Tutorials can be a good means of changing conceptions, developing problem-solving skills and challenging opinions. Tutorials usually take place in much smaller groups, and should require very active involvement on the part of the students. Staff commonly see the aims of tutorials as including at least some of the following:
- encouraging critical and analytical thinking
- enhancing understanding of concepts and ideas
- detecting and changing student misconceptions
- linking theory to practice
- developing problem-solving skills
- developing discussion skills
- broadening awareness challenging and changing attitudes and opinions
- developing professional values
- improving students' communication skills
- developing group work skills
- giving students feedback
Achieving any of these aims implies active participation by students. Tutorials vary enormously between disciplines: in the Sciences they tend to be based on problem solving, whereas in Arts based disciplines they often revolve around group discussion. However, whatever the primary focus of the tutorial, many of the above aims can also be encouraged.
Tutorials can be particularly demanding on staff. Often you will go into a tutorial, as into a lecture, with a fairly clear set of goals in mind, but it is necessary to plan to allow the students the maximum possible scope to raise and explore their own questions or solve problems for themselves.
The following points will help to encourage students to participate more effectively in tutorials:
1. Create a good group atmosphere
This will help to make the students less nervous about revealing their difficulties with the subject matter or discussing their ideas. The most basic step is to insist that everybody (including you) learns everybody else's name. Encourage students to get to know each other.
2. Create ground rules at the beginning of semester
Discuss your expectations about preparation and participation with students. Make it clear that you expect them to do the reading or attempt the problems before attending the tutorial, to listen to each other and to contribute to discussion. Also outline any assessment requirements for the tutorial.
Arrange the furniture to suit your group. Seats placed in a circle or square, or in small work groups encourage students to interact with each other, rather than just with you.
3. Structuring the tutorial
It is often difficult to make sure that all students are involved in tutorials, particularly in large groups. Many strategies for encouraging participation involve making the large group smaller. Try dividing the students into pairs or small groups with a specified time to discuss a particular aspect of the topic or to work on a particular problem. When they have done this, ask the groups to report back to the class as a whole. This technique will encourage contributions from the shy students, and will help to create a good group atmosphere.
Other structured ways of involving students in tutorials include:
- Syndicate groups: These are small groups of 4-6 students who are given a problem to work on during the tutorial. This could involve an industry case study or some library research. Syndicate group work can take place over a single session or an entire semester.
- Debates: These can range from the relatively formal moot courts used in law to simply dividing the class into as many groups as there might be views on a topic and creating debate between the groups. Debates usually involve time for preparation beforehand and debriefing afterwards.
- Simulations or games: These are strategies designed to have students participate in an activity where they share experiences which can then be discussed and related to the course. They can include activities such as role plays. Simulations and games always involve an initial phase where instructions are given, an activity phase and a processing or debriefing phase afterwards. The processing phase is particularly important for encouraging students to draw out the intended learning points and to make links to their own experiences and to other parts of the subject or course.
- Using Blackboard (UTSOnline) or Canvas is a way of allowing the subject to revolve around student-to-student interaction, role-playing in an integrated case study, or carrying out a debate without the students needing to be in the same place at the same time. Blackboard and Canvas can also provide a way of organising your subject material in a flexible, student centred way.
Many of the strategies discussed in the section on lectures can also be used effectively in smaller groups.
Questioning can be used to gain feedback on what students have learned, but also to challenge students' thinking, confront misconceptions, explore attitudes and values and clarify students' understanding.
The following points, adapted from Tennant et al (1993) are important in posing questions to students effectively:
- Pausing: students need sufficient time to think before responding to a question.
- Re-phrasing: this may be necessary if the students are unable to respond to the original question
- Direct the question: questions may be directed in different ways, for example:
- question to group followed by volunteer response
- name student, then question, then receive response
- question to group, then name student, then receive response
- Re-directing: this is a useful technique to involve other learners, it is useful to draw out different perceptions or views or to supplement incomplete answers. It includes questions like "what do others think?" "what is another example of that".
- Reacting: irrespective of whether the response is adequate it is necessary to react in a positive way. In the case of an inadequate answer it may be necessary to clarify the meaning of a question and/or re-direct it to another student.
- Probing: probing questions help stimulate thinking skills. The teacher may press the learner for more clarification or examples of what is meant by the given response.
- Distributing questions: this refers to the way in which questions are distributed among class members.
Questions from learners are a good indication that their curiosity has been aroused and that they are thinking about the subject. Student questioning can be encouraged by allowing time for reflection, and by responding positively to any questions which emerge.