Rather than responding individually, I thought I'd post a general response and summary here. It's great to read such detailed, nuanced critiques of poor old semi-fictional Neil and his hands off tutoring!
Some specifics which jumped out at me from your analyses:
- Lots of people talked about the absence of tutor social presence, and especially the effect it had on the students who are struggling to define the task and asking for help
- ...And especially since the task itself wasn't laid out as clearly as it could have been, meaning students are more likely to need help.
- With no active tutor facilitation (or even passive observing), the differences in student approaches and interpretations rapidly descend into what Dan called 'bickering'
- No support for group roles or formation
- Susan suggested a template emails as an antidote to those students who don't read the handbook -- like potted mini-handbooks requiring no extra effort.
- Dawn said that using student/peer facilitators might work well in this scenario, albeit with some work put in at the beginning to support them
- Mike posted an alternative starter post for Neil, bringing in more social presence
- Several people talked about Neil having got it all wrong from the start -- in Hazel's words, she 'wouldn't start from here'
(Oh, and in response to Katherine's comparison with our absence over Easter break: agreed! The timing was particularly unfortunate this year, but I think we've already decided that we'll manage it differently next year.)