has had six different teacher
tutors and two-degree program assistants, one of whom is part of the research
team for this thesis.
Out of the six teacher tutors, only four were interviewed as two remaining ones
supervised the thesis; they were left out of the interviewing phase due to their
active participation on the thesis process. As well as with the student tutors'
interviews, the questions were previously sent via email to the teacher tutors in
case they wanted to prepare beforehand. The interviews were conducted via
Microsoft Teams and were also recorded to later create transcripts of the
3.5 Other ways of collecting data
Information was gathered not only through the online surveys, interviews, and
participant observation, but also through books, e-books, and journals. To get a
general idea of the application forms for students that want to apply for the
tutoring position, we referred to TUO’s online existing material.
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3.6 Publishing the results
Results were published and introduced to the TUAS IB online teacher tutors,
online student tutors and IB Online program students in November 2021.The
interview and Online survey answers were used to further develop the online
student tutoring process and to create a standardized process for Turku UAS
online degrees student tutoring.
The final version of the thesis will be taken through an automatic text-
recognition system Ouriginal used for evaluation of plagiarism and will be
uploaded to THESEUS. The stakeholders that benefitted from the thesis are
Turku UAS’ online degree students, online student tutors, teacher tutors, the
online degree programs and Turku UAS. Also, pre-prepared material could
increase the Student Union TUO´s interest in taking IB Online programme as
part of their tutoring program.
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4 Results
The results presented here are not a description of individual opinions, but a
synopsis of the different opinions gotten from the three study groups
4.1 Online student tutor interview results
Question 1. Which expectations did you have for being an Online student
tutor? What motivated you to become an Online student tutor? Were those
expectations met?
In general, all the student tutors’ expectations and motivations were the same:
helping others. Every student tutor mentioned that their main motivator was to
be able to help new upcoming students to digest the wave of information that is
given in the orientation days and once the studies had officially started, they
would help with whatever new questions the new students will have.
The word that was most consistent with their answers was giving back. The
tutors mentioned that they decided to become one after receiving help from
their own student tutors when they started their studies, they felt that becoming
a student tutor would repay that help and would be a way to show gratitude for
the labor. A couple of student tutors mentioned that the second motivator to
apply was to get the three extra credits that come with the job.
Another motivator for a couple of students was to meet and network with the
students. These student tutors mentioned that they wanted to focus their future
careers in organizational communication so becoming a student tutor in a
degree program that hosts so many international students was a great
opportunity for them to gain more experience in the subject.
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The motivators to become student tutor supports what Ratilainen (2013, p. 29-
30) writes in her report that one of the goals of student tutoring is to increase
students’ sense of community by improving the lives of other students beyond
the studies and that student tutoring can also improve the student tutor’s social
skills, loss of stage fright, confidence in public speaking and preparedness for
Most online student tutors mentioned that their expectations were met
completely, and they enjoyed the experience very much. One student tutor
whose expectations were not met at all, mentioned that they did not get more
than three questions from new students during their time as a tutor, causing
them to feel disappointed by the experience.
Another student explained that their experience was halfway met, as they did
not feel that there was any collaboration between the degree program and the
institution, making them feel like the online students were not fully as connected
with the institution as the on-site students. They felt that this lack of
collaboration doesn’t allow online students benefit from the same experiences
and networking others do.
Question 2. What did you enjoy about Online tutoring? What were the biggest
The highlight for most student tutors was to meet the new students face to face
during the orientation days and being able to help them to solve their questions.
The student tutors mentioned that they were able to make deep connections
with some of the new students and they were able to learn new things from
different cultures while practicing their language skills.
One of the biggest challenges that the student tutors faced was the
communication methods, the main tool used to communicate with students was
WhatsApp. Student tutors mentioned that following a chain of messages was
difficult as many of the tutors were in working life and could not open WhatsApp
every time somebody had written something there, so quite often at the end of
their workday, they would have 100 unread messages.
35. 35
Scrolling up and down to see what questions have been posted and what had
been answered made things more complicated that it should have been. Using
a messaging app as communication platform can result in discussions getting
out of sync; as Smith, et al. (2008, p. 104) explains this can occur because of a
slower typist responding to a comment after several other points have been
made, or a receiver checking their messages after long periods of time.
A couple of student tutors suggested that it would be more beneficial if all
communication would move to another platform such as Microsoft Teams and
gave an example of how it would work:
New student tutors would create different chat rooms for different topics e.g.,
information about the learning platform or information about enrolling on
Campus Online. Student tutors will oversee x number of chat rooms. When a
new student has a question, he or she can then go to the chat room containing
the specific information; if the information is not there, then the student can post
his/her question and get a ‘one-on-one’ answer.
The latter idea would also benefit the student tutors to equally share the load
work. A couple of student tutors felt that some of their fellow tutors did not share
the task similarly, so creating rooms that would then be shared equally in
amount would prevent student tutors from lacking at the task.
If creating different chat rooms help declutter the communication challenges
that student tutors have had so far, Smith et al., (2008, p. 104) recommend that
the guidelines for participation of every part involved need be established from
the start so that the students have clear expectations of how these rooms would
Another challenged raised by a student tutor was the lack of understanding of
practical things outside the courses, meaning that if a student asked a question
on how to apply for international exchange, the tutor was not sure about the
matter and had to therefore ask the student to ask someone else.
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Question 3. What were your typical tasks as an Online student tutor?
All student tutors, after the orientation days, had to answer technical questions
regarding the functioning of the learning platform, some others had to explain
things on the studies like e.g., how the teacher is expecting a report to look like,
how to be more efficient when studying online, or how to “read” the semester
Some students reached out to ask for personal experiences from the student
tutors, for example on how to balance work life/family/studies or just to get a
word of encouragement.
The answers provided by the student tutors in this question, connect to what M.
Joshi (2013, p. 18) mentioned in her study Verkkotutkinnot about tutoring in
online degrees “during the first year, tutoring is focused on creating an
encouraging and positive team spirit, as well as getting started with studies and
familiarizing into the University’s ways of working.”
Question 4. Which environments did you use, and how suitable do you think
they were for the purpose?
The main and most used tool was WhatsApp, student tutors mentioned that the
main reason to use WhatsApp to communicate was because of its reliability and
quick delivery. However, just like in the previous question, most tutors said that
WhatsApp can get confusing because, unless you have been reading the
received messages as soon as they come, one will end up having hundreds of
messages you need to read to catch up.
Witt (2016, p. 461) exposes that in communication in distance learning, it is
fairly easy to take the sense of urgency in a message a student has sent via
text message than in person, resulting in a cluster of misread questions that can
be difficult to detangle and creating a communication crisis.
37. 37
The second most used tool was email, student tutors expressed they felt this
was a more professional way to communicate but it posted a challenge when
they needed to show e.g., with pictures examples of how to do something
whereas with WhatsApp it was easier to send screenshots of the information
A couple of student tutors were reached out via other social platforms such as
Facebook, and Instagram and one tutor even had face to face online calls with
the students via Zoom, Skype, and WhatsApp video chat.
Almost every student tutor suggested that perhaps switching the current
communication ways to something more formal like Microsoft Teams would be
more effective to keep the discussions clean and understandable. As Dimitrova,
et al., (2007, p. 6) mentions in their publication, finding an effective online
environment to communicate will prevent problems and facilitate reasoning
among those communicating.
Question 5. Which recommendations would you give to new Online student
Know what the role of the student tutor is and stay committed to it. It is
important to define the role of the student tutor because at times the students
are asking questions that only teachers can answer, so from the orientation
days, students should be given e.g., a list of what the competences of the
student tutors are. Be present and remember that not everyone is in the same
time zone, so if you get messages in the middle of the night, don’t get
Be patient, positive and understanding of others, remember that new students
come from different backgrounds so we cannot expect everyone to understand
things in the same way. Chin, Rabow, and Estrada (2011, p. 31 and 36) agree
that what most successful tutoring partnerships have in common is acceptance,
meaning that tutors must take care of the students no matter their race, gender,
class, or background.
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Another point raised from the answers gained, was to establish limits;
sometimes new students think that the role of the student tutor is to provide
them with all the information already processed.
By guiding students to find their own answers instead of giving them, student
tutors help create good studying habits like organization and time management
that in the long run, will help online students reduce stress as Fandl and Smith
(2016, p. 58) suggest, and to become more self-directed and self-initiated as
Joshi, et al., (2020, p. 32) say online students should be.
Question 6. What are the special requirements set by having to tutor online
students in a fully online environment?
Tutoring online requires being empathetic, kind and patient. Future student
tutors do not need to be tech wizards, but they do need to have decent
technological skills and should know how the learning platform works.
Good communication skills are important as tutors talk with students in
platforms where non-verbal communication is involved, it is important to know
how to convey messages in a clear and effective way.
Also, student tutors need to be active, as a lot of students do not feel
comfortable reaching out for help, so it is a good idea that tutors reach out to
them individually and ask them if they need help with anything. However, Joshi
et al., (2020, p. 32) say that the online student must “be self-directed and self-
initiated”; so, student tutors should also remind the students whenever reaching
out, that they [the student] are the ones that need to follow the progress of their
own studies accurately from the beginning as they are responsible for their own
Regarding the experience so far, a couple of student tutors expressed that there
should be more communication and cooperation between them and the online
degree staff. A meeting where the student tutors’ tasks are presented to the
degree program staff would be beneficial for everyone involved.
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Question 7. Is there something else you would like to add?
Few student tutors did not add anything to this question, however, most of the
tutors emphasized that there should be clearer guidelines for the process, that
includes an explanation of their responsibilities, status of limitations, what is
expected from them, and performance evaluation.
The usage of Lean would help to create a clearer and more structured tutoring
process, Petersson (2018, p. 17–18.) describes Leas as an activity that never
ceases and is constantly in development, it is long-term approach or strategy in
the management of processes.
A richer picture of the benefits on using lean tools during the tutoring process is
reflected in the end products of this thesis.
The results obtained in questions number 2, 4 and 7, indicate that student tutors
have shared pain points such as unclear communication environments and a
lack of guidelines for the tutoring experience. Having a standardized process
that covers the tutoring experience in its entirety would prevent future student
tutors to feel confused about the extent of their task and would help to create
better communication methods with the tutees.
According to Johnston and Burke (2018, p. 6) the tutoring experience happens
in three different stages (the learner model, the domain model and pedagogical
model) for the IB online student tutors, the stages occur as explained next:
The learner model happens when the future student tutor learns how many
students have applied to the program and will prepare him/herself to welcome
new students to the entry exam, while being there, the tutor will learn important
aspects about the potential tutees such as cultural background, age, gender.
This information will then help the tutor to make informed decisions on how to
e.g., communicate with the tutees.
40. 40
The tutors would then provide their knowledge and help to the new accepted
degree program students during the orientation days (domain) and based on
the strategy used to create the process, the student tutors will measure how
well they achieved the desired results (pedagogical). The end products of this
thesis aim to support each one of the three tutoring stages.
We, the authors, aim to create a standardized process that will guide future
student tutors and head tutor during their time serving as tutors. We think that
by using a lean approach to the process, we can create an always evolving
blueprint for tutoring. As mentioned by Frendall and Thürer (2016b, p. 129) the
best people to improve the work are those working daily on the process and we
have sufficient knowledge of the task sustained by our own experiences as
student tutors, head tutor and degree programme assistant.
Another reason to use a lean approach to develop the process is backed up by
Yankelevitch and Kuhl (2015, p. 38) where they mentioned that “lean processes
do not start on their own but are initiated and driven by signals from customers”.
This thesis was initiated by collectively shared opinions of the actors, and it
would benefit the not only the future actors, but also the receivers (future
students) and the institution itself. Petersson et al., (2018, p. 177) and
Yankelevitch and Kuhl (2015, p. 72) describe PDCA as a systematic
development method for processes, because of this reason, the authors have
used this lean tool to continuously improve the online student tutoring process.
4.2 IB Online teacher tutors and assistants interview results
Teacher tutors and degree program assistants were interviewed via videocall,
the questions asked were of qualitative nature and both groups were asked the
same set of questions. The results given here are a condensation of the
answers given by all the teacher tutors individually and the two program
assistants respectively. The teacher tutors’ answers will be marked as TT and
the program assistants as PA.
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Question 1. What is online tutoring?
TT. Tutoring is about caring about students and their study path, from the first
day when they arrive, taking care and supporting the students in all the steps
that he/she takes until graduation. Is having a hand ready if needed. The job is
very efficiency and productivity focused.
Online tutoring is not different from on-site tutoring, if anything, it might involve
some extra work because you don’t have face to face interaction and that cuts
an important part of communication such as the non-verbal one. So online
tutors need to be “wired” differently to be able to get over these kinds of
PA. It is helping other students by supporting them in their studies and getting
through their online degree while using online tools. The online tutor does the
same things as the on-site ones but, he/she does it by using the internet as the
medium to support the tutees.
Question 2. What do you find is the value of online tutoring a) to the University
b) to the students?
TT. Online student tutoring helps students to focus quicker into their studies
resulting in us teachers being able to focus more on practical matters like
explaining the content of the course and of course teaching, so it means it
becomes a chain of help where everyone benefits. For the university it helps
even economically as the funding from the State to the organization continues
with each graduated student within time.
Students get benefits from tutoring by getting the flexibility to access different
channels to reach out when questions come. When new students come and are
received by their peer tutors, they get to feel welcomed and important; student
tutors also enjoy larger credibility in the new students’ eyes compared to
teachers with things like planning, studies, etc., this advantage helps, again, to
cut the valuable time teachers would normally have to spend explaining
curricula and concentrate in teaching.
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PA. The value that tutoring in general is beneficial for both parties as it helps
cutting the time that students can spend searching for specific information and
allows them to focus quicker to their studies and of course, it also cuts the time
that a teacher would normally have to spend answering individually to practical
matter allowing him/her to focus on teaching.
Online tutoring is valuable specially to those students that are not specially tech
savvy and having online student tutors is important to motivate the incoming
students to believe that they can also combine work and everyday life with
studies as the tutor becomes a proof that it is achievable.
Question 3. What do you think is the role of online student tutors?
TT. Support in different ways; tutors form relationships beyond information
giving, they can also offer moral support [even though this is not their duty], but
it can help to detangle situations for the students.
Student tutors also create a sense of community and team, they are able to
monitor and respond, because they have more credibility in the students’ eyes,
the student tutors can create a more relaxed a comfortable atmosphere that
allows students to open up. In this way, the student tutors become an important
intermediary not only between students and teachers but also between students
and the whole educational organization.
PA. Two important parts of the role is knowing how to use the learning systems
and communicating with the students frequently, not only when they need help.
The reason for the tutors to do the latter is that some students can be too shy to
ask for help but when someone approaches them and asks - Can I help you
with something? then the student can open up and ask their doubts.
Beyond the first two roles, online student tutors create team spirit within the
study teams and provide new students with experiences and tips to better
succeed in the degree program.
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Question 4. Could you name as many practical duties as possible you think an
online student tutor should do?
TT. They should be aware of the curricula and the overall way the studies are
handled, of course they need to be able to show students how the online
learning systems work. Tutors need to be there for students not only in the
beginning of the studies but throughout their whole trajectory.
Student tutors in general need to be culturally aware of the communication
differences that exist within cultures. In IB Online, we have many international
students, and their communication skills differ from one another, you cannot
communicate in the same way with someone i.e., from India than from
Germany. Communication differences can create issues between student tutors
and students if the tutor does not understand the student cultural background.
Online tutors are community builders, and they need to know that not everyone
is experienced or lived abroad.
Another important duty is to speak clearly and openly to the students about the
issues they could have during the time of the studies e.g., the risks of failing a
course, poor time management and even dropping off the degree program all
PA. Welcome the new students to the degree program and talk with them about
their own experiences as online learners, what work nicely and what didn’t.
They need to help incomers to get familiar with the learning environment and
the tools and repeat the information as many times as necessary until every
new student is on board.
Especially throughout the first semester, student tutors need to keep contact
with the students on regular basis to check that everything is running smoothly.
If there is an individual doubt, the tutor can either pinpoint where to look for the
information or give the information straight away. We think that sometimes, to
increase the students’ sense of self-guidance, is better to point at where to find
something whilst with others, the best is to give the answer straight.
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Tutoring in general should be an active role specially during the first year of the
studies but also at the end, since about to graduate student tutors can give tips
on how to e.g., write a better thesis or avoid procrastination.
Question 5. Who is responsible for the student tutors?
TT. The IB Online student tutors are recruited by the teachers and the
coordinator of the program, and they get their training from previous student
PA. Mainly the coordinator of the degree program, teacher tutors sometimes
check on them but are not directly responsible for them.
The roles are not well defined on who checks on who and since TUO hasn’t
trained student tutors in IB Online, the responsibility to check on their
performance is in the air.
Question 6. How Turku UAS contributes to the management of the online
tutoring process?
TT. We as online teacher tutors get access to special pedagogical courses
offered by Turku UAS to learn how to effectively teach online, and when we
recruit the student tutors, we can give them some of the tools learned for them
to succeed at their task so, it becomes a chain of information.
PA. Not sure on how Turku UAS is managing the program but since the student
union TUO hasn’t taken on board the online degree student tutors to train them,
it feels like the online degree program is a bit overlooked.
Question 7. How could more students be motivated to become online student
TT. At the moment the school rewards them with three extracurricular credits
but perhaps there could be a special reward for their job such as a certificate
backed up by Turku UAS that will give them something extra to show in their CV
for example. Previous student tutors should also talk about the rewarding
experience to the students after the first year to get them excited about the job.
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PA. If they get credit for it in a way that will help them in life after school. If you
think about online tutoring position, one of the things you must specialize is
digital solutions; so, giving them some kind of certificate that will later translate
as a plus in the job market could make for a great incentive.
Question 8. What do you expect from a student who wishes to become a tutor?
TT. Good attitude and a sense of service. The aspirant student tutor does not
need to be a 5-grade student to do the job, but it should not be a barely passing
the courses type of student either.
Tutoring needs motivation and dedication so these two are very important
features a student tutor should have. They should also possess excellent
communication skills and a genuine will to help others.
They need to be friendly and positive, good at planning and talking to people no
matter their background. They should be able to take initiative and not afraid to
ask questions when they don’t have an answer.
PA. He or she needs to be someone who knows how to work in teams, has
great intercultural communication skills, is outgoing and proactive and gets
along easily with others.
The most important characteristic in a person who would like to tutor their peers
is commitment, we have seen some student tutors that start out with a lot of
energy, especially during the orientation days and then slowly start being
present in the tutees’ lives. So, it needs to have the same amount of energy and
commitment with its tutees in the begging as at the end of the studies.
Question 9. What skills do you think student tutors need?
The answer given for this question is a mixture of all the skills listed by all the
teacher tutors. The skills they all had in mind were study skills, technical skills,
online communication skills, intercultural communication and awareness skills,
organizational skills, presentation skills.
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A 20% percent of the teacher tutors mentioned that the online student tutors
should have an empathetic and caring attitude and they should be able to
forecast the issues that new students might have based on their own
Both programme assistants agreed that the future online student tutors should
be team players, have good intercultural communication skills as well as
technical and organizational skills. He or she should be a fast learner and
curious to learn more, needs to be patient, open minded and creative; they
should also be brave to speak up when something or someone is not acting as
expected so that measures can be taken if necessary.
Chin, Rabow and Estrada (2011, p.31) say that it is important for tutors to be
patient, observant, ask questions and try to understand the students at their
level. On the other hand, Ratialainen (2013, p. 34) mentions that the tutoring
activity provides the tutor with social skills, loss of stage fright, confidence in
public speaking and preparedness for responsibilities. From this we can say
that even if the future online student tutors do not possess all the skills at once,
through tutoring they can expect to develop these skills.
Question 10. Do you have improvement ideas for the student tutors?
TT. Provide sustainability so the service is offered in the same manner and with
the same quality every time. Of course, this might be difficult because every
year we have different people, so there should be a standardized process of the
recruitment and training methods the student tutor get access to.
PA. It is important to have clear tasks, especially when you have more than two
tutors, so clarify who is doing what, when, etc. There should be a training on
what are their tasks and what is expected from them and for them to set their
own goals even.
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4.3 Online student tutoring survey results
The qualitative answers given by the students about online tutoring survey gave
an insight on the value and importance of getting sufficient support from the
students tutors online.
Question 1. What do you think is the role of Online student tutors?
The majority of answers showed that most students think these are the tutor’s
main roles:
- Guiding and helping junior students during the start of their studies.
- Helping with homework doubts
- Answer questions fast and in an accessible manner.
- Facilitate communication between students and teachers.
- Helping with technical and administrative issues.
- Advice, mentor and support junior students
- Creating a team spirit among students.
Though, it is not the student tutor’s role to facilitate communication between
students and teachers, further answers in the survey showed that students
either don’t feel comfortable reaching teachers for small questions or they have
reached the course teacher but have gotten no answer back.
The answers to this question proved once again that a clearer role of what
online student tutoring is about is needed. By using the online student tutoring
process cycle presented in the end products can help online student tutors to
identify what tutoring is about.
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Question 2. Could you name as many practical duties as possible you think a
tutor should do? e.g., Assisting students with homework
- Providing help with courses, graduation and catching up regularly with the
student about their wellbeing and helping them find a balance between studies,
work, and family life. Helping them understand the structure of the studies, both,
optional and compulsive.
- Answer study related questions
- Giving feedback to students
- Sharing insights of the studies based on the student tutor’s experience(s).
- Acting as a connection bridge between students and teachers
-Organizing events
- Reminding students about important dates that they might miss e.g.,
enrollments, campus online, deadlines.
- Coach students and teachers on the usage of the learning environments,
therefore student tutors need a solid knowledge of technical information. A large
majority of students answered that helping them navigate the learning
environment was an imperative duty for the student tutors.
Question 3. What were the issues that you needed help with from tutors?
Most of the students replied that it was related to technical and administrative
issues such as understanding the usage of the learning environment,
enrollment system and getting the student ID. The second most given answer
was getting help with assignments, studies and picking up courses for the
optional studies as well; they also wanted ideas on how to move further along
with their studies. Lastly, the third most given answer was using the student
tutor as a bridge between the student and the teacher e.g., bringing to the
student tutor’s attention mistakes done by the teacher in the learning platform
such as wrong dates and faulty links.
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A quarter of the students (six out of twenty-four) who answered this question
mentioned that they have not encountered any issues to reach out for help to
their student tutors.
Question 4. What kind of support from your tutor was the most important to
The most given answer for this question was getting help with school courses
and understanding things such as assignments, the learning environment, and
the school system in a fast and uncomplicated way.
Surprisingly, one of the insights we got from this question was the way students
viewed their student tutor as a moral support figure. A vast majority of students
mentioned that they felt supported through listening experiences from tutors and
thus getting reassurance that they could also study alongside with working a
full-time job and having a family. This connects with the online study part that
there is a real need for people to feel some sort of human connection to get a
more social experience in their studies. – check it from online studies ---
Two out of twenty-four students said that even though they did not need any
kind of assistance from their student tutors, it was nice to know that they could
have had support if needed.
Question 5. On a scale of 1 - 5, grade how important did you find that you had
an Online student tutor during the first months of your studies? 5= Very
important 4=Important 3= Somewhat important 2= Not so important 1= Not
important at all
The students were asked how important they found having an online student
tutor during the first months of their studies. Out of 24 students, 45,8% found
having an online student tutor during the first months of their studies very
important, 25% important, 20,9% somewhat important, 8,3% not so important –
making the importance average to be 4,1 with a median of 4,0. Grade 1, not so
important at all, was not given by any student. Figure 2 shows said
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The results to this question connected with the answers in question number
three [where the majority of students mentioned that they needed the most help
with technical, administrative, and practical matters] prove that the majority of
students feel the importance and impact that having a student tutor during the
first stages of their studies provides. These results support again what Härmä
and Joshi (2013, p. 18) have written about tutoring during the first year: it is
focused on getting started with studies and familiarizing with the University’s
ways of working.
Figure 2 Question 5.
Question 6. In your own words, please describe what is the value of Online
The students’ answers in this question can be connected to previous ones:
assistance and closeness. Most students agreed that the value of online
tutoring is crucial as online studies are demanding by themselves, it is a great
tool for the students to access information and getting answers in an
uncomplicated way via tools like WhatsApp and Teams.
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The second most given answer has to do with the humanistic part of the studies
meaning that online tutoring provided the student with a sense of connection
with someone who has gone through the same experience even at the distance.
Some students indicated that their student tutor became their friend and the
person who gave motivation to continue during the first semester of studies.
Again, two out of twenty-four answers similarly expressed that the value for
online tutoring is more for junior students and teachers as it provides an extra
set of helping hands as the funnel from where to get information quicker,
however, they did not see a lot of value for more seasoned students as, they
believe, are more capable to find answers by themselves.
Question 7. Did your tutor have an approachable attitude? In question seven
the students were asked whether the student tutors had an approachable
attitude. Out of 24 students, 91,6 percent answered yes, always, 4,2 percent
answered sometimes and 4,2 percent not really. Figure 3 shows that the large
majority of students had a positive interaction with their online student tutors.
Figure 3 Question 7.
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Question 8. Was the communication style of your tutor clear enough when
clarifying your questions?
In question eight the students were asked was the communication style of their
student tutor’s clear enough when clarifying their questions. Out of 24
respondent’s 95,8 percent answered yes, he/she was always very clear, 4,2
percent (one student) answered it was difficult to understand the answers
sometimes. No students answered their tutors had and unclear communication
style. Figure 4 shows that communication style of the online student tutors was
for the most part, very clear.
Figure 4 Question 8.
Question 9. Was the tutor available?
In question nine, was the tutor available out of 24 respondent’s 21 students,
87,5 percent, answered the tutor was always available, three students – 12,5
percent answered that they had to sometimes wait for an answer. No student
answered their tutor was rarely available. Figure 5 shows the online student
tutors’ availability.
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Figure 5 Question 9.
Question 10. Answer this question just in case you chose option 2 or 3 to the
previous question. Did the tutor get back to you when you had a question,
he/she didn’t answer ASAP?
In question 10 the students were asked to answer the question in case they
chose option two or three to question nine. Question was, did the tutor get back
to you when you had a question, he/she didn’t answer as soon as possible.
Again, out of 24 students 23 students - 95,8 percent, answered yes and one
student – 4,2 percent, no I had to ask from another person. No additional
information was given in the free text field. Figure 6 shows that even online
students needed to wait some time for answers, for the most part, the online
student tutors got back to them to answer their question.
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Figure 6 Question 10.
Question 11. On a scale of 1 - 4, what was the level of knowledge of your tutor
in the matter regarding your questions?1= Dominated the subject 2= Somewhat
dominated the subject 3= He/She was insecure about the subject 4= Did not
dominate the subject
In question eleven students were asked to scale what the level of knowledge of
their student tutors was in the matter regarding their questions. 24 students
answered the question with 75 percent answering their student tutor dominated
the subject, 8,3 percent somewhat dominating the subject, 4,2 percent that
he/she was insecure about the subject and 12,5 percent that the student tutor
did not dominate the subject – making the median 1,0 and average level of
knowledge 1,5 scaling between the student tutors either dominating the subject
and between somewhat dominating the subject.
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The answers provided in this question can further be researched as we did not
ask for any additional information on what the topics were the students felt their
tutors did not dominate. It can be assumed that one of the reasons why student
tutors did not dominate a subject was because the issue was outside of the
limitation of their roles.
Figure 7 shows the level of expertise of the online student tutors according to
the online students’ opinions.
Figure 7 Question 11.
Question 12. Which environments do you think are the most suitable for Online
tutoring? You can choose more than one.
In question 12 the students were asked which environments you think were the
most suitable for Online tutoring. Again, 24 students answered the question,
giving 38 selected answers as more than one choice was permitted. 79,2
percent chose WhatsApp, 41,7 percent answered Teams, 29,2 percent
answered other, and 8,3 percent answered Zoom. In the free text field students
answered as other environments Telegram, Slack, email, Optima/Itslearning
and an answer that environment depends on the question.
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Clearly the majority of students thought that WhatsApp is the best tool to
communicate with their tutors, we can assume they like this tool due to the
speed it provides in communication, however we must keep into consideration
that a large number of student tutors mentioned that the communication
methods became challenging because of the use of apps like WhatsApp.
Dimitrova, et al., suggest that a selection of suitable communication methods
reduces challenges and facilitates interpretation (2007, p. 6). Therefore, the
future student tutors need to think of what the best communication methods
could be so that everyone can access quick and effective information without
neglecting the clarity of message.
As mentioned in the results obtained by the online student tutors, using the A3
template given in the end products will help to facilitate communication.
Figure 8 showcases the most suitable environments for online tutoring.
Figure 8 Question 12.
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Question 13. What skills do you think tutors need? e.g., Communications,
The researchers wanted to know what skills students think the student tutors
should possess to succeed. The most listed skill was good communication
skills, both, written and verbal; this skilled was followed by empathy and
willingness to help others.
Other mentioned skills were responsibility and professionalism, good
organization skills, they should have leadership and a team player attitude,
objectivity, and tolerance as well as inclusiveness and cultural knowledge.
The skills listed by the online students are very much aligned with the skills that
both, the programme assistants, and the teacher tutors mentioned an online
student tutor should have.
Question 14. Do you have any improvement ideas for the student tutors and
Online tutoring in general?
The answer gotten for this question was to create a more structured and
defined role for the online student tutors. Both, online students, and online
student tutors, did not fully know the concreate description of the role and
limitations of online tutoring.
Students also mentioned that the communication vehicles could be improved,
there was a suggestion of moving the conversation for general group questions
from WhatsApp to Teams to keep the discussion threads clearer as sometimes
WhatsApp can get cluttered, and it is difficult to follow the chat and the
engagement level drops down. Another similar suggestion was to maintain
chats regarding school in Teams threads and more personal questions (even
regarding studies) one-on-one with the student tutors on WhatsApp.
Using the A3 template shown in the end products, can help online student tutors
to find more efficient communication methods during their year tutoring, the
methods can change every year according to the then available communication
tools and applications.
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Another suggestion was to have individual meetings with their student tutors
once every semester and a whole group semiannual meeting with the student
tutors and a representative of the degree program to talk about how the
program is working, as sometimes students have learned that a same mistake
in a course had been experienced by previous year students and nothing has
been changed.
Eight out of the nineteen people who answered to this question mentioned that
they were content with the way online tutoring has been taking place so far and
they did not have any suggestions to further improve their experience.
4.4 End products
All activities can be improved in one way or another – yet there must be a
logical link between the objective and the measures needed to achieve it. The
starting point, a need for development, requires a selected way forward.
(Petersson et al.; 2018, 17) Online student tutoring is an activity that can be
constantly improved, and Lean tools are the way to not only identify the
objectives and create the measurements to achieve them, but also provide a
way to evaluate the process and standardize the best practices.) Connect this
more towards your own topic.
The objective of this research was to develop online student tutoring by creating
a sustainable standardized process for online student tutors tutoring their peers
while using lean thinking as the base. The standardized process was designed
to support ongoing development of the online student tutoring.
As end products, the authors created an online student tutoring process cycle
and an A3 template to help standardize the online student tutoring and to
support continuous improvement. The end products were designed to sustain
improved performances with a long-term commitment in mind and with an aim
to always capture the current best way of conducting tutoring.
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The process cycle was based on lean thinking and uses the PDCA framework
with continuous improvement surrounding all phases of the cycle. It also
includes editors Johnstons and Burkes (2016, p. 6.) three concepts that tutors
go through during the tutoring experience: The learner model, the domain
model, and the pedagogical model.
The learner model happens during all phases of the online student tutoring
cycle. It begins from the planning phase where tutors receive information on the
tutee(s) which the tutor then uses for instructional decision-making during all
phases. Secondly online student tutoring entails the domain model – the
planning of tutoring in its entirety as well as plans for individual tutoring. Thirdly
the online student tutoring has the pedagogical model in its tutoring phase
where the tutoring content and the tutee(s) are brought together to provide a
learning experience. Below can be found picture 4 containing the online student
tutoring process cycle.
Picture 4 Online student tutoring process cycle.
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The process cycle starts with the first PDCA phase, P – plan. This is where we
identify what tutoring exactly is about, analyzing the current situation in online
student tutoring, tutoring goals and possible obstacles. It is also the phase to
gain information on the tutee(s), plan any desired improvements and create a
plan of action for the next tutoring season.
The second phase is D – do. It is the part of the cycle where every tutor needs
to be involved and a time to execute the online student tutoring plan. This is
where the tutoring content and tutee(s) are brought together and where the
tutors provide the tutoring experience.
Thirdly comes the PDCA phase C – check, where it is vital to analyze whether
everything has gone according to the tutoring plan and if the expected results
Finally, comes the phase A – act, where student tutors should share knowledge,
select, and train new student tutors, standardize best practices, and restart the
The A3 template was built based on the core values of continuous improvement
and standardization. The template corresponds with the produced online
tutoring process cycle, and it is meant to support all phases of said process. It
contains the continuous improvement implementation structure as Petersson et
al., mentioned (2018, 183) is necessary for continuous improvement to occur.
Said implementation structure has been developed through the PDCA method.
The A3 template goes phase by phase through the PDCA cycle stating current
and target conditions, setting target modes for observing obstacles,
expectations, and problems, all while aiming for continuous improvement of the
online student tutoring.
Petersson et al., (2018, p. 326) described the Toyota Kata as a method to
achieve a culture of continuous improvement. Therefore, to ensure the
implementation of a continuous improvement, the five coaching Kata questions
(see page 27) have been added to the user guide of the A3 template.