Supporting Students: Tutorial Support

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1 Supporting Students: Tutorial Support Edited by A. Cook, K.A. Macintosh and B.S. Rushton The STAR (Student Transition and Retention) Project Supported by the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (Phase Four) A. Cook, K.A. Macintosh and B.S. Rushton, 2006 This publication may be reproduced in full or in part provided appropriate acknowledgement is made to the STAR Project and to the authors. ISBN XXXXX Published by the University of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland, BT52 1SA Printed in the United Kingdom by the University of Ulster, Coleraine 1

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3 The STAR Project Student Transition and Retention Supporting Students: Tutorial Support Contents Page Preface 4 The Role of Tutorials in Supporting New Students 7 Anthony Cook Biomedical Sciences Tutorials 13 Anthony Cook and Violetta Naughton Extended Induction Tutorials for At Risk Students 37 Mark Huxham Bread and Butter: a Lunchtime Workshop to Develop Mature Students Fundamental Learning Skills Katherine Linehan 51 Acknowledgements 61 3

4 Preface The purpose of this booklet is to describe practices that have worked in some institutions to ease the stresses of students transition into Higher Education and to help to improve retention. This is important because student retention has become a significant issue both for students and for institutions. Students waste valuable time and resources if they drop out from a university course in which they have invested their hopes and aspirations and institutions waste money and staff effort. Early withdrawal of students frustrates the purposes of all. It is, however, just the measurable component of a more general malaise. For every student who takes the decision to leave a course there must be many more who are just able to pass, who are just able to cope with the stresses of Higher Education and who are failing to reach their full potential. Equally, there will be students at university who should never have joined or who should have joined a different course. They might be too immature, too deficient in the basic skills required or their talents might lie in different directions. Every institution that has highlighted student retention as a significant component of its strategies has investigated the causes of early leaving and most will have drawn similar conclusions. The STAR consortium was formed at a time when the generality of these causes was becoming apparent but the responses to them were less clear. The first action of the consortium was to list a set of outcomes that, if achieved, would contribute to the alleviation of problems associated with student transition. These we published as the Guidelines for the management of student transition (Cook et al., 2005). The consortium then identified practices that were likely to assist the achievement of the outcomes in the Guidelines booklet and researched them. The STAR booklets, of which this is one, are small compendiums of practices that have worked in some institutions to ease the stresses of 4

5 students transition into Higher Education. Many have been shown to improve retention. Many are the practical expression of institutional policies. All are descriptions of the dedicated work of teaching and support staff in the Higher Education sector who have introduced, maintained or developed practices for the benefit of students. The practices are derived from three sources. First, some were identified through survey. These were researched by STAR staff and written in collaboration with practitioners. Second, some staff volunteered to write about their practices independently. Third, some new practices were introduced and some existing ones evaluated using funding provided by the STAR project. Most practices have been described by staff and then validated by students through questionnaires or focus groups. All the reports contained in these booklets have been refereed independently and then approved by the STAR Steering Group. This booklet describes the practices in enough detail to allow others to adopt or advocate that practice in their own institutions. The practices, however, should not be considered as definitive. They work in the institutions in which they were implemented by the staff who implemented them and with the students who participated. They are unlikely to remain the same. They will almost certainly evolve further even in the institutions in which they have been described and, when adopted elsewhere, will need to be adapted to suit local conditions. They are, therefore, offered as foundations on which to build appropriate practices to suit the staff, the students and learning environments involved. REFERENCE Cook, A., Rushton, B.S., McCormick, S.M. and Southall, D.W. (2005). Guidelines for the management of student transition. University of Ulster, Coleraine. 5

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7 The Role of Tutorials in Supporting New Students Anthony Cook, The STAR Project, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland, BT52 1SA There appears to be little agreement in the UK s Higher Education system about what a tutorial is and what it is for. The personal tutorial system has been a mainstay of student support in the UK s Higher Education for generations. It is apparent in at least three guises: Pastoral with each student having a specific tutor to guide them through all aspects of their university career; Professional in which the role of the academic staff is to pass a student on to the centralised professional care of counsellors and advisors; and the Curriculum model in which support is integrated into the teaching (Owen, 2002). Experiences reported in this booklet would indicate that the curriculum model of academic support is common in the UK but that the tutorials have to be integrated not only into the teaching and learning but also into the assessment practices (Cook and Naughton, 2006). For the purposes of this booklet we consider the tutorial to be a small number of students (as few as four but sometimes rising to 20) discussing a subject with a tutor. With the increasing number of students entering tertiary education in recent years, small group teaching of this nature has been difficult to maintain since such teaching obviously involves a greater commitment of staff time, more space, increased timetabling problems and the potential for inequality between the experiences of different groups on the same course. Further, as has been pointed out by Griffiths (1999) small group teaching is among the most difficult and highly skilled teaching techniques. It thus requires tutors to be competent in an area of teaching that is not commonly practised in the other areas of 7

8 academic work such as research, administration and conventional lecturing. In a review of American institutions Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) concluded that where the goal of instruction was the mastery of factual material then class size was not a critical factor. Even when student satisfaction is used as a criterion, there appears to be no improvements until class size falls below about ten (Mateo and Fernandez, 1996). Indeed a bimodal phenomenon has been observed, one interpretation of which would be that there are benefits in small group teaching (less than ten) by virtue of the increased interaction between staff and students and benefits in very large group sizes arising from the increased effort that staff put into the decreased contact time commitment. Despite the evidence that group size has little influence on the acquisition of knowledge, there is no question that good small group teaching is effective in improving the relationship between staff and students, in encouraging a collaborative approach to learning and in modeling the teamwork common in the workplace (Griffiths et al., 1996). Further, the use of small group teaching as a component of a varied diet of teaching methods facilitates the fulfillment of Chickering and Gamson s (1987) seven principles for good practice in undergraduate teaching. Thus it potentially: Encourages contacts between students and staff; Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students; Uses active learning techniques; Gives prompt feedback; Emphasizes time on task; Communicates high expectations; and Respects diverse talents and ways of learning. 8

9 The practices reported here have largely been developed in response to two imperatives. First the need to retain students and second to address a study skills agenda. Huxham s tutorial system at Napier was introduced only for those students who showed those characteristics associated with students who left early and/or failed at Napier. This system has the advantage of targeting the most vulnerable group and focussing on their different needs. The tutorials support academic progress, student support and issues of assessment. They also serve to promote social integration. In contrast to the practice at Napier the tutorial system introduced in the University of Ulster was a school wide initiative and compulsory for all students. Indeed in its final version attendance was required, since it became linked to assessment in a specific module. With an emphasis on group work and study skills it promotes social integration and the development of research skills. The problems of an extensive, standardized scheme like this are highlighted in that initially it was not well suited to meet the needs of some of the participants. In its second iteration, therefore, it was directed at those courses with similar requirements. Finally, the practice at Sheffield was focused on the needs of mature students. The provision of specialised support for this minority of students was well received to the extent that the practice has now been made available to all students and extended to other departments. There are at least three issues that deserve consideration when introducing schemes like these: 1. Selectivity Some schemes are directed only at those who need tutorial support. Thus sessions in remedial mathematics, writing, study skills, etc. can be provided for those students who decide for themselves that they 9

10 need help. In two of our case studies (Napier and Sheffield) it is the staff that decide that help is required either by virtue of a student s age or some measure of risk that might lead to early leaving. Both schemes provide support for study and course content as well as directed support for the problems, which identified the group in the first place. Are these fair and equitable practices? Some students who might have benefited from the support but who were not in the target group were excluded even though they were enrolled on the same course. On the other hand, at Ulster, all students were included and the attendance was very poor until it was more focused and subjected to assessment. There are considerations, therefore, of striking a balance between offering universal support which may not suit all and focussed support which might exclude some who needs it. 2. Purpose What are tutorial schemes for? When used appropriately they are well suited to promote the social integration of new students, to promote group working and to deal with individual problems. In circumstances in which new students can get lost in large anonymous modules the use of small group teaching can promote a feeling of identity with the course on which a student is enrolled. As found in the universal scheme in Ulster, however, a few tutors were not highly skilled and used the tutorial as an opportunity to lecture. A lecture to a small group is not a cost effective way to promote the acquisition of knowledge and defeats the social and individual support purposes of the scheme. As outlined above, tutorial groups, which expand too much above ten students per tutor, start to lose any special purpose since they are too large for effective individual contributions and too small for the efficient transmission of information. Tutorial groups above ten can be effective if that group is further divided and students set individual group tasks and this is illustrated by the practice in Ulster, 10

11 which used the larger groups as a vehicle within which to promote the development of collaborative learning. 3. Training It is inevitable that the quality of tutors will vary. Small group teaching is a highly skilled task and the effective use of this teaching technique, which is expensive in terms of staff time, requires the deployment of well-motivated and well-prepared staff. An effective tutorial system will require staff with the commitment and experience to perform these tasks well. These may not always be the most experienced teachers and it will be important to select staff for these roles on the basis of their training and skills. REFERENCES Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. American Association of Higher Education Bulletin 39: 3-7. Cook, A. and Naughton, V. (2006). Biomedical sciences tutorials, in Cook, A., Macintosh, K.A. and Rushton, B.S. eds. Supporting students: tutorial support, University of Ulster, Coleraine. Griffiths, S. (1999). Teaching and learning in small groups, in Fry, H., Kettridge, S. and Marshall, S. eds. A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education, Kogan Page, London. Griffiths, S., Houston, K. and Lazenbatt, A. (1996). Enhancing student learning through peer tutoring in higher education. University of Ulster, Coleraine. Mateo, M. and Fernandez, J. (1996). Incidence of class size on the evaluation of university teaching quality. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 56,

12 Owen, M. (2002). Sometimes you feel you re in the niche time. Active Learning in Higher Education, 3, Pascarella, E. and Terenzini, P. (1991). How college affects students. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. 12

13 Biomedical Sciences Tutorials Anthony Cook, The STAR Project, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland, BT52 1SA and Violetta Naughton, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland, BT52 1SA SUMMARY In response to increasing numbers of students leaving early and failing academically, a School policy of attendance monitoring and small group tutorials was implemented. In the first year of implementation ( ), the tutorials addressed study skills issues. They were poorly attended but did elicit positive responses from those students who did attend. The retention of students in was higher than that in Students complained, however, of the tutorials being too drawn out and unchallenging since they duplicated areas already experienced. In the tutorial scheme was revised and re-run. In this year it was shorter giving timetable space to address subject related and career issues. In addition, it was linked to a module and contributed 30% of the assessment for that module. Both attendance and performance continued to improve. Keywords: First year teaching, tutorials. INTRODUCTION In courses in the School of Biomedical Science at the University of Ulster had an unacceptable number of students who did not progress to year two. Table 1 shows the progression decisions made in the summer of

14 Student Group %Resit %Proceed %Fail %LOA %Repeat the year %Early Leavers N Biology Dietetics Biomedical Sciences and Molecular Biosciences Food and Nutrition Human Nutrition Optometry Total Table 1: Progression statistics for each student group in summer The groups are determined by the tutorial groups instituted in LOA Leave of Absence. The proportion of early leavers, those having to repeat the year and those failing (about 25%) one caused concern, as did the proportion of those who had one or more modules to resit in the autumn (another 30%). The courses in the School of Biomedical Science share some of the same modules; in particular, a human anatomy and physiology and an introductory chemistry module are common across the School. The Biology course has an individually tailored skills module, but 14

15 the other courses have skills delivery implicitly embedded in the subject-based modules. RELEVANCE TO THE STAR GUIDELINES At its outset the STAR project researched, produced and published a set of guidelines based on the causes of student attrition and which pointed the way towards possible good practice. The STAR guidelines relevant to this case study are: 2.3 Induction activities should support the development of those independent study habits suitable for Higher Education. 2.4 Induction events should provide the foundations for social interactions between students and the development of communities of practice. 2.5 Induction activities should promote the development of good communication between staff and students. 3.1 The curriculum should be relevant to and inform students vocational aspirations early on in the course. Cook et al. (2005) THE PRACTICE FIRST SEMESTER Four problems were identified and solutions put in place. The first problem was with a single module Human anatomy and physiology. Many students failed both the coursework and the examination. A range of remedial measures was instituted. These included: A key word booklet that contained a simple account of the essential factual material; 15

16 Additional tutorials following each lecture; Reducing the size of practical groups so that more one-toone support could be given; A modified summative assessment strategy so that a larger proportion of the coursework and all of the examination was based on multiple-choice questions; and The distribution of an e-mcq tool which allowed students to check their progress during private study time (voluntary formative assessment). The second problem was with the introductory chemistry module the modifications to which have been reported elsewhere (McClean et al., 2006). A third problem was perceived to be a lack of attendance. This cannot be quantified since no attendance monitoring took place. An attendance monitoring policy was instituted which entailed taking registers at each teaching session and contacting students with a record of unexplained absences. The fourth problem was related to student study and assessment skills. Analysis of the entry qualifications of the cohorts showed that many who had failed or who required resists had offered AVCE as their prime entry qualifications. It was concluded that these, otherwise well-qualified students, were not familiar with teaching and assessment styles being deployed in year one. A tutorial system was, therefore, introduced for all students. The objectives of the system were: To make students more familiar with the learning and assessment requirements of Higher Education; 16

17 To encourage students to work together to develop a more collegiate approach to learning; and To provide a more friendly environment in which students could work with staff (most modules have in excess of 150 students). Staff in the STAR project provided source materials with which tutors could work. Tutorial materials were either original or adapted from the GNU (Geography for New Undergraduates funded by the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning, Phase Two) project. The tutorial programme is provided in Appendix 1. The size of the groups varied between eight and 16 students and was determined largely by the availability of tutors. EVALUATION FIRST SEMESTER Attendance Tutors were asked to complete an attendance record for each session so that attendance could be recorded. Of the 91 possible sessions there are no records for 31. This may indicate that the tutorial was cancelled, that no students attended or that the tutor failed to submit an attendance record. The percentage attendance for each session is shown in Table 2. There is considerable variation between groups both in the number of sessions that were reported and the percentage attendance at those for which there is information. Seven sessions were organized and the greatest number of recorded attendances by any one student was six. This was often because the final evaluative session was not reported. As can be seen in Table 3, one group only reported two meetings. There was no simple 17

18 relationship between the number of sessions reported and the attendance or between the progression to year two and attendance. Improvements were seen in both progression and early leaving statistics compared with In particular, the biology and food and nutrition courses, which were amongst those with the poorest progression records, showed considerable improvement. With many changes taking place at the same time and the small number of students, however, it would be unwise to attribute cause. Week Topic % Students Absent % Students Present % Not Recorded 2 Reading Plagiarism Referencing Graphics Marking Examinations Evaluation Table 2: The attendance record for each tutorial session in

19 Organisation Attendance Progression Statistics (summer ) Group No. (Course) No. of Sessions Recorded % Attendance 1 (Biology) (Biology) (Dietetics) (Dietetics) (Biomedical Sciences) 6 (Biomedical/ Molecular Biosciences) 7 (Biomedical Sciences) 8 (Food and Nutrition) 9 (Food and Nutrition) 10 (Human Nutrition) 11 (Human Nutrition) (Optometry) (Optometry) 5 68 % Progression % Early Leavers Total Table 3: Records and outcomes from the tutorial groups in There were 13 tutorial groups of up to 15 students. Two students in Molecular Biosciences were included in tutorial group six with Biomedical Science. (Tutors were poor at keeping attendance records.) n 19

20 Student Opinion The monitoring of students opinion of this scheme took two forms. First a questionnaire was administered during the last week of term. Two different questionnaires were produced, one to be completed by those who attended most sessions and the second (printed on the reverse side) to be completed by those who were absent for most of the sessions. The second method used was a student focus group and was organised in the second semester (after the examinations were completed). Student Questionnaire Attenders Thirty-seven students returned the questionnaire for those that attended. The questions were designed to discover whether the tutorial materials had been useful and to examine some attitudes towards the tutorial scheme. Over half the respondents agreed with positive statements about all the tutorial sessions. Over three quarters of the students agreed with the following statements: The information on referencing is a useful resource for later. I now have a clearer idea of what type of graph to draw. If I have to resit anything I will only get a maximum mark of 40%. I have no trouble balancing my academic work with my part time job and my social life. Concerns that students had not become familiar with aspects of the University assessment system and had experienced trouble with 20

21 balancing out the various demands on their time are probably unfounded. Students disagreed with the statement: I did not have time to complete the exercises between tutorials, indicating that the workload involved was probably not too great or that the work was not completed for reasons other than lack of time. The free response questions asked for the best and worst aspects of the scheme. Most positive comments referred to the commitment of the staff and the assistance given to processes of adjustment to University life. The worst features most commonly mentioned were the timetable, with the sessions either being too early or too awkward or too long for the materials being completed and the repetition of material that had been done at school. Several students complained about the lack of emphasis on attendance with the implication that there was a minimum group size that is needed for a worthwhile tutorial. Non-Attenders Only 16 students returned the questionnaire designed for nonattenders. All the questions tested possible reasons for nonattendance. Those that these students agreed with included: My timetable was too full for me to attend all the tutorials as well. The tutorials covered things I already knew about. I concentrated my time on those aspects of the course that are being assessed. Statements with which students disagreed included: I did not think it worth attending after I could not complete the preparatory work. 21

22 Many tutorials coincided with assessment deadlines for modules. I feel intimidated by academic staff. The interpretation of these responses is coloured by half of the responding non-attenders being from the biology course that has a parallel skills module covering some of the same material. The implementation of a blanket school level policy resulted in some duplication of content and subsequent disillusion. The non-biology students agreed even more strongly that their timetable was already full, that the tutorials were not compulsory and that they were more focused on the subject specific modules. The free response section of the questionnaire indicated that many felt that the content was too basic and was covered elsewhere, that the lecturer did not turn up most of the time and that the timetable caused problems. Students were also asked what would encourage them to attend. Where positive responses were received, they mentioned a more relevant and challenging content, a more sympathetic timetable and the need for assessment. Student Focus Group The focus group largely confirmed the findings of the questionnaire. Students were broadly supportive of what was being attempted but complained of long sessions on comparatively trivial aspects, e.g. graphs: There were a couple of weeks that were quite relevant but they dragged it out for so long. They could have done something in five minutes about it, but they dragged it out for the full hour and by the end you re dying to rush out the door. We did how to draw graphs, and I thought, 22

23 we are at university so that we can draw a graph For a full lecture?! One aspect for concern was an observation that some tutorials were largely delivered as lectures. This is clearly an aspect that needs to be addressed through appropriate staff development. CONCLUSIONS FIRST SEMESTER Attendance was poor. Sometimes only a few students attended but this varies with course and, within courses, between tutors. The causes of poor attendance were a lack of perceived relevance, a lack of assessment, some duplication of content with the biology course and, sadly, occasionally, a lack of staff commitment. Timetabling, but not time, is seen as a problem. Thus tutorials encroaching into lectures, being immediately before assessments or at times which meant that students either had no free time between teaching sessions or too much, all presented problems. On the other hand, no one complained about the amount of work expected. All sessions were seen by most as useful. Positive statements about the sessions rarely elicited strong responses except for those related to learning styles and referencing. No student complained that anything was too difficult. Indeed the complaint was that the material was not challenging enough. (The only comment received about the material being too difficult was from a tutor.) Sessions were perceived as drawn out and this is associated with tutors using a lecture style delivery rather than exploiting the benefits of small group teaching. The social aspects of the process worked well as far as student-tostudent contact was concerned but the students did not identify with their course group because of these activities. 23

24 A REVISED SCHEME The outcomes of the tutorials were used in to revise the scheme. In summary, the following changes were made: The number of tutorials was reduced and the vacated time slots used to present materials that were related to specific topics and careers within the subject groups. This was in an attempt to relate a component of year one teaching directly to the vocational aspirations of student groups within an otherwise fairly homogenised diet of common BioSciences semester one modules. The tutorials were linked to modules (Biostatistics and Study Skills for Life Sciences (BMS credits) and Biostatistics and Study Skills for Nutrition (BMS credit points)). Neither Optometry nor Biology students take these modules and were therefore not included in the revised scheme. The Skills for Biologists module (BIO102) was supplemented with tutorials unrelated to this scheme but which addressed the introduction of a personal development plan. The revised tutorials focussed on the production of a poster on a topic related to activities in the work places to which graduates of the various degrees might aspire. The product (the poster) as well as the process (group work) were assessed and contributed 15% of the module mark. In addition a short piece of written work (500 words) was required and contributed a further 15%. The poster was peer assessed against an agreed set of criteria but the written work was tutor assessed. Incorporating the tutorials into a module also had the effect of formalizing the attendance requirements such that there was now no doubt that the tutorials were a compulsory part of the course. A workbook was produced which contained paper based exercises as well as outlines of the topics covered in the tutorials. Additional advisory material was included. Areas that had been heavily criticised by students the first time the scheme had run were removed from the tutorial support. In particular, graph drawing was moved to 24

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