Faculty Discussion Series - 14 August 2020 “A sudden turn to Online Tutoring – the Tutors’ voice”

Posted on August 17, 2020

At the start of the second semester the tutors in the Faculty of Humanities were invited by Prof Sandy Africa, Deputy Dean Teaching and Learning, to present papers reflecting on their experiences of tutoring under lockdown. Tutors were asked to prepare short focused presentations of between 5 and 7 minutes on key issues relating specifically to the “sudden turn to online tutoring”. In order to raise the discussion to a level of intellectual debate students were requested to consider certain topics, including the following: Digital inequality and its impact on tutoring; How online tutoring affects interpersonal relations; Disability in the virtual classroom; The post-Covid classroom and the future of tutoring.

There was an overwhelming response across the Faculty and in the end seventeen tutors representing ten departments participated in the event held on Friday morning 14 August 2020 at 10 o’clock. Over 70 staff and students, including fellow tutors, joined the Blackboard Collaborate webinar session which lasted a full hour and a half. Prof Harris, Head of the Department of Historical and Heritage studies opened the session referring to the tutors as being an “indispensable and integral part” of the teaching process, a “conduit” between student and lecturer. She also referred to tutoring’s medieval ancestry where tutors were held to “help the students help themselves”. 

The following students and departments  were represented: Felicia Noluthando Khambule,  Refiloe Maano and Charnelle Findlay (Social Work and Criminology); Kristen van de Venter (Political Sciences); Natasha Chapman and Lethu Mathibela (Criminology); Bianka Thom and Blinko Ndlovu (Drama); Angela Damons and Jeandré Visagie (English); Ruby McGregor-Langley and Christopher Sanderson (Historical and Heritage Studies); Hannah Acutt (Anthropology); Pfarelo Matsila (Sociology); Chris Maas (Visual Arts); Edrich du Toit (Music); and Ayrton Amaral  Ancient Modern Languages and Cultures).

In their presentations the tutors pointed to the challenges that students across the board were experiencing in terms of technological issues relating to data, devices and connectivity. They were however quick to acknowledge the support that the University had provided a number of students, but admitted there were issues that were beyond its control such as the lack of electricity in remote areas and the recently introduced load-shedding. Students also spoke of the difficulties students were experiencing in their home environments which were not always conducive to learning and where they were also isolated from other facilities and services available and offered on the campus.  From a personal well-being perspective, tutors also highlighted the isolation and lack of social interpersonal relations brought on by lockdown which was so critical to a students’ growth and development. They also pointed to how difficult it was in the tutor situation not being able to engage with their students face-to-face as they could not read their facial expressions and body language - and give them that individual attention, that smile of encouragement and look of understanding. 

A presentation slide by history tutors

Marena Lotriet, the Educational Consultant for the faculty of Humanities, who chaired the five sessions, commented on how impressed she was with the tutors’ presentations and their time keeping. She commented that the “tutors are such a bunch of energy and enthusiasm”. Senior Instructional Designer, Gaby Pretorius, who recorded the session said: “It was very exciting to see how tutors developed resilience amidst the challenges that they themselves and their students experienced, and the element of care that was seen for their students”.

In closing Prof Harris referred to the incredible professionalism of the presentations and to the huge contribution the tutors were making in these “abnormal” times. She commended them for the way they identified a whole range of challenges that went way beyond the technological including the interpersonal, the learning environment and the lack of access to what on-campus university life offered at a range of levels. She praised them for their wonderful initiatives and said despite the odds “we will get through this”. This was the first Faculty discussion forum of its kind where tutors took part. Due its success and the insightful contributions it has been suggested that this should be repeated again towards the end of the second semester.  

The recording is also available in the clickUP module, called "Humanities Tutor Coordinators".  https://eu-lti.bbcollab.com/recording/0c4b60e7cbb84a70a938efc4e31ae6c9

Published by Ian Macqueen

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