Tilly* works in education. She frequently discusses her studies with colleagues at work, where she says the knowledge gained through her studies has given her more confidence, and with her brother who is the only other member of her family to have studied beyond GCSE level. She does not contact her tutor outside of tutorials; she says she is unsure how much interaction is expected. Last year she joined several WhatsApp groups, but these made her anxious that she might be doing something wrong, so she stopped using them. She completed a diary and was interviewed about six tutorials: tutorial 1, tutorial 2 (x2), tutorial 3 (x2) and tutorial 4. Tilly was interviewed by email. Here are her thoughts about tutorials in her own words.
* Tilly chose her own pseudonym.
I don’t remember much about the first tutorial. I took notes but only a few sentences, which is unusual for me. I’m pretty sure the tutor did have slides, but these weren’t sent out to us, so I think there were only a few. I can remember taking part in the conversation in the chat box – none of us wanted to use our microphones! We were asked to introduce ourselves and say how far we were in our studies. There weren’t activities to take part in. The tutor would ask us questions and we would respond by writing in the chat box which they would respond to, waiting for everyone to finish typing and checking everyone was alright to move on to the next slide before moving on. This made it easy to ask questions.
This session was run by just my tutor. They were able to present information and monitor the chat box at the same time. There wasn’t as much content and it was over within the hour. This was more of a ‘housekeeping’ tutorial – providing details about how and when to contact the tutor, computer helpline and student support; what the module consisted of; checking we all had received the book; providing details of when each assignment was due. This tutorial wasn’t recorded, which they usually are. It was good to have this tutorial that wasn’t connected to an assignment to introduce us to the module. It made me feel enthusiastic about starting the module. The tutor came across as being really friendly, so I felt comfortable that I could ask/answer any questions without worrying about getting it wrong. The tutor spoke about having set up the forum and that we should all pop by and have a look. One of the students commented that they had already started a thread introducing themselves, so some of us commented on their post introducing ourselves.
I don’t like using a headset because I’m not very articulate and stumble on my words when speaking to a group of people. I’m also quite a shy person who feels uncomfortable in social situations, which is why distance learning is perfect for me. There’s also the fact that we haven’t built relationships, despite there being a forum. I don’t have the time or energy to use the forum.
For the first tutorial 2, I was at home, the family getting and eating dinner around me. There were no activities. I was able to talk in the comments box but there were 32 attendees. The session was quite rushed. Everyone seemed to be quite restrained – maybe because for some it was their first tutorial for this module. I didn’t feel very engaged. A lot of it was about how to write essays – intros, conclusions, referencing etc; all things that I have done for the last 3 modules! Many of the attendees had said that this was their second module at this level, but the content of the tutorial appeared to be aimed at students doing this level of study for the first time. The tutor didn’t try to tailor the tutorial for the audience. The main tutor talked over the co-tutor and dismissed their tip about writing introductions.
The second tutorial 2 was given by my tutor who got on really well with the co-tutor. The content of the second tutorial was more than just about the essay. We were asked what we struggled with and were then given appropriate advice and tips from both tutors. The previous tutorial felt like it was delivered to us, whereas the second tutorial felt more like we were working together. I felt confident, encouraged, valued and listened to.
For the first tutorial 3, I was at home on my laptop. There were no interruptions from family! We anonymously wrote what we would do differently for the next assignment and there was an activity concerning a video we watched. The tutor talked about some of the things we wrote and gave tips and examples. There were 11 students, so the tutor could comment on each person’s contribution. I felt encouraged, confident that I can do the next assignment well.
For the second tutorial 3, the family were having dinner around me. It was the same as the previous tutorial (same slides). The tutors commented on almost all the messages in the chat box and activities, so they made it feel like our comments were appreciated. I do like both of these tutors as they work well together and are both friendly and understanding of the challenges distance learning students face due to other commitments. I decided to try to write critically in the assignment and focus on a couple of points rather than try to cover everything. Having the slides from the previous tutorial helped make my note taking easier. The tutor on this tutorial sent the link for the slides before the tutorial started.
For tutorial 4, I was initially on my mobile whilst collecting my daughter from her club (the internet kept cutting out and the sound stopped when my phone went into ‘sleep’ mode) and then at home. We shared our ideas on our understanding of key phrases like formal/informal learning, inclusive practice etc. The tutors encouraged us to take part in the activities and in the chat box. Both tutors were very friendly and positive about all the comments/contributions. They always check that students are ready for them to move on to a new slide. They asked us to vote on whether we wanted our comments visible in the recording. I was encouraged by what the tutors were saying and their responses to what I posted in the chat box. I like how the two tutors work together, that they frequently asked for our opinions and for us to interact with them, rather than just talking at us.
My favourite tutor was trying out using a poll, which I thought was a good idea. Breaking out into smaller groups was also tried but there wasn’t enough time allowed for us to do the activity (around 5 minutes), answering four questions about one of the case studies. It was awkward because no-one took charge and none of us used headsets. I’ve done a few tutorials over the last three years where breakout rooms have been used. There isn’t enough time to do all the activity before it goes back to the main room. Maybe the tutor should give each group just one or two questions to answer. Could the tutor pop into each breakout room to see how things are going (like a teacher would in the classroom), then gauge how much time is needed?
The variation of tutorials is the reason why I attend two each time. I always take part in the tutorial by my tutor, so I know what they’re looking for in an assignment, but then I find another tutor who gives lots of advice and try to attend their tutorials too. Each tutorial experience is different, despite all having the same slides to work from.
I think the tutorials work better with a smaller number of students – maybe around 15 would be ideal, otherwise you are all vying for attention, asking so many questions and responding to questions asked that the tutor doesn’t get time to answer them all. Also, with lots of students you can be lazy and not have to participate as much as you do when there are less students – you can wait for someone else to ask/answer the questions!
My ideal tutorial would include using the whiteboard, chat box, polls, slides and watching videos but having access to the chat box whilst the video plays so you can ask questions. It would also be really useful to have the slides accessible BEFORE the tutorial so you can print them and take notes on them – then the notes make much more sense! I think all tutorials should be recorded so they can be revisited anytime – I like to redo a tutorial whilst I’m writing my essays, as it helps me to ‘get in the zone’!