n-college open learning tutoring of learners studying flexible learning elements may be done by full-time employees of the institution. If that is the case, it is quite normal for there to be various checks on the quality of the tutoring. When open learners are tutored by part-time staff whose main job is for another institution, it is necessary to ensure that the quality of assessment and feedback is acceptable. The following suggestions may help you to decide how to approach the setting up of systems to monitor tutor performance.

  1. Appoint the right tutors in the first place! There are many reasons why tutors might get into open learning support, ranging from a keen interest to find out about supporting learners working on their own or at a distance, to more pragmatic reasons such as to earn a little extra money. One indicator that high-quality tutor support may be provided is tutors’ willingness to be trained and monitored. There would-be tutors can furnish evidence that they have participated successfully in open learning tutoring already, check whether referees can comment on the quality of this aspect of their work.
  2. Build in appropriate filters in tutor training. While it is not possible to make an early diagnosis of every potential problem, people who are not going to turn out to be effective tutors to open learners often show this during training exercises on giving written feedback to open learners, or when role-playing in staff development workshops face to face or in telephone encounter with learners.
  3. Have some sort of record of each important encounter between tutors and learners. For example, in the past some paper-based schemes used triplicate forms for tutor-learner feedback, enabling tutors to keep details of the main points they raised for each tutor-marked assignment, and providing a copy to be kept centrally. Nowadays it is more usual for photocopying to be used for paper-based feedback, and even more usual for the whole process to be done electronically, with emailed feedback also being sent as a matter of routine to whoever is overseeing tutor performance, This allows the monitoring of tone, style and fairness both on a continuous basis and retrospectively when necessary.
  4. Arrange meeting between tutors. Experienced open learning tutors can share a great deal about best practice with newer tutors. Such meetings can give tutors a realistic picture of the level of work expected from them, the amount of support they may be required to give, and how quickly they should aim to turn assignments round.
  5. Have double marking to check for consistency. While it would be impossible to have all assignments double-marked, it is usually possible to arrange for a representative sample of each tutor’s assessments to be re-marked. This helps to fine-tune standard-setting.
  6. Monitor the drop-out rate. This can give important information about which tutors are providing the best support. It is, however, the least satisfactory way of monitoring tutor performance, as it can turn out to be based on things having gone seriously wrong before detection.
  7. Have systems whereby learners can change their tutors. Even with the best of tutors, there are sometimes differences of personality, style or approach that make them less than compatible with the occasional learner. It is useful if there is an escape route for either party. It is even better if there is no inquiry or allocation of blame in the event of the occasional request to switch. If a particular tutor is involved in such changes too often, then it is time to explore why.
  8. Ask open learners anonymously about the support they receive from their tutors. This can convenient be done by using online questionnaires where possible, or computer-based multiple-choice questionnaires, or handwritten questionnaires. This sort of feedback is best analysed in terms of seeking general problems or directions for improvement, rather than as a prelude to troubleshooting matters arising in the work of individual tutors.
  9. Survey open learners’ reactions to open-ended questions about the support they receive from their tutors. This can of course be done behind backs’, but is more productive if done through the tutors themselves, who can then also learn at first hand about the issues that they may wish to focus their attention on in the future development of their tutoring. Such surveying is best done after the open learners concerned have finished the module or unit concerned, so that there are no tensions between feedback and assessment.