An investigation of the background, practice and intercultural communicative competence of part-time distance language tutors at the Open University

Uwe Baumann

Abstract


The Open University employs a large number of part-time teaching staff (Associate Lecturers, - AL ) who play a crucial role for student success acting at the interface between institution and students. They are the first and main contact for the students, give tutorials, mark assignments and provide individualized feedback. Despite their importance, relatively little scholarship is undertaken on the background and practice of these ALs which is what this study aimed to address. This scholarship project investigated the cohort of ALs in languages (n=292) to find out more about their backgrounds, tutorial practice, their intercultural experience and how this impacts on their teaching. The study used both quantitative (online survey) and qualitative (semi-structured interviews) approaches for data collection and an established framework for the exploration of intercultural communicative competence (Byram, 1997).

The findings overall reflect the position of part-time staff in languages - the majority of colleagues are female (76%), they have extensive teaching experience (many more than 15 years), have usually worked for other institutions apart from the Open University, and are not born in the UK (63%). One important finding was that the overall majority of the ALs had first-hand experience of living across cultures but that they had very limited opportunities to bring their intercultural experiences into their teaching practice. This resulted in the development of recommendations that the AL role in the languages curriculum should be reconsidered and enhanced. These recommendations will be implemented during the renewal of the curriculum and demonstrate how a scholarship investigation can impact on teaching practice and curriculum development.
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