Tutors and Tech in Silicon Valley

I have recently surveyed a group of tutors working in the high tech and high academic stress geographical area known as “Silicon Valley,” or the Bay Area of San Francisco. This is the “community of practice” in which I work, although we do not function as closely as a “community of practice” as the teachers in one school or school district might. The term “community of practice” was coined by Lave and Wenger (1991), and is expanded upon by the Wenger-Trayners on their website. They define a community of practice as having three common elements:

Domain: Members have a shared domain of interest

Community: Members engage in joint activities and discussions

Practice: Members are practitioners in the field

As tutors, our community of practice is weak on the second criteria. We do not have much opportunity to meet and discuss ideas. To address this, last year I started a Meetup group for teachers and tutors in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, it folded when I went traveling and none of the others scheduled meetings, but I did have a brief opportunity to talk with teachers and tutors as diverse as from traditional schools right through to training managers at companies like Google. What I did find was that there was visible and expressed relief, particularly from tutors, to find a group where they could share ideas.

For this reason I have drawn my survey participants from tutors who work through tutoring companies. Not only did this give me an avenue to reach tutors, but it also gave me participants who do have some degree of community of practice around them. One company has its own tutoring centers, and therefore has physical spaces where their tutors could meet for discussion on the issues of the survey, should they wish to follow up on the results. The other company does in-home tutoring, but has an administration and communication system which could be used for further discussion and development of their community of practice. I have shared my survey results with both.

Twenty tutors took the survey and, for commercial reasons, I do not know how many requests were sent, as the managers sent them out to their tutors. The number of tutors at each company is commercially sensitive information. An infographic of the most significant findings can be found here.

My more detailed analysis and report can be found here.

The key findings of the survey are:

1. Tutors have little discretion in the digital technologies they use during tutoring sessions. Sessions are dominated by the use of cloud sharing of documents, and the websites of the school’s teachers and online textbooks.

2. Tutors are asking students to use a range of digital technologies during tutoring sessions, many focussed on getting homework done, but they are also using multi-modal learning technologies.

3. Tutors have more discretion in the digital technologies they ask students to use to reinforce learning between sessions, and they use a diverse range of technologies.

4. When asked what they want in order to assist them in the integration of technology in their practices, an overwhelming 65% said they do not want to use more technology in their tutoring sessions.

The results of this survey are, in my mind, an opening for further questions. Why do tutors not want to use more technology in tutoring sessions? Can their communities facilitate a more structured exchange of ideas on how tutors use technology to consolidate student learning between sessions?

Perhaps tutors and students have a common interest, here: trapped by the technology mandates of their schools, they need opportunities to explore new technologies and, hopefully, take those back to their schools’ communities of practice.


Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Community graphics licensed free for use from: