The Online Tutor as
Cross-Curricular Double Agent


What started out as a simple inquiry into what makes a good online tutor has changed into something considerably more complicated, both conceptually and politically. We have witnessed what savvy computer-using compositionists have been claiming for a while: technology is not a panacea, and it will not, on its own or even with a great deal of helpful guidance, cause the kinds of changes that many of us have hoped for.

We realized that even though our tutors were being trained in writing center "best practice," they were really performing as a techno-editing service. This has led us to a different set of questions from the original ones. We have started to question the technology itself. We have discussed, researched, argued, and even switched sides on the question of the neutrality of this particular technology.

All of the elements that now play a role in our continuing research (Current-Traditional texts and teachers; process trained tutors who inadvertently became the agents of current traditional rhetoric; directors who want to further the goals of Social Epistemic rhetoric; questions about the technology itself) are challenging. One of the biggest challenges is deciding which issues to address and which to take on first. Do we need to work to influence the pedagogy in the Basic Composition classes so that Current-Traditional rhetoric is not so firmly entrenched? Should we even encourage the Basic Composition classes to use the OWL if what they are doing is counter to the goals of the OWL? How should we change our tutor training, or should we change it at all? Should we change the tutoring interface? How would we decide what to change it to?

These questions are positive because, in addition to illuminating our mistaken presumptions, they form the basis of our renewed inquiry. How do we turn these questions into a methodology? Can we build a framework that others can use to avoid what we have had to do? All the warnings so far from the computer-using compositionist "gurus" have been just that--warnings. Our research gives more than just warnings; it provides a beginning framework for examining what needs to be known about teachers, text, pedagogy, technology and goals.