Amie* is not currently working but is at home with her own children. English is her second language and whilst she previously studied extensively in her country of origin, she finds study in the UK different and challenging. She has two friends who support her with her studies, and she is part of a WhatsApp group that she describes as very active and supportive. She has never met any of the WhatsApp group in tutorials and she has not contacted her tutor outside of tutorials. She completed a diary and was interviewed about the third tutorial in her module. Here are her thoughts about it in her own words.
* Amie has chosen her own pseudonym.
I haven’t attended too many tutorials. Last year was my first year with the university and I attended one tutorial but that was not beneficial at all, so I did not bother attending any more tutorials until this year and to be honest with you, they were better. All of the tutorials that I attended this year were quite good. The tutorial in my diary sheet was in fact the best one that I attended. That was really, really good.
I think there is a lot that can be done to improve the quality of tutorials. Instead of just delivering the lecture, if teachers can enable students to interact with them more or if students can offer their opinion and get feedback, that would be more helpful, which in my last tutorial was done. So it was engaging. It was more beneficial. Because, the way the university operates, most of the students are doing their studying at home. For most of them, these online tutorials are really important because it’s the only time they are communicating with their teachers. So if their quality can be improved, that will benefit the students a lot.
Students need some extra time to communicate with the teachers, so when they have given the lecture, there should be time for questioning and answering to clarify any ambiguities, anything that they need to ask because for some students like myself, I have young kids, so attending a face-to-face tutorial is not always possible. Online is our only option.
This tutorial was better because instead of just talking themselves, the tutors encouraged the students who were attending the tutorial to participate, to present their ideas briefly. So you know, that was a better way of doing it. In that way, students were getting to say what they wanted to say, and a lot of ideas were being written on that whiteboard. Plus, they were more focused, those tutors. They were not repeating themselves. What they were saying was making sense. Some tutorials which I have attended in the past, the teachers, to be honest with you, I think they just recycled the slides from last year because even the assignment questions, they did not bother changing it. It’s not just me. We have a WhatsApp group of students. So our students often say that they just present slides to you from the past.
In this tutorial they explained everything in detail. They explained everything very well. It was really focused on how to present your work. It had a lot of information for the assignment, a lot of relevant ideas that we can discuss.
They said, ‘Which wider social factors have an impact on children’s health?’ They asked the students to write on a board, so a lot of students participated and wrote, and then they acknowledged which responses were right. So, they were encouraging students to participate more in the discussion about the topic. It was not just one-way flow of information. It was two-way. It helps because it’s information from so many people, so many ideas and I was pretty much engaged. I was enjoying it and I was learning at the same time. I was excited. I was happy that I attended a tutorial different from the past tutorials.
It is sometimes hard to capture everything because a lot of information is being passed. A lot of things are being said and written down but luckily, recordings are available, so you can always go back and watch a tutorial. When I did my assignment, I went to that tutorial two or three times, just to refresh my knowledge. Just to get a lot of ideas, you know.
They played videos, they played clips and then they discussed them. So that was good because if it is only a PowerPoint presentation, that does not refresh your memory that good, so when they actually played a video and actually discussed it, that was a better way of doing it. We discussed them in the whole group, not smaller groups.
I just wrote. I did not use the microphone. I am more comfortable when I am writing. My spoken English is not very good. It’s getting better. Learning a new language is not that easy. When I am talking or even when I am listening to English, I am constantly translating it in my mind. It’s a bit more work, a bit more processing for me than if things are said or if I have to say them in my first language. But I do understand most of it, 90% of it. If it’s a good tutorial, I feel motivated and satisfied as well. I feel thankful for the teachers for giving me good ideas and guidance and not too exhausted.
Having small children does make it hard. I do have to tell them to just sit down and watch TV for some time, but, you know, it’s not guaranteed that they will just sit down, not for an hour and a half, and one of my children has learning disabilities. He doesn’t take instructions very well. The online tutorial is my only hope, the only way that I can interact with my tutors.
In this tutorial, they were not my own tutors. Both of them were sharing the teaching. No one took the lead in particular and that was better, as you get the best of both really. Both were good in their own way and the combination worked for them, as well as for us.
I previously had an online tutorial with my tutor as well. My own tutor was doing it with another teacher. It was okay. It helped more when I went to attend a face-to-face tutorial because there were less students. I could ask what I needed to ask. I wouldn’t really say that it does make a difference whether it’s your own tutor or some other tutor. It depends on the tutor. If they are good, they are good.
I attended this tutorial because I wanted to get better scores on my assignments. Last year was a really busy year for me because I was doing another course at the same time. I couldn’t pay much attention to my modules. So, this year, I am relatively free, so I thought of attending as many tutorials as I can and that really helps me.
My ideal tutorial would start off with presenting relevant information, a lot of guidance to students, interactive activity and then I would try to allocate some time for students and teachers to have a conversation or discussions or a question-and-answer session at the end. One thing: timings. Because most of the tutorials are in the night, like from 7 to 9, it is a bit difficult for parents to attend. If there were some during the day as well when kids are at school, then I can attend tutorials with, you know, more peace and quiet.
I have always wondered if maybe teachers could provide students with some good examples of assignments because in my journey learning to write critically and in an academic style of writing, I have had to glean information. If teachers can present some good examples and label them, like, ‘This is a good introduction because this…’, ‘That part is good because it is explaining that…’. I do struggle with critical writing. I have heard from people in some other universities that they do provide you with some good sample assignments to guide you, but last year, there was no such example. This year, there has only been one example. If there could be more, that would be helpful, I think.