Evaluating the Relative Efficiencies and Effectiveness of the Call Centre and Tutor Models of Learner Support at Athabasca University
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Athabasca University is Canada’s largest distance-based, open university. Its undergraduate courses are offered mostly by individualized learning. Students can register in courses at the start of any month. They can proceed at their own pace. Learning support is provided through telephone and e-mail access to academic and administrative staff throughout a student’s six-month course contract. Two different learner support models are currently used in undergraduate courses at Athabasca University - the “Call Centre” model used in the School of Business and the “Tutor” model used by virtually all other undergraduate faculties. Under the Call Centre model, learning support services are facilitated through the use of a contact centre. Advisors can provide general information about a wide variety of non-academic issues to students. They use customer relationship management tools that include a knowledge database to provide students with one-stop service for administrative, technical and frequently-asked course information. If applicable, students are referred to faculty for academic assistance. Under the Tutor model, students have direct access to academic staff for a block of time (usually 2 – 3 hours) once or twice a week. Students can obtain academic and administrative advice and information from academic staff, but may be required to contact the appropriate AU department for assistance with administrative, technical and program planning questions. There is no centrally-maintained knowledge database or record of student contacts. This presentation will report on the results of a study that evaluates these two different means of student support. The study has two main purposes: first, to explore whether students and tutors/academic experts perceive either of these models as providing better learning support in terms of academic, administrative, technical, and program advice; and second, to examine the relative amount of financial resources used by each model. This will inform future resource allocation decisions by the University.