On 20 July 23 I attended a short one hour seminar that was all about inclusive student engagement in level 1 modules. The seminar had the subtitle: “a supportive framework designed by current/recent students”. The session was prepared and presented by Catriona Bergman, Olivia Brennan, Norain Imtiaz and Owen Lucas, who were also OU student virtual interns.
The seminar had a bit which shared their framework, followed by a discussion activity. I’ll begin by sharing an abridged version of the framework, and then I’ll go on to sharing a couple of points from the discussion, then concluding with a set of reflections.
If I understood this correctly, their framework shared a number of themes that relate to the student/tutor relationship. There are six key points, each of which was complemented by a suggestion, or a prompt. For brevity, I’ve edited these into a form that works with my own practice.
- Addressing the power dynamic: address the difference in status between tutors and students. What do you do to encourage students to reach out to gain support?
- Consistency of communication: regular support and timely responses. How often do you communicate with your students?
- Proactive communication: tutors taking the initiative to interact with students. Do you contact students before their assignments are submitted?
- Humanising tutors: providing an opportunity to build a relationship. Do you feel comfortable in sharing your own personal experiences?
- Assessing communication and support needs: in the opening letter encourage disclosure. What opportunities are there for you to discuss individualised study needs with students?
Tutor and students are unknown to each other: a two-way relationship is important. What opportunities are there for icebreaking activities for students and tutors to get to know one another?
The Hidden Curriculum
There was another useful slide during the first section which was all about the notion of the hidden curriculum. I have come across the idea through the notion of academic literacies. Put another way, this is all about knowing the hidden conventions that relate to study, a discipline, and academic communication.
- Students might not have necessary skills from their earlier education experience. Tutors can direct students to resources that can be used to develop skills (e.g. numeracy, academic writing skills, critical thinking, IT literacy, etc.).
- Encourage students to reflect on the skills they may need to develop, and provide (or signpost students to) appropriate resources.
- Encourage development of TMA writing skills and inform students about the importance of good academic conduct.
- Encourage students to develop their own study habits to support their learning, and embed this within tutorial and one-to-one sessions. Consider the environment in which study takes place.
- For the module that you are tutoring, highlight, discuss and critique ideas and practices that can contribute to the hidden curriculum.
- Ensure students are aware of the different avenues that could be followed to gain support (from the tutor, from the module forums, or from the student support team).
Breakout rooms: what do you share, what don’t you tell them?
It was onto a breakout room discussion, where we were asked what we share with our students, and whether we share any of our own vulnerabilities. The intent behind this was to think about the extent to we may disclose something about ourselves, to engender trust and to demonstrate empathy.
Rather than focussing on sharing of vulnerabilities, the group I was assigned to primarily discussed what information we might disclose to students when we contact them for the very first time. Some key points to share include: our qualifications, whether we have been a tutor on the module before, and something about where we are based in the country. There was also some discussion about the importance of tone, and the phrase ‘professional informality’ was shared.
I felt this session offered me some reassurance that I have been doing (roughly) the right thing. One way to formalise some of the points mentioned in the framework would be to devise some form of communication plan. This might mean a summary of what is sent to students and when. It is, of course, important to be aware of what module teams are doing, since they may well have their own communication plan, and sets of reminders and messages scheduled.
I was drawn to the session due to the mention of inclusive engagement, since I didn’t really know what this was, or how to describe it. I found it interesting that the focus lies on facilitating inclusive engagement through sharing, and putting oneself, and sharing aspects of one’s identity to others. The aim of doing this is, of course, to attempt to remove potentially perceived barriers, such as power differences between tutors and students.
Reflecting on this further, I have certainly disclosed more personal information. When tutoring on a module about accessible online learning, I have, for example, disclosed a hidden disability. My view is that context is always really important, whether context relates to the subject, or the tutor-student relationship.
Many thanks to the AP student virtual interns who facilitated the session and shared their framework. I hope that the version that appears in this blog matches with its original aims and intentions.