Serena Koons is the Senior Administrative Assistant in Learning Services Tutorial (LST), and has been with Athabasca University since the fall of 2003. She started out in the Office of the Registrar, ?then went to the School of Business, where [she] worked as an Undergraduate Student Advisor. In the fall of 2007, [she] came to [her] current position with the Learning Services Tutorial.?
Koons currently works ?in an office building just off the main campus? in Athabasca, and, like many AU employees, is ?eagerly awaiting the opening of the new ARC building, which should provide enough space for all Athabasca-based staff to move back to the main campus. It will be wonderful ?bumping? into people in the hallways again,? she says. ?This is valuable for sharing ideas, solving problems and keeping the AU community strong.?
?As a long-time resident of Athabasca, I have always known about the university and the wonderful contributions it makes to our community,? says Koons. ?But more than anything else, I respect its dedication to flexible, open access learning that allows people of all ages and all walks of life to follow their educational dreams. There is no doubt, post-secondary education is not easy. But if you have the will, we have the way.?
?Our mission at LST is to provide exceptional administrative support to students and tutors. For students, this means informing them of changes to their tutor information and assisting them in resolving concerns that arise with their tutor,? she explains. ?For tutors, this means monitoring and responding to course trends, connecting them to vital resources and helping to build a sense of community across a distance.?
According to Koons, ?Learning Services is responsible for ensuring the continuity of tutorial support for students. This begins when we assign students a tutor and carries through until the student is finished . . . In a traditional institution, there are a certain number of spaces and students compete for a spot. At Athabasca University, our flexibility means there is always a spot for you. And instead of being restricted to starting courses in January and September, AU courses start on the first of every month so you can register for a course at any time. This means that our registrations fluctuate from month to month. Sometimes we have more students than spaces. Other times we have more spaces than students. Since tutors are often involved in multiple courses, determining how best to utilize each tutor and how to balance their courses can be like a big Sudoku puzzle. We [in the LST] monitor student numbers, watch course trends, recommend postings as needed, and generally work to ensure tutors can support the students they have.?
Koons also notes that though the LST is occasionally ?involved in helping students resolve concerns that arise between them and their tutor,? she is ?happy to say, that among the 4,000 ? 6,000 student to tutor connections we make per month, we can count on one hand how many need assistance. This is a credit to both our students and our tutors.?
If students do have problems in their relationship with their tutor, however, ?students are encouraged to contact Learning Services for support. First, we listen to what is happening for the student. Sometimes the problem comes from not understanding the services standards. For example, one tutor may work exclusively for AU and able to respond to questions almost instantly, while another tutor may work as a full-time professor at another institution and can only respond to questions in the evening or every second day. Sometimes a technical issue interferes with the student’s messages getting through. Sometimes a student just needs help understanding where to find the information they need. There is a great deal we can do to help, including offering little tips to help a student work more effectively with their current tutor.?
In the event, however, that a problem needs ?more formal attention,? LST staff will ?try to facilitate a solution using a respectful conflict resolution process. First, we ask the student to outline their concerns in an email to tutserv. We then forward the concern to the tutor so they can check their records and provide any additional information. This is the stage where we often discover the technical problems. Both the student’s and tutor’s emails are then considered by the course coordinator who looks for a resolution that will work for both parties. The goal is to get the student back on track with their studies as soon as possible.?
?Through my work with AU, I have learned a lot about the university and the students we support,? Koons says. ?My degree is from a traditional bricks and mortar institution, so I find it interesting to hear the stories our students share. There are some elements of our experience that are similar and some that are quite different. For example, most of us end up with one or two ?instructors? we don’t agree with and courses that we can’t wait to finish. There are some tips that we can offer to help you communicate effectively, but sometimes it comes down to swallowing hard and getting it done.?
?I also believe the skills that AU students develop as they balance work, home, community and education are invaluable. The experienced AU student has discipline and drive. Nothing shakes them from their goals. They are problem solvers, who have learned to communicate effectively with whatever tools are available to them. They are used to looking for their own answers, asking clear, concise questions and working on other things while they wait for a response.?
?My life goals are simple,? says Koons. ?I resolve to find the beauty in each day; to learn from those around me; and to do my best to help others make their dreams come true. Athabasca University allows me to offer an understanding, patient voice for students as they work towards their educational goals and provide understanding and helpful information for our tutors as they manage the ever-changing workloads associated with teaching at AU.?