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Denise Whitelock

Denise Whitelock


Open Mentor: An open source mentoring tool for tutors

OpenMentor is a collaborative project with Robert Gordon University, and is funded by the JISC Distributed e-Learning Programme. We are grateful to JISC for their support with building this learning support tool for tutors in further and higher education, which assists them through analysing and then providing reflective comments on their assessment and feedback of student assignments and coursework.

Open Mentor is based on Bales’ (1970) interactional categories, which provide four main categories of interaction: positive reactions, negative reactions, questions, and answers. These interactional categories illustrate the balance of socio-emotional comments that support the student. We found that tutors use different types of questions in different ways, both to stimulate reflection, and to point out, in a supportive way, that there are problems with parts of an essay. These results showed that about half of Bales’s interaction categories strongly correlated with grade of assessment in different ways, while others were rarely used in feedback to learners. This evidence of systematic connections between different types of tutor comments and level of attainment in assessment was the platform for the current work.

Open Mentor sets this framework on an open source foundation. It is implemented in Java and an underlying database — MySQL is used by default, but other databases can also be used. Open Mentor reads and opens assignments written in Microsoft Word, to extract the tutor comments. The JCharts graphing component is then used to provide interactive views onto the tutors’ comments, showing the difference between actual and ideal comment distributions. Students need a balanced combination of socio-emotive and cognitive support in their feedback from teaching staff, and the feedback needs to be relevant to the assigned grade. Open Mentor is a new tool to help tutors do just that!

The system.  Open Mentor analyses and displays the different types of comment in tutor feedback. This is not for use at an institutional level, but to give teaching staff a tool they can use to track their use of feedback to students


Advantages.  Students get feedback that is more accurately appropriate to the assigned grade, and which provides them with the supportive comments they need to feel confident about their work


Current status. A robust system is being developed and will be capable of providing tutors with simple visual displays of their use of feedback. Further work is oriented to making this more flexible and easier to adapt to different institution’s needs.





We are looking at other applications of this technology. These include:


·        Providing students with formative feedback on their assessments, with feedback properly adjusted to the students’


·        Supporting the assessment of students’ contributions to computer conferences


·        Assisting with  the review process in academic conferences and competitive project proposals


For further details contact:



Workspace created on 31 January 2005
Last updated on 23 October 2012