Understanding individual learner support has been tough to get my head around. Separating the personal problems of the learner from learning problems of the person has been my greatest challenge. Definitions are important! Learner supporters are ‘intermediaries’, able to talk the language of the student/learner and to interpret the materials and procedures of complex bureaucratic organisations (Sewart, 1993).
Ultimately the higher education process has to be learner oriented which means everything should be related to the needs, expectations, attitudes and interests of students. Not only are the numbers of learners growing, but the diversity of learners is increasing as well ‐ people with different economic, cultural, ethnic, political, religious backgrounds, people with different kinds of disability, different age, sex, professional status and so on.
They have different life and study experience and different levels of skills for learning. Students, particularly 1st year undergraduate, need assistance in a number of areas, including: Skills for coping with pressure and stress, problem solving skills, reading skills, note taking skills, writing skills, essay writing skills, avoiding plagiarism, presentation skills, revision, and exam skills.
On reflection I only wish I could do more, but I have a strong feeling that I was part of an undergraduate farm at Northumbria University (less so at Curtin University) and sadly it appears we are heading that way at Charles Sturt University! Therefore, at times, I have found my role more of a Sheppard than what I thought was the role of the teacher.
With a large group of students to support the educator needs to make use of as many technologies and time saving devices as possible. Whilst this might sound simplistic, embracing technology as a means of facilitating greater feedback, communication and therefore stronger learner support is vital.
I have embraced the following approach to learner support for all of my students:
• Blackboard / Moodle / Interact – All Module / Subject details, regularly updated, key route of for student communications
• Office Hours – Weekly two hour office hours, open to one on one’s beyond office
hours (Northumbria), negotiated meeting times (Curtin & Charles Sturt) BUT flexible
• Telephone – available whilst in office
• Email – Available to students 24/ 7, I’m online most days so feedback, replies are fast
• Skype / FaceTime / Google+ Hangout – Available via ‘video’ if online
• Facebook Groups / Pages – Social communication route, but key ‘fast track’ route for important communiqués
• Pebblepad – commitment to embracing this VLE for student development at Northumbria, offered but rejected by students at Charles Sturt!