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Patrick Andrews

Adobe connect sessions

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One of the most striking features of Adobe Connect sessions is that they are very unpredictable.  Sometimes, I have 20 students or more and sometimes it is just one student.  There certainly seems to be very little relationship between how many have signed up for the tutorial and how many actually attend.

I have had a couple of one to one sessions over the past few days and thought that they worked well.  It meant that I was able to get to know the student and work flexibly with them.  In both cases, there were some interruptions for family reasons on the student's part and they were able to disappear for a few seconds to deal with them and then we could resume the tutorial.  It also meant that we could focus on what the student felt they needed to focus on and pass over or ignore what was less important to them.

I had spoken with friends who had been teaching online in a university where tutorial attendance was compulsory and they found this hard to visualise and they asked questions like "how do you prepare if you don't know how many students come?"  I suppose the ability to be flexible is a key part of working at the Open University.

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Patrick Andrews

The reality of online tutorials

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I had a tutorial yesterday that I thought was interesting for partly positive and partly negative reasons.

There were two students.  One said she was a "stay at home mum" and had a one year old at home and no microphone and the other said he needed to disappear at times to do answer some questions about his work. 

There were times when one or the other disappeared (they told me when this was happening) and I sometimes had to check that at least one of them was there; otherwise, I would have been speaking to myself. 

However, despite the unexpected nature of the set up, it seemed like a successful tutorial - one student said he understood some key content of the course at last (in an email sent later) and the other student seemed happy with it.  Of course, this might just be politeness but she asked many questions so seemed very engaged.

I suppose this shows how flexible we often have to be when teaching distance students as there are many things they are trying to juggle in their lives.  However, the unpredictability does not preclude opportunities for learning.

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Patrick Andrews

Teaching students in prison

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Over the past few years, I have been teaching students in prison on some OU courses and it was good to discuss some of the issues at Saturday's staff development day in Bristol.

One thing that has become clear is that prisoners are very diverse and the circumstances are also very diverse.  They vary greatly in terms of how much time and space there is for study.  Some students submit early because they feel they have so much free time to fill whereas oithers have many other duties (one I taught was doing many jobs and many other courses).  Students can also be disrupted by suddenly having to share cells.  An issue I was not aware of before doing this work is that many prisoners change prisons quite frequently and at short notice.  Apparently, they are not always able to take their materials with them, which must be very disruptive.

I think OU tutors are used to being flexible and working with prisons demands this habit of being flexible.  For example, visits can be cancelled at short notice and some students submit by post and this might mean they arrive at unexpected times.  Some prisons have much stricter security procedures than others and tutors need to be prepared for long waits at the gate although sometimes entry can be reasonably quick.

A big issue for the OU as an institution is enabling courses to be accessible to prison students and courses that are completely online (eg L185 EAP Online) are not available to students.  Unfortunately, this would be a very useful course for many students in prison.

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