Anne Jelfs

  • “Am I still doing a good job?” Conceptions of tutoring in distance education

    Anne Jelfs, Open University, UK

    Janet Macdonald, Open University, UK

    Linda Price, Open University, UK

    John Richardson, Open University, UK

    Pete Cannell, Open University, UK

    Session 3g, Tuesday 10.10

    Research paper

    Theme addressed:

    • Supporting learners

    What tutors believe is good practice in supporting students may be different from what they actually do, and their students’ perspective on what is good practice may be different again. We are investigating tutors’ and students’ conceptions of tutoring using a large-scale quantitative study in parallel with a qualitative study of key tutor-student interactions and perceptions of their value to student learning.

    Interview-based investigations have identified a number of conceptions of teaching on a continuum from a totally teacher-centred and content-orientated conception of teaching to a totally student-centred and learning-orientated conception of teaching. Gow and Kember (1993) constructed a questionnaire on conceptions of teaching to measure two broad “orientations” to teaching: knowledge transmission and learning facilitation. Norton et al (2005) adapted Gow and Kember’s questionnaire to measure teachers’ beliefs and intentions in four institutions. They found that teachers’ intentions were more orientated towards knowledge transmission than their beliefs. Teachers’ intentions seemed to reflect a compromise between teachers’ conceptions of teaching and particular academic and social contexts.

    Most of the work which has been undertaken on conceptions of good teaching has been in a campus based environment, where the assumption is that tutor support primarily takes place in the classroom. Increasingly, however, courses have a blended approach that involves email, telephone, computer conferencing and traditional face-to-face tutorials. A narrative account of these patterns of support is provided by Macdonald (2006). We have followed this up with a qualitative study in which 20 tutors are keeping blogs to reflect on their interactions with distance-learning students over a two month period, and their accounts are compared with the experience of their students by means of a telephone survey.

    Price et al (in press) have focused on how the role of tutors in distance education is changing as the Open University moves from tuition provided by face-to-face sessions with support by telephone and email to wholly online tuition. We have developed an amended version of Gow and Kember’s questionnaire to investigate students’ and tutor’s conceptions of a “good tutor”. We are administering this amended questionnaire to 1,000 students and 1,000 tutors across a range of disciplines. Factor analysis will be used to identify scales that reflect key constructs in the students’ and the tutors’ responses to the questionnaire; cluster analysis will be used to identify subgroups of students and tutors with qualitatively different patterns of scale scores; and discriminant analysis will be used to determine the scales that contribute most to the differences among the different clusters. Finally, the interpreted clusters will be examined to decide whether or not they constitute a logical hierarchy of the kind to be expected from phenomenographic analyses of learning and teaching in higher education.