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Success Centre and Tutor Model Blog

What does student success look like?

Sept 21, 2014 Whether it be in your courses, your student coffee rooms, or through social media like Facebook, you may have noticed much discussion regarding the learning model at AU, particularly the debate between a tutor-model and a call/success centre (the name varies depending on the source). This discussion has been ongoing within AU for years and is far more complex than it might appear at first glance. The issue was recently center stage at a pair of General Faculties Council special meetings.

A tutor-model involves students being assigned to a specific tutor for the duration of their course. The tutor is the first point of contact for a student (unless the student seeks out alternative assistance from a different department directly) and is available directly through email or phone call. In the most basic conception of a centre model, students make contact with a central office by phone or email and have their query directed to whichever source is most appropriate (whether that be an academic expert, an administrator, etc.). It has been suggested that there are variations in what the specifics of the centre are, for example, it’s been suggested that in some instances, students may still communicate with a single academic expert throughout their course by consistently being directed to that same individual support for academic inquiries.

The Faculty of Business has employed a central model system for decades, the Faculty of Science and Technology has very recently begun rolling out a success centre model. Other faculties have not yet implemented anything similar. It is also noteworthy that the current pressures to shift towards a central model exist in undergraduate studies; as of yet, there is no indication of an intent to take this model to graduate studies. Although not directly affected, graduate students are indirectly affected by the impact that changes in model have on undergraduates (and how changes are planned and rolled out), and the standing of the university in general.

There seem to be almost as many opinions on this topic as there are individuals to weigh in on it. Even within stakeholder groups, it appears that there are differences of opinion as to how the issue should unfold. Some have presented the shift in model as an effort to be financially responsible and ensure sustainability. Others raise the impact this change has on some groups of employees, and by extension, the tone of the working environment and the ripples outward to student experience. Some contend that a central model is able to provide better service. One concern is the fundamental philosophical differences amongst the content of the material across faculties and the difficulty in suiting a central model to each of those unique realms. On a higher level, the issue is being debated as a matter of pedagogy, with the power to decide pedagogy as residing in faculties and possibly the General Faculties Council, as opposed to the Board of Governors where the current directive originated.

Of note, is that no matter what the specifics of an argument, student experience seems to be at the forefront of this issue (although as mentioned, the best approach to serving students varies depending on the speaker). At AUGSA, we do not hold a strong position on either end of the teaching model spectrum at this time. Our concern is that stakeholders are consulted thoroughly so that any changes made will be well-informed and likely to succeed. Student experience is paramount and needs to be a priority in any decisions made regarding teaching models. Do you have an opinion on this issue that you’d like to share with AUGSA? Please comment and join in the discussion.

Here are links to a few posts and discussions on the issue:

Athabasca University’s student support centre explained

Protect Learning at Athabasca University

-Nicole Hill, VP Academic- AUGSA