Centre for Engineering and Design Education

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CONTACT 1 Melanie King
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What is Co-Tutor?

Co-Tutor is a Student & Staff Relationship Management (SSRM) system and is used by academic staff and administrators, at Loughborough University (UK), to communicate with and manage personal tutees, project students, industrial placement activities, postgraduate research supervision and course cohorts. It is a large PHP/MySQL web application with interfaces to the University's Student Information System, attendance monitoring software, and the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

Origins of Co-Tutor

Originally conceived as a project in 1998, by an academic from the Electronic & Electrical Engineering department, Co-Tutor, started life as an excel spreadsheet to help keep track of personal tutorial meetings with students. Its use slowly spread, as it was found to be an invaluable aid for the monitoring of departmental tutor and tutee meetings. The first ten years saw iterative small-scale developments to Co-Tutor by the Centre for Engineering and Design Education. However, the past few years have seen a major revamp and update with a huge amount of additional functionality implemented based on two in-house developers (Melanie King & Paul Newman, CEDE) working closely with a number of key departments and academic users.

New and Improved Co-Tutor

As well as an increase in functionality incorporating many types of tutoring, its management functions have grown too, and Co-Tutor is now used by departmental management to monitor the contact and interaction with the students; workflow for the management of the placement year; attendance at lectures, tutorials and meetings; as an archive for email communication and provides an invaluable resource after the students have graduated. Academics can now enter information as free text, pre-defined statements and tags that will soon enable comments to be searched in increasingly sophisticated ways. As well as comments, Co-Tutor contains files and important metrics on student welfare, progression and attendance. It has been used successfully to aid retention, and to support academics when students enter claims for impaired performance.

Co-Tutor combines information on students from various systems, and makes it available to relevant members of the university based on their role, through an inbuilt notification system. It implements it's own role based permissions to access student data based on these departmental or system roles. Co-Tutor continues to be developed with input from academic users and senior management. It is now recognised as an important collection of data regarding student welfare and progression with over 15 years worth of personal and project tutoring records of meetings, emails and attendance data. The ability to view trends and mine the raw data is already being explored and anecdotal evidence from users suggests it is already being used for research purposes. For example, a link has been found between student attendance levels and final degree classification, as well as improvements to departmental re-sit numbers and overall student retention.

Success Factors

A number of critical factors and interventions have boosted Co-Tutor's use across the institution over it's 15 years of use. These factors include using an open, user-centred design and development approach; new administrative needs; funding; new government policies and other internal priorities. Within the past few years, a tipping point of use has been reached which has helped further uptake and placed Co-Tutor more prominently within the University's strategic plans.

Prior methods of pastoral monitoring, project, placement and research supervision were department specific paper based methods. Usually, this involved ad hoc meetings that could not be monitored and a significant amount of staff time was used in collating and monitoring the systems and looking for information about students, which was usually scattered around staff offices or filing cabinets. There was also a significant amount of staff time taken up tracing lost files or email correspondence from previous years, which I.T. staff had to restore from back up files or archives, if it had been kept at all. The implications of the Freedom of Information Act is also significant when keeping paper based records in this ad hoc manner.

Implications for the Future

Student satisfaction and the student experience play an increasingly important role in the University's strategic development as well as many other Institutions. The relationships that the students build up with their tutors, supervisors and support personnel are vital to the enhancement of the student experience. Co-Tutor plays a vital role in helping to build and support this relationship.

Item ID #71.

Last Updated: 12th December, 2014