Tutor Profile: Interview With Basil Jude Surin


by Dr David CL Lim (david@oum.edu.my)

Dr David CL Lim: Tell us briefly about your background as an OUM lead tutor.

Basil Jude Surin: I started off with OUM at Kolej MARA Kulim in May 2003 as a part-time tutor handling undergraduate courses in TESL. In May 2004, I tutored for OUM at Politeknik Seberang Perai until September 2005, when I moved to the Kedah Learning Centre, where I have been to this day. I was appointed a lead tutor in September 2005.

Dr David CL Lim: What are the main challenges of tutoring at OUM, from your personal perspective?

Basil: : One major challenge is meeting learners? high expectations. Of course, learners expect, as they should, that I am always well prepared for tutorials and on top of my subject. They expect me to lecture, tutor, guide and counsel them all at the same time. Apart from that, they also expect me to be non-condescending and understanding when they voice their reasons to explain missed deadlines or poorly written assignments.

As a result, tutorials are often centred on me, since some of my learners are often unable to engage meaningfully in discussions. Reasons often cited include the complexity of certain concepts they have to study, difficulty in engaging with modules written in English, and hectic work schedules.

The onus, then, is on me to give a lecture on the module rather than to facilitate tutorial discussions. The scenario has not really changed much since I started tutoring. This truly goes contrary to the necessity of learners taking control of their own learning, of them being autonomous learners.

Another challenge that I face as a tutor is that learners expect higher marks than what can reasonably be awarded for their assignments. As a tutor, I understand that it is important for learners to get good marks for their assignments and research papers which will be reflected in their academic transcripts. Oftentimes, I have to work hard to discriminate poor work from the better ones in a fair manner. I sometimes earn negative remarks from learners who do poorly but expect to be rewarded highly. In the main, it is quite a challenge to get some learners motivated enough to want to read more and do more on their own.

Dr David: You have been an OUM tutor for several years now. What would you say are the key areas of improvement in terms of teaching and learning that you have noticed?

Basil: Although some may disagree, I would say that the recent initiative to appoint different tutors to conduct face- to-face tutorials, mark assignments, and facilitate online discussions seems quite useful. This move not only lightens the burden of tutors, it may even spur learners to work harder to produce better assignments, all with the knowledge that their assignments will be marked by anonymous markers whom they cannot hope to influence. Also, having dedicated e-tutors will only see the more serious learners going online to participate in meaningful discussions.

The raising of the standard and quality of assessment methods is also positive. Vigilance against all forms of cheating in examinations needs to be applauded. Continuous effort and seriousness shown in tackling plagiarism is the best way forward for any university of good repute.

The Learning Management System, now called myVLE, has seen tremendous improvements since the time I started with the university. It is so much more user friendly now and is an enhanced avenue for interaction and learning to take place.

Introducing five tutorials instead of three is a good move as it allows learners more time to study, digest and discuss learning content.

Dr. David : What are the most memorable moments that you have had as an OUM tutor?

Basil: I would say that they include playing my part in seeing certain OUM programmes successfully getting MQA accreditation, and being able to contribute to the smooth running of my learning centre all this while.

Dr. David : How do you see tertiary education, including ODL, evolving in Malaysia over the next decade or more?

Basil: The mushrooming number of tertiary education providers will hopefully see the provision of more and better programmes at lower costs.

Universities must make important decisions on whether to emphasise teaching, research or both. Whatever it may be, the move towards excelling in research is inevitable. Academics have to excel in both teaching and research in order to remain relevant.

More university initiatives will become commercially oriented and profit driven. Flexible learning initiatives and learning from home will be key features in internet driven environments. Quality assurance and degree accreditation are here to stay.

Dr. David : What changes would you like to see implemented in OUM in the near future?

Basil: OUM graduate attributes should be clearly spelt out. All efforts by the university should be focused on aiding learners to acquire and demonstrate these attributes.

A reading culture should be emphasised. Resource rooms at learning centres need to be upgraded and their functionality ought to be reviewed. Compulsory reading should be introduced in a serious way ? reading lists should be introduced and more emphasis should be given to ensure that learners read serious books and academic articles.

The quality of research papers and assignments produced at all levels should be taken more seriously. There should be stringent measures to ensure that papers and assignments submitted to the university fulfil academic standards. This should be strictly enforced to ensure quality work and to encourage learner excellence. Teaching and assessment methods should challenge learners to analyse and critique what they are studying. Mere regurgitation of knowledge should be entirely discouraged.

Tutor welfare needs to be given serious consideration. Tutor rooms and facilities need to be upgraded at learning centres. Long serving tutors should be commended and recognised for their contributions. Tutor remuneration should be revised.

Dr. David : Any advice you would offer new tutors at OUM?

Basil: Take pride in your appointment. Be honest and fair in your dealings. Solve problems in a professional manner. Strive diligently as members of a very large team to uphold the ideals of the university and to keep the university at the forefront of quality education.

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