Just before the start of the TM470 project module, I asked
myself a question: should I run a tutorial? Tutorials are not compulsory but I
do know that some tutors run them. I had another question: what do other tutors
do? These questions motivated me to ask my TM470 line manager another question:
‘could I run an AL development session to ask tutors what tutors do? This might
be something that could help other tutors’. My line manager, Keith, agreed.
This document (or blog post) is a quick summary of the key
discussion points that were drawn from that AL development session. Most of
these points are from two activities. Tutors were put into four different break
out rooms and asked to answer a set of questions. After the discussions, we all
came back to the main room and discussed our findings.
The headings below represent the questions that were asked.
The comments underneath are, essentially, a quick summary of the points that were
What would be the aim [of a tutorial] and when should you run one?
Run a tutorial early in the module to give students some
guidance about the way the project should be approached (coding and creating
Mixed feedback/feedforward and used student participation.
Tutorials seem to work better if they are studying similar
subject: whole cohort sessions on specific topics? The challenge is that ALs
have limited time.
To discuss key skills like research and literature: this can
lead to fewer repeated emails about generic questions.
To save time repeating the same information to other
What would you do in a tutorial?
Setting out the approach for the module.
Getting students to generate 3 or 4 PowerPoint slides, and
then discuss in tutor group (getting students to do the work). Tell us what
they’re doing, and an issue that they have. Be positive.
Try to get them thinking less about the technical stuff:
more about project management and reflection.
Try to get them to appreciate the need to address learning
Talk about literature reviews.
Discuss deadlines and what is required.
A drop in session to allow students to discuss things. A learning
outcome should be: students should be able to present their projects to other
In some situations, depending on what is taught, a video from
the module team might be useful.
Discussions contribute to learning outcomes.
What are the challenges and what would help you?
Getting students to attend.
A tutorial can become a monologue (lecture)
Students without audio: most will say something in the chat
Recordings: will students turn up? Or will students be
Privacy concerns about disclosing information about student
projects in tutorials.
Having enough time to run the tutorials when tutors are busy
How do you maximise attendance at a tutorial?
Use the forum, and the group email: allude to the benefits
of the tutorials, saying that they will end up doing better projects.
Take every opportunity to encourage attendance: in every
chat, email or piece of feedback (TMA!) refer to the next tutorial.
‘Put the fear of God into them’; tell them they must attend –
it is there for their own benefit! This is a very difficult course! Don’t miss
Using a Doodle poll to set an agreed time.
What are the most difficult things for a student?
Working consistently, i.e. not trying to do a TMA over the
Managing time and deadlines.
Not understanding the requirements/components of a project.
Not having the patience to fully explore the background to
It is a module without a substantial calendar: students have
to plan in their own time.
How to plan and structure.
Getting started at the right place, and knowing when to
Knowing their own limitations: they need a project that
demonstrates their skills and knowledge.
What common mistakes do students make?
Trying to do too much, or under estimating time required.
Not reading what is required for the TMA: read the
instructions! Look out for what the module materials are asking for.
Wanting to try new toys just to add experience rather than
trying to engage deeper with the subject.
A literature review that is not deep enough.
When there are projects that relate to work situations,
there can be too much focus on satisfying the client’s requirements rather than
the module’s requirements.
Do the students have a backup plan if things go wrong if
they have a ‘client’?
Students focus on assignments and not just projects.
If you could offer one bit of advice to a student, what would it be?
It’s not about writing code.
Stick with a simple system: don’t be too ambitious.
Use the full window of time and execute each stage
Keep in contact with your tutor, no matter what is
If you could offer one bit of advice to a new tutor, what would it be?
Tell students to keep evidence of what they’re doing e.g. a
log of activities, which is very useful for report writing.
Application of common sense when it comes to keeping
students on track.
Keep talking to your students; keep contacting them if they
don’t contact you.
Keep discussing with other tutors: use the forums; there is
lots of experience.
From my perspective, I was really surprised with how many
interesting, different and useful points came out from these discussions. This
session has (personally) given me some really good ideas of things to speak
about in a TM470 tutorial.
One thing that I should say is that there were two schools
of thoughts about whether tutorials are needed or not. I think I remember
reading (or hearing) one opinion that perhaps they are useful in terms of getting
students started, but then the hours that the students have could be spent on a
more personal or one to one basis.
There are, of course, many different ways to support students,
and this session has helped to share some really great ideas between tutors.
A final question is: what next? I felt this session has been
personally really useful. Does anyone have any ideas about what else might be
useful? One thought is a ‘tutor drop in’; an opportunity to discuss interesting
projects and situations. Another passing thought is the potential benefit of
talking about marking or correspondence tuition. I think I’ll stop at this
point, and hand this discussion back to all those TM470 tutors who are
significantly more experienced than I am.