School of
Information Technology and Electrical Engineering

Pearls of Wisdom

Personalized interaction is lasting....
-Peterson

 

The secret in education lies in respecting the pupil
-Emerson

 
 

Tell me and I will forget
Involve me and I will understand
Show me and I will remember;

-Chinese Proverb

The First Tutorial

The first tutorial is important, as it sets many of the students' expectations for the rest of semester. Indeed, many students decide then whether they will bother to continue attending your tutorials!

  • There are two things that you must do in the first tutorial:
    • Write your name, contact details (telephone, email, room number), and consultation times on the board (if applicable);
    • Show the students where the nearest fire exit is.

It is important that you establish a friendly but work-directed atmosphere early in the semester. Here are some ideas for introductory activities in the first tutorial:

  • Student participation. Get students to participate immediately in the class. For example, go around the class and ask each student to give their name and course. If you want to remember their names, one good method is to draw a map of the class and fill in names as they are called out. Students usually return to the same seats, so you will have an easy reference sheet for future tutorials.
     
  • Introduce yourself. Let the students think of you as a fellow University student, instead of a `tutor'. Introduce yourself with your name, course, interests, and a brief story on how you came to be tutoring this course at the University of Queensland. Let the students know how you prefer to run tutorials, and what you expect of them. 
     
  • Introduce the course. Students appreciate a brief overview of the course, where it fits in to the degree, and what they can expect to get out of it. Also any tips or personal advice that you, as a fellow University student, might have. You should make clear the format of the tutorials (e.g., presentations, groupwork etc) and what preparation is expected of students before they come to tutorials.
Good Tutors

Out of the lengthy list that the tutors came up with, we extracted five general properties that students seem to appreciate in a tutor.

  • The first, and most basic, priority for students is that they have access to the tutor for the whole scheduled period. This means they appreciate tutors who arrive punctually, get straight down to work, and devote equal attention to all members of the class.
     
  • To make efficient use of the allotted time, the next most important feature is that the tutor be well prepared. Tutorials should be well structured; time should be spent on questions in proportion to their difficulty and importance. A tutor can also work more efficiently and clearly if she/he has prepared solutions in advance, rather than trying to solve them (and explain them!) on the spot.
     
  • Personality and attitude are also very important. Students appreciate a tutor who is enthusiastic, engaging, and can even inject some humour into the class. They like a tutor who can see beyond today's tute sheet and relate the exercises to broader issues and outside interests. Class participation is more likely when students sense the tutor's enthusiasm.
     
  • Good tutors relate well to their students. They treat them with respect, and show understanding when mistakes are made. They know where students are `coming from', and can foresee (and explain) common errors.
     
  • Finally, a good tutor is honest and will not try to bluff their way out of a mistake, or try to hide their ignorance. If something comes up that they cannot answer, they flag it explicitly and come back to it in the next tutorial.
Bad Tutors

The properties of bad tutors are, not surprisingly, the antitheses of those outlined above for good tutors.

  • Bad tutors make poor use of students' time. They arrive late, or don't turn up at all. They tutor with one eye on the clock, and waste class time chatting or socializing. They focus most of their attention on one small group of `pet' students.
     
  • Bad tutors come unprepared. They give rambling, off-the-cuff explanations that are more confusing than enlightening. Because they are not prepared, they may prefer to waste time on easy exercises to avoid tackling the more difficult ones in front of the class. 
     
  • Bad tutors often appear to be bored with the course, and let the students know that they find the material completely irrelevant. They would rather be somewhere else, working on their own important research. 
  • Bad tutors are not interested in students' problems. They give the correct answers, but do not explore how or why a student came up with a wrong answer. They feel `above' the students, and will express this by gleefully writing sarcastic remarks on programs or assignments submitted for marking.
     
  • Bad tutors try to conceal their ignorance and gloss over difficult questions (either given on the tute sheet or asked by a student). Students pick up on this very quickly, and lose interest in, and respect for, the tutor.

Of course, there is no tutor that displays all of these bad qualities, just as there is no perfect tutor. We would all recognize at least some of the good and bad qualities in ourselves; an exceptional tutor is one who is willing to put in time and effort to improve his or her performance.

Class Discussion
How to Lead and Guide but Not Control and Direct

Students benefit greatly from participating in class discussions, but have a natural tendency to let the tutor do the talking. This is not from laziness: they simply respect the tutor's opinion more than their own, or their classmates'. How can you keep a class discussion going without dominating it? Werner (1993) offers four tips:

  • The tutor must make a personal commitment to discussion.  Students resist discussion: they want the `right' answer, and they want it now. With long silences and bored looks, they can easily wear a tutor down. You have to make a firm commitment to yourself not to give in and reveal the answers. Eventually students will realize that the quality of learning depends on them.
     
  • Tutors facilitate discussion by removing themselves from positions of power in the classroom. Sit amongst the students, and let them face each other. If they can only see you, then they will only talk to you, and not to each other.
     
  • Leading a discussion involves providing a framework for the discussion.  Plan in advance where you want the discussion to go, and think up some leading questions.  It is hard to generate these on the spot.
     
  • Good discussion leaders attend to the process.  Always be aware of where the discussion is going, and intervene if it has gone off-topic or is leading up a blind alley.  Referring back to an earlier comment made by a student is a good strategy for getting out of rough patches.
Student Group Work

In general, few problems have been reported by ITEE students in group work: in fact they seem to value the social opportunities and the work incentives that it gives. Two of the most common problems that we have observed in 'group dynamics' are that:

  • Some students don't pull their weight;
  • Some students completely dominate group discussion.

Both behaviours can lead to resentment, conflict, and absenteeism.

Note that to handle problems such as these, however, it is first of all important that you are aware of them!  You should always move around the class during group work time, answering questions but also keeping an eye on group dynamics.

It is hard to prescribe a sure solution for any group work problems, as what works depends largely on the personalities of the students (and the tutor) involved.  But we can suggest some options:

  • Sit in on the group and involve quiet students with questions (e.g., "Does everyone completely agree with/understand this solution?", "What would you add to this, Ben?");
     
  • Quietly talk to problem students after the tutorial, stressing that group work needs to involve all group members;
     
  • Make general remarks in front of the class about how groups should work;
     
  • Reorganize groups (this should only be done early in semester).
Student Presentations

Despite the general fear in the populace of speaking in public (it even outscores death!), ITEE students seem to have taken remarkably well to the recently-introduced practice of presenting tutorial solutions in front of their peers. Most surveys we have conducted show that students have no major problems with this.

On the other hand, there have been consistent complaints by students about the poor quality of other students' presentations.  As well, a desire has often been expressed for explicit instruction on how to present well, and speak in public generally.

Students desire feedback on the style of their presentation as well as the content. You have to