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Warwick AL Development Conference 2018

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Warwick university campus (which I discovered was, actually, in Coventry). It was a busy weekend: I helped to co-facilitate two sessions (the STEM faculty session and a session that had been organised by the school of computing); I also ran a session that was entitled: delivering excellent correspondence tuition quickly – is it possible and how do we do it?

I’m very aware that I don’t have all the answers to how to do excellent correspondence quickly; modules, tutors and students are all different.  In true workshop fashion, there was a flip chart and each table was given a set of post it notes. What follows is a summary of notes that were generated by tutors who attended the event.

Tips from the whole group

The comments below have been gathered from group discussions. They are a mix of tips from tutors about how to do things quickly, and how to offer excellent feedback.

  • Make sure that feedback is personalised
  • Focus on 2 or 3 areas that need improvement (as otherwise our students might be overwhelmed)
  • Link the ETMA (PT3) comments to the on script comments
  • Use comments to build a relationship: be positive and be clear
  • Be positive, formal, factual, clear, unambiguous and approachable.
  • Provide comments that are appropriate to the level; consider comments that stretch students
  • When marking, know when it is a good idea to stop and take a break
  • Consider using speech recognition software as a way to provide feedback
  • If you have a mentor (as a new tutor), do make good use of that mentor
  • As a tutor, know and understand the course calendar
  • Consider editing or adding to the tutor notes as a way to collect your own practice
  • Consider marking TMAs in batches
  • Use the tutor forums that the module team has provided

Comments gathered from individual tables

The following comments were from post it notes that were gathered from workshop tables. I’ve tried to group them into clusters and have excluded post it notes that are really similar to each other to avoid repetition:

  • Important: building a relationship (through feedback), timeliness (be prompt with everything)
  • What should be included: what done well, what needs improvement, student’s name, continuity from previous feedback
  • Rapport with students; take an interest and encourage
  • Tone: personal, supportive, warm, friendly by clear, supportive but firm
  • Include: opportunities to improve, access to support, suggestions about what to extend and improve.
  • Comments: forward looking on the ETMA summary, backward looking on the script
  • What matters in your subject? Science: more prescriptive, arts: more flexible
  • Provide: accuracy and precision, application of [module] concepts, approach to study
  • Feedback and comments varies according to students, but includes: accuracy, relevance and learning skills.

Reflections

I’ve run this session a few times now, and I always really enjoy them. A discovery is that every session is slightly different; this could be down to the mix of tutors from different faculties, the type of the room that we used, or the number of tutors coming along to the event. This session was the biggest and most popular yet. 

Correspondence tuition remains to be an important topic within AL development sessions because it is such an important part of the tutor’s work. I received one bit of feedback that was interesting, and this reflected an earlier comment that I received after delivering the first version of this session (which, I think, took place in Leeds): that there should be more focus on ‘speed’ rather than ‘excellence’. It is a fair criticism, and I’m thinking (on one level) that I might be trying to do too much, but I’m aware that, as tutors, we should never cut corners; there is no question that our feedback should be as good as it could be.

From memory, we did share some really useful speed up tips, such as: use more than one screen, don’t agonise over individual marks, edit your version of your own tutor notes. I feel it very much depends on figuring out what works for each individual tutor. As I mentioned above: modules, tutors and students are all different.

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C&C AL induction 2018

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On 7 May 2018, myself and Richard Walker facilitated an online induction event for new associate lecturers who had recently joined the School of Computing and Communications.  What follows is a very short summary of some of the key points that were shared during that session. It then concludes some thoughts about what seemed to work well, what didn’t work well, and what I might change if I was running this kind of session again.

Introduction

The broad aim of the session was to introduce the role of a tutor, introduce tutors to some of the OU systems, to emphasise what tutors can do to support students, and also to offer some constructive pointers about the importance of correspondence tuition.

The session was opened by Arosha Bandara, head of the school of Computing and Communications. Arosha emphasised the breadth of the undergraduate and postgrad qualifications, and also mentioned that programmes were accredited by the by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, and the European Quality Assurance Network for Informatics Education.

The role of the tutor

The first main section opened with two questions: what is the role of an OU tutor?, and how is the role different to roles within other institutions? Richard then neatly emphasised the difference that a tutor can make.

Some key (summarised) points: the role of a tutor is to monitor the progress of students on their course including making contact with students who do not submit assignments, be a first point of contact for students for course and study related advice and support, to make pro-active contact with students at a number of defined points in the course (e.g. first TMA), to use ICT to teach and support students, access information in relation to students, and to facilitate contact with academic units and University.

Resources and tools

The key bits of technology that were emphasised included the TutorHome pages (which is, of course the tutor equivalent to the StudentHome pages, which every student has access to), the eTMA system which is used for marking, the virtual learning environment (which presents module materials, forums, online rooms and module calendars), and the office suite and email tools that everyone uses.

The TutorHome page was emphasised: it provides information about students, resources and information (including information about professional development), and links to other systems, such as module websites and the eTMA system.

It was important to emphasise the different types of forums and online rooms. Students have access to tutor group forums, module wide forums, but also cluster forums (a cluster is a group of tutor groups). Students can also access module wide online Adobe Connect rooms for module wide tutorials, attend cluster group online tutorials, or meet their tutor in a tutor group room (which can be used for one to one additional support sessions).

Importance advice

The session emphasised diversity training which tutors need to complete before they are able to pass their probation period. The presentation also contained some useful tips about the introductory letter that is sent to students.

The slides encouraged some discussion about the purpose of a tutorial before going starting to explore the importance of online communication. These were very relevant topics, but there wasn’t the opportunity to explore them in any detail; this is something that I’ll come back to later.

A number of big issues were emphasised: the marking of TMAs represented the most important part of the job. It is also important that tutors do what they can to retain as many students as possible, but it was also acknowledged that the student support team can do a lot to help. It was also very important to set boundaries, which is something that can be emphasised in the initial letter.

Scenarios

The session contained five short student support scenarios. When I helped to run my first ever online induction, I seem to remember that the scenarios were role played between myself and Richard: Richard was a student, and I was a tutor. The scenarios were familiar: you can’t contact a student for some reason, a student asking for an extension, a student asking for comments on a draft assignment (which isn’t allowed), a student disclosing a disability, and a student expressing concerns about their mark.

Since there wasn’t the time during this session, we both had to skip the role play and just talk through each of scenarios.

Correspondence tuition

A key point: correspondence tuition isn’t just about marking; it is about facilitating learning. Tutors are provided with a set of tutor notes from the module team which offers some guidance about how to allocate marks and to give feedback, and tutors have to return their marking within a ten day turnaround time. I think I emphasised the point that correspondence tuition is the most difficult part of the tutor’s job. 

Broadly speaking, correspondence tuition has two bits: feedback which is generally provided on the student’s script, and forward looking (feedforward) comments that encourage the students to move forward in a particular direction. Feedforward was defined as: comments that anticipate future ‘gaps’ and help the student to see how best to close those gaps. 

An important point is that there are three different types of comment: comments on content (or knowledge), comments on skills development, and encouragement.

There’s also a simple taxonomy of comments (which, I think, might have been formulated by my former colleague, Mirabelle Walker):  

Depth 1 comments: comments on content and skills that indicate that there is a problem (e.g. ‘more needed here’ or ‘Structure needs attention’)

Depth 2 comments: comments on content and skills that correct a problem (e.g. ‘you needed to mention why this is an important issue’ or ‘your structure would have been better if you had started with an introductory paragraph’)

Depth 3 comments: comments that not only correct, but explain the correction (e.g. ‘you needed to mention why this is an important issue because by doing this you would provide a clearer context for the next section’ ….) Build on the student’s attempt or answer.

Other stuff

There was a whole range of other stuff to get through. These included subject, such as: holidays, the AL mentor, TMA monitoring, tutorial ‘visits’, the two year probation period, additional support sessions, how to deal with plagiarism (which is a subject all of its own), the process for dealing with TMA appeals, and finally AL development events and conferences (which happen across the UK). A point was clearly emphasised: tutors have a lot of support; there are always people who can help.

Reflections

This is the second time that I have helped to run an online induction session for new associate lecturers (in they olden days, these used to be face to face sessions). The main difference between this session and the previous session was that the first session was split over two evenings, whereas this session was all in a single evening. My feeling is that we crammed in too much into this one session. Although we covered everything, one key thing was missing, and that was interactivity, and interactivity is important. I felt that there was an opportunity to really showcase how Adobe Connect could be used, and the density of all the materials made it difficult to have discussions.

Another thought is that although the induction resource was updated before its use, it does feel that it has aged and it requires updating. Since we last run the session, the university has introduced something called the group tuition policy, which almost demands a session of its own. I almost feel that there should be a series of induction sessions and not just the one. Perhaps this is what we need to do. 

Acknowledgements

I couldn’t have delivered this session without Richard, who did a brilliant job at not only delivering the session, but also making some really good decisions about the timing. He kept everything to time. Also, parts of this blog comes from a PowerPoint presentation which was created by someone, but I don’t know who that was! Thanks to whoever you are. I also acknowledge Mirabelle Walker’s work on correspondence tuition.

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Delivering excellent correspondence tuition quickly: Cambridge 2017

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Monday, 15 Jan 2018, 13:50

On Saturday 9 December, I facilitated a session at the Cambridge AL development conference that had the title: Delivering Excellent Correspondence Tuition Quickly: Is It Possible and How Do We Do It?

Here is a shortened version of the abstract that described the event:

Correspondence tuition takes a lot of time. Delivering excellent correspondence tuition is both an art and a challenge, but how can we try to deliver excellent correspondence quickly? This session is all about sharing experiences and uncovering correspondence tuition techniques to make things easier for ourselves. If you are a new tutor and would like to learn some useful tips and techniques, then do come along! If you are an experienced tutor and would like to share your experience with others, you will be especially welcome too! You will hopefully come away with an armoury of techniques that you can apply with your next TMA. An outcome of the session will be a useful resource that will be shared to everyone after the AL conference.

In some respects, this session trying to do two very important and seemingly opposing things: how to do excellent teaching as quickly as possible. I chose ‘speed’ as a focus since as a tutor I know how much time goes into preparing good correspondence tuition.

This blog post is intended to share a set of points that were created during the session; it is intended to the ‘that useful resource’ that might be useful for tutors.

Excellent correspondence tuition

  • TMA feedback should be, of course, useful!
  • Correspondence tuition should help students to move forward and to guide students towards improvements in their performance (and understanding)
  • Feedback should also guide students towards the next step of their studies.
  • Importantly, feedback should acknowledge what has been done well.
  • Correspondence tuition should include examples, potentially provide a concrete goal which students could aim for, it should be motivating and treat the student as a person. 
  • Comments on a TMA should provide explanations for the mark that has been given and also link back to learning outcomes that have been defined within a module; comments should have a purpose.
  • The tone that is used should be personal, conversational, engage with what a student has written and submitted, and offer encouragement.
  • It should help students to learn by broadening out or extending the context by applying existing knowledge.
  • For some modules, encourage students to use diagrams (which can be a way to efficiently share an understanding of key module concepts); some modules encourage the use of tables.
  • Enhance understanding of module materials by encouraging students to think about how module concepts relate to their own lives and their work.
  • Present feedforward (student guidance) in small increments; consider limiting advice to three things that can be improved or worked on.
  • When faced with a challenging TMA, suggest one thing that a student should continue to do for the next TMA.
  • Refer to forthcoming TMAs in the current TMA to show how assessments can be connected.
  • Refer student to skills for study website and other pages that might be helpful on their student home page.

Marking strategies

  • Take time to read through the tutor notes.
  • From a practical perspective, make sure that you have access to lots of tea.
  • Read through past TMAs as a guide.
  • Consider looking through all TMAs briefly to get an idea of the submissions.
  • Mark a good TMA first to build up confidence and understanding.
  • Return to students in batches and set student expectations in terms of when marks will be returned.

Biggest tips

Towards the end of the session, I asked everyone to share their biggest tips to a new tutor. This is (roughly) what everyone said:

  • Prepare a comment template which you can heavily customise for the needs of individual students.
  • Don’t agonise over individual marks, i.e. ‘should this get 3 marks or 4 marks?’; choose a mark (using your gut instinct, as informed by your knowledge of the module materials) and move on (since there are lots of marks to allocate!
  • Be friendly and approachable! 
  • Don’t get into the trap of spending 3 hours to mark every TMA; there lies madness.
  • Use a timer to see how long you’re spending on each script. 
  • Focus on three things that can be improved or developed.
  • Highlight important parts of scripts using green/yellow highlights.
  • Make sure that you spellcheck the PT3 summary.
  • Ask your mentor for advice.
  • Draw on a bank of handouts; sections can be copied into a script to provide feedback, or additional documents can be returned through the ETMA system.
  • Consider using a spreadsheet to keep track of student marks and your interaction with students.
  • Provide an action plan for students and offer a summary.
  • Print out a copy of the tutor notes so you have it to hand (and add your own comments to it!)
  • Provide references to the Good Study Guide book.
  • Ensure that correspondence tuition is always personalised to the needs of individual students. 

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AL development conference: Moller Centre, Cambridge, 2017

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The keynote speech for the Cambridge AL development conference was given by Olympian Gail Emms  (Wikipedia), who I understand is also an OU honorary graduate. Gail was introduced by Toby Scott-Hughes, head of ALSPD (I think that is his title!)

Gail set the tone of the conference by telling us all about her story; a journey from playing badminton in dusty sports halls, to winning an Olympic medal in Athens. Although Gail’s talk didn’t directly connect to academic ambitions, but her words certainly did connect to important themes that will be familiar to many students and tutors: the temptation to put difficult challenges to one side, the importance of practice, and the subject of failure. 

A point that I noted down was: ‘losing is where we learn the most’.  A personal reflection is what I can apply this to a teaching situation: we can learn more when a lesson goes wrong than a lesson that is perfectly planned and executed. This, of course, is linked to that familiar notion of the ‘comfort zone’.

STEM Faculty Session

The STEM AL development group had organised a series of AL development sessions that were designed for all members of the STEM faculty. The aim of the session was to give tutors an update about changes that were happening within the faculty and across the university. During this session, I played a small role in a STEM faculty session, helping to facilitate a discussion that may have been about the subject of retention. C&C Session. Other staff tutors played different roles; offering information and update, and facilitating different discussions. I remember that there was a lot of talk about, since the university is currently considering how to approach further restructuring.

Computing and Communication School Session

The next session I was playing a part in was the School of Computing and Communications workshop. This session was open to all tutors who teach on computing and IT modules, but other tutors who were interested in tutoring for modules that were designed by this school were (of course) also very welcome to attend.

Sue Truby introduced the session by sharing some diagrams that neatly summarised the various Computing and IT degree programmes whilst also sharing information about forthcoming curriculum updates.

One area that is of particular interest is the subject of Cybersecurity. The university has made a strategic decision to invest in this area. Further investment exposes the question: what can tutors do to increase their knowledge, understanding and skills in a particular area. Sharon Dawes and I told tutors about a number of different resources that may them to understand the principles of the subject. They key resources that were shared are summarised on a short cybersecurity post that can be found in this blog.

If I remember correctly, the final part of the session was all about how to best apply for different modules. Sharon had selected a series of application forms for associate lecturer posts that had been submitted by tutors, along with a copy of a module person specification. The tutors had to make a decision as to whether each candidate should be shortlisted for interview. I felt this final activity was really useful. It helped to make a really important point: make things as clear as possible for the recruiter by ensuring that applicants offer compelling evidence against each point on the person specification. 

Correspondence Tuition Session

The third session I was involved with had the title ‘delivering excellent correspondence tuition quickly’. I had previously delivered this session at the Leicester AL development conference and my overriding memory of that session was that although I ran a good session about what was meant by ‘excellent correspondence tuition’, I unfortunately ran out of time, which meant that I couldn’t explore the ‘quickly’ bit as much as I had hoped! I was certain that I would do better this time and not make the same mistake again.

This session attracted over twenty tutors and what struck me was that everyone was very willing to speak and contribute to the questions of ‘what do we mean by excellent correspondence tuition?’ and ‘how can we prepare correspondence tuition in a way that is efficient?’

One of the objectives of the session was to make a set of notes that I could share with our colleagues in ALSPD. During the discussions, I made use of a flip char and have attempted to summarise all contributions in a blog post that follows this one. The blog tag ‘correspondence tuition’ may also be useful, offering a number of useful resources.

Reflections

A personal reflection is that different parts of the conference had a very different tone. I found the STEM session to have a slightly negative tone, and one of the reasons might be due to the messages that we were sharing from the university are, in themselves, quite challenging. 

Everyone in the university has been subjected to a lot of changes; regional centres have closed, the group tuition policy has been introduced, higher fees has caused changes to the student population, and technology has changed too. Given all these changes, the message that there are going to be further changes perhaps (understandably) didn’t go down too well. One of our job as staff tutors and associate lecturer developers is to find ways to help associate lecturers understand and work with those changes. Clearly there is a lot more that we need to do to make things easier.

I found the school session fun and helpful. AL development conferences always used to be opportunities to allow staff tutors meet with the tutors that they support and line manage; the school session was clearly one of the highlights. Whilst the STEM session felt a little abstract and broad, the school session had a real positive sense of community about it. Tutors were sharing subject specific practice tips with each other, and the emphasis on the degree programmes helped tutors to understand how the module that they taught related to other modules.

My personal highlight of the conference was the session on correspondence tuition. Correspondence tuition sounds like a very dry (but important) topic, but this session was anything but. Everyone in the room seemed to have opinions; experienced tutors were sharing their experiences with tutors who had just joined the university three months earlier. An achievement was that I didn’t run out of time; there was enough time to talk about not just what is meant by correspondence tuition and to share tips about how to perform marking efficiently. A useful bit of feedback that I received was that it was helpful to share something about teaching research that had been performed into the subject. This is something that I will certainly take on board when I work on other presentations in the future.

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Windsor AL staff development conference

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Wednesday, 25 Oct 2017, 11:51

In June 2017 I attended the Heathrow and Windsor staff development event. Like other events that are run by the AL support and professional development (ALSPD) team, this was a residential event, which meant an overnight stay. The evening comprised of a meal and an opportunity to network with fellow associate lecturers and to participate in a number of activities that allowed us to share practice.

Overview

The main conference day comprised of a faculty specific sessions followed by two cross-faculty AL development sessions that everyone could choose from. There appeared to be a good mix of presentations, which included a talk about professional recognition (which relate to fellowship of the Higher Education Academy), updates about a new teaching tool called Adobe Connect, and how to apply for new associate lecturer vacancies.

The faculty session began with a short talk about a professional development initiative called By ALs For ALs (which I hope to blog about later at some point). This was followed by a breakout into different rooms depending upon the ‘schools’ that tutors were affiliated to.

I led the School of Computing and Communications session, where I shared a number of updates (thanks to slides that were prepared by the head of school). Key points included plans for the updates to the Group Tuition Policy, and the recruitment for new modules. In my school, two new modules are: TM111 and TM112, which are new introduction to computing modules, replacing a larger 60 point module.

Workshop: delivering excellent correspondence tuition quickly

In the afternoon, I facilitated two cross faculty workshop sessions which had the title: Delivering excellent correspondence tuition quickly: is it possible and how do we do it? This session had a big and deliberately provocative title, and relates to a subject that is really important to me: I’m very mindful of the importance of delivering effective correspondence tuition.

Here is the abstract of the session: Correspondence tuition takes a lot of time. Delivering excellent correspondence tuition is both an art and a challenge, but how we can try to deliver excellent correspondence quickly? This session is open to anyone in any faculty and is all about sharing experiences and uncovering correspondence tuition techniques to make things easier for ourselves. If you are a new tutor and would like to learn some useful tips and techniques, then do come along! If you are an experienced tutor and would like to share your experience with others, you will be especially welcome too! You will hopefully come away with an armoury of techniques that you can apply with your next TMA. An outcome of the session will be a useful resource that will be shared to everyone after the AL conference.

To prepare for the session, I wrote a PowerPoint presentation. I also designed the session to be as interactive as possible since I felt that I wouldn’t have all of the answers, and that it was important to listen to the views of tutors. To give a feel for the session, here is a quick summary of all the slides that I had prepared.

Summary of session presentation

After a quick introduction, I asked a series of questions to elicit thoughts about how to define excellent correspondence:  What do you think is important? What should be included? What tone should you adopt? What really matters in your subject or module? Where does feedforward go?, and Where does feedback go?

Next up was a slide that described some research by a former colleague called Mirabelle Walker, who wrote a paper entitled ‘An investigation into written comments on assignments: do students find them usable?’ This paper was an OU study which conducted an analysis of over 3000 comments on 106 assignments in 3 modules. Different comment types were identified: content, skills development, motivating (and demotivating!), mention of future study, references to resources.

Some research

A key factor was depth of comments: indication of a problem, correction of a problem, correction along with an explanation. .Motivating comments offered identification, amplification relating to the praise, explanation as to why something is good. In terms of the analysis, these came out as indication (33.3%), amplication (56.1%), explanation (10.6%). Another type of comment was skills development comments, where were analysed as follows: indication (7.7%), correction (78.8%), explanation (13.5%)

A key point that I had on the slide was the comments aimed to bridge gaps of understanding, i.e. they are intended to move things along. I also posed a question to everyone: is there anything that your module team can help with? The implication of this is: if there is something that a tutor think that a module team can help with, then it is really important to get in touch and to let them know.

Questions

For the next bit of the slide, I presented a set of questions across two slides. The first slide had the title: How do you do your correspondence teaching? The questions were: Where do you do your marking? What do you do before you start? Do you have a routine? If so, what is it? Do you have a strategy or an approach?, and What do you tell your students?

The second slide had the title: Doing things quickly… or using time efficiently. It had three key questions: (1) What would be your biggest tip for a new tutor? (2) What would be your biggest tip for a fellow tutor? (3) What would you put in a resource for a tutor?

Tips

Towards the end of the session, I shared set of eleven personal marking tips and opinions. The idea of sharing these personal views was to consolidate all the discussions; the tips and any differences in opinions about them could facilitate further discussions. 

My marking tips were: (1) check on the tutor forum to see what other tutors are saying, and whether other tutors have any issues with the scripts that students have submitted, (2) create a TMA summary template using comments that have been given to a student as a part of an earlier TMA, similarly (3) take time to look at the previous TMA (PT3) summaries. (4) to ensure consistency, mark a question at a time (unless your module assessment structure suggests it might be easier doing something different) (5) use a computer that has multiple screens; this way you can see different views of the work more easily. (6) don’t agonise over individual marks; use your marking instincts and commit to something; you’ll invariably be right.(7) when giving feedback, explain why things are assessed (what is it assessing) (8) offer pointers beyond boundaries of the module; this may help students to understand the assessment structure. (9) Proactively tell students how marking are going either by email, or by a forum, or both! (10) Always praise effort, not the score. And finally, (11) if it is apparent that a student is having real problems, you can always recommend running a special session.

Discussion summary

During each of the two workshops, I captured some of the key discussion points by making notes on a flipchart. What follows is a brief summary of some of the main points captured from each of the two groups.

Group one: excellent correspondence tuition can mean timeliness, i.e. returning things quickly so the students can benefit from the feedback. Sign posting is considered to be important, as is being specific. It is important to acknowledge effort, and to stretch students. It is also important to manage their expectations. 

An interesting approach is to ask them leading questions, or to present a series of questions. It is useful for tutor to do some monitoring (to help with module quality control). Feedback should be personalised, and should be concise and precise. Use positive language. Other thoughts included defining what is meant by learning success, or setting a learning goal for the future. Finally, use the KISS principle, which means: keep it simple. Also use a ‘feedback sandwich approach’ that emphasises the positive.

Group two: the feedback should be personalised for the needs of students, so it can help them to progress. Feedback should be detailed, but not too detailed. It is also (of course) important that tutors follow the marking notes (and refer to the learning outcomes) that have been provided by the module team. Offer students some priorities in terms of things to work on. As well as be encouraging, give students three (positive) points of advice, and offer signposts to the things that they can do to improve.

Also, do contact the students if we need to. Offer pointers to encourage them to look forward to different parts of a module and explain how the different parts are connected together. In terms of tone, emphasise what needs to be done to move forward. Be professional, and also do comment on study skills, such as referencing. Explain module ideas and correct terminology. Offer feedforward comments with reference to the final assessment and accompanying learning outcomes.

The second group also had some very practical suggestions: tutors should encourage students to become familiar with the assignment submission process by submitting a dummy eTMA. Another point was about the use of discussion forums to share information (and, perhaps, even notes that relate to the module). 

Reflections

There was a lot of discussion that took place during both of the two workshop sessions that I facilitated. These notes are drawn from the plenary sessions that I ran. Another thought is that the points that I have presented here are, of course, influenced by my own experiences as a tutor. Different tutors at the same sessions may have come away with a very different view about what was discussed, and that is something that is okay: every time we go to one of these professional development sessions, invariably we pick up something new.

The biggest thing that I have, personally, taken away from the session is the thought of: ‘offer the students three key points when you give them feedback; offering more than three points has the risk of overloading them’. This comment relates to the assessment summaries which are used to offer feed-forward guidance, rather than feedback which is directly left on a student’s script. This is a thought that I have thoroughly taken on board within my own practice as a tutor on a Computing and IT project module.

I came away with another thought: I felt that the use of Mirabelle’s research really helped to contextualise and explain our academic practice. This got me thinking: perhaps I could do a literature review of research that relates to correspondence tuition. Whilst I certainly could do that (I’ve made a note!), there are other things that I need to get on with. One of those things is a summary of another professional development event that was held in Leeds.

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South East region: Associate Lecturer Development Conference, March 2015

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On 2 March I went to the South East region associate lecturer development conference.  Although the regional office has been closed, it still exists as an important administrative unit within the university.  This time, the conference was held at The River Centre, in Tonbridge, which was a conference venue I had never been to before. 

This blog post aims to summarise the different sessions that I attended during the day, and has been written using notes that I made during the day.  I hope it is useful for those who came along to the event, and other colleagues within the university who might be seeking ideas for their own sessions.

A collaborative approach to teaching a level 1 module

The conference had two workshops; a morning workshop and an afternoon workshop.  The first workshop I went to was by Bill Adler, who tutors on L161 Exploring Languages and Cultures.  The aim of the workshop was just to share some experience of teaching as collaboration. 

L161is a compulsory level 1 (first year equivalent) language studies module that addresses intercultural skills and awareness.  It consists of four different books (one for each block) and a module web site.  Approximately one thousand students at any one time might be studying the module.  Interestingly, the module makes extensive use of on-line forums.  To make this work, tutors are allocated to a number of clusters (which is an idea which immediately made me think of the group tuition policy).  The reason for this is that one thousand students contributing to a single group of discussion forums is clearly too many; some students could be overwhelmed with posts.  A cluster that comprises of around 250 students is likely to be a lot more manageable, and there’s always something that is going on to make it sufficiently interesting.

Bill talked us through two different activities that can take place through his module.  The first was an autobiography of intercultural encounters (Council of Europe website).  We gave this a go, and this led to a reflection about our own cultural identity and what it meant.

The second was how to develop reading skills in a foreign language.  A challenge with this module is that everyone might be learning a different language (you might have students studying French, Spanish, or German, for instance).  A way around this was to choose and activity and a language that isn’t likely to be too familiar to students who are taking the module.  Our challenge (which we accepted) was to try our best to decipher a menu that was written in Welsh, without knowing anything about the language.  After having a go, we swapped strategies, and we discovered that, actually, we could figure out quite a lot!  Different participants used different strategies.

During the session, I made a couple of other notes.  One note was that: different students mean different backgrounds, which mean different skills and perspectives.  Diversity creates richness, and this is a point that is reflected in the module. 

Another note that I made was about the concept of peer monitoring.  Since tutors are working in clusters, there was an opportunity to allow tutors to work more closely together with each other.

The closing activity was to reflect on our own collaborative practice.  I remember the point that working together isn’t too difficult, but true in-depth collaboration takes time to facilitate and develop, since you have to know and trust the other people who you’re working with.

Also, collaboration can mean the sharing of materials.  If one tutor is particularly busy, another one can help to share the load. The broad point of the session was: there are quite a few opportunities for tutor collaboration.  It is, however, important that the staff tutor (or line manager) and module team work together to facilitate that collaboration.

Yet again on correspondence tuition: how do we teach through marking?

Correspondence is a perennial subject in AL development conferences, but I haven’t been to a session about it for quite a while.  In fact, the last one I went to could have been at an event for design ALs over two years ago.

This session was facilitated by Vicky Roupa, who spoke about the research that she carried out as a part of her OpenPAD project.  OpenPAD is a university ‘professional academic development’ programme, and leads to fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. 

Vicky mentioned the Supporting Open Learners reader, a book that I remember reading when I first joined the university.  Vicky made the point that correspondence tuition is, of course, the main form of teaching.  Other points that I noted was that it was important to engage in a dialogue with the student, and that correspondence tuition is an action that is student led.

We were asked a number of questions: what do we teach?  How do we encourage students to engage?  How do we develop writing so it becomes a major key to learning?

An important point was that students don’t always read (or, indeed, know about) the correspondence teaching that they have been given.  Also, students might not understand the feedback that they have been given, or be able to use the guidance.

To try to engage students, one approach is to choose the most important points to focus on.  Our challenge is to choose which comments are best placed to move a student along.  One other tip was to add links to useful resources within the script comments, such as a link to certain sections in the Skills for Study website.

Another point was that receiving feedback from a tutor can be sometimes tough and involves lots of different emotions.  Vicky’s research was all about trying to gather ‘feedback on feedback’.  Her point is that tutors often mark assignments, return them to students, and then never hear back from them.  Closing the feedback loop can have the potential of helping a tutor to learn more about how to improve their teaching practice.  This was connected to an earlier project (which was mentioned at an earlier South East conference), where students are encouraged to talk through their views about feedback.  Information about this project is available from the Languages Open Resource Online repository.

Towards the end of the session, I made a few final notes (and questions) which might resonate with fellow tutors.  These were: ‘are we assessing or are we teaching?’ (it does depend on the design of the module) and ‘avoid judging too much and too powerfully’ (so we can engage in a meaningful dialog with students).

Reflections

This AL development conference seemed to be smaller than other that I’ve been to.   For some reason, the autumn events seem to be a whole lot busier than the spring events.  I would have (personally) liked to have gone to one more session, to see what else was going on, but I do appreciate that timing is always going to be a challenge (tutors, of course, give up a lot of their Saturdays already!)

The biggest take away points of the day came from interactions with the other tutors in the sessions.  I found the activity in the morning session interesting (and fun!), and found the sharing of views about correspondence tuition useful and reassuring.

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