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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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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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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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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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