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Understanding the new tutor contract: C&C working groups

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Sunday, 18 Apr 2021, 15:06

The way in which associate lecturers are employed by the university is changing.

Tutors will be moving from a situation where they are employed on a ‘per module’ basis to a new type of contract where they are employed on a permanent basis.

The ‘per module’ contract currently lasts for the length of a module, which might be anything between 6 and 10 years (depending on the subject, and whether a module presentation is extended). When a module presentation comes to an end (and it is replaced by a new module) tutors have to reapply and be re-interviewed. All this takes a lot of time. 

A central tenet of the new contract is the idea of what tutors may be qualified to teach rather than a currently narrow definition of what they have specifically applied to teach. The new contract offers tutors increased security whilst also potentially providing greater flexibility for both the university and the university’s associate lecturers.

A really important question that needs to answered is: how might all this work? 

Unfortunately, such a simple question doesn’t have a simple answer. 

To help answer this question, a group of staff tutors in the School of Computing and Communications decided to create a set of small working groups to try to unpick the challenges of working with the new tutor contract. 

By way of further context, the role of ‘staff tutor’ refers to someone who will be looking after or line managing an associate lecturer. They will also be responsible for carrying out essential tasks, such as allocating workload (deciding which tutor carry out which tutoring task), running appraisals, planning tutorials and so on.

The informal working groups that were set up had the titles: organisation (how staff tutors should organise themselves to solve the problem), data and information (what staff tutors need to make decisions), managing supply and demand (what kind of reports about tutors or students are needed to help with planning), and culture (broader questions about who may have to be involved, and what needs to be done to make everything work). 

This document summarises some of the discussions that have emerged from all these groups. An important point is: we don’t have any answers, but the groups have helped us to understand more about some of the things that need to be understood, and some of the issues that need to be resolved.

Organisation

This working group was charged with understanding how staff tutors might practically organise themselves to make things work. 

At its most basic level, each tutor will have a percentage FTE (full time equivalent) which relates to the number of hours they are expected to work in a year. Staff tutor will have the task of ensuring that tutors are allocated work (and the work be different types of task) and they must also ensure that they are allocated the right amount of work.

Staff tutors have to manage dynamic situations: student numbers fluctuate between different years; sometimes they will be higher, sometimes they will be lower. Sometimes tutors resign, or retire, and sometimes they have to take time off due to illness.

An important question that staff tutors need to ask themselves are: how many people do you (generally) have to speak with to solve these kinds of problems, if you are dealing with a curriculum area? There needs to be a way to keep a track of available capacity (in terms of teaching resources or hours that can be allocated): how will staff tutors be able to do this?

To make everything work, the relationships between the staff tutors and the tutors will be really important. Also, continuity and consistency between years and presentations is also going to be important. There needs to be a way to keep records of who has been doing what, and over what period.

There’s an important question of how staff tutors might organise themselves to ensure that the communications that they have to be involved with is manageable. Should they organise themselves in terms of curriculum, or perhaps in terms of geography? One thought is to try to solve the general problem and then deal with exception cases. In the School of Computing and Communications, this might be the staff tutors who look after postgrad modules, or those who manage project modules. 

Data and Information

This group asked four key questions: (1) What information/data will we need to support the tasks we’ve identified? (2) What format do we need the data in? (3) When do we need the data?, and (4) What data is likely to be available?

In terms of the first question, what information and data is needed, this was split into three further groups: information about associate lecturers (qualifications, their full time equivalent, current workload tasks, desired FTE, areas of expertise, interest in additional duties, and recording of CPD), information about modules (who the current tutors are, what the predictions for the next presentation are) and finally, which tutors are available to complete certain tasks (and whether there was information that could help with the decision making about who to select, and in what order.

Regarding the question of ‘what format do we need the data in?’ a useful suggestion was the idea of a ‘school dashboard’ that could provide an overview of whether there are any recruitment, capacity or allocation issues. A school dashboard might also offer a summary of the CPD status of tutors. Perhaps there might also be a ‘cluster dashboard’ for staff tutors too.

As for when we need the data and information, there were a number of suggestions: a year in advance of the tutor student allocation, and in anticipation of any strategic changes to a programme, such as: when a module comes to an end, a new module starts, a new programme starts, or any other planned changes to a programme.

There is one specific example that is worth sharing.  The School of Computing and Communications has recently introduced a new cyber security programme. To plan for its introduction, it would be necessary to find out whether there are sufficient tutors with sufficient skills to tutor those modules. The accuracy of information is fundamental to long term strategic decisions about tutor capacity, as well as the per-presentation decision making and work allocation that staff tutors need to perform.

Managing Supply and Demand

The supply and demand group picks up from where the data and information group finishes. This group was asked to explore the management of available AL capacity to meet changing student demand and needs.  

Staff tutors emphasised the needs for a more robust and reliable student registration forecasting processes. An interesting suggestion was that any system could closely monitor the numbers of students who start level 1 modules, with a view to tracking how they move onto levels 2 and 3. There should ideally be a theoretical capacity buffer which could mitigate against potentially changing and challenging situations.

The problem could be understood in terms of pools: a supply pool (the available ALs), and the demand pool (students).

The allocation of work could be carried out in a number of steps, beginning with looking for the number of tutors needed and checking of skills that the tutors currently have (and facilitating staff development if necessary). This would be followed with allocation of long-term work, such as asking a tutor to teach on a a module (and allocating a number of students that matches with their FTE preference). If there was any spare FTE capacity, then additional duties (such as monitoring) could be allocated.

Another subject the supply and demand group explored was the issue of tutor recruitment. Under the new contract, a knowledge-based approach, based on groupings of modules or subject areas would be needed. A more detailed person specification would need to be created that goes above and beyond what is described in the person specifications for individual modules. All this would have to be negotiated by the union, include colleagues in AL services (who currently help to run the AL recruitment processes) and colleagues in people services.

Staff tutors can only do their job successfully if they are provided with accurate information. Colleagues from this group emphasised the need to identify trends. This means that staff tutors need to have accurate forecasting to ensure that their pool of associate lecturers (the supply side) is developed and supported as effectively as possible.

One of the conclusions from this group takes us directly to the discussions of the final group, the culture and change group: “for the long term it will also be essential to implement structural changes to our appointment, induction, training, support and staff development processes “

Culture and Change

This final group were asked to explore the extent to changes (particularly in terms of institutional culture and practices) that would need to be adopted (or adapted) to facilitate the implementation of the new tutor contract.

Put simply, the new tutor contract represents an inversion of how things are currently managed. At the moment, tutors are responsible for managing their own workload and their own continuing professional development. 

Under the terms of the new contract, it will be the staff tutors who will be responsible for the management of the workload of the tutors, and the staff tutors will be responsible for identify gaps in skills and capabilities and working with tutors to provide professional development to ensure that school (and university) objectives are met.

The relationship between the tutor and the staff tutors is going to change. Colleagues from this group explain the challenge quite succinctly: “we are moving from a volunteering for jobs situation to one in which we tell people what to do. So, the issue is what are the consequences when an AL says no! In this scenario, there is both a task issue, and a people-management issue.” The point here is that the role of the staff tutor will be changing. To facilitate that change it is also going to be important to consider what training and professional development needs to be carried out to enable staff tutors to comfortably complete their new job.

Like the previous group, this group discussed the subject of recruitment. It began to consider some scenarios which staff tutors may have to deal with, such as local issues such as last minute closure of tutorial venues, or surge in registration for certain modules.

Although staff tutors currently work in a collegiate and collaborative way, to make things work under the terms of the new contract, the extent of this collegiality may have to increase. Information about tutor capacity and tutor intentions will need to be shared between different staff tutors. Staff tutors may need to be organised in groups to make sure this information sharing is carried out efficiently.

It is also important to recognised that the change to the new terms of the contract will also impact on other key groups of staff; most significantly AL services (who have a key role in ensuring that groups are continued to be created), central academics, and the examinations teams.

Conclusions

The following points can be concluded from these discussions:

  1. Information is going to be fundamental to the implementation of the new tutor contract; information systems are needed.
  2. The information requirements of a system that will support the storage and discovery of information need to be established.
  3. Even if an information system is provided and developed, staff tutor communities across the university need to be empowered to make their own decisions about how to best organise themselves to facilitate collaboration with each other to ensure that workload is allocated and tutors are supported.
  4. The introduction of the new tutor contract will affect the roles of many staff groups in addition to staff tutors, such as: AL services, central academics, examinations, IT, and people services.
  5. All these stakeholder groups need to be engaged with the change, to gather requirements, and to facilitate understanding of those changes for the new tutor contract to be implemented.
  6. There needs to be a way to recruit new associate lecturers.
  7. There needs to be the definition of robust procedures that staff tutors can apply to resolve problems when they arise. 

Disclaimers

This summary doesn’t represent an officially negotiated or agreed position; it presents views that are entirely separate from any views held by university management or the union. This document emerged from discussions by staff tutor colleagues within the school of Computing and Communications who were asking the fundamental question: what do we have to do to make the new tutor contract work?

It is really important to recognise that different parts of the university may be very different to each other, particularly in terms of curriculum. In Computing and Communications the curriculum aligns neatly with the school, whereas in other parts of the university, some tutors might tutor on modules in different schools and in different faculties. This means that colleagues from different parts of the university may well have different requirements.

Acknowledgements

A significant number of staff tutors in C&C have played a role in these different working groups.  The organisation group was led by Matt Walkley and the contributors were Matthew Nelson and Mark Slaymaker. The data and information group was jointly led by David McDade and Anthony Johnston, with contributions from Sharon Dawes and Chris Douce. The supply and demand group was led and facilitated by Ray Corrigan with important contributions from Christine Gardner, Chris Thomson and Marina Carter. Finally, the culture change group was led by Steve Walker, with contributions from Alexis Lansbury, Andy Reed and Andy Hollyhead. This summary was compiled by Chris Douce from notes made during a presentation by all group leaders at regular C&C staff tutor meeting. 

Further information

This summary is related to an earlier event: New AL contract: Requirements workshop and C&C discussion, which took place in January 2019. Another meeting took place in early 2020.

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New AL contract: Requirements workshop and C&C discussion

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Sunday, 18 Apr 2021, 15:07

This post is a quick summary of a requirements workshop that took place at the Manchester student support and resource centre (SRSC) towards the end of January 2019. Also, at the end of his blog post is a short summary of a discussion and presentation that took place at the School of Computing and Communications away day, that took place in February.

The January event was originally called a ‘participatory design workshop’, but if the truth is told, we didn’t actually get as far as doing any significant design; we had way too much to talk about. The aim of this workshop was to figure out a couple of things: 

  1. to learn more about how we might gather requirements about an AL workload management system, and 
  2. to try to gather some of those requirements.  

Since this was the first requirements gathering event (that I know of), arguably the first point was the more important of the two objectives.

One of the things that I’ve learnt from teaching interaction design for ten years is that it’s really important to involve people (especially if those people you’re speaking to are going to be affected by a system that you’re going to be introducing). It’s also important to identify which groups of people are going to be affected by the introduction of a system through a process that is broadly known as stakeholder analysis.

The stakeholders who were involved at this workshop was a group of staff tutors from the school of Computing and Communications. It’s important to say something about this group of awesome people: they work within a number of different organisational cultures. They work within a particular school and within a particular faculty (the STEM faculty), and (of course) within this particular university. 

My point is that different staff tutors (and stakeholders) may well have different needs and requirements. The needs and requirements gathered from this one group of staff might be different to those gathered from another group. I’ll put it another way: to get a real understanding of what you need from a system means that you’ve got to go and ask different groups of people. What the tutors will need (and tutors are, arguably, the most important stakeholder in this system) will be very different from what the staff tutors need.

Another point to remember is that you can’t just buy a ‘work management system’ for tutors off the shelf. The reason for this is pretty simple and obvious: the OU tutor contract is specific to the OU, and that the OU is pretty unique amongst institutions, which means that an off the shelf ‘talent management system’ (or whatever they might be called) is unlikely to suit our needs. This said, this important reflection shouldn’t stop us looking at other products to gain inspiration and insights.

The question is: how do actually go about specifying a new system? Actually, there are a couple of subjects in computing that can help us: interaction design (which I’ve mentioned earlier), and requirements engineering (I know more about the former than the latter).

What follows is a summary of the plan for the day, a brief summary of some of the points that were gathered, followed with a quick summary (and a suggestion about next steps). A more detailed document (complete with more pictures and text) will be prepared from all the resources that has been captured.

The workshop plan

The workshop was (roughly) split into thirds. 

Part 1

The first third was all about context. Steve Walker (who was involved in the contract negotiations) began by introducing the contract. Steve said that he was being asking two types of questions: type A questions were questions about the detail about the contract; type B questions were questions about how the new system would work. The aim of this workshop was, he said, to answer some of those type B questions that everyone was asking. These questions were, in essence, about the detail (and when it comes to system design, details matter).

After Steve had completed his introduction, he described the connection between the new tutor contract and the replacement of some university systems. The timing of the negotiations were such that they are not connected or linked to each another. The point is that the new tutor contract represents a set of additional system requirements that need to be taken into account (somehow).

Next up was yours truly. I described some tools and principles from the subject of interaction design (which is all about the designing of interactive systems). I spoke about personas, scenarios and use cases. 

Importantly, user personas have already been used by the contract team to understand different tutors who might move onto the new tutor contract, but personas didn’t exist for other stakeholders (such as staff tutors, academic services staff, HR people, and central academics). 

Some further points were: there is the need to explore the problem space, and the importance of iteration and prototyping. An important point was: the later you make changes in an IT system, the more things cost. The obvious solution for risk mitigation is that it is really important to understand what you’re building before you go ahead and build a system.

Part 2

This was the part where staff tutor colleagues got themselves into small groups. The brief was kept simple: think about the challenges that you face in your day to day work as a staff tutor, and use the different interaction design tools to try to create something. That something might be: personas, narrative descriptions of tasks, or rough sketches that illustrates how the tutor management system needs to work (and what the different stakeholders need to do). 

Part 3

This final part was where all the different groups shared something about their discussions with each other. This bit was very informal, and led to a group discussion about some of the various issues and challenges that were exposed. After the discussions, all notes (and scribbled on flip charts) were gathered up in anticipation of the next step: analysis. 

Outcomes

Two related questions that interaction design students can ask is: (1) how much requirements gathering should you do? And, (2) how do you analyse and make sense of all the data that you’ve gathered?

The answer to the first question is: “you should keep gathering requirements until you spend your budget and/or find that you’re no longer gathering any more new requirements”. Regarding the analysis question, I feel that it’s very much an inductive process: you look at everything and try to figure out what it all means. As you do this, you can begin to write everything down and start to use some of the design tools that I’ve mentioned earlier.

By way of a start, what follows are some broad themes (and questions) that have emerged from our workshop discussions. One thing that I should be clear about is that that the identification of the themes is influenced by my own experiences as both an AL and a staff tutor. Different colleagues could easily identify different issues.

Stakeholders

There are loads of stakeholder (more, perhaps, than we had realised): there are ALs, AL exec and assembly members, staff tutors, lead staff tutors, cluster managers, Academic services (AL services), module team members, module chairs, curriculum managers, people services (HR), IT, Associate Deans and Executive Deans, and finance people. I'm sure there are others too.

In addition to there being loads of stakeholders, another really important point is that different stakeholders will have different perspectives. 

The perspectives of (and experiences) ALs from the STEM faculty will be different to the perspectives of WELS ALs, and these will be different to the perspective of business school ALs. There are important differences between other stakeholder groups: STEM has staff tutors, FASS has staff tutors and faculty managers, and FBL has student experience managers. Different modules, programmes and disciplines may point to differences that need to be thoroughly understood and appreciated.

Implications for stakeholders

An important question to ask is: how will the stakeholders feed into decisions about any system that supports the operation of the new contract? There are other important considerations and implications that need to be taken into account:

  • How will or should different stakeholders understand the system? Will they see it in terms of managing people, or about managing work or workload? (Or, in interaction design terms, what is the overall conceptual model?) 
  • Does the new contract mean that there is a change from managing tutors to leading tutors?
  • Which perspective is the most important: national, regional, cluster or module? Again, to what extent does this differ between different stakeholders?
  • Will different stakeholder see a different dashboard or representation of the system that makes the tutor contract possible? If so, what might this dashboard look like?

Questions

During our workshop, we unearthed a whole bunch of important questions that we couldn't answer by ourselves:

  • Who will be able to make decisions about the skills audit?
  • Will the ALs be able to see their skills audit results through their TutorHome pages?
  • How do staff tutors handle an increase in the student numbers? (And how does this link to HR procedures?)
  • What happens when a tutor requests a leave of absence? 
  • How can tutors and staff tutors manage holidays?
  • What happens if a staff tutor can’t fill or top up a percentage of FTE? Does the system tell a staff tutor what percentage this is, and offer helpful recommendations?
  • What are the recruitment procedures to use if everyone is maxed out on their FTE (or, what buttons might you press)? 
  • If a stakeholder finds a need for a new work component, how do they get it added to the system?

Workshop Reflections

The aim of this workshop was to ‘bootstrap’ or to start the gathering of requirements for a tutor workload management system.

A key reflection was that the plan for the workshop was hopelessly ambitious. 

I had imagined that we would create some new personas and start writing a few scenarios, and then prepare a bunch of ‘straw men’ (or ‘straw person’) sketches that could form the basis of further discussions. In some ways, some groups did start to do this by sketching what bits of information staff tutors would like to see on a screen or 'data portal' or dashboard. Such a step represents the first steps towards a beginning of a design; one that could (and should) be criticized, reinvented and then redesigned.

The truth of the matter was that we were not at the requirements gathering phase: we still didn’t have a good understanding of the problem space.

I’ll share a pretty direct opinion: for a system to be a success you need buy in from its users and stakeholders. 

People like (and need) to be involved. A suggestion is, therefore, to roll out a version of this workshop to different groups of staff across the university: different groups of tutors, different groups of staff tutors, different groups of academics, and different groups of academic services administrators.

Requirements need to be gathered, and potential users need to be listened to. To get it right all this requirements and engagement activity will, necessarily, take time.

A change to the tutor contact represents a significant change to how the university operates. The systems that support that change needs to be right.

An important point to remember is that we’re not talking about a computer system, or a bunch of web pages: we’re talking about the need to figure out how a complex socio-technical system works. 

A concluding opinion is that: we shouldn’t rush the implementation and roll out of a workload management system for tutors. It is way too important.

Workshop Acknowledgements

A big thank you to Steve Walker who introduced the tutor contract during the first part of the workshop, and to all participants. Acknowledgements are also extended to Georgina Harris and Mark Slaymaker and other colleagues who reviewed earlier drafts of this post.

C&C Away Day Discussion

On 13 February I gave a short presentation about the new tutor contract during the School of Computing and Communications away day. The aim of the presentation was to introduce the ideas behind the new tutor contract to colleagues in the school. I based the presentation on a set of slides that had been presented during the Staff Tutor workshop event (thanks Steve!)

After the presentation, there was a short Q&A session, where I tried to answer questions (with help from fellow staff tutors helped). During that session I tried to be as clear as I could in terms of sharing what we knew, and what we didn't. Or, put another way, what the 'know unknowns' were. The most significant of these 'known unknowns' are: what system we use to record everything, how we practically go about carrying out a skills audit and what the HR processes might be for recruiting new tutors to the university.

Here are some key questions that were raised by colleagues in the school:

  • Will we have a loss of control over who we give particular bits of work to? (My personal answer to this one is: I don't think so)
  • Do we (module teams) need to specify what "additional duties" mean, and how does this relate to FTE points? (A related question is: how do bits of work translate to FTE units that we can fit into the work plan for an associate lecturer?)
  • Will central academics be able to see an AL profile to get an understanding of what skills resources are available within a school, so we can try to plan for when we might need more capacity in particular areas? (Or, put another way: what information will module team members be able to see?)
  • What process will there be for the fair selection of associate lecturers? This might apply to either recruiting associate lecturers into the university, or choosing bits of work. (An accompanying question is: what processes do we follow if our decision making is challenged?)
  • Also, we may need to recruit some associate lecturers with specialist skills. Will the new contract enable us to do this?
  • Finally, to what degree will central academic staff need to be (and should be) involved with the academic professional development (or upskilling) of associate lecturers?

After the discussion, I agreed to pass these points on to the project team.

A point I made at the start of the presentation was that the new tutor contract has the potential to change the character of some aspects of the university and affect the way that we all do things. With this in mind, I do feel that it's important that we engage with discussions that relate to its development and implementation.

Additional information

Messages about the new tutor contract regularly appear in my inbox. Here's a quick summary of some of the most important links I've found:

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AL development event: researching Computing and IT pedagogy

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Monday, 21 Nov 2016, 15:12

This blog has been prepared from a set of notes made during an AL development event on 18 June 2016 which took place at the Open University offices in Camden.

Opening remarks

The session kicked off with a ‘state of the union’ address. One of the big changes that associate lecturers were told about was the merger between two faculties: the Maths Computing and Technology faculty and the Science faculty, to create the STEM, Science Technology Engineering and Maths faculty. One of the reasons cited for this change is that the new faculty will have more independence in terms of how it is able to manage its structures and finances.

There, are, however some interesting differences. The science faculty doesn’t have any face to face tutorials for second and third level modules, whereas MCT does. Another point that I’ve noted down is that science makes more use of formative assessments. I’ve made some notes about what this means, but I won’t go into it here (since I might get some of the details wrong!)

In terms of Computing and IT, there are three new level three modules (which have now started), and two level one modules that are currently being written. These two modules occupy the space where TU100 My Digital Life used to sit. Key issues that needed to be addressed included: clear study overload for students, and issues regarding the transition between levels 1 and 2, especially when it comes to computer programming.

Retention and progression

The topic of retention and progression regularly comes up. The OU faces particular challenges regarding retention and progression due to its open access policy. In response to these challenges (amongst others, of course) the new faculty has created a new role called ‘head of student success’. I personally hold the view that associate lecturers and the student-tutor relationship is the single most important thing in terms of student success, and the new ‘head of student success’ needs to know something about what happens in the life of an associate lecturer to make any impact. Like I say, this is just an opinion (but one that is very valid).

I’ve also made a note that there was some mention of the subject of ‘learning analytics’. This is the study of ‘knowing how, when and where students are clicking’ when they visit the university websites. The idea is that clever algorithms might be able to tell members of the student support teams to give students a ring to have a chat about their studies before things get too difficult. Call me old fashioned: algorithms are all very well and have their uses but when it comes to education, people and personal knowledge matter a whole lot more (and I’ve spent much of my life studying computing and IT systems).

I’ve also made the following note (but I’m not quite sure what point I was trying to make): ‘students first’ means the importance of feedback and feedforward in response to exams, i.e. ‘why did I get a particular score?’ I think I meant: ‘one of the real things that can make a difference to students is the quality of feedback; personalised feedback can (obviously) guide effective learning’.

Group tuition policy session

The university has introduced something called the group tuition policy. There are some obvious issues with it, and I think it is (by and large) a pretty good idea. It has a couple of really simple principles, such as ‘for each face to face event, there should be an online alternative’ and ‘students can attend all learning events that are available in a cluster (of tutor groups). A cluster can be made up of anything between 4 and 10 tutor groups.

I’ve made a note of some really good points that were made during this session. One tutor asked, ‘will there be 100 people turning up when we have a really big cluster?’ Experience now tells us that OU Live tutorials don’t ever get that big, but they can become fairly big. I have heard that for some sessions over forty students have logged into a single learning event. (When I have run a national revision tutorial for a module that had over 320 students, I never had more than 30 students). An interesting point was about the use of microphones: students rarely use them.

One tutor asked the question: ‘will students be able to access learning events from all clusters?’ This isn’t something that I have managed to get a definitive answer about, but I have heard the new term ‘students from alien clusters’.

Another tutor asked about OU Live rooms. We now know that students will have access to up to three different OU Live rooms, and it will be down to the module tuition strategy to say more about how they should be used. In many cases there will be a national OU Live room which the module team could use to deliver lectures. There will be a cluster wide room which will be shared by all tutors who are working in a cluster. Finally, tutors will still have access to their own OU Live room, which can be used for additional support sessions, or tutorials that are for a whole tutor group.

I’ve made a note that there was some discussion about how timetables were set. My own approach has been to use a shared wiki document that is hosted on the university virtual learning environment. The dates and times on the wiki are then transferred to a booking spreadsheet which is passed onto AL services. Something else I’ve set us is a ‘cluster forum’, which is used to communicate will all tutors who are a part of a cluster.

The final discussions were about the learning event management system. The LEM, as it is known, is used to allow students to book onto learning events. One of the features of the LEM is that it will allow tutors to send messages to all the students who have registered for learning events (perhaps to send them some information that could be useful before a tutorial).

Researching Computing and IT Pedagogy

This afternoon session was designed to highlight that the university is currently funding STEM pedagogy through its eSTEeM research project, and to emphasise its importance to tutors. A key point is that tutors are important, since they are those that are closest to students.
One note I made was: ‘what do our students find most difficult?’ One answer is writing, and one module that was singled out was T215. A point was that perhaps there could be more teaching by example: students could be given an example of a good essay and a poorly written essay to show how they were different. 

Another interesting point was: when should the subject of writing (in terms of essay and TMA writing) be introduced to students? One thought was: maybe before the start of first level modules? There is something called a programming bootcamp (Learning Innovation website) that helps students to get to grips with the ideas of computer programming; perhaps there might be a writing bootcamp? Another important issue is the importance of basic numeracy, which is something that the first level Computing and IT modules try to address.

The final note I made was about other resources that tutors could draw upon to help students. The university has its Skills for Study website, resources from the library website and the developing good academic practice website which covers issues such as plagiarism and referencing.

AL contract negotiations update

The final part of the event was about potential changes to the associate lecturer teaching contract. The university and the union have been negotiating the terms for a new contract which should, hopefully, offer associate lecturers more stability and security. Rather than being contracted to a particular module which has a certain life tutors will be given a fractional post where they may be required to undertake a range of other duties, such as monitoring, moderating forums, exam marking, critical reading, and so on. This change in the contract will represent, in my opinion, a fundamental change in how the university operates.

I understand that there has been a university project that has been looking at how to plan and organise workload for these fractional posts. This said, at the time of writing, negotiations are currently stalled due to issues that are connected with the implementation of the group tuition policy.

Final remarks

A lot was covered in quite a short period of time. From my perspective, one of the key outcomes was a renewed sense that we need to collectively conduct some research into why students don’t attend tutorials when they are offered. The more students who attend tutorials (or learning events), the more fun, dynamic and interesting the tutorials will become. As soon as I’ve finished my current pedagogy project (which is about how best to observe teaching and learning practice), the question of tutorial attendance is something that I’m definitely going to pursue, with help from tutors (of course). We need this important piece of research to get more of an insight into issues that surround retention and progression.

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