As you will have discovered since the move to remote teaching, there are plenty of ways to communicate both synchronously and asynchronously with our students. Tools available for online tutoring include email, My Studies and Teams. The University information page for students on the PAT system has recently been updated with a new video that includes brief discussion of online tutorials. You can also view this in the sidebar here.
Technology alone will not enable us to recreate the private productive tutorials we may be used to. Your students will be dealing with many other challenges at the moment. Like ourselves, they may be coping with the emotional impact of renewed Covid restrictions, worrying about their own or family members’ health, struggling to access food and medicines, home-schooling young children or competing with other family members for the only computer in the home.
So concentrate on reassuring your students and helping to set realistic expectations for yourself and them. If you haven’t already done so, try to send a brief message to each of your tutees, and ask them to let you what their current situation is, what they most need from you at the moment and how they would prefer to communicate.
In general the Chat feature in Teams comes closest to replicating a face to face tutorial and should be suitable for most cases. See “Using the Chat Feature for Tutorials” for guidance on how to use this. Your initial invitation to a Teams tutorial should include a link to the student guide to using Teams in case they missed out on this during the Belong at Brighton programme, and be clear about where and how to join your meeting. (Its normally easiest to ask them to be on Teams at the agreed time, and then for the tutor to initiate the call).
You might also explain that they aren’t obliged to keep their camera on – though its nice to be able to see each other, its not essential and they can upload a picture of themselves if they prefer.
However, please bear in mind that a recent NUS survey shows that a substantial minority of students have had problems with all aspects of online learning during lockdown, due mainly to lack of appropriate equipment or to limitations on their internet access. Disabled students and those from poorer backgrounds were worst affected. Some students may also be reluctant to conduct a confidential tutorial discussion over Teams or any other kind of live video call, due to lack of a private workspace.
It may be that a brief phone or Teams call to say hello can provide welcome reassurance, and they can then decide if they would prefer to use Teams or email for follow up discussions.. At the same time, be clear about your own boundaries – you could add a line to your email signature detailing when you will be able to respond or advertising virtual ‘office hours’. If you know you are not going to be available at any point due to caring commitments or illness, make sure your students know who they can contact instead.
Most of the general advice in the main Guide for Personal Tutors will still apply, and we will be revising and adding additional guidance to help you adapt it for online tutorial environments.