MAKING THE MOST OF TUTORIALS

SUMMARY: BASIC TIPS FOR TUTORIALS

  • Try to join in the discussion. The first time you speak you may feel embarrassed—but it gets easier!
  • Say something, even if it’s just ‘That’s right!’, at your first tutorial. Gradually you will gain confidence.
  • Plan what you want to say while the previous person is talking.
  • Speak so that everyone can hear you.
  • Speak to the whole group (not just the tutor).
  • Always do some preparation before going to tutorials, so that you have something to talk about.
  • Look as if you are interested.
  • If you don’t understand—ask!
  • Active participation is more important than taking notes.

WHAT IS A TUTORIAL?

In most subjects at the University of Canberra, you are required to attend tutorials (tutes for short). Usually there will be about 15—20 students in your tutorial group. The nature of tutorials varies from tutor to tutor and subject to subject.

Tutorials may be:

  • practical sessions in laboratories or workshops
  • a chance for the tutor to explain aspects of the lecture
  • a chance for students to talk about the subject, with the tutor taking a back seat.

Generally, students are expected to participate actively in tutorials and often a percentage of your final grade depends on your tutorial participation.

WHAT IS THE POINT OF TUTORIALS?

Tutorials give students an opportunity to:

  • practise analytical thinking
  • practise problem solving
  • ask questions
  • gain a fuller understanding of the theory
  • discuss how theory applies to reality
  • try out ideas by talking them through with others
  • learn from other students
  • gain important group work skills for their professional life.

Through active discussion you learn that others understand things differently from you. You gain fresh perspectives on issues and new strategies for handling problems. It can be really stimulating! …

…. Or it can be really boring—it rather depends on you and the responsibility that you take for helping the group to run well.

WHAT DOES ‘TUTORIAL PARTICIPATION’ MEAN?

Tutorial participation usually means talking and thinking. Generally, it’s not about receiving information and taking notes.

Tutorial participation does not mean talking all the time. In fact some students talk far too much! However, most tutors will not ask you a direct question, in case they embarrass you. So it’s really up to you to show that you want to make a contribution.

If the tutor asks you to work in small groups, it’s particularly important for each student to contribute to the discussion.

You can contribute to the discussion by:

  • giving an example to illustrate what someone else has said
  • agreeing, but adding some suggestions
  • comparing what has been said to something else you know about (perhaps something you have read)
  • disagreeing—and giving your reasons
  • asking a question
  • introducing a new topic.

You don’t have to talk to participate. You can show that you are participating simply by looking interested—that means:

  • looking at the person who is talking,
  • showing by your body language that you belong to the group (eg move your chair to be part of the group, try not to hide behind other people, sit forward slightly)
  • show your reactions to what people are saying in your facial expressions (eg smile and nod in agreement, raise an eyebrow or frown slightly if you don’t agree).

Of course, the most important part of tutorial participation is concentrating on the topic. Try to focus on the content and not on how you are feeling!

WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY?

It’s a good idea to plan ahead for tutorials. Do some background reading, so that you know a bit about the topic, and try to think of some questions and develop some opinions before you go to the ‘tute’. If the lecturer gives you some tutorial questions, have a go at answering them before the tute. Then, when the lecturer says ‘Does anyone have a comment on this?’ you will be ready with something to say.

Diving in right at the beginning is a good idea—you don’t feel so nervous once you have spoken, and it’s easier to understand at the beginning of the tute. Again, focussing on the content rather than how nervous you feel will help.

Generally the plan of action is like this:

  1. Start planning what you want to say while someone else is speaking.
  2. When the speaker is beginning to wind down, start to move forward in your chair—look as if you want to say something.
  3. Start to speak immediately the other person stops.

Whatever you say is valuable, and everyone’s opinion should be respected. If you are an international student, your experience of other cultures and viewpoints is often very interesting to the group.

People may agree or disagree with your idea. Discussing ideas (even arguing) is often a productive way of developing new ideas. So, if someone disagrees with you, that’s probably a good sign! It means you’ve given people something to think about!

WHAT IF NOBODY CAN UNDERSTAND ME?

Don’t be embarrassed if people don’t understand what you are saying and ask you to repeat yourself. Just restate your ideas—if possible using slightly different words.

If English is not your first language, your tutor and your classmates may not be accustomed to your accent. So even if you are very fluent in English they may find it difficult to understand. Try to speak SLOWLY and clearly.

WHAT IF I CAN’T UNDERSTAND?

Particularly if you are not a native speaker of English, understanding what other students say in tutes can be difficult: they often speak fast and use colloquial expressions. Often students do not explain themselves clearly.

Some suggestions include:

  • Don’t be shy to ask people to explain what they mean, or to speak more slowly.
  • Preparing beforehand makes it much easier to understand what is going on.
  • Talk to your tutor, and explain that you are finding it difficult to follow—a good tutor will try to help you.

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