Tutor Tales

I still haven’t figured out tutors. I know what their role is. I know how and when to contact them. But after a number of AU courses, some things about tutors still perplex me.

According to AU’s Learning Services Tutorial, a tutor will “offer subject-matter assistance, engage in scholarly discussion, mark assignments, provide feedback, and help you prepare for exams.” That makes sense, although It’s difficult to imagine having a “scholarly discussion” over e-mail or on the phone during a tutor’s?often highly restrictive?hours of availability.

Fortunately for me, I’m comfortable?and thus far successful?with independent learning. Although I might benefit from a bit more tutor contact, I tend just to plough through the course material and puzzle through most problems on my own.

I seldom speak with my tutors. That may be partly due to an early tutor encounter when I was a new AU student. The study guide in one of my first courses stressed it was “extremely important” to stay in contact with my tutor. The suggested study schedule even had “contact your tutor” sprinkled throughout.

Accordingly, early in that course I phoned the tutor. The tutor’s hours began at 10 am MST; I waited until 10:20. A groggy voice?obviously just woken up?answered the phone. After establishing I had the correct number, I offered to phone back at a better time. The voice, struggling to sound more alert, assured me I had phoned during the specified period of availability. We discussed my progress in the course, but I had the feeling throughout the conversation that calls from students weren’t necessarily expected?or welcome.

During subsequent courses, I’ve tried to restrict my contact to e-mail. During the first week of each of my courses, I send the tutor a short e-mail to introduce myself and outline my expected pace of study. Most tutors have responded with a short note of their own, welcoming me to the course. I was surprised, however, when one tutor did not bother to respond (although I received responses to later e-mails.) Even though I wasn’t asking a question, I thought a courtesy reply?just to acknowledge my existence?would be in order.

In contrast, when I began one of my recent courses, the tutor made the first contact. On my second day of studies, I received a lengthy e-mail to welcome me to the course, outline the tutor’s qualifications, make some study suggestions, and offer information on additional resources. Receiving that first communication really did make me feel welcome; it also made me feel more like a human student, rather than a faceless number.

I’ve only had one course that utilized the “Student Support Centre” which is not, according to this AU blog post, to be called a “Call Centre.” Although I never needed to contact the centre for assistance, they contacted me on a regular basis. I received a phone call when I began the course and an e-mail after each of the many assignments. I didn’t get the opportunity to test their response to student problems, but I was appreciative that they regularly provided me with encouraging remarks throughout the course.

What makes me scratch my head about tutors is why they don’t contact students more often. I have no idea what they face in their job or how many hours they are allotted to assist students. But surely it can’t be too time-consuming to send out a standard e-mail welcome when a student begins a course and perhaps a “how’s it going” note later on?

A tutor who makes the first contact seems more approachable. Studying online is challenging enough. We human students would benefit from knowing there are human tutors out there who are willing to help and who truly welcome hearing from us.

Do you have a “tutor tale?” Contact voice@voicemagazine.org with your story. If You’re having a tutor problem you need help with, contact AU’s Learning Service Tutorial. You’ll find more information on this webpage.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario

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