Agony aunt

August 4, 2000

Q A number of students have contacted me for advice about resits on modules I taught. Since the summer is important for my research and I do not have a formal tutor role should I be giving them my time?

* Moira Peelo, Study consultant, Higher Education Development Centre, Lonsdale College, University of Lancaster

Ifan Shepherd Online coordinator and programme leader MA in electronic business Marketing Academic Group Middlesex University Business School It can make a difference to a student to get a human response, and those who have failed are likely to feel most uncomfortable when approaching you (even those who seem pushy). Not all students understand well how universities work. This leaves room for misunderstanding if you are not able to respond to students' real academic problems arising from your modules.

How you might respond, if you chose to, could depend on what sort of advice is wanted: is it general exam advice or about a specific exam paper? Could your involvement be time limited or if you respond helpfully, will that lead to more calls on your time? How would you give advice: by email, letter, phone or in person? Have you got any other qualms about helping - other than time and duty - such as beliefs about fairness to other students?

If the issue is just one of the proper limits of teaching duties, then fairness says this should be decided between colleagues in advance rather than student by student.

It will happen every year, so prepare in advance. Is there an agreed policy for your department or faculty on appropriate levels of support for students resitting exams? Draw up a list of which alternative sources of general support (study support staff or student counsellors) are available - if any - over the summer. Can you recommend easy-to-use sources for students to study themselves? Finally, are your notes and handouts available on a website?

* Ifan Shepherd, Online coordinator and programme leader MA in electronic business, Marketing Academic Group, Middlesex University Business School

I suspect that my response will be largely academic as by the time it appears, your students will probably have gone on holiday. All the same, it raises some interesting issues.

First off, I am going to assume that you do not provide students with a formal consultation session shortly after assessment results are posted.

At Middlesex University Business School, where I teach, individual module-based consultations are a standard feature of our end-of-semester activities and I would strongly recommend them. They will probably solve your problems at a stroke, in that students will have the right to immediate advice on resit requirements, and you will be free to embark on a summer of uninterrupted research.

Make sure these sessions are well publicised - you could even use the slogan: "No attendance, no advice". For students who genuinely cannot attend, you might suggest they email you, but within a relatively short period of time after results are released.

An alternative approach is to provide the resit advice before your students ask for it. For example, send them a letter and/or email as part of your assessment board's follow-up activities, outlining individual resit requirements. You could supplement this by posting general assessment feedback on an intranet website, as we do, in which you comment on how students performed on specific items of assessed work in particular modules.

Another way of reducing your resit advice load would be to look at ways of improving student performance on your modules.

Teaching problems? Send them to The Thes and our experts will answer them.

Write to Pat Leon The THES Admiral House 66-68 East Smithfield London E1W 1BX

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