Recently there has been an influx of students commenting that assignment turn-around times are far beyond the standards set out by Athabasca University. Some students remarked on waiting for assignments submitted in August, and wait times of five to seven weeks. It is easy for students to blame their tutor for this wait time. As it is the tutor who is marking (or not marking) and returning (or not returning) the assignment.
I count myself among the lucky that have not encountered this. I have had some longer than standard wait times, but these were resolved quickly and without backlash. In one case I waited two weeks but I had been contacted by my tutor and advised that wait time for this assignment would be longer than normal as there were a few students who needed quick marks in order to qualify to graduate in June. For this I did not mind the extra wait, as I hope that, if I find myself in that situation, my tutor will take the time to help me squeeze under the deadline. However, waiting several weeks for marks is setting students up for failure. As distance education students, we spend much of our time studying alone, sometimes feeling segregated, and we do not have the support of classrooms or lectures. Because of this, assignment feedback is extremely important, and I will wait until I have an assignment back before beginning the next so that I am able to take that feedback and improve the next piece.
I do not believe that blaming the tutor will resolve the issue. However, this is a serious concern for students, and an issue that must be addressed. I understand that Athabasca University has had some financial troubles in the last few years and I can see an attempt to resolve this with my increase in tuition; as an out of province student my tuition is not regulated the same as Alberta students, and not conditioned to the tuition freeze. I mentioned in a previous article that I had spoken to one of the tutors who stated that they were also unhappy with the situation; but they were getting it from both sides, budget cuts mean more students per tutor, tutor lay-offs, and low tutor-morale. When students get, understandably, frustrated and post on Facebook it can add to the low morale of tutors. I am not suggesting that venting on Facebook is a bad thing, but remember that your tutor is likely reading it, and words can be hurtful, especially when they are trying their best.
Perhaps I am naïve, but I believe that anyone who becomes a tutor at Athabasca University has a desire to teach and to help students succeed in this challenging environment. As with any group of people, not everyone is the same. Some likely become jaded and have lost their desire to teach. I believe (hope) that most still have this passion, though they may be becoming frustrated. My tutors have, for the most part, been amazing. I wonder if we as students expressed our displeasure in the support that we, and, by extension, our tutors, are receiving, that something could be done? The answer is not as simple as blaming the tutor or contacting the course coordinator. I know the AU Students’ Union has been advocating on students’ behalf with this concern, but, to my knowledge, they have not gained much ground; the university has not provided any answers. Meanwhile, the students and tutors are suffering. Maybe, we need to show the university that something needs to be done at a higher level to alleviate the issue. The best way I can see to do this, is to email AUSU (firstname.lastname@example.org) and relate your personal experience. The more personal experiences and stories that they have the more ammunition they can put forth when addressing these concerns, and the better our opportunity to help facilitate change.
Deanna Roney is an AU student who loves adventure in life and literature