4.5 Teaching in computing and communications

Our tutors typically come with a range of academic and professional experience, but an essential element of tutoring is experience in teaching and supporting students. In this section, we have interviewed some existing tutors to explore how they support their students.

Activity 3

What is appealing about the tutor role?

Teaching in computing and communications remotely is different from classroom instruction. In this activity, you should consider the tools that you have experience with to work remotely. How might you use these in teaching?

Activities you could consider are using online tools to debug code, screen sharing, use of development tools, asking questions, or using the phone.

Select an idea and post it to the discussion forum [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Add comments to two other posts, how could the effectiveness of the idea be increased?

Activity 4

What does teaching mean to you?

In this video, our tutors Prince, Kate, Colin, Tammy and Charly discuss various aspects of being an OU tutor, including contact with students, the challenges of supporting students, developing student skills, and the additional support required for some students.

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

Download this video clip.Video player: nc4487_alstem_2020_vid101a_1080x1920_high.mp4
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Transcript

PRINCE BOATENG
One of the main responsibilities of a tutor, especially at level one, is to help develop our students' study skills which they would then need further along the line in their studies. Study skills like English, language skills, mathematical skills, and in our line of the IT department, we also try to help them to develop their problem-solving skills.
JOAN JACKSON
The usual role of a tutor, which is to provide academic support and also some welfare support, as well. Making sure that students are happy studying the module and sorting out any problems.
COLIN EVERISS
So you're very much engaged as a person with the student themselves, talking to them, discussing with them, verbally answering their questions in a very diverse way, much more than they are getting from a textual book or a video.
TAMMY BROWN
I think an important point to pick up is that a lot of what we do is we help reduce the sense of isolation by being that friendly face, by being the face of the university. We add that point of contact, that reliable point of contact. We help reduce that sense of isolation, which helps maintain the engagement of the students.
PRINCE BOATENG
I send them all a welcome email, setting up their expectations when they can get in touch with me and a little bit about myself. And then just make them feel comfortable and just let them know that you can contact me at any time. So I do that.
I also contact students to remind them of impending tutorials. So whenever we're going to have face-to-face tutorials or online tutorials, I would normally send an email around saying, don't forget that we have a tutorial on such-and-such a time.
CHARLY LOWNDES
One of the things I do is to make little videos at the start of each academic year saying, hi, I'm me, trying to get across the idea that I am a friendly face. I'll send very short emails, just to establish a line of communication.
Once that's going, I suppose I'm trying to do three things. One is to give them some factual information. This is what you need to do and where to find it and how to do it. One is if you like just pragmatic, have I got the right email? Reply so that I know. All you need to say is, hi. If I don't get a reply, then I'm going to keep following up, possibly through another channel like the telephone.
But the third and the most important thing is the emotional rapport, a tricky thing to do with somebody you've never met, may never meet face-to face. So I try to put myself across as being approachable because I want to be approached. That's what a large chunk of what a tutor is for.
TAMMY BROWN
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. Students will study for 15 hours, say, per course in a week. But we may not be employed to teach for that 15 hours specifically, and not 24 hours a day. So 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. So we don't have to be using the same means of communication at the same time.
COLIN EVERISS
Initially, I'll be spending a lot of my time talking to them about what it is or what it means to be a student with the Open University. And a lot of my time initially is talking to them about how it's organised and how they should be organised. And as I mentioned, some of that discussion also takes place with the employers as well.
TAMMY BROWN
Often students, they'll come to you. They're having a problem, say, with an assignment question. And it's kind of unravelling what it is they think their problem is to actually get to the core of it to know where to sign post them to.
PRINCE BOATENG
You have a TMA deadline. And then on the last day or just the day before, somebody comes to you and wants to request for an extension. And the story they are telling you, you don't think it's genuine. They just want to buy a bit of time. And trying to really read through the whole thing and try and help them. You want to help them as much as possible.
JOAN JACKSON
The main challenge is making the contacts. Yeah, making the contact personal and relevant for the individual student. I guess with postgraduate students, they can have a range of development issues. And it's like being a detective, really. You've got to identify what those issues are and tailor your feedback and support to address those.
CHARLY LOWNDES
There's a lot of interpretation of what it is that they ought to be doing. So that's straightforward, factual teaching, if you like. But there's also the underlying emotional and intellectual confidence to set about doing something where the pathway is not as clear as it might have been in earlier modules. And I think empathy with students is one of the things that I try most to get going.
COLIN EVERISS
The other thing that's quite challenging is that it's challenging for students themselves to find the right balance between study and work. And quite often, you're talking to students, often becoming a problem solver. You're finding them different - you're trying to encourage them to find different approaches to their study.
PRINCE BOATENG
I try and help develop their skills through the comments that I put on my TMA script, TMA scripts.
TAMMY BROWN
The relationship that you have with the individual student is absolutely crucial because the way you develop them has to be tailored for their particular needs. As we've said before, the one cap fits all just doesn't work. So you have to get to know your students.
And you tailor the feedback in the assignments, for example, the correspondence tuition, putting in place strategies, finding other resources, signposting them to other activities where they can actually do things to develop their skills.
COLIN EVERISS
One way of helping them is obviously to probably record. We do this through the quarterly review meetings that we behold, we record what they do. We are able to easily pick up these skills which they develop through the workplace, identifying and relating not only the academic work to the work that they're doing, but perhaps behavioural skills as well, looking at things as to how they work with different people and in a team, working under pressure, for example, working to deadlines, for example, which may not necessarily be picked up on an academic piece of work.
CHARLY LOWNDES
I think there's so many different skills to think about. There's obviously the pragmatic, technical stuff, the content of the module that they're studying. But in order to get to grips with that, they have to be able to absorb material. Then they've got to communicate it back out again. So it's reading and it's writing.
But it's also - in the middle of that, there's the reflection skill, which is a difficult one to get used to, particularly important in the project module I tutor on because a large part of the assessment of that is, how the student has reflected on what went well, what was frustrating, what got in the way. And that's a really interesting higher order thinking skill, if you like.
JOAN JACKSON
Obviously for me, I'm attempting to develop some of these higher order skills beyond the module academic material. So what I'm really looking to do is to get the students to think for themselves. So I have various ways to try and encourage them to do that by asking questions in my feedback as opposed to giving them answers. So I'm asking questions. I'm looking at things like giving them references, which they might like to explore other academic material. And generally, really encouraging them to search for additional material themselves.
CHARLY LOWNDES
So all of those come in. I try to distill some of these things down into short slogans and things that I can make a 1-minute hints and tips type video about. For example, I don't really claim any originality whatsoever. I'm sure all tutors have used this thought. But I call it Charly's Law for easy memory. Charly's Law is read the question and then answer it. Subtext, not the question you'd like to have been asked or the one you happen to know the answer to. My claim is that Charly's Law works with every level of assessment on any topic. So read the question and then answer it.
Other slogans would include, have a go. Try it. You might like it. It helps to study the material before you try to write an essay or answer a question or whatever. It always interests me how sometimes students think, well, I'll just answer this. And you think, well, have you not actually read this chapter or have you not tried that practical activity? I think you really would find it helps.
So it comes down to some pretty basic study skills. Have a go, read the stuff, think about it, reflect on it, all those things.
INTERVIEWER
Next question is, how do you help the students engage with their learning?
PRINCE BOATENG
We try and engage the students. I don't just rattle alone and just keep going. We try and cooperate. For instance, at the beginning of a tutorial, I'll try and introduce some icebreakers just to get students engaged, just to get students talking to each other, for instance, and engaging with each other.
And also, we try and incorporate activities into their lessons. So activities, for instance, pairing up people and asking them to do certain things and then feedback to their group.
TAMMY BROWN
Trying to make things as interactive and relevant, to not just their studies but to them. And sometimes that can involve re-educating them as to what is relevant and with a view to development beyond the module. So it's not just a, yes, you've done fantastic. Brilliant, excellent. You got your 85%. You got your distinction. Where can you lead it on to? They've always got to have something to be able to go on. And that then encourages them to dig that little bit deeper and to stretch themselves.
CHARLY LOWNDES
I make a point of, my standard emails sign off to any messages, have fun. Sometimes students, I can hear them groaning as they open up, oh, Charly's trying to be cheerful again and I still haven't got my head around question 3.
But I enjoy learning. I'm still an OU student. I'm now onto I think my fifth qualification with the Open University. And that's a good thing for me. Because I remember regularly and currently what it's like to get not quite the mark I hoped for. So I have to think, well, OK. What is going to get me motivated to attack TMA 3 having got disappointed with TMA 2?
JOAN JACKSON
It's very much trying to get students to think about the module concepts in relation to their own experience. And I think if you can get them to think about how those module concepts are going to be practically of use in their own organisations, then students automatically do engage more effectively with the material.
COLIN EVERISS
My approach with them is very much what I call the helicopter approach. Because I'm looking over all of what's happening and what they're doing. And it's very much about providing that additional voice of encouragement along the way, giving them that springboard, somebody to bounce ideas off, particularly when they're having difficulties or issues or problems. And very much, it's maybe even applying some form of alternative ways that they may actually tackle particular topics or particular subjects.
PROFESSOR
What kind of additional support do some students need?
TAMMY BROWN
One of the things that attracted me to the Open University in the first place is this word open. We are open. And we make available this amazing academic pathway that is not available to people through other means. And it doesn't matter what you come to the table with in terms of any difficulties, disabilities, anything. It doesn't even have to be as formal as a disability. We are open and we adapt. And we do our best to make the whole thing available. And we help develop your skills.
We're a great wealth, I find, as tutors, of additional support. And we're all very keen to assist each other, which I think is really, really lovely. Which again, feeds into this ethos of openness. But also, there is a massive wealth of support toolkits, different departments that will help to develop students skills with this additional support they need.
CHARLY LOWNDES
There's every possible point on that neurodiversity spectrum of people who come to us for study, because our kind of learning suits them. So in extreme cases, we've got a really well-organised and very skilled and very experienced student support team. So I know how to refer students who need specialist help to get the help that they need.
JOAN JACKSON
I mean, some students with difficulties would prefer teaching, using the spoken word. So we will extend our tutorials.
PRINCE BOATENG
A student who needs a bit more in terms of programming. It was about TMA 2 or something like that. And he needed extra support. So the SSD approached me and arranged extra time for me to actually call the student and take him through the various scenarios in the programme in a sense, and actually helped him.
JOAN JACKSON
But also organising yourself to study. These modules have an awful lot of reading. And you really have to be very good at organising all of your sources and organising your module material and how you're going to interact with that. So we do find that particularly, new students and students when they reach the end of the road, the capstone module, then we do sometimes have to provide additional support, things like using bibliographic management tools and also thinking about how you use combinations of online material, epubs, studying on mobile devices so you can get through all the reading that you need to do.
COLIN EVERISS
You have to remember that this is a partnership. It's a three way partnership between employers, the Open University, and the apprentice. And additional support can work both for the employer and for the apprentice. A good example of that is that student apprentices undertake a whole range of modules. And probably one of the important ones there is the work-based module. And because it's a partnership, it's very important to see that there's a relationship there, not only between the academic work that's been undertaken by the module. But it does relate to the actual work
Being undertaken by the student. So it's important to get the additional support to the employer such that they realise this so that they can identify aspects of work and components of work that match up with the module itself, rather than being fragmented and separate.
End transcript
 
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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 to the discussion forum that demonstrates your experience. Comment on some of the other posts, is it clear what they do?

4.4 What are the roles that our tutors play?

4.6 The teaching and technology challenges tutors help us solve