6.5 Getting started as a dual professional
As a STEM practitioner, you already have a wealth of subject knowledge and a significant and diverse understanding of your discipline in other contexts such as commerce and/or industry. This breadth of experience provides a great springboard into a teaching role, but you may feel daunted about taking responsibility for the learning of others - many tutors feel like this in the early days when they are learning their craft.
In the OU, a group of people including the module team is responsible for the teaching of the module, not just the tutor. This frees tutors to concentrate not on merely imparting their subject knowledge to the student, after all the module materials are there to do just that, but rather to facilitate the students understanding of the content and their development of appropriate skills.
Despite this shared responsibility for student learning, it is common for OU tutors to feel daunted and somewhat isolated when given a group of students for the first-time. All tutors feel this, but as they develop as a teacher, they see their confidence, skills and even their whole approach to teaching change.
Imagine the prospect of meeting students in an online tutorial for the first time. Can you envisage how you might feel and what issues might worry you?
Write a bullet point list of your most significant concerns below.
You may have dwelt on issues around using the online technology for example getting in the right place at the right time and knowing how to use the tools, such as the microphone and the whiteboard within the Adobe Connect room (see the video demo in ).
You may be also concerned about the ‘content’ you are going to cover in the session, perhaps your own familiarity and understanding of that content. Or you may feel unsure about how much material you have prepared or how much you need to ‘get through’.
You may think a little about the students themselves, but it might be along the lines of will they turn up, will they be able to hear me, what do I do with the students if everything falls over technically or I don’t deliver a good tutorial.
If your list of issues features some or all these points, rest assured that you are not alone. When teaching for the first time, new tutors understandably focus on what they will do during the tutorial. So, delivering, or even merely surviving, the tutorial is the key consideration!
This focus on self is typical for all new tutors in the Open University but as time goes on and experience is acquired, the focus often changes. Instead of concentrating on the part they play in tuition, many tutors move on to focus on developing a real subject mastery.
OU modules are, by their very nature, very broad based and many tutors find themselves teaching outside their own immediate area of expertise. This needs careful preparation for the novice tutor, with many feeling only one step ahead of their students at many points in the module!
It is no surprise to hear that most tutors find the first year or two of tutoring a new module challenging but incredibly rewarding.
In this next video, Diane talks to Gill, Terry, Sarah and Ellen about what it was like when they were new tutors, what they did then and what they do now, and how that might have changed over time.
After a year or two most new tutors feel at home with the OU’s teaching approach and gain expertise in the full range of their module’s subject materials, but what stage of their development as tutors comes next?
With experience often comes a shift in perspective, tutors start to focus less on what they are doing when they teach and what they are teaching but more on what their students are actually learning and how they might become more active and independent in their learning.
This transition of tutor behaviour as tutors gain experience can mirror the change from a tutor-centred approach, often the default setting for inexperienced tutors, to a student-centred approach whereby the students are actively engaged in the learning process.
Listen to this audio clip which contrasts the tutor-centred approach and the student-centred approach and reflect on how a student-centred approach can be achieved in online tutorials.
Give an example of the type of teaching strategies in an online tutorial which might support student-centred learning.
Bearing in mind that the interactive module materials are studied by students in their own time, it is important that that tutorial time is used by tutors to enhance and consolidate student learning, through active engagement with the material and through collaborative group learning. Recall from Part 3.1 that in this OU way of teaching, the tutor has traditionally been a ‘guide on the side’ rather than a ‘sage on the stage’ (King, 1993).
Given this approach, you may have suggested tutorial activities which rely on students work directly together in small groups; using discussion and collaboration to address the development of their understanding of key concepts or skills.
You may have also thought about activities where you set structured problems for your students to address, so you can check their understanding of the module materials and encourage active participation through the use of the microphone, the chat box or vis other tools within the system such as polls.