I need more guidance…

Often, when I am trying to write an assignment, as I should be doing now, I find myself floundering and not entirely sure what I should be doing. I feel I need more guidance. My own students are submitting drafts of an assignment and they are also asking for more guidance. Some have even openly voiced what I feel like saying to my own tutors, “JUST TELL ME WHAT TO WRITE!” (Sorry for shouting but that’s what it sounds like in my head.)

As a tutor I know there is a fine line between guidance and coaching. If you coach a student, tell them what to write or say, then you’ll never find out what they have actually learnt, and that’s before you get into Academic Integrity issues. So you try and gently guide them in the right direction. It’s a fine line between not enough guidance and too much. One module I worked on used to have twice as much written guidance on the assignment than the actual word count of the essay. It was done with the best of intentions but the result was some very confused students!

It’s interesting being a tutor and a student at the same time, as my first blog That Student!’ illustrated. It’s providing me with some insights into my own behaviour and the behaviour of my own students. So, with that in mind, here’s some advice I’d give my own students if they were feeling like I am and wanted some more guidance.

  • Read the logbook/assignment guide. And then read it again. Every time you come to a ‘block’ or feel you don’t understand what you are being asked, go check.
  • Underline or highlight the key words in the assignment title. The key words are the ones that will relate to Blooms Taxonomy and the intended learning outcomes of the module or course. The image below gives some helpful explanation about what these words actually mean.
image attribution fractus learning
  • If there is a marking scheme or a grid read it carefully. It would be a shame if you wrote 1000 words on topic ‘A’ when only 5/50 marks of the 2500 word essay were for topic ‘A’, and 45/50 marks for topics ‘B’.
  • If you are still confused, talk to your peers. One of the advantages of working openly in my current OU module is that I can see what others are doing. The advantage of this is if I am really stuck there is normally someone ahead of me, I can look at to see how they have approached a question. We have the advantage of all working on different topics, so little chance of accidentally plagiarising. The downside of this is that we could ALL be doing the wrong thing, but it’s unlikely. If you aren’t working openly with other students then ask on a student forum for the broad approaches to an assignment or phone a friend. Talk it through. It helps.
  • If you still need guidance, ask your tutor, preferably in an open forum as you’re probably aren’t the only one confused, you’re just the first one to ask. From a tutor perspective this also means you will, probably, only have to answer that particular question once.
  • If you can, submit a draft. Your tutor will hopefully provide some feedback that will guide the direction of the final assignment.

So with that in mind, back to writing my assignment taking my own advice.

And yes, I have a post all about procrastinating in my head, but I’ll save it till I have something ‘really’ important to write!

‘That’ student…

It’s been a very busy week. I’ve been travelling around the country in my educator role to assess student practical assignments, and I had my own assignment deadline in the latest module of my MA in Online and Distance Education (MAODE) with The Open University.

This morning, as I was reflecting on how my week had gone, and indulging in a some self-critical thought, I realised that I was ‘that‘ student.

You know the one I mean. The one who always just meets a deadline and has a suitcase of excuses as to why they submit rushed work. The one who despite being told many times hasn’t read the logbook or the assignment guidance fully. The one who could probably be an ‘A’ student if they just planned a little better.

As an educator I am frustrated by these students. I know that a rushed piece of work makes it more likely that a student will drop ‘easy’ marks to grammar, spelling or referencing mistakes, and even to plagarise accidentally. When you are up against a deadline there is less time to proof read and sanity check. I long to tell them that if they just planned a bit better, or read ahead, or gave themselves some thinking space, they would make their lives so much easier.

I wish I could take my own advice.

Instead, I made last week incredibly stressful for myself and my family. I worked on trains and in stations, and every spare minute I could find to ‘pull it out the hat’. I’m pretty sure I was a cow to my husband, and I burst into tears in front of my own students! I wasn’t sure of the direction the assignment was meant to take, but felt I couldn’t approach my tutor at this late stage. I should probably have asked for an extension, but that felt like defeat. I submitted, under the word count but I’d had enough, a piece of work that is far from the best I could do. 

I wish I could say this was the first time. I tell the tale of how I once, back when essays were still submitted in hard copy, of driving two hours on the submission date to post an essay through the door of a tutor in order to meet the 3pm deadline. It was not my finest moment.

So, I’m making a pact with myself. To be less ‘that’ student, to plan more, to be kinder to myself. To ask for help. Otherwise I’m going to be stuck in this pattern forever.