The multi threaded art of being an @OpenUniversity distance learning learning tutor ...

It dawned on me that I have a distance learning tutor (or associate lecturer) at the Open University for more than ten years. While in the next six weeks I will have completed eight years as a full time academic at the OU - my experience of the student experience always informs how I support each of the modules I chair.

Being a distance learning tutor is a multi threaded art - it is unlike traditional face to face teaching as you have to form a relationship with multiple souls who you have never met. From the outset you have to present your credentials and make yourself contactable - while setting some straightforward ground rules.

I have mistakenly helped students while out for dinner, at the cinema (text conversation) and at all manner of strange times. This has taught me to convey when I am easiest to contact and also when I am unavailable. Nonetheless, my lifestyle does not always work for the student so one must try and be as flexible as possible - and also avoid annoying my wife more than is reasonable (sorry Shirley).

Often communication is around short email conversations - no more than a couple of sentences, maybe a paragraph or two. Speedy responses go down well, I find direct answers seem to work well.

Then when none of the above work - I have had MSN messenger (in the old days) with students in all manner of time zones) - this has also worked as you can have a drawn out asynchronous conversation. In fact I have been thinking about using Slack for a course I am developing.

Over time, on some modules the same questions recur, yet the answers still need to be personal, supportive and realistic. Many students have different experiences, over the 6 - 9 month period you get to know them, with all of their various quirks.

It is odd - you do seldom see them - you have no visual reference yet you know them. The quiet motivated ones and the noisy wanting attention types. The daft questioners and those who have clearly thought about what they are asking.

Also marking - you get a feel for the capacity of the student and see how they progress. Tutoring at the OU is about developing the student via feedback - we do see progress, trajectory and learning from experience (and silly mistakes).

I typically have two tutor groups across two modules for most of the year, covering undergraduate and postgraduate modules. While the level changes, the learning experience is very similar. You have to keep abreast of each student, each assignment each module deadline and way point.

Within are ranks are many OU tutors with considerably greater experience - I take my hat off to you as you keep abreast of multiple threaded students weaving their way through our modules.


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