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David McDade Post 1

18 May 2020, 19:52 Edited by Nigel Gibson on 19 May 2020, 10:02

Section 4, Activity 4

WritingThis thread is for section 4, activity 4

What does teaching mean to you?

Watch the video in activity 4 and make notes about how the tutor fulfills their role. How does the tutor support students? How do they demonstrate this skill to you?

Correspondence tuition (supporting students through your marking feedback, emails, and tutorials) is a different skill to many other forms of teaching – so you may like to think about how you can apply your transferable skills to this new situation.

Reflecting on your own experience, how do you support people, learners or students with similar issues? Draw on all of your experience, both within work, academia and in informal settings.

Write a post that demonstrates your experience. Comment on another post, is it clear what they do?

These are examples of the types of posts we might expect to see:

"I support learners by helping them find their own path, and helping them over come obstacles. I do this by discussing their individual needs with them, rather than forcing an particular approach on them. Sometimes this means pointing them at material they can self study, and sometimes it means working through the study with them.

"I need to provide the support at the right time, this may be proactive after noticing a student is not studying consistently, or reactive by responding to a student request.

Use the "Reply" button below to contribute to this discussion.

(Image CC BY-ND 2.0 Flickr user Hans Splinter

Marcus Young Post 2 in reply to 1

13 Jun 2020, 20:33

The video was very interesting and had some excellent ideas. I like the idea of the tutor posting a short introductory video at the start, welcoming the students to the module. That really does develop a connection with the student, rather than just using faceless e-mail. You could take that a step further and invite the students to post a video introducing themselves to the group, rather than just a post in the forum (maybe make it optional though).

I currently tutor postgraduate students on a distance-learning course so am used to correspondence tuition. But we don't have online tutorials, so that would be a new experience for me. I have done some face-to-face support for undergraduate students as a demonstrator in practical classes. Sometimes I will notice that a student doesn't seem to be making any progress but isn't asking for help, so will proactively approach them and ask them how they are getting on. Just that approach is usually enough for them to start talking about what they are having difficulty with or don't understand. Another thing I am very aware of is not to just give the direct answer to a question (this applies online and face-to-face). I try to get the student to reach the answer for themselves, perhaps by asking another question, or giving some snippet of information that's sufficient for them to think about the problem in a different way and work out what they need to do.

Tamara Lopez Post 3 in reply to 2

14 Jun 2020, 10:02

Hi Marcus,

Excellent point about not giving direct answers to questions, and instead leading students to discover the answer for themselves.  I don't have direct teaching experience, and having worked in research and within industry as a developer (where solutions are everything) I think this is something I need to learn to do better. 

Tamara Lopez Post 4 in reply to 1

14 Jun 2020, 10:24

I waxed on about the mystery of the tutoring experience in supporting learning in my last activity post, and then I watched this video!  Very clever, course designers, I see what you did there ;-).

Like David, I also liked hearing Charlie's comments about making connections through fun, even groan-worthy fun.  I tend to use similar techniques in my work with my research group.  In my experience, it keeps people engaged, but I think sometimes may have the effect that I am not seen as a "serious" researcher.   However, having watched this video, I start to wonder if I'm just in the wrong line of work, and teaching would be a better fit for me! 

I don't have direct experience of teaching, but I do have long experience doing development in professional environments, and working on interdisciplinary research teams. In addition to my technical development duties, I naturally gravitated toward project management in most of my jobs. I learned that bringing people together who have different roles to play in meeting a shared goal requires a lot of effort: pragmatism and oversight about how different tasks and timelines fit together, but also diplomacy and tact, and skill in drawing different viewpoints and languages together. 

I imagine that in this case, the effort is somewhat different, perhaps more like that of a line manager in that the tutor needs to bring each individual along toward meeting the goals of the course.  In a distance environment, it seems that the collective effort is, while still valuable within the group elements, like group tutorials and discussion forums, less important than making a solid connection with individuals and supporting their own needs.

To that end, I really valued all of the comments about how the tutors do this.  It seems like it could become overwhelming, and so I also liked Tammy's comments about maintaining boundaries and clear communicating how much support can reasonably be provided.  Inline with Marcus' comments, the video helped me see that tutors really need to develop skill in helping each student learn how to make the jump, whatever that jump may be for their particular journey.

Adrian Hehir Post 5 in reply to 1

15 Jun 2020, 10:31

I agree it is very important to set students expectations and that students are clear what they have to do and when. I have been a line manager in IT in three different roles, regularly and clearly setting expectations and making sure staff's work is followed up on. I did this via regular team and 1-1 meetings and staff Performance reviews: face to face or more recently via online using MS Teams. I was approachable during business hours for staff to ring, email or chat and I set up a WhatsApp groups, with clear guidelines for out of hours communication. From this a transferable skill I can bring over to tutoring, is organisation and following up on students’ communications in a timely and friendly way.

In my roles as a tutor and teacher in secondary schools I liked the idea of using a starter as an icebreaker. It is better not to give students the answer when they are stuck but modelling a similar question (this was Maths) or suggesting some textbook reading or simpler broken-down questions for the students to try.

From work, I have found that apprenticeships work well when there are close links between the employer, the course provider and students, that the course is appropriate for the apprentice’s job role and there are regular catchups between all 3 stakeholders.

Ben Pike Post 6 in reply to 1

15 Jun 2020, 14:19

The video was very interesting, the theme running through all the speakers was their aim to keep the communication personal, and maintain rapport with students. This is clearly very important as you are the student’s tether to the OU, and keeping them engaged in the course. Supporting students to gain skills not necessarily within the course material was another theme, helping students think for themselves and improve their problem solving capacities.

As mentioned in the previous activity, in my work I maintain a relationship with customers who I may have met once or not at all, and to do my job I need to keep a level of trust and rapport with them. I’ve also trained colleagues at various skill levels, and I feel I’ve been an open and adaptable teacher when doing this.

Colin Jenkins Post 9 in reply to 6

26 Jun 2020, 14:24

I think you have hit the nail n the head here with keeping the communication personal and maintaining a rapport with the students. As an OU student it helps to know that your tutor understands you and your own issues and circumstances, and can advise on a personal level rather than giving generic guidance.

Emmanuel Isibor Post 7 in reply to 1

19 Jun 2020, 08:22

The video was very interesting to watch as it gave a preview of how OU tutors engage with students and establish some connections with the students. I found the diversity of the tools of communication to be great. I love the idea of making introductory videos for students as it gives them an idea of what to look forward to in the module. I also like the idea of asking students to work in groups, as it gives them an opportunity to learn from each other as they engage with the materials. 

In my experience of supporting students in a face-to-face as a demonstrator, it has always been a case of allowing the students to start off with their worksheets and then wait for them to ask for help. But because I know from experience that some students may not ask for that help, I move around the lab to see what they’re doing and once I sight a student that looks like is having difficulty with engaging with the worksheet, I offer to assist by asking what the issue might be. I will then give some guidance and watch the student have a go at the question. 

Colin Jenkins Post 8 in reply to 1

26 Jun 2020, 14:20

As an OU student I can say first hand that the approach of the tutors as described in the video works very well. It was useful to see the different aspects of being a tutor broken down and described in relatively simple terms.

In my own experience taking training and meetings in work, I try to make everyone feel comfortable with gentle humour and trying to come across as approachable, which is relatively easy in face to face meetings but, as I have found in the current Covid-19 lockdown, is not as simple when using video conferencing such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom and has given me an appreciation of how well the tutors perform this factor of their role.

Michael Liedl Post 10 in reply to 1

1 Jul 2020, 09:28

In viewing the video interview of the tutors, I felt a particular commonality with Joan Jackson who emphasises the importance to have the students think for themselves. She prefers providing question rather than answers. I have seen how important this approach is in keeping a geographically dispersed study group moving forward together. Encouraging the students to form their own questions and search for the answers. All I provide are resources where to find the answers or how to approach the problem.

During the last three years working with Action Tutoring, I have had to handle the necessity to provide support to struggling students. Although it was not a remote support, the basic issues, mentioned in the video, were the same: making contact emotionally with the student, making him/her understand that we were in this endeavour together until the end, assessing their necessities and expectations, identifying the learning obstacles, making them aware of what is holding them back and most importantly making their progress measurably visible to them, thereby motivating them to continue.

Rod Gliven Post 11 in reply to 1

13 Jul 2020, 00:10

One of the simplest things, but very important:

The best personal learning experience from those engaged in teaching me a subject, has been those whom are passionate about their subject, and it becomes blatantly obvious to the student, in a very short space of time, those who are interested in the teaching and want to impart the knowledge, and those who do not.

Someone once said: 'If you make you job your hobby (or vice versa), you'll never do another day's work again'

During a 2-day Summer Taster Session at UCL, there was debate, activities, discussions & presentations, together with student/peer reviewing assessment of the best presentation. Being able to participate & facilitate, and receiving peer acknowledgement was very rewarding.

Graham Smith Post 12 in reply to 1

14 Jul 2020, 01:16

I enjoyed hearing about how the different tutors support their students, from initial icebreakers, through to additional individual support where required. 

Charlie's law is an interesting point. We have a saying in work - RTM. Read the manual. The answer is normally in there, so if you take the time to read and understand the topic, the answer to the question is normally available.

There were interesting comments relating to reflection being a 'higher order thinking skill'. This is something that is encouraged from level 1, so it is not only about what you learn, but about how you learned it, and could you improve on how you have done it.

Other points about 'unravelling what they think the problem is' to 'tailor support' demonstrate a skill to get to be able to get to where the problem actually lies, so that the appropriate response can be put in place.

In work, because we deal with a national network, when we have trained technicians in how to do something I always make it clear that I am contactable should the need my support. If a call comes in, I ask them to tell me the issue, then ask them what they think the problem may be. Following on from that, I always ask 'what do you think we could do to fix this?'. In some cases this is to help them work through a faulting process in a logical manner, on others it is to provide an additional level of technical support to help them fix the issue - akin to unravelling what they think their problem is, then signposting them towards the solution.

Quentin McPhee Post 13 in reply to 1

7 Aug 2020, 10:43

Very interesting video that builds on my perception that successful teaching is to positively  contribute to an environment in which high quality learning can be achieved through not only provisioning the academic content but also through encouragement, guiding and challenging the learner.

Raj Seepersad Post 14 in reply to 1

8 Aug 2020, 19:00

Part 4 Teaching in Computing & Communications Section 4.5

I have tutored students as well as taught at secondary level. In both my roles I learnt to be the primary mode of contact for all student needs. I believe by maintaining good rapport and building student motivation, students make good progress in their learning journeys. No two students are the same nor will they learn using the same technologies as well as methods. I am inclusive to the broadest sense and respect diversity to the maximum. 

Coffee on Tyne

Bill Tarpy Post 15 in reply to 1

27 Aug 2020, 15:24

Can't really say I've ever supported students online, however students are just people, and supporting people online is something I have done.

I recently managed an IT Help Desk for 2 years, including taking some calls/emails myself and dealing with the more difficult issues. What you are always looking for is how to get the customer where they want to go asap, whilst being aware there may be a harder to solve problem somewhere. It helps a lot to have good humour and empathy with your customer's plight. Who hasn't had their computer crash just before they saved that important document? Of course we rarely rang customer's proactively to ask essentially  "How's it going?" but we did use regular surveys and follow-up calls. 

This year I found myself running a voluntary "Help Desk" for a local choir I sing in. With the Covid-19 situation we transformed into an "Isolation Choir". Members needed to access all their music and rehearsals online, do home recordings of themselves singing, and send them in. Many of our members are over 70 and have limited IT skills. For several weeks in April my phone and email never stopped. With a little bit of support and coaching from me we managed to get half the choir (sixty people) online, and several of them told me later they had learnt a lot and really enjoyed it !

Silvia Varagnolo Post 17 in reply to 15

22 Oct 2020, 21:42

Hi Bill,

despite you have never supported students online, I can see you remotely supported many other people. Your experience at the Help Desk is surely transferrable to the support of students. 

Silvia Varagnolo Post 16 in reply to 1

22 Oct 2020, 21:38

For distance support I used email, a Facebook group and whattsapp groups. Recently, due to the COVID situation I supported some students also through meetings in MS Teams.

Depending on the nature of the question and the needs of the students I either provide the answer or give the tools so that the students can find a solution by themselves. I think also that constructive feedback is fundamental to help the students to develop their skill and become independent learners.

Kevin Frost Post 18 in reply to 1

1 Jan 2021, 15:02

Teaching for me is much more than just delivering information or imparting knowledge, the question of how that is done is the core of what teaching is there to do. Firstly there is the age and development of the learner to consider, adults will learn differently to children for instance so can take on the direct challenge of more abstract problem solving than young children, not recognising tis would be to the detriment of the learning. 

As well as subject content, study skills are an important skill to develop, important in any teaching context but none more so that distance/independent learners who do not have a teacher physically present most of the time to encourage and remind them. Study skills are also different with different age ranges of learners since adult and particularly distance learners will often be trying to fit study around other commitments. Study skills for such learners are therefore more than pure study skills and also very much about lifestyle management.

Assessment and feedback are important but to get the most from feedback students need to be motivated to take on board any feedback and not just make a judgement from their overall score as the latter does not feed into reflection and improvement. For distance learners I feel written feedback should be detailed since the in person feedback opportunities are more limited.

Fiona Baxter Post 24 in reply to 18

22 Jun 2021, 17:49

I agree, the pedagogical approaches taken in teaching are just as important. It can be difficult for some students to get used to a continuous assessment/feedback approach if they have only known exams. 

Sian Armstrong-Hollins Post 19 in reply to 1

18 May 2021, 21:28

Learners learn in different ways, and different methods will work for different people. As tutors we should be approachable so that the student knows to come for help as they need it, but we also need to be proactive in determining what a particular student might need. 

It might mean (to take maths as an example) that a student might find a different approach to solving a problem easier than another method (using a grid method to expand brackets for example). In engineering it might be that analogies might help. In other subject it might be the use of pictorial, or modelling aids which might help a student. But throughout, it should be that these techniques can be used to aid the student's path to becoming more independent in their problem-solving.

It might also be that to tackle a problem a student might need more scaffolding help to take a step by step approach initially, before developing the skills themselves to break down a problem into smaller steps.

Fiona Baxter Post 23 in reply to 19

22 Jun 2021, 17:45

Differentiation is so effective and I have found scaffolding really helps to build confidence in a safe way and enable learners to tackle independent projects. 

Amanda Williams Post 20 in reply to 1

11 Jun 2021, 13:25

I think the video is interesting and I can see how it overlaps with my current role.  I think for me the main thing in teaching is the ability to communicate, and to be to put the student at the heart of of learning and allowing them to take responsibility is key.  I support coaching models and find that this works best with adults.

Fiona Baxter Post 22 in reply to 20

22 Jun 2021, 17:41

It's so important to emphasise that their learning is a two or three way process. 

Fiona Baxter Post 21 in reply to 1

22 Jun 2021, 17:38

I am a qualified vocational assessor, so have a wealth of experience in assessment using a variety of methods, from simulated work products to workplace observations. In vocational education, when a learner submits a piece of work, it is marked and feedback is given for improvement where necessary by a 1-1 meeting or email. Tutorials are structured around specific support required, so I teach only where there are gaps in knowledge or skill, as their workplace experience may prove competency in many learning outcomes and assessment criteria already.

I have had to support students with access to technology, navigate attendance and progress concerns and help ready for job or college applications/interviews. I like to start off finding out as much about students as possible in terms of where they are at and where they have been, to discuss and agree the best place to start and an action plan to move forward.      

This is one of my latest pictures.

Elena Sanchez-Heras Post 25 in reply to 1

6 Jul 2021, 11:21

When students start a project in our laboratory, I first help them to navigate the health and safety regulations in place. They are new to them and I try to explain them to them in a practical way.

Later there are issues about where I find this or that. I am their point of reference for all the day-to-day issues arising. 

When they start to get results, I am the person they contact to make sense of what the results mean. There, I try to always apply the scientific method to understand what a set of data means. We try to educate these future researchers and I am proud to instil on them resilience, analytical skills and group working skills, fundamental for an enduring career in research.

John Dunning Post 26 in reply to 1

8 Jul 2021, 15:07

I support learners by working with them to understand their needs (both to assist in studying and in their goals - what they want out of the course). This lets me tailor things to their requirements, whether it be just by the speed we cover topics, giving further examples or reading, assisting with alternate explanations or giving practical examples I have seen.

Suzie Miller Post 27 in reply to 1

3 Aug 2021, 16:44

I'd focus on assistive technology that can help not only people with disabilities but everyone be more productive by calling that out. 

Eg if meetings are in teams you can turn on transcripts, or transcribe video / audio files in word or onenote for example. 

The fact that every one learns in different ways, so working out if it's better in the morning or evening etc mind maps, vs notes or flashcards. 

Asking the person what has worked well for them in the past when they had to learn other information and trying to build on that. 

Trying to reduce imposter syndrome and perfectionism too so at least the work is getting done.  

Ann Holmes Post 28 in reply to 27

6 Aug 2021, 10:43

The aspect of teaching I enjoy the most is gauging what each student needs in order to progress. Some require a quick answer to a simple question, while another may need help in clarifying their thinking, and another needs more support in getting organised with study materials.

There is never a 'one size fits all' approach to supporting a student's learning, and this is the attraction of working for the OU for me.


Richard Collins Post 29 in reply to 1

15 Aug 2021, 12:02

I think I would share my own experience with studying with the OU with Dyslexia. I would show how I used the services supplied by the OU and other external resources to aid their study. I would use the first tutorial to give them tips on how best to plan their study.

I would also encourage all students to understand how their brain works, how they learn and absorb information. I would also help them to organise their environment to optimise their learning. 

The feedback from TMA's is very important, many times I have felt I did poorly and the notes from the tutor has made me feel much better about my performance. I would use the TMA feedback as a way to also offer advice and offer some help if they feel they need it.

Bob Moore Post 30 in reply to 1

18 Sep 2021, 14:40

As I see it, in simple terms teaching comes in two broad styles, non-interactive, readling a book, watching a video, listening to a lecture, interactive where someone is leading you and possibly others through others what is to be taught, with interchanges, to check understandng, and where appropriate to practise the practical use of skills. It's interesting to indulge in the first style for the teacher, but the student is going to get a lot more out of the second approach.

This is particularly in the computing modules, because designing and developing computer programs is not about a set of facts, but it is a creative activity, in the same way writing a novel, or painting a picture, or writing music is. You need practise, you need feedback, you need to learn your own way of doing things, but you also need guidance not to go down blind alleys.

Ravi Rajani Post 31 in reply to 1

19 May 2022, 10:06

It was very useful to hear other tutors share their experience and expertise in the video.

I have experience working as an undergraduate tutor at a traditional university as well as as an AL at the OU. Things I consider important:

- Work out what motivates the students and try to relate the study materials to relevant real-world examples, if possible by drawing on my own experience in industry or academia.

- Try to guide the students to discover the solutions to problems on their own, either by pointing them to relevant references online, or by explaining some relevant theory. Students will have a greater sense of achievement, enhanced practical problem-solving skills, and a greater understanding of the concepts, if they work things out themselves.

Neil Hodge Post 32 in reply to 1

1 Nov 2022, 12:48

I don't have any previous teaching experience. However, having just completed my degree with the OU I have plenty of personal experience that I can draw upon.

Raluca-Florenta Bogdan Post 33 in reply to 1

3 Nov 2022, 05:13

I make sure that they know when they can contact me. And I try to set up a realistic sense, because I think it's important. I think it's quite realistic to set the goals and then stand by them.
So I say that they can contact me by telephone between specific times. And I do my best to make sure that I am available during those times. They can contact me at other times, but we would then arrange that between ourselves. But most of the contact is through forum support and email, which makes it a little bit more convenient because it's asynchronous. 

David Harvey Post 34 in reply to 1

26 Jan 2023, 10:57


Presently I tutor up to 18 years old.   I am also involved in communications with t parents and schools.  Students often download specific questions they wish to discuss.  Sessions are generally run on a student centred basis with varied parent input.  My target teaching area with the OU is T42 modules. An important starting point is to know your clients.  Their needs and what motivates them.  This is something I would need to research.  For example this course may attract some quite young entrance who may not have found school very fulfilling. 

Adrian Osler Van Emmenis Post 35 in reply to 1

2 Mar 2023, 15:34

In order to support people, you first have to realise that they are struggling with something. In a teaching setting this is easy to pick up I imagine but in my work as a consultant, working with colleagues, it is sometimes difficult to pick up on problems.

On one occasion I was a consultant helping a team work with an object database and I realised, from answering some questions, that they did not understand the concurrency model of the database - since they assumed that it was the same as the SQL databases they were familiar with.

The most diplomatic way of helping was to give a presentation to the whole team that described the particular concurrency model that the database was using and contrasted that with the SQL models - which seemed to help at the time.

Discussion tags: section 4