Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Why won't the OU let postgraduates teach?

Remembering that Derek Pugh told us the other day that a PhD is a qualification to teach, OU post grads don't get to teach, which is a bit odd. The PGs in the Citizenship Identities & Governance Group are having a meeting about this discrepancy and what can be done about it. See here.

The OU is a bit different because there aren't lots of students on campus. The only students on campus are the full time post grads. So PGs can't teach face to face unless they take on associate lecturer posts.

However, it's not that the OU won't let its post grads teach; it's that the OU doesn't show post grads how to apply for associate lecturer (AL) posts. There are vacancies advertised here. Every AL has to apply through a formal process even if, like me, you've been an AL for over twenty years.

For every course, and for every rewrite of an old course - one you've been teaching for years - you have to fill in an on-line form that is designed to be awkward to complete electronically. Up to last year, even if the OU had had your details of education and work for years, you still had to fill in those boxes again. For courses starting next autumn, you had to apply by last week - I missed that date because it's such a hassle to fill in the forms. Fortunately, I tutor two courses already, and don't want to tutor more until autumn 2010, when I finish my PhD.

PGs have to compete with other people from outside the university for these jobs. The distance learning students want the best tutors, so the OU has a duty to employ the best that apply. Secondly, PGs might not want to take on an AL contract that involves teaching adults, very varied adults,- it's not the same as tutoring young undergrads in a standard university. PGs might not want to go for jobs in the regions where the jobs exist - far from Milton Keynes.

But the OU could teach PGs to teach digitally, using electronic tools like Elluminate to offer extra tutorials, even if they didn't have a tutor group of students and electronic assignments to mark. They'd have to be free tutorials, and the PGs wouldn't earn anything, but get practice. I don't know who'd supervise the sessions and help the PGs to learn to teach - that would cost time and money that I warrant the research school won't take on. But electronic tutorials must be possible.

Years ago, as an already trained teacher, I went on a month's training course at International House to learn to teach English as a Foreign Language. Each group of three would-be EFL teachers taught one lesson. One gave the starter, another came in with a follow up session, and the third taught the conclusion. Each WB-EFL-teacher taught for only ten to fifteen minutes, but the students were happy to get free tuition. We had a senior teacher who supervised and gave us feedback.

The OU research school could adopt and adapt that idea, so that on Elluminate three PGs could share a lesson. You'd have to get PGs together who all teach the same subject - like three business PGs, or three science PGs. And they'd have to have read the relevant units for the course so they knew what the OU students were expected to know. You'd still need to have someone from the relevant course team help to set up the session and get a course team to announce the opportunity in the relevant electronic forum. Try it as a one-off, but to support the PGs long-term, it would have to be centrally set up and available through the research school. You need:
  • research school to set the opportunity up regularly
  • post grads in the same subject area who want to teach
  • course team that wants to offer extra tutorials
  • knowledge of Elluminate - would the library provide the training?
  • someone to supervise, help and assess the students - could be associate lecturers with day contracts
I don't think the various parts of the university know enough about each other to set this up.

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