John Heron developed the six-category intervention analysis model for interpersonal skills training in 1973. Although it was initially developed for the medical profession, it’s actually applicable to a wide range of settings, including education. In Learning in Groups (4th ed, Routledge 2007), David Jaques and Gilly Salmon explain how it can be used to analyse the role of the online tutor.
The model places positive interventions from the tutor into one of six categories. Analysing the incidence of these different types of interventions will reveal when the tutor is taking an authoritative or a more facilitative role. An imbalance in the types of interventions taking place might indicate where changes could be made.
The mode of use proposed by Jacques and Salmon deals with only positive interventions. Other reports also define negative or ‘degenerative’ interactions - here’s an example - but I can see how simply highlighting and categorising the positive interventions will enable a constructive and helpful analysis of how a tutor communicates with their students. Other descriptions of Heron’s model tell us that it is the intention behind the tutor’s intervention that counts, rather than the actual outcome, but Jacques and Salmon don’t allude to this.
So – here are the categories (adapted from Jacques & Salmon 2007):
Under the authoritative mode the tutor can be:
- Directing, e.g. raising an issue for discussion, suggesting further work to be done.
- Informing, e.g. summarising, interrelating, presenting knowledge and information.
- Confronting, e.g. challenging by direct question, disagreeing with/correcting/critically evaluating student statements, giving direct feedback.
Under the facilitative mode the tutor can be:
- Releasing tension, e.g. arousing laughter, allowing students to discharge unpleasant emotions, e.g. embarrassment, irritation, confusion.
- Eliciting, e.g. drawing out student opinions/knowledge/ability to solve problems, facilitating student interaction, enabling students to learn and develop by self-discovery and personal insight.
- Supporting, e.g. approving/reinforcing/affirming the value of student contributions.
Jacques and Salmon feel that the second sub-category in each mode – Informing and Eliciting – are of particular importance for group work, and that they form a spectrum from tutor-centred to student-centred learning, with ‘informing’ skills such as presenting information, paraphrasing & interrelating and directive questioning at the tutor-centred end of the spectrum, and ‘eliciting’ skills such as selective echoing and open-ended questioning at the student-centred end.
I guess particular points to look out for when carrying out a six-category intervention analysis would be…
- Can the majority of a tutor’s interventions be categorised as positive? Which interventions aren’t – and could they be?
- What is the balance of authoritative to facilitative intervention? Is this supported by the needs of the student cohort – for example - is the tutor continuously authoritative? Would the students benefit from more encouragement to develop greater responsibility for their learning?
(At the start of a course it may be appropriate to gradually swing the balance more towards the faciliative mode as the students increase in competence and confidence.)
- Is there an appropriate balance between the three sub-types of intervention in each mode? For example, a tutor may be very energetic when it comes to thanking students for, and agreeing with, their contributions, but if they don’t also take the time, or are unable, to draw out these contributions, they may not get much activity to comment on.
This last point is particularly relevant to my role as an e-learning officer, designing and helping to run courses in a subject area in which I am not an expert. I can provide some types of positive intervention, but not all – as many eliciting skills rely on a high level of subject-specific knowledge. I’m hoping it’s possible to manage a successful learning experience with both the module tutor and an e-learning specialist providing interventions…?