Engaging students in tutorials

Ideas and approaches to help you provide engaging tutorials.

Students working in small groups with tutor helping.
Tutorials are useful for simulating smaller group environments. But, it can be difficult to involve all students. Engage all students in a learning environment by providing a variety of activities.

“Appreciate the value of tutorials as a different mode of content delivery.”—Adam Weaver

  • Work in small groups: break up the class into small groups.
  • Use innovative games, puzzles and interactive simulation: identify interesting and relevant tasks that assist the learning process by making something that is dull into something interesting.
  • Use role play: print out cards with information about specific stakeholders that is handed out to individual students. Students have to think from the perspective (role) of that stakeholder and then find the other relevant stakeholder(s). This mixes up the class and ensures that everyone contributes.
  • Debates: divide the tutorial group according to their opposing opinions on a topic and debate the different issues.
  • Simulate a meeting environment: share informal ideas around a meeting table; this prepares students for meetings and discussions where they need to contribute in an impromptu way.

Video demonstration

Engaging students - Peter Metham

This video demonstration is a hands-on tutorial designed by Peter Metham to give students a tangible, real-life experience of the steps involved in project procurement management. To get the bigger picture, we suggest you take a look at the lesson materials first, and then view the video. Watch Peter Metham's tutorial on procurement management.

Presenter: Peter Metham

“It is just a question of taking material and turning it into an interesting activity, a real experience.”—Peter Metham

Oral presentations as part of group work

  • Reading worksheets: students answer questions on the readings via email or drop-box, before coming to tutorials. Discussion in tutorials provides instant feedback and encourages students to finish questions in preparation for exams, but only their written answers are marked.
  • Best performing student award: nominate the best student from each tutorial. It gives authority and respect to the tutors and encourages students to work harder. Chosen students can collect a letter from the lecturer, inviting them back as a tutor the following year.

90% of first year students do not discuss ideas with their lecturers—2008 Australasian student engagement survey (AUSSE).

Light up learning

Running successful tutorials is about motivating tutors to ‘light up’ the learning environment.

Portrait of Simon Park

Simon Park's Ignite Potential is a promising structured approach to motivating tutors and learners, presented in a video.

It is a way of recruiting, training, and supporting tutors. This approach is being used at the School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington. The practice has been shown to motivate tutors and build their confidence. It provides an avenue to develop work-relevant skills like leadership and teamwork.

“It is the cohort spirit that is very important, the team spirit, the bonding.”—Val Hooper

  • Find good people: find tutors that students will love! It is not just about academic grades: they might be A+ students, but if they do not have people skills, empathy, or if they have no cultural understanding, they would not be good tutors.
  • Look for return on investment: finding the right people from the beginning is better than changing them later.
  • Look for team spirit: find tutors who want to do the job and work in a team. Students need tutors who are authentic, convincing.
  • Tough selection: 100 second presentation with 5-10 slides, potential tutors show what they have got and must finish on time. If they can do that, they will not have problems going into a tutorial. Follow with one-on-one 15 minutes interviews. Challenge applicants: why should they be a tutor?
  • Use 6 P's: proper prior preparation prevents poor performance. Know the value of preparation and the value of time.
  • Evaluation: sit down with each tutor after a course. Do not blame, but talk about personal improvement and what they can change.
  • First time tutors have passion. Second time: passion and experience; third time: passion fades. Tutoring experience does not mean a guaranteed job.