The First Tutorial
Tutorial session

Setting the Scene:

The first tutorial is where you can ‘lay the foundations of a good learning environment’ (Lublin 1997: 12). The first tutorial is the ideal time to establish a shared understanding of how tutorials will work, and what is expected of students and of the tutor. Some ideas on how you might do this are shown in clarifying expectations.

Set a calm but enthusiastic atmosphere for the learning experiences which will occur. Let the students understand that you value their questioning and will encourage their active participation in the planned activities for the subject. Tutorials will offer the students peer support as they each embark on this new learning. Chapple (1998) recommends setting an atmosphere where students are respected, valued and encouraged to take responsible risks.

Part of the establishing a shared understanding about the tutorial learning environment is how students will learn the material. The university environment may be new for high school leavers or mature age students. International students may have experienced different education systems. All commencing students need support to understand how best to learn at university and in each subject. Learning at university is often called an independent style of learning, where students are expected to challenge their existing assumptions, link theory to practice and develop their knowledge through research and inquiry. Different strategies and approaches to fostering independent learning are revealed on this site.

Clarifying Expectations

Ramsden’s (1992) research into teaching in higher education shows that it is at the beginning of a subject that students often express uncertainty, and that students need clear guidelines of the subjects’ goals and objectives and an indication of how they will be able to meet these expectations. The first tutorial is an ideal time to begin to alleviate these fears and concerns. Discuss the expectations you have for how the tutorials will run for the rest of the semester. This may include guidelines for appropriate behaviour, the expectations of the subject, attendance requirements and the appropriate way to contact you.

Students may have varied expectations of what tutorials are meant to achieve and what the tutorial environment should be like. It is useful to find out what these are and to then facilitate a shared understanding of how that particular tutorial will work. These videos show some ways to approach this.

Fostering Independent Learning

One of the goals of higher education is for students to develop a broad range of knowledge and skills that will ready them for employment or further studies. Tutorials are an important place where students can develop these attributes: via feedback from the tutor and peers, discussion, problem solving and activities such as group work, presentations etc. Students appreciate it when tutors and peers provide real world examples and connections related to the topics they are learning about, and when tutors link various aspects of the subject together.

Tutors play a critical role in supporting students to take responsibility for their own learning. For example:

  • Clear instructions that explain how to solve a problem step-by-step
  • Modelling how to approach a problem
  • 'Scaffolding' students’ problem-solving. Students may require carefully structured and specific steps (scaffolding) to complete a set task. As the student becomes more independent in the learning process, the scaffolding – or level of support – is gradually withdrawn.
  • Ensuring students are familiar with the range of resources that the Faculty and the university offer students to support independent study

The following clips show various techniques that other tutors use to promote independent learning: