Analysis & Evaluation of “Student Tutors for Problem-Based Learning in Dental Hygiene: A Study of Tutor Actions”

I have chosen this article by Moore and Kain (2011) to analyze and evaluate because of the researcher’s focus on peer mentoring as a scaffolding technique in a problem-based learning (PBL) course.  Tomlinson (2001) cited both PBL and peer mentoring as strategies for differentiation because they both support learning from the student’s respective learning disposition and stimulates a sense of personal responsibility for learning.  The American Dental Education Association (2015) advocated for PBL as a learner-centered instructional strategy to support students’ development of critical thinking skills.  For these reasons I think the article is relevant to my current educational context.

The subjects of the study from Northern Arizona University (NAU) were six, senior year dental hygiene students in their second, one-semester long, PBL class and sophomore dental hygiene students enrolled in their first of two, one-semester long problem-based learning class.  The purpose of the study was to identify how students become tutors, what is done in preparation to become a tutor, what do tutors do in a tutoring session, and what do tutors learn from the experience?  Specifically, researchers wanted to investigate the actual behavior of tutors in tutoring sessions and why, versus the desired behavior of tutors as were the focus of many studies in the review of the literature. Guided by the theoretical frameworks of Vygotski and Piaget who valued social interaction in the learning process, researchers sought to scaffold instruction of problem-based learning with peer tutors.  The study utilized the Vygotski principles of enlisting more knowledgeable individuals for the task of tutoring so that student learning is challenged from their zone of proximal development (Moore & Kain, 2011). The study also utilized Fishbein’s Integrative Model of Behavior and applied it to tutor perceptions of what they should do and how they are to behave.

Fishbein's integrated model applied to a change in tutor behavior (Moore & Kain, 2011)

Researchers collected raw data in the form of interviews of administrators (dental hygiene program chair, PBL course designer, student tutor supervisor) the tutors, tutees and observations from audio and video recordings of tutoring sessions. Data analysis was accomplished using QDA Miner software.  I have not heard of that software before (there are many I am not familiar with) so I looked it up on the software’s website and it appears to be a good tool for analyzing a variety of data input. It was this software that helped researchers to identify specific patterns exhibited by tutors. The results of the study were organized according to variations in tutor actions with emphasis of the interventions as they related to content of the class (35%), process of PBL (62%) or of social nature (3%). The results also disclosed the tutor style as directive (31%), suggestive (52%), or empowering (17%) relative to their interventions. The researcher openly discussed her role as both the primary researcher and dental hygiene instructor at NAU. She stated, “Bias inevitably, though not intentionally, was introduced into the study…tactics were used to ensure validity, including the use of external reviewers and interviewers (Moore & Kain, 2011, p. 809).  In light of her candidness and the steps taken to ensure validity, I think the study is still valuable. Moore and Kain (2011) found “that tutors’ behaviors are influenced more by their beliefs than by tutor training and environmental factors” (p. 812).  This appears to align with the Fishbein’s Model introduced for tutor behavior. Researchers concluded that student tutors can be integrated effectively in the NAU dental hygiene program provided they have adequate training and are selected to be tutors based on their attitude and beliefs as they relate to PBL and tutoring (Moore & Kain, 2011).

I have only a few reservations about this article regarding validity.  First, the primary researcher stated that she was the interviewer for four of the six tutors, which may have affected their responses to the questions.  Second, I wonder who noted the observations from the audio and video recordings?  Still, I believe this study is a good reference for any educator interested in scaffolding with peer mentors.


Overview of critical thinking skills. (2015). In American Dental Education Association.  Retrieved October 10, 2015 from

Moore, T., & Kain, D. L. (2011). Student tutors for problem-based learning in dental hygiene: A study of tutor actions. Journal of Dental Education, 75(6), 805-816. Retrieved from

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development


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