A forum is not a tutorial, yet it aspires to be so.
The tutor is afforded no more privileges than any other contributor, democratic, but hardly giving them the attributes or affordances of the 'chair.' (Although I’m sure they have some useful control and buttons behind the scenes!)
A tutorial works best one-to-one (like therapy), face-to-face, or in a small group, say six at most, discussing in an synchronous environment.
(James Turner, Policy Director at the Sutton Trust suggested supplementary tutoring of school students one-to-one was most common, two-to-one worked even better because of the collaboratory experience. BBC Radio 4 10.00 Tuesday 7th September 2010, Accessed again 16.00 Saturday 12th September 2010)
You get a cue from the tutor to speak or contribute while body language and human politeness typically results in each person making contributions. Often the person who says nothing for long spells has the most insightful contribution because they have been listening.
I respect the person who says nothing the most – they have the most to say.
Twelve or more is a class. This is an e-classroom.
Easy to define as such, just consider the numbers.
I have taught classes of forty+ in secondary schools and taken ‘classes’ of sixty (with assistance) in an eight lane swimming pool. Numbers mean something, one to one is perfection, with two to one you lose nothing (and academics suggest you probably gain).
Moving up from this ... a tutor group in the real world might be six.
No surprises when things don’t work so well, whatever the affordances, or excuses of asynchronous learning/messaging when there are groups of twelve or more.
Asynchronous forums are not a listening environment, nor due to the limitations of an OU Forums affordances and attributes does in foster the kind of discussion you'd have in real life.
A suggested improvement would be:
1) Put the tutor in the chair and have this position reflected in the layout of and the way message 'tumble' into the forum.
2) Compress or concertina all messages by an individual so that the 'weight' of their message, either the frequency of contribution or length is not given prominence. i.e. the short, infrequent post has equal weight with the more verbose or frequent contribution. This mimics real life.
3) To make all things equal the images files and silhouettes are reduced in size, to a pinpoint if necessary. Their only relevance is to identify who is speaking or who spoke, in which case our names would do. I’d just as happily pick a character icon from the Monopoly or Cludo, my gender, face, mood at the time of the picture etc: are not only irrelevant but they are probably counter to my usual stern disposition.
4) Use something like Harvard's 'Rotisserie' system, deploy games and other events tactically i.e hosts/tutors and other strategically deployed postgraduate and/or PhD students are invited in from time to time to make a contribution.
Some suggestions. Some ideas.