David McDade Post 1• 18 May 2020, 13:23 • Edited by the author on 19 May 2020, 15:25
Section 2, Activity 1
This thread is for section 2, activity 1
Think about the ‘traditional’ role of a face-to-face teacher. In what ways do you think working as a tutor would differ from this role?
These are examples of the types of posts we might expect to see:
"There is reduced face-to-face contact and so there is the danger of students feeling isolated."
"Identifying the needs of students is not as clear-cut as in a classroom and, therefore, early discussions with students are very important."
Use the "Reply" button below to contribute to this discussion.
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Thinking about my face-to-face teaching experiences, there are certain types of interactions with students that seem to occur because you are in the same physical space. In the traditional role, you often don't think about them; they just happen.
For example, sometimes you get the best understanding of a student's needs and motivations in an informal setting, perhaps chatting to them before or after class. They sometimes speak more freely about themselves outside of classroom time.
Another example I can think of, sometimes you can gauge the overall mood of the students from physical feedback during a lecture.
In my own experiences in the traditional role, quite a lot of student care is done informally in physical spaces. Does the OU tutor have other ways to interact with the students? Perhaps virtual informal spaces?
Yes, there are lots of other opportunities to engage with students informally. Adobe Connect (AC) is used for tutorials, however tutors also have an AC space for just their group, where sessions can be set up anytime. For example, if I have a student that perhaps needs some help with a particular topic, I'll set up a one-to-one session. You also have forum spaces.
You will read more about these things as you progress through the course.
I agree David, when in a face-to-face teaching environment there is the benefit of impulsive 'in the moment' experiences and questions that may occur for students. In these cases, queries or problems can be addressed immediately for the teacher to help. This also gives the teacher an idea of abilities and areas that need to be worked on further for individual students. This becomes more difficult in distance learning situations.
In a face to face environment an 'ice breaker' happens as a part of the learning experience at the start of a course. The tutor/student relationship begins straight away and is maintained in every face to face. This is not something that is easily achieved in a distance learning environment, yet it has proven to me to be imperative to the learning experience.
I have been quite fortunate in my experience as a student for the OU, this has taught me something that is invaluable.
As an autistic student I have to work around social anxiety and communication difficulties. I find that these are greatly eased by a short one to one where an informal introduction can take place that can lay the foundation of a tutor/student relationship. It has been absolutely essential for me to have these one to ones with a new tutor to enable me to be able to communicate with any questions or queries throughout the module.
The opposite side of the same coin though, distance learning has given me a more powerful voice and improved my confidence hugely. A huge amount of communication can be written which allows time to communicate effectively. So it has bridged a gap that I was unable to do in a face to face environment personally and that was to be able to communicate my needs.
Over time the distance learning environment has improved my confidence, to the point of, here I am writing and rambling in a forum of people I do not know :) Face to face can be as daunting and restrictive as distance learning, yet there is more scope to working around these things if you are working with the right institution.
I think you've made a really important point there. For some students non-verbal communication gives them a more powerful voice than they might have had at a traditional university. Students who are socially anxious, incredibly shy (as I was as an undergraduate) or lack confidence can really flourish with distance learning.
I agree with all your thoughts totally.
Being a student with the OU and seeing the work that is required of my tutors , I feel one of the key element of an AL in distance learning is when the student provides their first feedback such as an assessment, the AL should try to quickly see areas in which the student may be weak and then create a plan of how to give the student more assistance, by the second assessment if nothing has been done things may be too late to alter. In a face to face teaching scenario, teaching is easier because you will start to know from day one the weaknesses of a particular student you can start to try methods on a daily or weekly basis.
The key factor must be to give each student the best chance of succeeding as possible.
One other aspect I have noted with distance learning being a student with the OU, is when ones own tutor makes a general comment every now and then on the student forum, it actually is quite refreshing that they are willing to engage with students. Openness and accessibility of an AL to remote students is a key factor.
Welcome to the course and the forum.
Could post in the introductions thread as well? Perhaps saying what you would like to get from the course.
It will be interesting to hear your views as the course progresses, especially as you are an OU student and already have experience with distance learning.
As an undergraduate, I was always a committed and engaged student in class. But I was also a shy student that always had to juggle several part-time jobs. Because of this, I rarely sought out teachers for extra help or discussion and I finished my degree feeling a bit unseen.
Paradoxically, even though students at the OU undertake distance learning, the role of the tutor seems to ensure that all students are seen and engaged with. This seems to be an advantage of this format, but a huge commitment on the part of the tutors.
How do tutors ensure that they give enough but not too much time to the students?
You can only communicate with methods that a student is comfortable with - sometimes that is video, sometimes audio, sometimes email, or perhaps a chat box in Adobe Connect.
In my experience, my students generally prefer chat boxes and email. You can try and encourage other methods though and highlight their benefits.
You can still glean a lot from messages.
While I agree with the other posters that the lack of face to face contact may be an impairment on knowing how a student is responding to the course material, I feel that the one-to-one nature of tutorials can make up for that somewhat. You can focus specifically on a students needs in a way not possible in a classroom environment.
Hi Ben, just to make it clear that most tutorials are not one-to-one. I think the Access modules do one-to-one telephone tutorials, but in most modules tutorials are accessible by any student within the tutorial or cluster group.
We do have the option of running special sessions for individual students if they have a particular need though.
With face-to-face teaching you can see who is engaged or not and you may find it easier to have a rapport with the students. This is a bit more difficult with distance learning but having to move to teaching on-line recently due to the coronavirus, I found the chat boxes very useful.
Isolation is something I've been focusing on with sixth form students during lockdown. The college has been gentle with students (e.g. allowing them to chat more than we would in a classroom) as they are not used to working alone at home. However it will be very different with OU students as they have signed up for a distance learning environment.
I think for me the most important difference will be identifying the needs of students.
You raise a couple of interesting points here. It has indeed been challenging for all school pupils (and staff) having to adapt to working online and in relative isolation (I can testify to this as my wife is a secondary teacher). However the thing to realise is that for some students coming to the OU for the first time, they are not always that prepared for working in a distance learning environment. Two examples being a student coming straight from school or someone that hasn't studied for a very long time (and might not even be that familiar with using ICT in the first place).
But as you highlight, it's all about identifying the needs of students.
To add to what other people have written, I think student engagement could be more difficult to pick up on using online tutoring than face to face. OU students I believe will be more motivated on average than equivalent university students on the one hand but on the other its harder for Tutors to pick up on engagement online than face to face unless all students participate in the tutorial by asking questions etc...
Having experienced both the O.U. distance learning route and the 'traditional' University life, I found one significant difference with O.U. students is the increased motivation the degree requires from its students. Meeting the demands of the coursework, in many cases, is added to full-time employment, or perhaps engaged as a full-time homeworker etc. Given this I found the sense of achievement with the OU degree at each stage and on completion was unequalled.
One surprising aspect I found with the traditional route (along with fellow students); we noted that some Lecturers were not gifted at putting information across to students which is somewhat surprising given this is their 'bread and butter'. I didn't have this issue with the OU given the material is set out in a structured way, building and progressing throughout the course. The course structures were a good aid to motivation, in my experience, given you were not bogged down with seeking explanations to theories. This was a good motivator.
I think the OU tutor’s role has been carefully designed to guard against the danger of students’ feelings of isolation that’s associated with distance learning due to reduced face-to-face contact. Hence, the OU tutor role differs from the traditional face to face teacher in that, the main role of the OU tutor is to facilitate learning. The tutors do that by guiding and supporting students as the students engage with the academic materials. The tutors also use every opportunity they have to inspire students to develop study skills, be independent learners, analytical and to develop problem solving skills.
I think the extent of the difference depends on whether we're talking about lectures or tutorials. Some undergraduate lectures in traditional universities can have 300 or more students in them. So the opportunities for interaction between student and lecturer during this face-to-face teaching can be fairly limited. I don't know how much direct contact time a student would typically have with an OU tutor during a module, but I'd guess it would be more than during tutorials at a traditional university (even if it isn't face-to-face).
The amount of direct contact varies a lot from module to module and student to student. Modules have different levels of tutorials and some student I will never hear from - they send in their TMAs and are totally non-communicative otherwise.
However the potential for direct contact is there if the students want to use it.
Does that make sense?
It is certainly possible to have much more contact at the Ou - when I did my conventional uni degree, as you say, interaction with lecturers was basically non existent, and you only interacted with staff at tutorials - not between them.
Whereas it is much easier to ask an OU tutor for help when convenient - but as Kate mentioned, many students don’t.
Personally I have got to know many of my OU tutors better than I did my conventional uni ones but it’s not universal
Over the past 6 or 7 years I have taught/supported learners.
In the class room environment the tutor gets to know the learner's personality in a way not as easily achieved with distance learning. Due to Covid my current role moved from face to face to online delivery. Face to face benefits from being able to read the learner's body language so can test understanding. Providing feedback face to face on the learner's work can be relatively quick, feeding back via email tends to take more time and the visual signals are missing.
It is interesting to hear about your recent experience re the differences between face to face and remote tutoring. I am wondering if you have experienced any advantages with remote tutoring, for example, you can take time to understand what a student really meant in a particular answer/communication?
In recent months and as a result of corona-virus I have changed the way that I deliver training from class room to remote virtual classrooms. The transition has been a bit bumpy as the format of the training still remains full-day engagements, in short sprints over a few days.
My take away from the experience has been to include more frequent breaks and encourage the use of webcams, but it remains a struggle to maintain the attention of the learners. Strongly encouraging learner participation only works in some circumstances.
I suspect that this is not quite the same as OU course / module delivery and I'm looking forward to understanding more.
The traditional classroom environment allows a more spontaneous interaction between both tutor and student and between the students and will also allow the tutor to more rapidly begin building the relationship with the students.
With the distance learning model of the Open University, this process, in my experience as a student with the OU, begins either from an introductory email from the tutor or a message in the tutor group forum (sometimes both) where the tutor will introduce themself and encourage the students to do the same.
This early interaction is important to help identify those students that may require more assistance, the tutor needs to have the skills and training to be able to do this.
In my own experience, as a student in a conventional Higher Education establishment, I was quite shy and introverted which sometimes led to me not always receiving the attention I needed, whereas now I am more likely to have the confidence to request help and advice when needed.
Face to face tutorials allow an individual to see body language that can help identify needs of a student. Personal experience though has taught me this does not always happen. I have anxiety and mobility problems so in the past have sat quietly at the back so as not to be noticed. The OU gave me the opportunity to be quiet and out of sight. My first tutor was very aware of this following an initial introductory chat and helped build my confidence to the point where i now am able to participate fully. A really good tutor makes all the difference.
Depending on the student i think face to face and remote teaching both benefit from slightly different approaches as the visual cues aren't there with remote teaching.
The question makes me reflect on two considerations:
1. How does the OU support its tutors?
Some years ago, a friend of mine, studying Logic and Formal Languages leading to Godel’s Theorem at a Russell University, was having trouble understanding the subject. At the next 10 minute weekly one-to-one tutor session, he told the tutor that he was having difficulties and asked what he could do. Answer “Work harder!”. The course provided lecturer notes that were well suited in assisting the tutor in delivering his lectures, but in no way good enough to be called a textbook. Researching, I found only five possible textbooks. One of them was exceptionally well written and perfectly suitable for the course content. Why weren’t they using them or at least give pointers? The lecturer was a subject-matter expert, active on the international scene with several short-length publications to his name, but, without a doubt, still better suited at research than tutoring.
In contrast, in September OU sends me 7-10cm of professionally printed books. These are produced by a Module Team and over the years are continually improved. I mostly study on my own, and occasionally listen to online lectures given by lectures not my tutor. Contact with my tutors is in first instance through the Adobe Connect group sessions, and when I have a particular problem, I email the tutor who comes back to me on the same day or in any case in good time. I start a year-long dialogue with the tutor.
The difference between the two scenarios is that the OU has identified and separated three areas of competence and responsibility: Module Content, Lecturing and Tutoring. Whereas, in the first scenario, the lecturer was juggling between the three responsibilities, and, being new at it, he wasn’t managing it very well.
As Emmanuel Isibor says “Hence, the OU tutor role differs from the traditional face to face teacher in that, the main role of the OU tutor is to facilitate learning”, focused on helping the students.
This clear division of responsibilities and roles, undoubtedly, empowers the tutor to better support his students .
2. How important is face-to-face contact in tutoring?
For the last three years I have been a volunteer tutor at the local school, one hour a week after normal school time. Underperforming students with difficult social backgrounds or similar issues. These students are incapable or not confident enough to identify and communicate their problems. Face-to-face contact during tutoring is critical for any progress.
Last year I set up a Google Study Group on Machine Learning with members from China, Europe and the USA (https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/ml-sg-june2019). I did this because I wanted to engage with multi-cultural long-distance group learning. I came away with a lot of reflection points. Face-to-face contact was not possible and for some not even desirable and so was irrelevant for a successful study group. Rather, regular communications and timely responses were essential; and this is what the OU provides with its long-distance tutoring support. The pre-eminence of written communication was also important. It forces people to be more reflective in posing questions and providing answers. The quality of written communication is superior to a verbal one. As Ben Pike says “You can focus specifically on a student’s needs in a way not possible in a classroom environment.”
As you can see, from the above, face-to-face contact is not a primary issue for good tutoring. Sometimes it is necessary and at others it is detrimental. In my experience, the key factor in determining good tutoring is a concept hinted at in Cath Brown contribution:
“It is certainly possible to have much more contact at the OU - when I did my conventional Uni degree, as you say, interaction with lecturers was basically non-existent, and you only interacted with staff at tutorials - not between them. // Personally I have got to know many of my OU tutors better than I did my conventional Uni ones but it’s not universal”
The key word is: Interaction! The more interaction there is, the better the tutoring is. It is as simple as that. Also, the nice thing about interaction is that it can be made measurable!
If the situation requires that face-to-face contact be removed from the tutoring process, then it needs to be substituted with an alternative and possibly more intense interaction channel. Then, by monitoring the level of interaction, issues can be identified and support provided. This is why, at times, long-distance tutoring can be better than face-to-face tutoring.
I deliver 'class based' and online courses and from a perspective of the learning theories both methods are very similar. However, online environmental is much more demanding in the context of interaction and communication; both aspects are crucial to engage and motivate student. In my opinion the synchronical interaction (be flexible and adapt to student needs such as time, media and preferences) became more important in the age of universal digitisation, majority of my students pointing this element of online study as very important part of distance learning.
Difference from face to face
Face to Face vs Remote learning
Think about the ‘traditional’ role of a face-to-face teacher.
In what ways do you think working as a tutor would differ from this role?
1. Online teaching requires competence and confidence with using technologies for online learning
2. We do not get the same visual feedback that learners are comprehending what is being taught, so the need for contribution to formative activities and assessments becomes more important
3. Online classes improve the ability to capture content, lesson recordings, questions into FAQs so they can be made available to others and future cohorts, this is a
strong advantage. Much of f2f teaching loses this as its not an integral part of the practice
Welcome to the course and the forum, and great to see you're busy posting already!
It would also be great if you could post here on the intro forum.
Adapting and reaching out
What I have gleaned from the course so far and from the context of teaching from a distance, it will be important to reach out to students and to understand and capture their individual needs.
It will also be important to adapt teaching, tutoring and support to the groups needs
It sounds as though you are getting the right sort of ideas from the module so far. :-)
It would also be good if you could introduce yourself here: https://www.open.edu/openlearncreate/mod/forumng/discuss.php?d=2486
It will be essential to respond as fast as possible to student communications, and to maintain that ongoing dialogue. Nothing quite as demotivating as feeling ignored. The use of telephone one-to-one sessions and occasional solo tutorials should go a long way to support learning and resolve issues before they become stressors.
Hi Ian, While this might seem counter-intuitive it is actually not essential to respond as fast as possible to student communications; in fact, this is something which needs to be managed carefully.
Part of our job, as tutors, is to help our students to become confident independent learners. That means gently (but sometimes firmly) removing the stabilisers - responding to emails as soon as they arrive (emails are generally the favoured communication medium) can create a spiral of more emails from some individual students. Again, there is a difference between working with students at level 1 and working with students at level 3; at level 1 we are helping to prepare students to work at higher levels. Part of the job might include gently suggesting that rather than a student sending an email each time they have a query, sometimes three times a day, they batch the queries together and send fewer emails - and then only after they have exhausted their own research of the materials to find an answer.
In broader terms, this is also about managing expectations. If Kate or Jenny respond to every student email within an hour those students are going to expect that level of service from every tutor through their degree and - I have to tell you - they might be in for a shock when they get to a module that I'm working on...........
Most of the distance learning that I was involved in historically took the form of the creation of useful and accurate materials which were delivered to students who worked their way through them. Because most of the this was done in a commercial and training context, feedback was minimal, and if contact ever occurred it was through the medium of email, or bulletin boards.
This I always figured was a very different sort of activity to education which was delivered face to face and was a more holistic exercise, not in the sense of using josticks, but that your focus was not in the delivery of learning but in the delivery of capability.
Of course this demands that you are able to effectively assess the students. As a class teacher I rely a lot on formative assessment as my yardstick, and so was quite surprised when I started distance learning during covid. how difficult this was. Of course there is a big difference between motivated adults and young people who would rather be doing anything than rudimentary data science. But what was self evident to me was that where you could achieve direct and personal engagement the results were much better, and the outcome of this was not only that the students were happier, but I was also much happier, being secure that learning was happening.
To some extent we were hampered in the level of engagement with students which was a consequence of the safeguarding regimes through which we operate, but it was a useful lesson.
This is a really interesting question in Covid-19 times. I've been supporting final year students as their supervisor online for most of their final year projects. The hardest part of this, I realised, is how much I missed the cues from their body language as they entered the room. Video chat is no substitute, though I could see cues in their face and posture... and also in their messages on Slack. So for that - fine for the academic support, harder but still possible for the welfare support.
Projects, though, are centred around a weekly meeting with the supervisor, so the interaction is scheduled and it's easy to see if a student is engaging with that. I am delighted that mine continued to turn up, it's worrying when they "go silent". But in other modules, if it's face to face seminars it's easy to spot when people are missing (not so in a 300-seat lecture theatre!) With OU, I imagine it might need a more pro-active approach to check that students are doing OK... but mercifully, with a number of students that makes that feasible!
The thing that I have noticed about teaching remotely is that formative assessment is much more difficult.
Having explained a topic to students being able to test for understanding not only benefits the individual student but also means that the collective experience is missed out. This may in some ways be mimicked by use of bulletin boards and group conversations.
In addition the inability to check for non-verbal signs is a constraint. This can not only limit understanding but may impact on the tutors general assessment of the students wellbeing.
Whilst contact with the student will be regular it will often not be within the same narrow and condensed time frame as in other educational settings, hence any relationship will not grow as quickly as necessary.
Whilst the course will be of importance to the student they have a bigger outside life and a day job which may from time to time take precedence over study. Under normal control the work/life balance may be good, if any stresses come on to the student then it's the OU commitment which is the most vulnerable. .
Finally there is the notion of underlying need. People under stress will not always tell you, and indeed may not realise what the underlying problem is. This behaviour maybe present in the context of academic understanding as well as external issues. In my experience the conversations necessary to uncover these problems occur face to face in an atmosphere of trust.
A long time ago in a galaxy far away I was a secondary school teacher. I agree with much of what has been said previously about the differences between the OU and the more traditional f2f teaching. Each pupil was an individual with differing needs however it's becoming clear to me that OU students will have a far more differing needs and issues than a class of, say, 15 year olds doing a GCSE. It's also becoming clear to me that the OU realises this, and has put in a lot of effort to getting it right.
Presumably the tutor would have some sort of CV of each student, or at the very least I would ask them to tell me their background. It would also be important to know what experience they had specifically with IT learning and communications as, just because they are doing a computing course, doesn't mean they know everything about IT. I certainly don't! Also I would give them a verbal run through of what to setup first and simple navigation around what is a very large web site.
As a teacher some of my best moments were the extra-curricular activities, like the school trips, the school pantomime, and the computer club. I enjoyed them especially because I got to know my pupils as people, and vice-versa. I could see the positive impact in the classroom the next day. Being a distance learning environment the OU would have difficulty doing most of this but, from what I read, I 'm very pleased to see the other mechanisms (such as smaller groups and more emphasis on tutoring rather than "lecturing") in place to establish trust and ensure that students are making the most of their talents.
Thinking back on my own experience, I think an OU tutor needs to be able to connect to a much broader 'audience' as the students will come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. S/he need to be able to foster a sense of community in order to help to reduce the feeling of isolation that can come with distance learning.
I could imagine that an OU tutor should also be a little IT savvy in order to effectively deliver online tutorials and make students feel confident they are in safe hands.
Section 2 Activity 1
I think the channels available for communication with the students are much different. For face-to-face teaching the communication is direct and in person. For distance learning the communication is through phone calls, email or video calls.
I think another difference is in the responsibilities of face-to-face teachers and distance learning tutors: face-to-face teachers usually have to do also a part of activity design and content production that tutors do not have to do.
There are of course some drawbacks that colleagues have listed above. However, I think that flexibility is an advantage as most of the students are workers and arrange a convenient time to discuss with their tutor can be beneficial. For face-to-face teaching, attendance can be sometimes very low as some of the students work as well, or they live quite far and come late... So the benefits of direct contact is reduced. I have also noticed that distance learning allows even the shy students to engage via the chat and ask more questions compared to a normal classroom.
It has of course pros and cons and tutors should be aware of these and be ready to act.
Isolation has been mentioned a lot so far and for good reason I think. but I am thinking in which ways can the isolation manifest itself, certainly there is the problem of feeling rather lonely compared to a student attending sessions continuously face to face, but I am thinking that without the classroom dynamic, hearing and seeing how everyone else is doing and what they are thinking, without seeing other people fail at something and then having the resilience to overcome the problem. These are things students gain from each other in a shared learning experience with is in danger of being lost in distance learning.
This I think can result in some students feeling they are the only one that didn;t get something, that didn't know what to write and the only on e that didn't get 100% mark. As well as probably reinfording any negative mental health issues this would be a great demotivator and confidence killer.
Therefore, I believe another role of the tutor is to simply occasionally chat to students about how they are feeling and how they are going, these concerns are then more likely to come out and if they come out can be addressed.
I will freely admit, prior to lock down, I had thought more about the disadvantages of less face to face teaching in a classroom. However, what I found that I loved about remote learning was that the students (in my case children) actually felt more able to let me know what was going on outside of their learning - I met quite a lot of cats and dogs - and felt freer to share their ideas and ask for help when they knew that they could do that via email or one to one video calls rather than in front of a class. We were able to relate our learning to what interested them. I think the disadvantages were that it was easier to skip a lesson or not complete tasks and all the distractions at home. I have found this to be true for adult learners too.
This is so important Amanda. I work with Autistic children and their families, and remote learning has been for some, a much more positive experience than their classroom. When in their safe, comfortable environment, free from anxieties related to social and sensory demands of school, some have thrived. We are all our best selves when learning can be truly flexible to our learning styles and interests :)
reflecting on my own experience as an OU Student.
I wanted my tutor to demonstrate both real life experience and academic knowledge so I knew I could learn from both aspects and use both in my real life as well as my course. There is a need to reach out and engage with students who are not engaging as much. In face to face this would be easier so extra sensitivity and effort is required from the tutor
It's been interesting to see how people have adapted to remote working and schools to remote teaching. Having been involved in online learning for some time, it has been quite rewarding to see that the differences between remote teaching and remote learning are starting to be understood, something that the OU has understood for years.
The promotion of independent learning can be tough and there are so many barriers that crop up. F2F sessions as a tutor/coach/mentor/AL are changing and being pro-active with your students is so important. Helping them to understand their limits and get past them, helping them to identify target areas, being able to spot those needing additional support during difficult times and being able to reward and celebrate when things are going well.
This can be anything from a video call, phone call, email, text message or even sending a calming picture of kittens or puppies.
I think face-to-face and remote is very different. Although are all online most of the day, with many things available through simple searches. Experience teaching through covid, it is very difficult to grasp whether students actually understand. In a class, you can offer support and talk through questions and concepts. You can't gage body language working online, on a telephone, and it is also difficult through Zoom/Teams etc..
I've been a tutor and assessor in vocational education, within workplaces, charities & CICs for 12 years, so for me there is no 'traditional'. Often contact with my learners has been via email/text and most recently via Zoom/Meet/Teams.
I have always loved the freedom to really meet my learners where they are at, and offer truly personalised learning experiences which play to their strengths and what they 'can do' and have already done!
I have never worked in a formal school education environment, but I feel meeting individual needs there is harder, for example in case of SEND students. These are often the learners I have taught in alternative settings, who haven't been able to reach their potential at school.
Working as an OU tutor would differ from face-to-face work as in a digital environment there is sometimes an expectation that an email will be seen instantly and acted upon. In a face-to-face setting office hours are embedded and students respect that a teacher is either present and can be talked to or is not present and therefore you can not talk to them 'right now'. As an AL I believe a clear availability schedule would be a MUST, so that expectations are managed, but also so student know when and how to contact you at any given time. For example you could set 'office hours' and host a live video drop in session for students each week. Setting the expectation that outside of that time 'instant' reply could not be expected.
I think there are benefits and challenges to both types of learning and teaching.
As a teacher, my experiences of face-to-face learning are that feedback and reflection is instantaneous. However, sometimes I think that instant feedback can be forgotten, whereas considered online feedback is sometimes taken in more easily.
It is more difficult to really get to know someone if they are behind a screen, however, through technology such as Teams and Zoom, getting to know online learners is becoming easier.
Accessibility is a huge issue for me, as a disabled person. Attending face-to-face education has been difficult for me in the past, particularly at inaccessible venues, or on days where I may be feeling quite ill. Online learning gives disabled people the opportunity to participate in learning from home, eliminating many access issues and with supportive tutors, providing solutions to online access issues.
I think that sometimes, distraction may be an issue with online learning. I have sometimes found myself, when learning from home as an OU student, distracted by an incoming child, or my barking dog, which would not happen if I was in a face-to-face lecture. However, studying online, with recorded lectures gives me the opportunity to revisit the learning experience and "catch up", which is not usually the case in face-to-face learning that tends to be "in the moment".
I think first and foremost students need confidence. They will initially go through the stages of impostor syndrome and need to be supported to believe that they should be studying. Many will have 'failed' at school and will need extra back-up. Once that self belief is in place then all the other skills can be worked on.
Its a very good opportunity for the students who have responsibilities and other commitments. I must say f2f teaching is not as direct (in terms of individual student support) as online teaching, as the teacher is accessible via email or a phone call to discuss any idea or anything that a student is concerned about.
I think one big difference is helping students transition to less of a teacher led learning experience and more of a student led learning experience. As a student's tutor you're one of the resources they have available to them. We can help them learn how best to utilise that resource and all the other resources they have available to them.
But I would think there's also an opportunity to make proactive interventions when we see evidence that such might be required and are likely to be helpful?
I think Lucy G raises a significant point here that, for some students, distance learning enables them to communicate MORE freely than they might in F2F classroom settings. Having worked online a lot myself (due to Covid,) over the past 16 months, I can see that when meetings are managed well, everyone gets a voice and contributes. Using the chat option is also helpful for participants who may not feel comfortable saying something out loud.
Distance learning is different from the traditional F2F role of a teacher in that it might be harder for students to build relationships with one another. In F2F settings that would be a natural part of each session. Learning online requires the tutor to facilitate this more than may naturally occur when working together F2F.
I think the benefits I could bring to an OU tutor role is by creating a safe space for the students. Learning Tech can be hard for anyone, especially if you are doing it in isolation. So making sure they feel happy asking "stupid questions" and going back to explaining fundamentals again when needed I think can be really beneficial at times. That and trying to relate more real world examples in a context they might understand more initially, than what is just presented in the material.
I see an AL as a more specialist role than that of a lecturer in a brick university. In the OU we are not torn between our research and teaching commitments, but can be specifically focused on supporting and guiding our students on their learning journey. I see that as a privilege to be able to work on this aim exclusively.
I think in a distance learning environment a lot of students can struggle with motivation and isolation, which tutors have to work hard to mitigate. That said having been on the other side of the fence, so to speak (as a previous distance learning MSc student), I personally prefer distance learning to face-to-face learning (although I suspect it is relevant that I am being assessed for autism). As others have mentioned, as a student I found the ability to write down my thoughts in my own time was a massive advantage over a face-to-face conversation. I also built up better relationships with my peers and tutors than I was able to achieve in a traditional university.
I think one main difference traditional role is different from being an OU tutor is that many of the students have different skill levels and in different areas. For a traditional university with entry requirements there will be an expectation of competency. With the OU the students may have many years of experience in a job that is similar to what they are studying by find the skills needed to study lacking. As an OU tutor would need to guide and help them improve these so they can achieve their role.
Differing from traditional face to face teaching poses challenges in developing interactions and the obvious practical led learning activities but I have experienced methods an developments to counter this during lockdown learning the developing forums and directed questioning and discussions and barriers around motivation associated with distance learning can be overcome and feedback is essential in supporting people
There is a big difference between tutoring and teaching as we experienced it as school, but from my memories of being tutoring at a 'conventional' university (getting on for 50 years ago), there is perhaps less difference to being a tutor at the OU than being a tutor at a bricks-and-mortar university than one might think. From the experiences my sons have related of their time at university, I suspect most OU students get more attention from their tutors than my sons did.
When I started my studies at the OU in 2004, all tutorials were face-to-face, which was wonderful, because you not only got to see the tutor, but also your fellow students. Remote learning is a challenge and these occasional meetings with others was always welcome. With the progressively improving means of holding on-line meetings, on-line tutorials are a bit more like being with your tutor and the rest of the group, but it is not the best for students who are shy, and it makes it harder for a tutor to pick out those who want to make contributions but are struggling to pluck up the courage to do so. It requires an effort both from tutors and students to make on-line tutorials work.
Of course there is more to tutoring than tutorials, but when you are working one-to-one with an individual student, the limitations of on-line technology seem easier to negotiate.
Part 2 Activity 1
The time dimension is different. On ‘traditional’ role of a face-to-face teaching, teacher and students live on the same room simultaneously. With OU I have been able to contact my tutor via email, video conferencing, even in a face-to-face. A mixture of synchronous and asynchronous interaction permits to reach a flexibility which improve the students and tutors experience.
Think about the ‘traditional’ role of a face-to-face teacher. In what ways do you think working as a tutor would differ from this role?
Over the years and from experience from all sides of the student/teacher/lecturer concept it is clear not all students react in the same way as highlighted throughout the changes of delivery some of may have done in previous roles throughout the pandemic.
In my experience, as a lecturer we are much more agile in many aspects, one is the ability to be aware of candidates learning environments as they can be impacted by many things. Candidates are not always vocal about concerns but through many avenues we can see potential areas that could be improved for a candidate and make reasonable adjustments to ensure all learners are capable to excel in their studies.
With no face-to-face contact, the tutor and student communicate in different ways - using various digital means. The key roles of a tutor are still provided for the student while both use different methods to achieve the same goals.
The lack of set times for class lectures imposes an obligation on the student - with the assistance of the tutor - to estalish learning timetables so that the requirements of the course are met.
I think the role of a tutor differs from a face-to-face teacher mainly by not having as much communication with students as you would with face-to-face teaching. With distance learning the communication and feedback between tutor and student may not be as instant as it would be in a classroom.
As with any role, communication is key and paramount to success. in this environment, that can at times become more of a challenge and the isolation felt by students is one which tutors need to tackle head on. Being able to offer a response to students within an agreed timeframe will be something that could help alleviate this but again a two way conversation is something that needs to happen to set expectations from the off.
I've found, both during lockdown and with distance learning students, that it takes more to get them engaged. Even though adult learners have more motivation in theory it is more difficult to remember your on line learning environment. You need to be much more positive and take a lot of care with communication. More clarity is needed to avoid mistaken interpretation. It's a different sort of relationship but nevertheless this needs to be set up and secured.
I think being able to communicate clearly and effectively by email and chat is probably one of the most useful skills for a distance learning tutor to have as these will most likely be the dominant forms of instruction. Other than that, giving detailed written feedback on TMAs is critical, since, in my previous experience as an AL, this will often be the only contact a tutor has with many of their students.
The points other people have made about reducing the feeling of isolation is also important. Encouraging participation in forums is a great way to achieve this. It is also a valuable life skill: lots of working professional software engineers use stackoverflow for example. Tutor participation in forums would help encourage students to engage with the discussions, and make clear that the tutor is approachable and willing to help.