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Tutors and tutoring

The section of the Responding to Student Needs publication dealt in detail with personal tutor systems and their alternatives. It used research evidence from a number of studies to outline the requirements needed to satisfy student support needs. 

These are: the availability of the advisor; the level of knowledge and the level of interest of the advisor. It suggested, however, that one of the problems with the current system is a lack of recognition for those who perform the role and that there may be a conflict of interests if the tutor is engaging with personal problems but also responsible for assessing the student.

It argued that a flexible model of personal tutoring is probably the best one, rather than a one-size-fits-all but that a gap exists between theory and practice; this being most apparent in student surveys of tutors failing to meet tutees at least once a semester. The Flexible Delivery Theme argued that technology might offer a way forward in academic support and guidance, especially in terms of PDPs, but caution was expressed in Responding to Student Needs in terms of a possible 'technology gap' between staff and students, or a growing and not always helpful growth of informality. The use of both email and text messaging was cited in this context.

In the Personalisation strand of The First Year Enhancement Theme, case study 1 described the way the Open University is using tutor support in different ways in order to tailor teaching and learning support to the needs of individual students. The personalisation of support is mediated through proactive tutor-to-student contact, by telephone, at key times when students are particularly likely to be vulnerable or at risk.

Personalised learning support is tailored around the needs of the individual student, thus enabling students to identify their own learning needs, manage their learning more effectively and to take responsibility for their own progress. The back-up to personalised contact is the provision of extensive electronic resources and the creation of dedicated online homes for different subjects.

In a similar vein, case study 3 details an innovative module designed to incorporate PDPs (e-portfolios) with tutor group activities. The module builds upon the Effective Learning Framework to empower and engage learners and has been demonstrably successful, not only in academic terms, but also in attendance and student commitment to the School.