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Patrick Andrews

Online tutorials from a tutor's perspective

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Saturday, 9 Dec 2023, 12:10

As a tutor, it is very helpful to have responses from students during the tutorial.

A few students in recent tutorials have put on their cameras and it is good to see them.  Many students say how my having my camera on helps them to feel more part of the group and reminds them that they are being engaged with in real time.  However, I recognise that there are good reasons why some students might not want their cameras on.

It is good to hear students' voices, at least at the beginning of the tutorial and I do think this also makes everyone feel that we are involved in a collective endeavour.  However, much academic work is done in a written format and use of the text chat option seems reasonable for many tutorials.  It is also quite advantageous in that many people can post at the same time.  It is helpful if students write messages like "This is helpful/I don't understand/I get this/ How is this relevant" in the chat box so I can know their reactions and what they think they are learning.

What can be difficult is to teach with is when students do not give any kind of feedback/response during a tutorial.  This means that the tutor is not clear whether the students are following or whether what is being discussed is too basic.  Just a few comments in the text box or empjis are much appreciated by tutors.

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Patrick Andrews

Tutors discussing what makes a good tutorial

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 23 May 2023, 14:14

There have been quite heated discussions on OU tutor forums this week about what makes a good tutorial.

Several tutors feel that face to face tutorials are really best and any online tutorial is second best.  Others state that online tutorials are here and that the advantages of convenience are vital for students (and tutors) who are often very busy with other work.

I had one face to face class recently and it was good to meet students.  I also think they very much valued being able to meet each other.  The effect of knowing that they are engaged in the same course and have the same hopes, challenges, desires etc could be very helpful for maintaining their interest in the course.

Online tutorials can also help students to get to know each other and see how they are individuals working with other people who are different but see some aspects in common.  For example, yesterday, I had a tutorial with one student in the UK and another in Dubai.  We established that they both worked in the broad area of the "caring professions" and this helped them to bond. 

For me, a problem arises when students attend but do not participate.  This means that the tutorial becomes rather similar to the rest of the students' experience of the module.  They may be mentally interacting with the content of the module but they are not engaging with other students or enabling the tutor or fellow students to see how they are interpreting the module material and therefore we cannot give feedback.


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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

Adobe Connect tutorials

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 13 Oct 2022, 19:04

I had my first two tutorials of the academic year yesterday.  It was obviously early in the course and I could not expect the students to know much of the course content so developing a good rapport was probably the main aim.

One seemed to do this better than the other.  In one tutorial, very few were prepared to use their microphones and this led to a slightly stilted tutorial.  It was still useful but it did not really help students to break down barriers and think of how they can support each other.

The other seemed livelier as students turned their microphones on and we were able to speak more naturally.  Unfortunately, my slides did not load (there was no problem with that in the other tutorial) which meant it flowed less smoothly than it might have done.

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Patrick Andrews

Use of video in online tutorials

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When we first started using online tutorials (Elluminate), advice was to avoid the use of webcams because the quality was not good enough.  However, I recently saw an OU document recommending the use of webcams by the tutor and I have been switching it on recently.  Student response seems to be quite favourable with comments like "It is good to put a face to the name and voice", which slightly surprised me as most of the time I focus on the whiteboard, slides and chat.  However, if it makes a difference to how students feel about the experience, I am very happy to have my webcam on.

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Patrick Andrews

Intensity and online tutorials

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Last Saturday, I had two online tutorials and was again struck by how intense they seem to be compared to face to face teaching.  There were several instances that struck me in this regard.

In the first tutorial, there were originally three students.  One suddenly disappeared and I was left wondering why that was.  She has not written since to explain so I am left slightly mystified.  Did she have technical problems?  If so, why not write to explain?  Did she think she was not getting what she wanted? 

Then during the rest of the tutorial, there were two students.  I know one quite well as he is in my tutor group and we have met face to face.  This means I feel comfortable pitching content to his level and interests.  We can refer back to previous conversations, his TGF contributions and assignments.  The other student was unknown to me which means I was having to react to any clues I could obtain about whether what I was doing was too quick/slow, complex/simple and my judgements were not helped by the way she was keener to use the textbox facility than speak.  She was also influenced by the way her family was in the room and sometimes this would presumably have affected her concentration.  My student was very sensitive to the dynamics and was keen to not dominate and eventually, it seemed like there was useful discussion and learning taking place.

The group for the afternoon tutorial was larger and this in some ways led to even greater diversity.  Three students only used text box chat and one of these hardly even used that and so I have no idea whether she obtained anything useful from the tutorial as I have no clue about her starting level and level of understanding of what we did.  However, the three who did use the microphones were engaged. I had not met any of the students before but one was in my tutor group so I did know something about her.  It seemed like we were able to do work where the students discussed issues in quite an exploratory way.  There was use of speech and text boxes as well as the drawing tool in the whiteboard so there was a rich multimodal communication.

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Patrick Andrews

Associate Lecturer Assembly

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 23 Nov 2018, 10:03

I have been spending the day at the Associate Lecturer Assembly.

There was a brief talk by Mary Keller, the Acting Vice Chancellor, followed by a more extended discussion.  She was persuasive and quite inspiring in some ways.  She seems very committed to the vision of the Open University making a difference to students’ lives.  She also seems flexible about ways of working, including the continuance of face to face as well as online tuition.  I certainly feel more optimistic about the OU’s future than under the previous VC.

We were also updated on the prospect of an AL contract.  There has been discussion of the for nearly two decades but it now looks more likely than at any previous time.  This should make the position of tutors more secure.

In the afternoon, there was an interesting talk by Cath Brown, President of the Open University Students Association.  We discussed the issue of whether we thought we should encourage students to use microphones rather than text chat in online tutorials.  I tend to think it should depend on context but the widespread use of text chat in online tutorials can be useful but is very tiring for the tutor if they need to speak and monitor and in these cases, tutorials should be kept to one hour in length.

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Patrick Andrews

A new record for commitment

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I am impressed by the dedication and commitment of many students and I was struck by one particular example yesterday.  I had a tutorial yesterday evening and all the students who attended were very engaged and this is impressive in itself as they have busy lives and online tutorials are useful but not always easy ways for students to study as they require a great deal of concentration.  One student joined the tutorial from China and he said it was 3 am there and he had especially set his alarm to wake up for it.  He only used the textbox function rather than the microphone as his wife was sleeping in the next room (his choice seemed reasonable in the circumstances).  He made a very useful contribution despite having only just woken up.

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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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