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The student whisperer

Rather than confronting the student head on, we take a more circuitous route to assessment

Teaching by distance brings unique challenges to both students and teachers. Challenges include irregular contact, the difficulty of explaining abstract concepts via email or telephone, the lack of peer support and classroom interaction for students and, most of all, the difficulty of getting to know your students.

A useful strategy to increase contact with students is the telephone assessment. OTEN's communication and media courses have a range of subjects that lend themselves to this: team presentation, job seeking skills, negotiation skills, conflict management, customer communication and presentation skills.

Designing assessments is one thing, persuading reluctant students to take part is quite another. While some revel in the opportunity to avoid a written assessment, others are ‘skittish' to say the least. They repeatedly postpone, invent fabulous excuses to avoid "the call" and often just don't answer the phone.

This is where the skills of ‘student whispering' come to the fore. Rather than confronting the student head on, we take a more circuitous route to assessment. A classic case is the student who panics at the very mention of doing a job interview role play over the phone.

This is a case for the ‘student whisperer' who calms the student by reassuring them that they can have multiple attempts at the assessment if necessary, then spends time chatting about the weather, the footy, Princess Kate…or whatever catches their attention. (A superficial knowledge of popular culture is definitely in the tool kit of the student whisperer).

Pre-interview questions such as "what would you wear?" often result in the "good clothes" response. By providing a hypothetical $200, the whisperer creates an opportunity for more conversation which often gives rise to a detailed description of the ‘purchases' and increased engagement with the student.

Once the student is steadied, the assessment topic is approached via the side gate: a discussion of what the student might say if they were doing the assessment, which of course, they aren't. (So they think!)

Sometimes the whisperer might ask the student for advice they'd give a job applicant; at other times they might ask the student to suggest questions the interviewer should ask. Asking them to imagine they are in the interviewer's chair opens up another conversation about what interviewers are looking for: skills, personality, attitude and ability.

Usually, at this point, the student is receptive to direct questions and before they know it, they've passed the assessment.

Teaching communication is as much about the process as the content of the curriculum. Being a whisperer means that the shy and nervous have an opportunity to discover their voice and build confidence – essentials in any career.