WELS Tutor Awards – recognising your amazing tutors

Last year we introduced WELS Tutor Awards. We were keen to recognise the amazing work carried out by our tutors, who are the backbone of student tuition.

An accessible version of this article can be found on the OU Students website. 

Last year we introduced WELS Tutor Awards for the first time. This was to follow on from our two other established teaching-related awards: Teaching Awards, judged by students, and Student Awards, nominated by Associate Lecturers. We were keen to recognise the amazing work carried out by our tutors, who are the backbone of student tuition.

All our WELS awards are aligned to the Teaching Excellence Framework which requires that we not only recognise good teaching but also reward it.

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What did we do?
Before planning these new awards, I checked with the previous OU Best Tutor Award process, to learn from it.  We used the same format, in an online form. We were very conscious of not taking up too much of students’ time so asked just two key questions:

  1. What did your tutor do for you?
  2. What impact did it have?

And then asked for any other comments.

The previous OU process attracted 450 submissions from across all four faculties. Going on that number of nominations we expected a relatively low number of submissions. But we actually received over a thousand submissions on the first count. With a lot of help from our fantastic colleagues, WELS Curriculum Team and a lot of data cleansing to remove duplicates etc. we arrived at 867 nominations for 465 WELS tutors.

We brought together a Judging panel of ten WELS colleagues including Associate Lecturers, Staff Tutors, a student representative, and central academics.

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Judging was based on TEF criteria for Teaching Quality, and the judging panel were advised that awards should not be given on the basis of tutors working quickly or being always available, as these were not aspects of a tutor’s role.  

We had ten winners who received a tutor award. A total of 66 tutors across the three schools received commendations on their work and all tutors who were nominated were informed that they had been nominated for an award. Thank you to WELS Academic Support Assistants who ensured that every tutor who received a nomination was informed.  

You might wonder what is it that these tutors do? In response to being asked What did your tutor do for you?, There was a whole range of activities that were outlined:

  • Support
  • Tutorials
  • Emails
  • TMA
  • Forums

Students also explained how their tutors provided support around these activities and they told us their tutors were:

  • Approachable
  • Encouraging
  • Inclusive

Students also appreciated and commented on their tutor’s use of time and their provision of continuous support. Some students suggested that their tutor “seemed to be always there”. Support and guidance was much appreciated through the difficulties of the pandemic.

What tutors do:
Some of these were specific to disability needs, such as one tutor taking care to make sure their face was fully visible on video in tutorials for students to lipread.

Others referred to general mental health and well-being.

Some tutors were praised for proactive support in suggesting their students should prioritise their mental health, and reported tutors regularly checking in with them. Many mentioned the particular value of such support while studying through the lockdown and other personal stressful circumstances. 

One metaphor used for tutors was “rock”.

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Approachable: tutors were described as those who made contact early on to discover any particular needs for support, and who never made students feel small or stupid, and answered questions and queries.

Inclusive: not only for a tutor making their tuition cater specifically to the individual student’s needs, such as a disability, but also to the students noticing that in group situations (forums, tutorials, experiential group learning) the tutor paid attention to individual requirements, listening to students and answering all questions.

Two overarching themes – Feedback and Quick:

Feedback: examples of remarks referring to the quality of feedback:

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Quick: relates to rapid responses to emails and/or forum communications as well as the turnaround of TMAs.

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The second question students addressed was: what impact did it (your tutor’s actions) have on you? 

This question resulted in themes of confidence, continuing, encouragement, improvement and motivation.

Confidence: includes, for example, the impact of tutor’s belief in a student, helping them believe they could achieve.

Continuing: includes those who considered withdrawing and deferring.

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Encouragement: this could be a source of both confidence and improvement.

Improvement: the objective improvement in grades gained, modules passed.

Motivation: the sense of wanting to do well, often because of the sense of the tutor’s investment in the student.

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Having received so much information from so many students there were many similarities in what students said their tutor did. We then brought all the information together and here is a summary of what the nominations said WELS tutors do:Proactively initiating early contact with each student on their learning journey as a start to the development of a tutor/student relationship that will be supportive across the presentation. The impact is that each student feels known as an individual and 'not just a number'.

Building on individual knowledge of each student to tailor communications appropriately through emails, forums, and tutorials, as well as providing detailed, balanced, and helpful feedback on TMAs. The impact is that students feel valued and in consequence are encouraged and motivated to keep studying and often to improve their grades.

Listening carefully when a TMA is failed, helping students understand how specific marking criteria could be met in future. The impact is that students feel heard, valued, and believed in, which can help boost their belief in themselves and their abilities. This can result in better performance as well as in a student deciding not to give up.

Making tutorials informative and engaging as well as helping to break down TMA tasks into manageable chunks. Showing a sense of humour is another valued asset. The impact is that students develop enjoyment in their subjects alongside understanding the requirements of individual assignments.

Understanding when life events compromise the best laid study and offering help with extensions and/or additional support. The impact is that students feel they have a reliably supportive tutor who is at their side to help them through.

We will run the WELS Tutor Awards again this year and hope to hear more from students about their tutors.

Professor Joan Simons
Associate Dean Teaching Excellence, WELS.

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