By Rollo Jones
The excitement is mounting:
- I found a course I like the look of and I’ve applied for it
- I’ve had the email confirming I’m on the module.
- There’s been an official looking letter to confirm it.
- I’ve got access to the course website
- The doorbell rings and someone is delivering a pile of materials for me.
- The forums have dozens of messages from people interested in studying the same thing as me.
- I can’t wait to get stuck in!!!
Figure 1: What could be better than my new OU module?
Then I get an e-mail from my tutor Sam. I’m sure it contains loads of interesting information but the only thing I can remember is the phrase “face-to-face tutorial”. I’ve not studied for ages and now they want me to do a tutorial.
- What if I come across as daft?
- What if I’m the only one who turns up?
- What if my train’s late and everyone looks at me when I walk in?
- What if I’m the only one who doesn’t get it?
- What if I get asked a question I can’t answer?
- What happens if someone talks to me and I forget how to speak?
- I can’t afford XYZ equipment – will I fit in?
Then I remember, the OU is about distance learning and that means I can ignore tutorials if I want to. Phew, dodged a tricky situation there? Well done!
Sounds familiar? If so, then maybe not so well done? Perhaps considering the reality of tutorials will change our perspective. The OU website (http://www.open.ac.uk/courses/what-study-like/tutor-support) states
Students tell us that they like getting to know their tutor in person, meeting other students and sharing ideas and tips for success. Tutorials can also do wonders for your confidence and communication skills.
But for me this barely scratches the surface. As a tutor I want to ensure that your understanding of the material and its context – your schema – is valid and tutorials provide an ideal way of doing this through discussion. Furthermore, and from my perspective, most importantly a tutorial enables us to draw on students’ diversity, sharing experiences and ideas to benefit us all. Where else could you see a submariner and a retired vicar debate the relative merits of the Jabberwocky – I have and I am pleased to say that both students left with an appreciation different to when they started.
That said sharing ideas and tips for success is undeniably useful. Elective tutorials don’t contain new assessable material but will often include clarifications and hints about TMAs, CMAs, EMAs and Exams.
So, if tutorials are a good thing then perhaps we need to adopt strategies to minimize the pain. Believe it or not “icebreakers” are not intended as a way to embarrass as many people as possible in 30 seconds. Rather they are an important part of getting the tutorial group working as a team – a quick Google on Tuckman group development gives over 35,000 results reinforcing this – so of course your tutor will plan utilizing them.
Doesn’t that take us back to my second list? Well not really, if Sam mentions a tutorial then (s)he would be delighted to hear from you in advance. Writing tutorials is difficult, especially since we want to tailor them to your specific needs, often requiring advanced ESP! Imagine how much easier our life becomes if students contact us in advance with requests – all of sudden we know what we need to include and can accommodate you.
So why not email Sam and explain that you want to come to the tutorial but are a bit nervous and would appreciate not having to speak publicly? You could even ask for some time to be set aside to look at those concepts you found particularly tricky. I promise that Sam won’t be upset or think poorly of you – quite the contrary you have done Sam a favour and (s)he will thank you for it.
As a final thought – every student of mine who has regularly attended tutorials has passed the module and, on average, they achieve better results than their peers. This is by no means a rigorous academic study but what have you got to lose except those inhibitions?
Figure 5: Woohoo! Now where did all those inhibitions go?
Author: Rollo Jones is a tutor with the OU
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