I have noticed lately that lots of students are commenting on assignment turnaround times. According to the Athabasca University Student Standards tutors should have assignments returned in 7-8 business days. How long it actually takes can vary, depending on the course and the tutor. My first course was incredibly fast, I submitted an assignment before I went to bed and had it returned by the time I woke up in the morning. While this was great, it certainly is not common. Recently I have noticed that tutors are returning assignments on the last day, or taking a couple extra days. And it is clear that if you were to look at the AU Facebook page, others are noticing this as well.
While it can be frustrating as a student, waiting for feedback on an assignment, anxiously (obsessively) checking on day #8 to see if the tutor has returned an assignment, it must also be frustrating for the tutor. Sometimes I think we forget that there are real people on the other side of those emails and assignments. Sometimes students may feel like they are only a number to the tutor, that the assignment is not returned because the tutor just, “hasn’t gotten around to it.” I think, though, that students are also guilty of this, of considering the tutor as just an anonymous entity.
We have all undoubtedly heard about the recent budget issues. Issues which caused a mild (not so mild?) panic among students: “what does this mean for us?”; “will I be able to finish my schooling?” Perhaps we, or at least I, should have been asking, “What does this mean for the tutors?” After all, without them I would be lost. The tutor will be first in line to be affected by budget cuts as, typically, budget issues mean lay-offs and increased workloads for those left.
I tried to look around the AU website to see if I could find anything which would indicate the approximate student to tutor ratio. While I was unable to find any numbers, I did speak to a tutor; who admittedly, has a higher workload than most. It was cited to me that they had over 200 students spread across six courses, on top of also teaching elsewhere, though for argument’s sake I am only going to focus on the AU numbers. I think we can all agree that that is a large workload. The type of courses will dictate the amount of time assignments take, or email responses; all I am trying to do is put those numbers in perspective. Let’s consider if half of those students sent an email on the same day: according to student services, it is a maximum two day turn around. If the tutor spent five min on each email that would mean spending about eight hours a day replying to emails. I understand that some tutors take much less time to answer an email, but I have had tutors send me very long emails back to make sure I am understanding the material, which clearly took much longer than five minutes.
If we then take a look at assignments, which student standards say have a maximum turnaround time of eight days. Consider, again, if half the students then send in assignments on the same day, and the tutor took an hour to mark each, that would mean spending 12 hours a day marking. On top of responding to emails. While emails and assignments are likely staggered, I think we can all agree that that is a lot of work.
I am not advocating that the standards be changed, or students stop asking on the status of assignments/emails. I think keeping communication open with the tutor is very important. I am simply trying to understand things from the tutor’s perspective. Maintaining an open line of communication is important. As students, we all want to have thoughtful, helpful, comments on assignments and responses to emails—there is nothing more frustrating than asking a question, waiting two days, and getting an email back which does not address the problem. But tutors are only human, which is something we need to remember. I did not realize how tutors were being effected recently within AU.
Students and tutors need to work together. I think communicating is the key, interacting and understanding that they are there to help you, but that you are not the only student. We cannot physically see who else is in the course, do not see a classroom full of eager faces and one lone professor at the front of the room. We do not see when that classroom size is increased due to budget issues, do not see the stress that causes. We cannot see how comments on timeliness can hurt when they are doing the best they can to keep up. Sometimes distance can make us feel like we are alone.
I am guilty of being frustrated when emails or assignments are later than the service standards. Or if I cannot get a hold of my tutor during their hours. However, if the tutor sends me a quick email to let me know things are running behind, I know not to expect anything for a few days and can work my studies around that: meaning I am not stressed and not emailing asking where my assignment is. Similarly, if students need something marked quickly, communicate that to your tutor. They cannot read your mind, and if you ask, they will likely make the effort to get it back to you. Communication is the simple answer to most of the stress regarding turnaround time.
As a student, I am quick to ask where an assignment is, send another email looking for a reply, or get anxious when I cannot get through on the phone. In the past, however, I have not taken the time to send my tutor positive feedback. I simply assumed they would not want to hear it. After my discussion with a tutor, and learning more about the situation they are in. I thought about why I do not take the time to thank them. I always love getting a final email in a course saying it was a pleasure to have me, or thanking me for my work, it is a nice way to wrap things up. So this time, I took the time to send an email and say thank you, for taking the time to help me work through a course I thought would send me to the loonie bin. They might not all want those emails, might not care, but, someone might. I would hate to stop getting them just because a handful of students disregard them.
I think if we take the time to understand the situation others are in, their stress levels will decrease, and as a result so will ours. We do not need to lower our service standards, but we do need to work together and communicate. If you need something marked quickly, or if things are running behind, it doesn’t hurt to let the other party know.
Deanna Roney is an AU student who loves adventure in life and literature