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Blogging and online tutor: Rules of engagement: developing the online tutor -- 38 -- Proceedings Paper

13:40 - 14:40 on Tuesday, 11 September 2012 in 2.219

This paper considers staff development in a context that is familiar and problematic to teaching teams in tertiary education everywhere, that of delivering online programmes with an ever-decreasing complement of staff. The Teaching Qualification Further Education (TQFE) teaching team at University of Dundee confronted the reality of reduced staff numbers by centralising tutoring and support for programme participants. The new system involves standardising tutoring as far as possible through generic email, blog and microblog accounts, all badged ‘TQFE-Tutor’ and staffed on a rota basis.

Once the new ‘rules of engagement’ via TQFE-Tutor were in place, it became clear that in addition to benefits in terms of student support, the system had instigated other unintended positive consequences: opportunities for informal staff development and the promotion of effective team working. It is these unintended consequences which this paper explores. Staff are dispersed geographically and programme-related activities account for differing proportions of their time, from 0.1 to 1.0 FTE; they almost exclusively conduct their programme work online and that is therefore the ideal situation for their own staff development (Boud, 1999; Cornelius and Macdonald, 2008).

The authors considered the following questions:

  1. What development opportunities did the new system offer and were they viewed as beneficial to the team?
  2. How could the new system provide further informal staff development opportunities?
  3. How could the team futureproof the system against institutional and other external changes?
  4. How has this collegiate approach to tutoring helped in the creation and maintenance of an effective and consistent tutor team?

Short semi-structured interviews were conducted with members of the team; these were recorded, transcribed and the resulting data analysed.

Programme tutors were highly positive in their feedback about TQFE-Tutor and welcomed the unintended opportunities for informal staff and team development. The centralised system affords an overview of colleagues’ tutoring, which tutors found useful and reassuring – much in the same way that tutors in other studies have reportedly advocated peer observation of teaching schemes (see for example, Bell and Mladenovic, 2008).

TQFE programme tutors reap a range of benefits from working within their collective online identity as TQFE-Tutor. The lessons learned in this context have great potential to be adapted for use in other online programmes and tutor teams throughout the tertiary education sector.