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SiSE only tutor groups and the effect on SiSE students and their tutors

  • Project leader(s): Laura AlexanderLinda MooreVictoria Nicholas
  • Theme: Access, Participation and Success
  • Faculty: STEM
  • Status: Archived
  • Dates: October 2019 to October 2020

Normally at the Open University Students in Secure Environments (SiSE) are allocated in small numbers to standard tutor groups to form mixed groups of 20 students, of whom 1 or 2 would typically be SiSE students. However, SiSE students generally have no internet access and have very different support needs to standard students, making such mixed groups complex to manage. In recent years the OU has sometimes struggled to find tutors willing to look after such mixed groups, with tutors citing difficulties with managing to meet the needs of all the students in the group as a key reason.

Due to a larger than normal number of SiSE students on S111 in 19J, the STEM Faculty decided to allocate groups of 10-12 SiSE students to form a number of SiSE only tutor groups, as well as having other SiSE students allocated to standard tutor groups. This situation provided an opportunity to compare and contrast the experience of tutors and SiSE students within these two sets. 

Results relevant to SiSE team/Faculty

NB where Covid-19 is likely to have affected the conclusions, this is highlighted in the text

  • SiSE-only tutor groups help tutors to become better at dealing with SiSE issues, and also create a resource of knowledge to advise the OU on policy.
  • Facilitating getting alternative resources to prisons during this period was a major part of the SiSE tutor’s job in 19J. Almost half (47%) of all the issues raised were around getting materials into prisons.
  • Late or missing TMAs are a major difficulty for tutors. This delay causes significant problems for tutors trying to manage their workload, and justifies the smaller size of SiSE only tutor groups (10-12 students rather than 20)
  • Student changes in circumstance and moves are not always dealt with well. Creating a procedure for students leaving prison, including maintaining contact, would improve student retention.
  • There are multiple breaches of procedure highlighted, including one tutor being phoned directly by a SiSE student.
  • The piecemeal allocation of SiSE students caused many problems, and tutors were very frustrated at the lack of joined up thinking. If all SiSE students on modules with high populations of SiSE students were in SiSE-only tutor groups, and allocated at one time in a sensible geographic manner, a far better student experience could be provided alongside considerable financial savings.
  • To allocate students sensibly would require SiSE students to comply with the ‘Final Enrolment Date’ as all other OU students do. The current situation where most SiSE students register well after the Final Enrolment date means that students are allocated piecemeal, which is not in the student’s best interest. If students do not meet the Final Enrolment Date, they can easily be allocated on the next presentation, and for most level 1 modules there are two presentations each year.
  • The quality of the Education Officer and their willingness to build up a relationship with the tutor is key to student success. Again, only having one tutor for all the students on a particular module in a particular institution helps with this.
  • Lockdowns cause particular issues, and can occur for a number of reasons, not just Covid-19.
  • Students really appreciate face to face tutorials when they are possible. Phone tutorials are frequently difficult due to poor phone lines.
  • Many students could not access the Virtual Campus consistently, and when they could, the restrictions on internet use reduced its usefulness.
  • Encouraging paper TMA submissions is better than electronically submitted scanned handwritten ones, provided the paper copies go to the tutor.

Results relevant to the S111 module team

  • The S111 materials available to SiSE tutors are either incomplete or hard to find
  • Pdf marking training and access to tools is needed for SiSE tutors on S111 (where pdf marking is not the norm). Due to lack of computer access many students submitted scans of handwritten TMAs via their Education Officer
  • iCMAs cause particular issues on eg S111 in terms of procedures, both for prisons and for monitoring.
  • More care needed around TMA questions which assume students have access to video content
  • Making tutorial pdf slides sets part of supplied module materials would be helpful

Summary Recommendations

The single thing that the OU could do to improve the SiSE experience is to fix and enforce a Final Enrolment Date for SiSE students. This would:-

  • Increase the likelihood that SiSE students receive their module materials in good time
  • allow sensible geographic allocation of SiSE students to tutors, making some face to face tuition possible
  • ensure that in each prison Education Officers only have to deal with one tutor per module, allowing tutors to build up relationships with the EOs and improving communication

For high population modules with more than say 10 SiSE students, SiSE only tutorgroups offer significant advantages as there is a considerable overhead for tutors in navigating module materials, SiSE procedures etc. It would also allow the SiSE only tutors to work more closely with the relevant module team to improve the resources available over time.


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