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.