Italians offered tutors by email

September 17, 1999

The Italian student magazine Campus has enlisted ten academics - all enthusiasts of computer communications - to act as email tutors for any student in need of assistance.

In its September issue, the glossy monthly introduces its tutors and gives email addresses of about 100 other prominent professori, including Umberto Eco, to whom readers are encouraged to write with questions on courses, lectures or exams.

Campus predicts that email will help students overcome the difficulties they often experience in communicating with lecturers. Many Italian universities are

massively overcrowded, and absenteeism and aloofness on the part of the academics are all too common.

The magazine believes that email will break down the communication barrier that often exists between bewildered students and distant academics who make an appearance only at lectures and exams.

"Our ten tutors," explained Barbara Orlando of Campus, "have undertaken to answer all reasonable queries in their fields - which cover philosophy, engineering, medicine, economics, literature, sociology, biology, law, architecture and information technology. The email addresses of the other 100 were taken from university websites, some of which are not too easy to sift through."

Ms Orlando warned, however: "There is no guarantee that Eco, for instance, will personally answer the emails he receives at his university address."

The Campus initiative makes sense in the context of an exam-based university system in which personal contact between students and teachers is often minimal. Many students do not attend lectures: they go to their university only to take exams after having studied the official textbooks.

Campus tutor Guido Martinotti, professor of urban sociology at Milan's Bicocca University and visiting professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been using the web to teach and to communicate with his students for several years. He now makes only occasional live appearances.

"I receive 30 to 40 messages a day from students who want clarifications on the lectures, advice on exams or degree theses. My students know they can reach me in whatever part of the world I may be: Italy, California, at home or at the universities. I generally collect my email from my study, so if a student has, say, a question about a book, I can take the time to look up the information and give a fuller answer."

Mario Ricciardi, Campus tutor for literature and professor of modern Italian literature at Turin University, thinks students are more expansive by email.

"Often if I ask a question during a lecture nobody answers. But if I put that same question on the website of my course, the next day I have a letterbox full of responses."

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