50 objects for 50 years. No 4. The PT3

The Open University, OU is littered with acronyms. Students may write assignments, but they submit iCMAs, or TMAs or eTMAs.  Their tutors (ALs) respond by completing an assessment comments document, or PT3. It is this last item which is the fourth object of our fifty objects.

The system is that a student passes a completed TMA to their tutor. When I was a teenager in the 1970s my OU student mother would scuttle across town to post her almost-late assignment through the letterbox of her tutor before the midnight cut-off. A decade later, when I was a tutor, I used to listen to my letterbox rattling as last-minute deliveries were made. Today most assignments are sent electronically and quite a few of them are timed in at 23.59.

The student then has a wait while the Tutor writes up to about 500 words of conversational comment and advice, looking back on the last piece of work and forwards to the next. On most work, the tutor also gives a mark. In the 1980s carbon copies of the tutor’s comments would be sent to a monitor. This person would offer ideas to the tutor as to how to improve support. Another carbon copy would go to the tutor’s manager, who would look at what the monitor had said as well as the student and the tutor. A further copy would go to the tutor and finally a copy would be stored somewhere on the Walton Hall site, in Milton Keynes. This process still continues, though the poorly reproduced carbon copies and spidery handwriting is less in evidence today. The system has been recognised as robust and supportive of learning by the OU’s Teaching Lead, Professor Claire Turner who recently told me ‘I strongly recognise the excellent feedback that ALs give to their students to help them learn.’

While many students look at their mark, others have told me that the receiving the PT3 has been an exciting, nerve-wracking and pleasurable experience. Some feel engaged in a dialogue with tutors and that there is a sense of collaboration and intellectual debate. The PT3 marks out the OU as more than a correspondence course or an institution where ‘Satis’ or ‘Could Try Harder’ will suffice. It announces that this is a place where collaborative, social, teaching and learning are central.

This object was proposed by OU graduate and OU staff member Nic. Have you got a favourite object?

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