Virtual Learning Environments provide the possibility of offering additional support to tutors, monitors and students in writing and grading essays and reports. They enable monitors to focus on the assignments that need most attention. This paper reports the findings from phase one of a feasibility study to assist the monitoring of student essays. It analyses tutor comments from electronically marked assignments and investigates how they match the mark awarded to each essay by the tutor. This involved carrying out a category analysis of the tutors’ feedback to the students using Bales's ‘interactional categories’ as a theoretical basis. The advantage of this category system is that it distinguishes between task‐orientated contributions, and the ‘socio‐emotive’ element used by tutors to maintain student motivation. This reveals both how the tutor makes recommendations to improve the assignment content, and how they provide emotional support to students. Bales's analysis was presented to a group of tutors who felt an electronic feedback system based on this model would help them to get the right balance of responses to their students. These findings provide a modest start to designing a model of feedback for tutors of distance education students. Future work will entail refining these categories and testing this model with a larger sample from a different subject domain
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