By Carol Edwards & Andrew Maxfield
In this blog we plan to share how we supported our new and less experienced tutors to deliver successful online tutorials during the Covid pandemic. As the leading provider of distance online learning, it is often assumed Open University (OU) tutors would not have any issues transferring to online tutorials when Covid hit. However, this was not the case.
In the pre-covid world most modules in the LLB at the OU take a blended approach to delivery. Our students had the choice of attending either face- to- face or online tutorials (or any combination of these they wished). On many modules our tutors also had a choice, subject to business needs, of delivering either face- to- face or online tutorials. So, when Covid hit we were faced, as many other institutions were, with tutors having to move online quickly and use learning spaces they are not familiar with (Rapanta, Botturi, Goodyear, Guardia & Koole 2020).
Under normal circumstances tutors are provided with a wealth of training regardless of their choice of tutorial delivery. All tutors are expected to attend the excellent cross faculty training provided on Adobe Connect (our online platform) to ensure they have the basic skills and knowledge to deliver a tutorial. Tutors can then elect to attend further ongoing training to develop advanced Adobe Connect skills. Further support is provided via a tutor forum where they can seek peer support. Technical help is by the computing helpdesk. Each module tutorial will have a set of guidance notes written for either online or face-to-face delivery.
Due to the changing nature of the pandemic the OU took the decision to deliver all tutorials online for the 20J presentation. As Student Experience Managers (SEMs) we were faced with the challenge of moving face-to-face tutors to online delivery. In addition, we had a large increase in student numbers, so we had to appoint several new tutors who had very limited experience of delivering tutorials online. This combined with the lack of confidence of some of our face-to-face tutors resulted in our putting forward a proposal for Adobe Connect Champions (Champions).
From a separate scholarship project relating to online pedagogy an unexpected theme emerged. This was how student engagement in online tutorials could be impacted by lack of tutor confidence in the online environment. From our own experience as tutors, and undertaking observations as SEMs, we know tutors can be less interactive with the students because they are focused on the technology. If tutors are confident with the technology, the focus can be on the tutorial content resulting in a more engaged tutorial.
Based on our findings we put forward the idea of Champions for law modules with a blended delivery approach. The Champions would provide practical help and guidance to new and existing tutors who found themselves working in the Adobe Connect environment and felt they lacked confidence. We identified three key duties for our Champions:
- Providing Adobe Connect 1-2-1 or small group support.
- Running a forum thread on the relevant module tutor forum about Adobe Connect addressing questions and concerns raised and giving top tips.
- Looking at the tutorial materials in advance to identify potential Adobe Connect issues and identify how support could be provided.
The proposal for funding was successful and we advertised for Champions across all levels of the LLB. An advertisement was sent to all tutors explaining the role and identifying the key skills required (two years’ experience of delivering the module, fluent in using the full Adobe Connect Toolkit and good communication skills).
The Champions in operation
Once appointed the Champions were provided with a briefing for their role and asked to contact the lead SEM of the module for further guidance.
Each Champion set up a thread on the module tutor forum offering advice, guidance and answering questions. Tutors could contact the Champion via the thread or via personal email to arrange individual support sessions. Some Champions offered drop-ins and small group sessions.
There were three strands to our evaluation:
- An analysis of the number of posts on the forum threads.
- A questionnaire to tutors.
- A focus group with the Champions.
A questionnaire was used because it would provide us with the opportunity to obtain a wide range of views quickly. We used closed questions, either yes or no or rated using the Likert scale. These were combined with open questions to allow for wider explanations of answers. We had a set of prepared questions for the focus group to structure the discussion but were willing to digress to explore interesting and relevant points.
We took a thematic approach in analysing the results, identifying themes individually and then re-evaluating considering our discussions.
The questionnaires were sent to 209 tutors and were completed by 30 tutors giving a 14% response rate.
- Forum Threads
In all tutor forums, the Adobe Connect Champion thread was the most active. For example, 181 posts across two threads on W101, 53 posted on W102, and 62 posts across two threads on W203.
88.9% of the respondents had read the Adobe Connect Champion thread in the tutor group forums with 83.35% finding it useful. For example, one tutor commented, “I read the forum thread and … found it provides all I need”.
- Questionnaire to tutors
70.9% of the respondents confirmed they had made use of the Champion. Several reasons for accessing the Champion were given including to gain confidence in Adobe (particularly breakout rooms), uploading slides and finding tools. One tutor commented that the Champions “had excellent comprehensive knowledge and an awareness of resources that could help”.
29.9 % of respondents had not accessed the Champion and confirmed this was because they do not need to or any questions were already answered in the forum either by the Champion or other tutors.
Of the 70.9% responding, 88.9% felt the Champions provided valuable support. One tutor commented on how “it helped develop my confidence” and said they would not have publicly posted their concerns. There were a lot of comments on how useful the Champion was for new tutors, how the 1-2-1 support was invaluable with the technology and many felt it was useful to have someone to ask. One tutor commented, “it is good to know someone is there”. While another tutor commented “in addition to the advice and expertise, …. the Champion provided a good focal point of interaction and sharing about Adobe Connect”.
A few experienced online tutors did question whether a Champion was necessary considering the mentor and SEM support available.
- Focus group
All Champions attended the focus group. They had all taken the same approach by running and moderating a forum thread where they posted advice, updates, and shared tips. One commented on “how they had found it useful to work with the other Champions to exchange knowledge and ideas”. A number of common themes were identified regarding the support requested, this included using breakout rooms, screen sharing, dealing with technical problems within the session, setting up the room, uploading slides and tidying the room afterwards.
The Champions found the role enjoyable and felt it had challenged them to develop their skills within Adobe Connect. One Champion commented that the “silver lining” for them of undertaking the role was that in helping another to use a YouTube clip it enabled them to develop this skill themselves, thereby creating a more engaging session for the students of both the Champion and the tutor.
Some Champions commented that some tutors were confused about the role believing they were technical experts who could solve IT problems. Further discussion established this could have been how they had been introduced on the tutor group forum.
Champions noted that new tutors needed a lot of support, often they had not attended the formal training session, had not engaged with the induction process and some mentors passed the new tutor on to the Champion for initial Adobe support.
From the evaluation of this project, we have concluded that the Champions were of value to both new and existing tutors. Many tutors found it re-assuring to be able to contact someone who had knowledge of the module materials and experience of delivering them in the online room.
We are aware that the formal training, when taken up by tutors, for Adobe Connect provides tutors with the ability to use the online tools. However, we feel a key benefit of having a Champion is giving new or inexperienced tutors confidence to use the tools effectively for the module specific learning outcomes for the individual tutorials, thereby enhancing the student experience.
An unexpected outcome of the project was that the Champions developed their own skills and learnt from the tutors. Champions commented on how much they had enjoyed working with tutors and providing the support.
This project took place during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and, we hope this offered an additional opportunity for social interaction between tutors working from home during lockdown.
We feel we have been able to establish a key benefit of the Champion is supporting new and less experienced tutors to develop Adobe Connect skills and to have the confidence to utilise fully the tutorial materials for their module. Because of the positive response received by both tutors and Champions we are very grateful to the Faculty on their agreement to provide additional funding for Champions for the 21J presentation. We are aware that the possibility of replicating this project is being investigated in other Schools.
Rapanta C, Botturi L, Goodyear P, Guàrdia L & Koole, M, 2020, Online University Teaching During and After the Covid-19 Crisis: Refocusing Teacher Presence and Learning Activity, Postdigital Science and Education (2020) 2:923–945
Carol Edwards is a Lecturer and Student Experience Manager within the Open University Law School. She joined the OU as an associate lecturer in 2015 and became a Student Experience Manager in 2018. She is a Fellow of the HEA and a member of the Law School’s Peer Mentoring Project. Carol’s research interests include tackling student isolation via such programmes as online mentoring. She is also actively involved in scholarship relating to online teaching pedagogy and assessment feedback. Before joining the OU Carol worked in further education and is still actively involved in the quality management of Open Access courses.
Andrew Maxfield is a Lecturer and Student Experience Manager within the Open University Law School. He joined the OU as an associate lecturer in 2016 and became a Student Experience Manager in 2018. Andrew’s research interests included student engagement with online learning. Andrew is a solicitor and has practiced in family, charity and property law. He has also worked in further and higher education over a number of years.
This blog represents the views of the individuals, not SCiLAB or the Open University.