Part 2 Teaching approach

2.1 The role of a tutor

By David McDade [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Tutor, formally also called an academic tutor, is the term that is used to define the majority of staff that teach students at The Open University (OU). You may see the title Associate Lecturer sometimes referred to as AL or Tutor. Tutors are vital in the contribution that they make to the quality of teaching and learning as well as the support that they provide to students.

Students that come to study at the OU have a wide range of different backgrounds, as well as wanting to study with the OU for a variety of different reasons. For example, students may be working full-time, so studying with the OU provides flexibility. Other students may have various disabilities and they recognise that the OU provides a more suitable environment for study.

We consider the important aspects of the tutor role include the following:

  • Welcoming students to the university
  • Identifying the needs of students
  • Providing correspondence tuition to students
  • Providing academic as well as non-academic support
  • Providing pro-active support
  • Developing study skills
  • Monitoring the progress of students
  • Providing study advice and academic guidance
  • Providing feedback to students
  • Working online and using OU systems
  • Developing good working relationships with OU colleagues.
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There are many other facets to the tutor role, for example, possessing good personal attributes. This includes being approachable, being a good listener, being empathetic, non-judgemental, being open and honest, and respecting the values of other people. We examine the skills and attributes of a tutor in more detail in the coming sections, as well as how the tutor role fits into the wider life of the OU, and how this role interacts with other teams, for example, student support, staff tutors and module teams.

Most of the work a tutor carries out involves working online at distance. Important aspects of this include being a good facilitator and having the ability to develop independent learning in students, which we also look at in this section of the course. Additionally, we examine the more detailed personal aspects of the role such as the nature of the OU contract, the support a tutor receives and developmental opportunities that are available.

In this video, Charly, Prince, Joan, Colin and Tammy talk about what they consider their role as an OU tutor is.

Download this video clip.Video player: nc4487_alstem_2020_vid101c_q1_1080x1920_high.mp4
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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?

Post your thoughts to the discussion forum and comment on some other posts. Do you agree with the other posters?


Your response depends on your individual situation and context, as well as the extent to which you already have experience of teaching, so these are model answers for you to consider.

There is reduced face-to-face contact and so there is the danger of students feeling isolated – tutors use facilities such as email, forums and telephone to engage with students.

Identifying the needs of students is not as clear-cut as in a classroom and, therefore, early discussions with students are very important.

Assessments are submitted electronically, so this means that marking and feedback play an important role in facilitating the student's learning.

2.2 Teaching materials