Thursday, 19 July 2007

SXR103 revisited

I had such a good time at SXR103 in 2006, it seemed a shame that you couldn't do it all over again. However after I'd written my diary, and the Open University had used it for their web site, I inquired what it took to become a tutor. It seems you need a degree in a relevant field (OK - I have one), a lot of enthusiasm, a sense of humour, and some teaching experience.
Well I didn't really have the latter, but I hoped I would have enough of the former to be considered, so I put in an application to be a tutor at the beginning of the year. You have to apply each year as the time comes around.

I thought nothing more of it, and approached it with a sense of "Nothing ventured, Nothing gained". What's the worst they could do?

Some months later, when I had completely forgotten about the application, I received a note in the post, saying I was allocated to the reserve list for a week at Sussex University and for this I would get a small fee. I was quite pleased, I mean at least they were willing to consider me, and that I wasn't beyond the pale! It did come as a slight surprise as I'd already heard other people on the bulletin board telling students that they would be tutoring for this week or that, so I assumed it was all past.

I talked to the people at work, and ended up booking the requisite week off, just in case, so I would be able to go. If nothing came of it, I'd just go to work as normal.

The day crept ever closer, and I heard nothing further, and then finally it was the start of "my" week. It was a long shot, one of the existing tutors falling ill of having problems for that week, so I wasn't really surprised I heard nothing.

Tea time on the Saturday and just getting tea ready with my wife for the children, and the phone rang. It was a number I'd not seen before - so probably a double glazing salesman. But no, it was Dianne the course director for the week. A tutor had to go home, could I get there for tomorrow and tutor activity A? To say I was shocked was an understatement. The words wind-up did come to mind. I said I thought I could make it, and hung up in a daze.

The rest of the night was a bit of a blur. I looked out my last years course stuff, got some clothes together. I tried to remember what the tutors dressed in - I was hoping smartish jeans and t-shirt would be ok as I'd be wearing a lab coat when on duty. Dianne had said I'd get a briefing from the senior tutor on the Monday, where I could ask questions. I assumed as I was covering that the other tutors would be doing the main work, and I'd be an assistant to help out.


I left Nottingham at about midday, and immediately got caught in traffic leaving the city where there were some major roadworks. Fuming slightly, I sat in a jam for about 45 minutes where they were repairing a bridge. Once I got past that, I got onto the motorway, and the rest of the journey was OK, if a little long. I managed to get to Sussex University for about 4:30, parked, and after following signs here and there posted around managed to find the OU offices. They had a badge ready for me, a room and some papers to sign. I then went and found my room and at just after 5, went to the course directors office to meet up with Dianne and the rest of the tutors. It was slightly nerve racking meeting so many people, and I was glad of the name badges as names are not my strong point. I joined in the debriefing session for the days activity and was introduced to all.

I talked to Andy a bit, the senior tutor of activity A, and we agreed to meet up at 10:00 the following morning in the lab to just go over the experiment. Dianne then asked me if I had any tutorials I would like to give in the evenings. I hadn't really expected that, but I said I'd think about it (feverishly thinking I had no overheads, no computer and no ideas!). Andy mentioned over tea he was running a Maths help workshop/tutorial which I could help with.

We went to get some tea, and I thought a bit more on the tutorials. I suddenly thought I could write one on how life began almost from memory if I could get a computer. I went to see Barbara in the office to ask if there were any available computers. She took me over to the Pevensey building and gave me a login for one of them. I set to work. Luckily I had my pen drive in my pocket, and whilst browsing through it, found a powerpoint for an evolution talk I'd given a few months ago. Just the thing! It also had a collection of notes on it for the beginning of life I'd written last year. Things were really looking up. I made some adjustments to the evolution for the current audience, and roughed out a plan for the other one.

After I came out I ran almost immediately into Dianne and Barbara, so I told them I had two talks for them. Dianne said I'd do better with a more interesting title, so I changed it from evolution to "From Monkeys to Men" but stuck with the other one.

It was quiz night, and I joined an illegal tutors team (tutors weren't suppose to form teams with each other!). We all agreed it was a bit dire as quiz's go, but it helped me meet up with some of the tutors and get a bit more into the spirit of the thing. They turned out to be a really nice bunch of people.


Next morning I read through the tutor notes for the activity, and read my old copy of activity A worksheet. I called in on the computers on my way to the lab and did a bit more on the tutorials.
I arrived at the lab early and re-familiarised myself with the equipment. Andy came in and we went through a few things. I watched a safety video and played around a bit with the experiment.

The rest of the day I was notionally helping out with Activity-E, but there were few questions and I managed to do a fair bit on my tutorials. Tea and then the bar after sitting in on a couple of tutorials. When the bar shut at about 11, Diane lead us to another bar which was open until 1am, where we talked into the night.


I woke early on Tuesday, despite the rather late night. Had breakfast then went to the lab early to have a final run through. Andy asked me what I'd like to do as far as demonstrations and briefings. I agreed to do the 2nd experimental briefing so I had time to watch carefully what he did.
The morning session went pretty well - I was quick to admit my ignorance about rocks when pushed beyond the material that was provided in the notes and what I knew form S103. Usually this was a quick call to Nick who had a ready answer. I was quite relaxed by the time we got to lunch.

After lunch I watched carefully the demonstration to half the group, then repeated it later to the 2nd half with a few of my own additions. I forgot a couple of minor bits but it went ok. Nick told me I probably needed to speak a little louder.

I was more confident in the afternoon as I was fairly sure I could answer any tricky questions on physics. Andy suggested tomorrow I could do the final briefing, so I watched that carefully too.
My the end of the day my feet were hurting a little. There is no chance to sit down during the labs as you make a round of the students helping out.

The rest of the lab went well and we had all finished by 5ish. We went off to the tutors debrief and then to Tea. I attended a tutorial, and then gave one of my own - about 5-6 people attended. I think it went ok. A night in the slopes bar followed, but only until 11.


Another early start, breakfast and lab. This time I was more confident on the geology, and sailed through the morning mostly. I did the 2nd demonstration again, and finished the day with a debriefing session which is rather dry material and rather maths heavy for that time of the day.
I don't think that went too well - if I did this session another year, I think I would write my own slides.

After tea I went to help Andy out with a maths problem class - which with about 11 people present it was just as well, and then to a drugs tutorial.
An evening in the slopes bar, followed by another night in the 1am bar! I can't remember much of it, except Nick was really on form, and my cheeks hurt from laughing the following morning.


Much like Wednesday really, but it went a little more smoothly for me. I knew what I was doing by now and could also keep an eye on students progress with respect to time.

After tea it was time for my other tutorial, which went pretty well too. After that it was back to the tutors room to have a few drinks before entry to the disco at about 11pm. We stayed there until it finished at 2am, and then one of the tutors who had not been drinking insisted we find a room and drink some wine. She disappeared after a whip-round to the local all-night ASDA and we found a quiet room to sit and drink until 4am.


I still woke at about 7:30, despite the short night. In breakfast the rest gradually filtered in. Us activity tutors were now finished, so we said our good byes after breakfast.

I drove out of the campus, but my adventure was not over. Just as I got onto the main road, I found all was not right with the car, and pulled over. Just as I stopped one of the front tyres burst. It appears part of the suspension had somehow broken and dug into the inside wall of the tyre. So I had to call a recovery service, and get home on the train.

However - despite this rather miserable ending, I think I may be applying to teach again next year. Its every bit as much fun as doing the course.

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