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Information about Co-Tutor

Co-Tutor™ is a staff-student relationship management system, which provides university staff with a centralised point to record and support students’ learning, personal development and welfare. It is not a system through which Loughborough University monitors students’ emails.

Co-Tutor’s development was led by Melanie King, head of the University’s Centre for Engineering and Design Education (CEDE).

“Students come into contact with a variety of different staff during their time at university – not just teaching staff and lecturers but also industrial placement coordinators and welfare officers, for instance,” explains Melanie. “Each will document notes of their interaction with the student, but prior to Co-Tutor there was no central point for all this information; it would all have been stored separately.

“If one member of staff had concerns that a student was struggling with their studies, there was no efficient way of sharing that information with other relevant staff at the University, and this could mean that there was sometimes a lengthy delay in identifying and being able to address any difficulties the student was facing.”

Co-Tutor provides a centralised resource, which is used by all the members of university staff that a student interacts with.

Melanie continues: “It allows them to ensure that students are receiving the right kind of support – academic, welfare or careers guidance, for example – and enables staff to see if there are any problems. For instance, if a student is consistently missing particular lectures, staff can spot this, and any underlying problems, more quickly and provide appropriate support to the student.

“The earlier and more effectively we can identify and address any issues the students might be having means that we’ll be able to improve the student experience and hopefully reduce the numbers of students who are struggling in silence and may then drop out.”

As well as clarifying what Co-Tutor is designed to do, Melanie is keen to stress what it is not.

“Co-Tutor is absolutely not a system for monitoring or analysing students’ emails, as some people have misleadingly interpreted it. Loughborough does not, and has no intention of reading students’ emails,” she emphasises.

“If a student sends an email to a member of staff that is pertinent to their academic studies or welfare, staff may choose to record this on the student’s record on Co-Tutor. But all the information held on Co-Tutor is subject to the laws of Data Protection and the Freedom of Information Act, and a student can request to see all the information the institution holds on them through Co-Tutor at any time. It is absolutely not some kind of covert repository or a ‘big brother’-style monitoring system.

The Co-Tutor tool has emerged from research over a number of years.

“Its first incarnation was a spreadsheet, developed by Dr Bill Forsythe in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering back in 1998, who was looking for something to replace the paper-based system he’d been using to record personal tutorial meetings. The spreadsheet was stored on each members of staff’s computers – it was a step forward, but it still wasn’t easy for staff to share information,” says Melanie.

“Advances in technology throughout the years have meant that we’ve been able to steadily progress the system to make it more user-friendly, but really it’s been the advent of tablets which has allowed us to take the final steps towards a system that could be commercialised.”

Co-Tutor is currently being piloted in a number of universities. In a recent survey of users, 89% said that Co-Tutor had had a positive effect on their ability to recognise and provide appropriate support for students who were struggling.

Melanie and her colleagues have now secured substantial funding from HEIF (the Higher Education Innovation Fund) to explore the possibility of commercialising Co-Tutor.

“We want to market the system to other universities in the UK as we believe it will be of real benefit to them by enhancing the way that they manage their staff-student relationships. Universities have a duty of care to ensure that they are providing appropriate support to their students at the right time. Co-Tutor helps them to do just that.”