WELS Tutor, or Associate Lecturer (AL), Stuart Wroe is perhaps best introduced using the words of his students: “a wonderful tutor”, “so approachable and friendly”, “he genuinely cares about his tutor group as people”, “the OU is incredibly blessed to have him”.
It was this feedback that led to Stuart receiving a 2021 WELS Tutor Award. Here he talks about his OU life, teaching throughout the pandemic and the hobby that has seen him followed by a BBC documentary crew.
“I joined the OU family as a student on a cold, dark and rainy October night in 1995, as the warm lights of Keighley Technical College called me in for my first Open University tutorial. Introducing me to the humanities, it was led by my first tutor, Ken Rook, a bluff Yorkshireman but approachable, patient and calm with an air of humour.
“A bachelors degree and a masters degree in International Development Management later – and after working with children, young people and their communities globally as a result – some 27 years later I am proud to still be part of the OU family and doing the job I love.
“I became an Associate Lecturer ten years ago – on International development: making sense of a changing world (TD223) – wanting ‘to give something back’ and to pay forward the opportunities I’ve had to new generations of students.
“Without my OU degrees, I would not have had the chance to work in settings as diverse as deprived UK inner-city communities; prisons in the UK and Sierra Leone; the slums of Mumbai, Bangkok and Chiang Mai; with gang members in the UK and Honduras; and in HIV and AIDS orphanages and clinics in South Africa, India and Thailand. These experiences have informed my personal and professional interest and background in global learning – a form of education which starts from people's everyday experiences, seeks to develop their understanding of the local and the global influences on their lives and encourages positive action for change. Global learning’s personal/local/global perspective is at the heart of my teaching on Comparative and international studies in primary education (E309), exploring learning and teaching around the world, as well as my freelance work as a global learning specialist.
“My experience as an OU student is important to me, as recalling those days prompts me to try and be the tutor I would have valued. I pride myself on responding quickly to student queries and in returning assignments in a timely fashion. I try to support my students the very best I can, realising that at any one time each individual is facing a range of experiences and challenges beyond their studies. In my time as an OU student, my wife and I raised a young family, experienced redundancies and hard times; I know the significance of an empathetic word or action.
“Another key pillar that informs my teaching can be found in the writings of Paulo Freire. I always quote Freire at my first tutorials: ‘Study is not measured by the number of pages read in a night or by the number of books read in a semester. Studying is not an act of consuming ideas… but of creating and recreating them.’ By the end of each presentation of E309 I sincerely hope we’ve achieved that.
“Outside my work as an AL, I relax by producing art. I’ve had group and solo exhibitions in Leeds and nationally, and have been selected to show at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition twice. In 2019, for the BBC2 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition documentary, a film crew followed me as I prepared for entering the Exhibition, through selection, all the way to the traditional Varnishing Day. Before visiting the show, we gathered in the Royal Academy courtyard, processed down Piccadilly led by a steel band and attended the artists’ blessing at St James’s Church. A special day.
“I am so proud to be an OU AL. I plan to continue building on being the tutor I would have valued. I am currently planning on researching the nature and purpose of online tutorials through a Freirean lens, focused on improving student learning by seeking students’ thoughts, experiences and ideas for improving dialogic pedagogy.
“A highlight of my time as a tutor, besides being part of the Academic Procession at my wife’s OU graduation, was to be nominated for and receive a WELS Tutor Award. It was doubly gratifying as the award was put forward by my students. To be recognised in this way is humbling.
"Over the past couple of years, students and Associate Lecturers alike have navigated our way through fast-changing and difficult times. I found it important we keep touching base with each other on a regular basis either through our tutor group forum, weekly emails or individual messages in response to student communications – emphasising the significance of an empathetic word or action in enhancing our mental health and wellbeing. Often, I find my best advice to be: ‘Keep calm and have a brew’.
“The most treasured feedback from my students was that I am ‘approachable, patient and calm with an air of humour’ – just like Ken Rook all those years ago."
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