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Investigating factors which affect active student participation during tutorials in online rooms

Project leader(s): 
Diane Butler, Lynda Cook and Vikki Haley-Mirnar

The advent of digital capabilities in synchronous communication technologies has enabled the STEM faculty to move much of its tutorial provision from a face-to-face setting online. Direct observation in Level 2 Life and Health Sciences modules, of around 70 hours of online tuition has revealed that the ethos of student centred facilitation, which previously characterised most OU face to face tutorial provision has now largely been lost. Despite the affordances of interactive tools within the platform used for tuition (Adobe Connect), staff delivering synchronous online tuition have largely adopted a didactic approach with a focus on ‘content to cover’. Interviews with staff in this study reveal significant frustration that students are not more active participants within tutorials and describe how their best effects to foster staff to student and student-to-student interactions frequently meet with failure.  Student satisfaction with tuition experiences, however, is high with most students surveyed describing tutorials as highly valuable to their learning. In addition, data analytics reveal that many students make significant use of recordings of synchronous tutorials and frequently, by choice, rarely attend sessions live. Student surveys and in-depth interviews with students and staff reveal a lack of shared understanding of the role of tutorial provision within our distance-learning context. In this report we outline a number of different approaches to synchronous tuition that may support a more effective student learning in a variety of distance learning contexts. Our aim is to foster a better match between student and staff expectations, ensuring that students more fully understand the value of a student centred approach to tuition and that staff are supported to provide this effectively.

Related resources

Butler, D., Cook, L. and Haley-Mirnar, V. (2018) Achieving student centred facilitation in online synchronous tutorials. eSTEeM Final Report (PDF)   

Butler, Diane; Cook, Lynda; Haley-Mirnar, Vikki; Halliwell, Catherine and MacBrayne, Louise Achieving Student Centred Facilitation in Online Synchronous Tutorials. In: Towards Personalized Guidance and Support for Learning, pp. 76–82.

This short video featuring Diane Butler, Cath Brown and Isabella Henman discusses the purpose and benefits of tutorials. This video was produced for the OpenLearn Badged Open Course 'Being an OU student'.

Video length: 6 minutes 58 secs

Download transcript