The Online Tutor as
Cross-Curricular Double Agent

Peer Tutoring Problems

John Trimbur states that what peer tutors attempt is like "a balancing act that asks tutors to juggle roles, to shift identity, to know when to act like an expert and when to act like a co-learner" (25).

Irene Clark and Dave Healy note that "many tutors are not peers in any sense of the word." Tutors are chosen because they have "demonstrated an ability to write" which automatically eliminates peer status, since those commonly seeking help at a writing center are those who have demonstrated an inability to write--at least to write well (33).

Our experience tells us that while tutors are usually not peers with their clients in terms of their development as writers, they are often peers on some social and cultural levels. The tutors have somehow become writers who can produce texts which succeed in the academy. Most of their clients have not yet reached this stage, and, faced with the immediate need to produce passable texts, many of the clients are not particularly interested in anything beyond walking away with a text that is passable. (Perhaps the "Will-this-be-on-the-test?" syndrome operates at an ontological level as well as an epistemological one.)

Fortunately, the peer status on levels other than that of writers is what opens the possibility that well trained tutors can actually help their clients become better writers, not just people in possession of better texts.