Q. - "I am to be personal tutor to more than 30 students this year and am having terrible trouble working out how to be available to all, especially new undergraduates and still have a life?"
A. lecturer, University of Poppleton
You have to find different ways of dealing with being a personal tutor these days. One way we have devised for structuring discussions with tutors is to ask students to fill in a pro forma before meetings and bring it with them. This acts as a focus and discussion prompt, and makes sure we cover all the issues.We ask them what they like, what they do not like, what problems they have with their tutors or with the course content. Without this, it can take half an hour to find out what an individual's problems are. All the recording is done by the student and after the meeting with the tutor, the student has to write it up on the form. We began this last year and it has been extremely successful.
Another solution is a kind of departmental approach that we started here in philosophy and is now being picked up elsewhere. At the start of term we have a student help desk run by handpicked, streetwise students - usually postgraduates who could do with some extra cash - and it is their job to keep students away from the office. Straightforward queries about modules, courses, pre-requisites and so-on used to clog our office. They are nuts and bolts questions but the sheer volume was debilitating. Students know what is going on better than most staff and as a first line of defence they are brilliant.
Dean for students
The traditional approach would be to give students "office hours", which tells them when you are available. But managing this is hard. In fact, students need training in how to be students and how to use their personal tutor. It is important to establish a contract or agreement about the relationship. Be straight with them, show them the arithmetic and tell them how much one-to-one time they are entitled to. That will encourage them to prioritise. It is also a good idea to give students a clear map showing them where they can get different kinds of help - what the tutor can offer compared to student services, counselling, accommodation, the library and so on. It might also help to get them used to the idea of small study groups. They will then solve a lot of the problems themselves.
Co-director of the Centre for Higher Education Practice, Open University
I am coordinating a project called Mubs on-line, which is examining the use of email for communications between students and staff. In the main you really have to encourage students to use email and you must be very careful to judge each communication technology by comparing it with face-to-face contact. In some cases face to face can not be substituted but in other instances email communication can be less threatening for students and in fact more effective.
You can also use a website to disseminate general interest information and if you find a number of students are asking the same question, you can post answers on the website.
It may be as simple as a due date for an essay. At the very least email can be used by tutors as a filter, a first port of call. We also give them allocated times when emails are read so students know their messages have been looked at.
Principal lecturer, Middlesex University Business School
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