This post was originally written for Pat Thomson’s blog, which you can find here – Pat’s excellent blog covers “research education, academic writing, public engagement, funding & other eccentricities.” As someone very new to the world of academia, I have found it very (extremely!) useful.
Having recently been given the responsibility of tutoring a class, I asked Pat for some advice on the do’s and don’ts of the role. For clarity, I’ll be tutoring a third-year undergraduate class of about 15 for ten weeks. These forty-five minute tutorials will be taking place immediately after the lecture. Pat suggested that instead of giving me advice, I write a wee blog and reach out to others to share experience and tips – so here I am.
Having done some lecturing already in some ways I feel like I have put the cart before the horse, but I am pretty certain that the two roles are quite different. You don’t do any teaching during a tutorial, right? Well, that’s my first question for folks. Whilst looking for advice online I came across conflicting advice on this issue – should you be teaching during a tutorial? Aren’t you there simply as a facilitator of discussion? Other advice seemed to position the tutor as a modern-day Socrates, revealing the knowledge already buried within our charges through critical questioning and reasoning. I ended up more confused than before I started.
I decided to take a step back and look up what the definition of a tutor is, ‘that’ll throw some clarity on the situation’, I thought. But again, rival descriptions abound and much of the information was on personal tutors, rather than class tutoring. So that’s my second question – how would you define a tutor? I sense that in some ways the answer to this question will help us toward answering the question in the previous paragraph.
My third question is a more general one – for those who have tutored, do you have any hints or tips that you can share? I remember one of my first tutorials at university with a particularly eccentric tutor. He silently rose from the desk at the front of the class, clutching a banana ahead of him, staring at it wild-eyed. He turned it upside-down and began peeling it from the bottom. This took a bit of time until the fruit within was finally revealed. ‘We’ve been doing it wrong, all these years’ he exclaimed, ‘it’s much easier to peel them from the bottom.’ We all laughed and the ice was broken.
I hope to hear your thoughts on the first two questions and to get any helpful stories and advice from your experiences in tutorials. My own feeling is that I am there as a facilitator of discussion – the less my voice is heard the better – but I could be wrong about this. Thanks for any input. And bananas at the ready!
Categories: PhD Studies