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.

Activity 4

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.

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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 Part 3.6.1 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ).

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.

Download this video clip.Video player: nc4487_alstem_2020_vid104b_1920x1080.mp4
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Transcript

DIANE BUTLER
Hello, everybody. I've got four associate lecturers here, all from the School of Computing and Communications, all very experienced associate lecturers. I've got Gill, and Terry, and Sarah, and Ellen. Very warm welcome. We're going to talk today about what it was like when you were new, and what you did then, what you do now, and how that might have changed over time. So how did you feel as a novice tutor doing things for the first time?
GILL WINDALL
I remember being extremely nervous about tutorials-- online tutorials. It just felt very daunting, just the thought of it all happening in real time, and being recorded, and things that were completely out of your control, and being on top of the technology. And the thought of trying to manage that as well as interacting with students, and presenting material, and interacting with a colleague that I was co-presenting with just felt-- I was really quite scared, I have to say, at the thought of it.
TERRY O'REGAN
Yeah, I was concerned about fitting the OU stuff around my full-time job. Would I have the time to fit all this in? I really wanted to do it, so I had to make the time. So I felt that pressure. Also, I was worried about marking assignments. Would I get the marking right? Would there be complaints or challenges?
You're so worried about this sort of minefield of marking students' work and making some kind of statement about their performance. In terms of tutorials and guidance, I felt all right about that because of my previous experience. But there were times when I felt I had the imposter syndrome. I used to think, am I really good enough to do this? We had that concern at times.
DIANE BUTLER
Yeah. Sarah, did you want to comment on that one?
SARAH SLATER
OK. So it was really daunting for me at the time, because this was a new module in a subject just outside my normal teaching area. I had to pick up the new systems that I was seeing these emails come through telling me I had to learn new systems. I had to travel to venues which I found intimidating at times, in fairness.
So I was leaning on my staff tutor an awful lot, which was Hillary and later Marina. And they were really helpful during a difficult time. I only had one module then, and that was a lot. There was no forums at that time, so that was unhelpful. And there is now, so that's fantastic. So it was really my staff tutor helping me the most during that time.
ELLEN CADDICK
Well, my experience was only in training peers or members of staff, so I used to work on a one-to-one basis or with very small groups of two or three. So standing in front of a classroom of 20 adults, all very keen to learn something from my tutorial, was really nerve-wracking. So I really-- my first tutorial was super duper prepared. And I was like, what are they going to ask me? What am I going to tell them? I really need to know my stuff. So it was really daunting to do that, having not stood in front of a classroom before.
The marking was the same. But my biggest worry was, am I going to be fair? Am I going to be telling them, in all fairness, what they did wrong, and also tell them how they can do it better next time and improve their scores? And are their scores really going to be fair? Am I going to be too strict, or am I going to be too lenient? How am I going to find that middle range?
DIANE BUTLER
How does it feel when you were new and you were called on to teach on something that you just felt you'd got your fingertips into yourself?
ELLEN CADDICK
I don't have a background in computing, so it was daunting to suddenly teach students in computing. I had a good understanding of the module material, so I could follow what the module materials were teaching. But it was literally also pushing me to the point of where I said, this is borderline of where I actually feel, as a computer-interested person teaching somebody to use.
At the same time, it's level one, so a lot of it was literally getting students to get used to being in a university environment, and focusing a lot on writing assignments, and understanding referencing, and understanding those areas that I really understood very well.
GILL WINDALL
Yes, I think - I mean, I find it - I found it, and, in fact, do still sometimes find it - slightly alarming to be expected to be an expert on quite a wide field, or to feel that I'm expected to be an expert. But I have to say that is also one of the things that I've liked. I've liked learning new stuff, actually.
Yes, learning it may be only just before the students. But it's an opportunity to really expand your own knowledge. And one is extremely motivated to do that if you know that you're going to have to teach a tutorial or mark an assignment. So yeah, it's got that two sides to it - scary, but also enjoyable and motivating.
DIANE BUTLER
Yeah, I think that's something about the Open University and the methods that we use to teach. The module materials have got everything in. The associate lecturer is there to support student learning of that material. So you don't have to be the expert in everything you do. You're not delivering lectures. You can be that guide on the side and that facilitator to help them
TERRY O'REGAN
Yeah, I was going to say that one of the things that's changed for me over time is the fact that you feel that you have to be an expert in all the content of the module that you're teaching. And over time, I've realised that that's not really possible, and that, amongst your colleagues in your immediate study area-- usually the study centre, you find that there are people with strengths in, say, computing, and others who are better with the technology and the maths.
And in the end, we have an understanding. OK, if it's programming, then so-and-so will do that. And I'll pick up-- I'll do the maths. I'll do the technology or the writing notes-- that kind of thing. So now, I think we know each other's strengths.
SARAH SLATER
You can see the things that they're going to struggle with most. And I think as long as you get those in tutorials, and students start talking about them in the tutorials, that that helps as much as anything else. And that's why I'm saying that the forums are a good place for students to be pushed to to have those discussions, to drop that surface learning down into a much deeper level. But then I think it helps me as an associate lecturer when they do that, because then they come with more interesting questions to tutorials, then.
DIANE BUTLER
I think it's a really interesting part of the role, this not being necessarily an expert, but still having a huge amount to offer across the range of skills an associate lecturer needs. Is there anything that makes you cringe? Is there anything you think, oh, I wish I hadn't have done it like that?
TERRY O'REGAN
I did
DIANE BUTLER
And why did I do it like that? Terry, you're nodding. Is this something -
TERRY O'REGAN
Yes. One of the cringe factors was going to a very dark study centre in South London in the place where I had - there was a trepidation about leaving my car parked outside the building and going inside. And also, doing probably quite a lot of writing up and getting students to take notes, which we've moved on from that stage now. So those are my cringe-worthy things.
DIANE BUTLER
There are some excellent points. I particularly like the last one, this idea that you were doing all the work in the tutorial.
TERRY O'REGAN
That's it, yes.
DIANE BUTLER
Yeah.
TERRY O'REGAN
They just saw a lot of my back.
DIANE BUTLER
They saw a lot of the back of your head, yes. Sarah, did you want to comment?
SARAH SLATER
Yeah, in the early days of teaching, and even up to a few years ago prior to doing PG CEAB, I was very driven by PowerPoints and trying to feel like I was putting a lot of information on PowerPoint and doing things like the PG CEAB. And reflecting on my own teaching over the years, I really feel that PowerPoint has always been a tool for me, not for the students, to remind me what to talk about.
So when I feel cringy, it used to be looking back at some of those heavy PowerPoint slides, where I'm trying to feed loads of facts to people. And, of course, it stops engagement with the student by slide after slide after slide. So when I look back now at how I used to teach with tonnes of PowerPoint slides, with tonnes of facts, I realise that I was actually preventing the students from engaging in the interactive element of a tutorial. And it became almost a lecture.
So these days, I back off PowerPoint, and use their resources and their materials the same as what they would have, and start discussions. The first thing I do is, can you please put your mics on and start talking to me? And that's the approach now.
GILL WINDALL
That's why I think how I-- the feedback that I used to give. And I believe it is important to give lots of feedback, but I used to give tonnes. It was as if I felt anything that the student had got a tiny bit wrong, I had to write feedback on and say, no, no. You could have said this. You could have said that.
And I've come to realise that it's better to focus on core issues and maybe a few - less is more. A few issues that actually are core skills that, hopefully, the student can improve on, then they're going to see them - stand them in good stead for future assignments is more important than, oh, well, actually, there was this point you could have made in response to this question, and, oh, yes. Well, you could have got one more mark if you'd said this.
ELLEN CADDICK
At the beginning, I wasn't quite sure how to connect or how to help students with different abilities. And so I literally just looked at the profiles that we have and just adjusted my presentation to what I thought they might need. And I think, on occasions, that was just not good enough. The moment that that changed was when I started to actually talk to them before tutorials and ask them, how do you need me to adjust so that you get something out of the sessions that I'm doing?
And that has now become completely a norm with me, that I actually talk to them first and try to understand how I need to adjust what I'm presenting. And it's so fantastic to see them when the penny drops. You can see when they say, oh. That's fantastic to just watch that happen during a tutorial or after you return an assignment. It's what keeps me going every time.
DIANE BUTLER
It is incredibly rewarding, isn't it? Those light bulb moments and those feelings that students finally got it. All their hard work has paid off, and you've helped. So yeah, it's really interesting to hear how you've changed. Do you feel that your confidence has grown now? I think it's clear that it has.
GILL WINDALL
It's that feeling that you can relax into it and that you don't have to deliver the perfect tutorial, or maybe even give the perfect feedback. The students can be very forgiving and encouraging as well, actually. As long as they can see that you're trying to help, it's not like they're going to be horrified if you can't give them exactly the perfect nugget of information.
ELLEN CADDICK
You can actually be yourself. You can play to your strengths. You don't have to play to your weaknesses. There's always somebody where you know, OK. Maybe this hasn't quite answered the question, so then let me refer the student to somebody else, or ask somebody else, OK. How can I explain this in a different way so that the student then understands it?
So I think, in the beginning, when you start, and you see all these guidances, and the marking guide, and the presentations for the tutorials and everything, you think that you have to adjust to something that's there. And I think it's only there as a support. And you can then have your own style.
SARAH SLATER
Yeah, I've mentioned it before, but my staff tutors - I've got a few, and I've had a lot. But I have to say, when I decided to detach the idea as a staff tutor as my manager and more to be more like a mentor to me, I appreciate they're my manager, but I think of them more as mentors.
And their guidance has helped me a lot - that breaking down of the ice between them on the wall so that I feel they're approachable always, whether it's email, or call, or dropping in on me periodically, which they do, and just seeing how I'm getting on. And that just makes you feel relaxed.
DIANE BUTLER
That's great. That's really good to hear, and I think it is a real strength of our model. And as our communications technologies improve with forums and with various online platforms, we've got better and better at having that distributed group of staff working together for the benefit of the students.
One thing that I reflect on what you're saying is that, perhaps, as you've gone on your journey from a novice tutor to an experienced one, you may have moved from this tutor-centred approach to doing the job to a more student-centred approach to doing your job. Would that be a fair way of reflecting the journey that you've gone on? Terry, do you want to comment?
TERRY O'REGAN
I was going to say, at one time, I was concerned about, will they turn up to the tutorial? Will I do a good lesson? But over the years, you think, what's important here is getting the students through. So you start looking more at, what can facilitate that? So it's about giving effective feedback and support in assignments-- marking fairly. It's about supporting students when they first start, and also supporting them when they're finishing off.
SARAH SLATER
You get to meet them virtually a lot of the time. Sometimes they talk to you. With icebreakers in the forums, you get to know a little bit about them. These become people that you connect to. And once you start connecting to them, and you start supporting them, and you start marking their work-- and I always email students right at the beginning of the course, talk to them. But then I always email them all the way through, telling them there's an assessment due shortly, how are they getting on? Before every assessment.
And I like that link, that I feel like I want you to do this, and I want you to progress. So I feel like I'm nurturing them. And then if you do the follow-on module, and you see the students have passed, that's great to see, too, because they say, hi, or, I had you last time. I'm glad I got you again. And that's really nice to see. So you always feel like you connected. I like the connected idea. So I feel connected to students.
DIANE BUTLER
That's the whole "making a difference" thing, isn't it? And it's really nice to work for an organisation where you can really point at something and say, I made a difference to them. It's fabulous.
GILL WINDALL
Having taught in a traditional bricks-and-mortar university, I think I do feel more connected with more of the students-- a greater proportion of the students-- with the OU than I did in that situation, partly because you've got a smaller group. And distance learning, strangely, seems to bring you closer, in some sort of way.
ELLEN CADDICK
I would really miss it, because it is giving students that maybe don't have had in their lives a chance to study at university that come into studying and think, oh, God. How am I going to do this? The confidence that, actually, they can. And actually, they have the skills to study, and to learn, and to do it in a formal environment and in a formal way. And then you hand them over to the next course.
So building up that confidence in them-- they can do it. They have the skills to do it. They have the skills to progress, and to learn, and to get higher grades, and to improve their learning, and to show it, and to talk to me, who is in academia. At first, they all treat me like a teacher. And I always say, no, I'm not a teacher. I'm literally just helping you here with your journey through your studies.
TERRY O'REGAN
Yes, I was going to say, I've been working with the OU for 30 years. I've retired from everything else, and this is the thing I probably enjoyed more than anything else. And that's really strange. I agree with Sarah on that. I really enjoy working with the OU. I've also enjoyed going to staff development events. It was always great to meet up with colleagues and catch up with each other.
DIANE BUTLER
If you had somebody in front of you who had never taught before, or only done a very small amount of teaching or, perhaps, coaching in a workplace setting, and they fancied dipping their toe into OU tutoring, what would you say to them?
TERRY O'REGAN
Do it, because all the support--
ELLEN CADDICK
Go for it.
TERRY O'REGAN
--is there. You can learn while you're doing it.
SARAH SLATER
I would try to encourage somebody who was interested from the viewpoint that, not only do you get paid to do this, but you get paid to do this from home. You can learn a new subject in more depth than you had before. You can help somebody. It's a best five or six hours of a paid employment.
TERRY O'REGAN
As long as you've got the appropriate background-- academic background-- you can learn how to teach while you're doing it. And you've got all the support and the systems around you to draw on, and help from colleagues. So it's a great environment to do it.
SARAH SLATER
Teaching is a journey. You're always reflecting on your teaching. So I would encourage them to not just try it, but to move into that area, and build themselves in both their knowledge and their communication skills, and helping other people.
ELLEN CADDICK
I think even the fact that they're considering it makes me think that they're good for it. So I would always say, just go for it. Take the challenge, and help other people evolve, and develop, and grow. I think it's very rewarding.
End transcript
 
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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.

Activity 5

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.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: nc4487_alstem_2020_aug003.mp3
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Transcript

MARTIN CHIVERTON
Student-centred learning environments
The characteristics of the two main types of learning environment
…which are
The tutor in a tutor centred learning environment is the ‘sage on the stage’ and consider themselves the authorial voice, the source of information,
Whereas, in a student-centred learning environment the tutor is more of a ‘mentor’, someone who facilitates student learning.
In a tutor centred environment the tutor transmits information to the students,
so communication is pretty much one way.
Student-centred learning environments encourage students to bring their own experience, knowledge and skills into the online tutorials.
The tutor helps them all.
The students then investigate the subject and blend ideas and concepts to more meaningfully develop their knowledge and understanding over time. They own it.
Tutor centred learning values acquiring knowledge above all else. Often lacking context.
Such as getting the tutorial group to read a particular chapter simply because it will be assessed in the next test.
But authenticity is the order of the day in student-centred learning - “How can I use this information in real life? How can I apply it? Does this information have relevance for me?
Now let's just muse on this thought: What might happen in each of these learning environments?
In a tutor centred learning environment traditionally the instructor will stand at the front of the room, lecture for an hour and the students take notes.
The instructor has the prominent role. Where the students play less of a role; they are simply empty vessels waiting for the information from the tutor.
In UK universities, in traditional face-to-face teaching the lecture is still the most common technique used in undergraduate teaching. Even if they put them online.
It’s often said Tutor centred learning promotes an individualistic approach putting students in competition with each other.
Online tutorials in distance learning are very important because they give students the opportunity to work collaboratively.
It’s a more supportive culture where people share.
They build on each other’s learning.
So which type of learning environment do you think the OU favours its online learning and tutorials?
End transcript
 
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Give an example of the type of teaching strategies in an online tutorial which might support student-centred learning.

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Comment

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.

6.6 Looking further ahead