Tutor Profile : Thoughts Of A Winner

Interview by Majmin Hanum Abdul Samad

Cheah Chee Keong is a tutor from the Faculty of IT and Multimedia Communication (FITMC). He is attached to the Kedah Learning Centre. During the National Colloquium from 11 to 12 April, three tutors from different faculties were presented with Online Best Tutor Awards. Cheah was one of the winners.

Majmin: First of all, congratulations for winning the Online Best Tutor Award. What does this award mean to you?
Cheah: Thank you to OUM for the appreciation. At the same time, I would like to take it as a reminder for me to further explore ways to enhance my students' learning experience at OUM.

Majmin: Could you please briefly tell us about your work at OUM?
Cheah: This is my fifth year as a tutor at OUM. Since 2005, I have been tutoring in various courses, which include Information Technology and Applications and Learning Skills for Open and Distance Learners. My experience as an off-campus student in USM has helped me a lot in my present position at OUM. I find the blended delivery mode helpful especially for students who study on their own. It has created a network for the students to reach out to their peers and tutors.

Majmin: How would you define "tutor" in the OUM context?
Cheah: Students in OUM are mostly working adults, as such their needs and priorities are different. Most of the time, we tutors need to guide them to focus on topics which will be discussed in tutorials. Highlighting the topics help the students to prepare for tutorials. The learning process will be more interesting when there are a lot of contributions from the students themselves during the discussion.

Majmin: What do you feel is the role of OUM learners?
Cheah: They need to be active learners. Rather than wait for tutors to deliver information, they should contribute ideas and information by answering questions on various topics. They are also encouraged to answer questions posted by their peers in the online forum. The tutor then acts as a facilitator

Majmin: Are your tutoring styles based on your personality or situational factors in the classroom?
Cheah: Knowing students' learning environment does help. Most students are working adults with various commitments and demands on their time. I help them to be focused so as to make the learning more meaningful and purposeful.

Majmin: How do you handle personality differences with your students?
Cheah: I see the students as who they are - adults. They are adults who can accept decisions when these decisions are clearly explained to them.

Majmin: What are the characteristics of a good tutor?
Cheah: A good tutor is prepared. Students will know if we are not prepared. Being prepared helps us to be confident and systematic in our lesson delivery.

Majmin: "The essence of effective adult tutoring is to set people on the road to confident learning." Do you agree with this statement?
Cheah: Yes, we learn better when we are actively involved in our learning process. Tutorials can be conducted in a healthy two-way discussion provided the students are prepared. As tutors, we should try to provide the necessary space for students to contribute ideas and knowledge, either in class or in the online forum. As adult learners, we tend to have a shorter attention span, so it is vital for students to be engaged and encouraged to be more involved. In short, they have to be prepared when attending the tutorial.

Majmin: You have been an OUM tutor for five years. What would you describe as your most memorable experience so far?
Cheah: Seeing graduated students coming back to OUM to pursue their postgraduate degree. When I asked for the reason, they answered that it was because of the flexible learning schedule and the tutors.

Majmin: What can OUM do to further improve the quality of the education provided for its learners?
Cheah: As an open university with students throughout the country, OUM should utilise the available information and communications technology to improve the quality of the education provided for its learners. More multimedia contents should be made available online. This will enable the students to study on their own time and pace. It will also further encourage them to be responsible for their own learning.

Majmin: Lastly, what advice would you give to new tutors? Is there any secret to being a good tutor which you could share with them?
Cheah: I would say there is no secret recipe. Tutoring at OUM requires tutors to see themselves in their students' shoes. They need to listen and be understanding yet firm at the same time.

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I developed my tutoring style mostly through:

Observation of other tutors - I select tutors either from OUM or other universities and try to emulate them as much as possible.
Reading materials related to effective tutoring - I choose the styles recommended by experts and try them out.
Trial and error - I believe it is best to do it my way and continuously improve until I get it right.
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