As a student, and as a tutor, I have found that tutorials for liberal arts subjects (in university) can be a bore. As a student, in large courses you mightn't know anyone in your class, you mightn't want to answer questions in order to avoid looking like a know-all, or you mightn't answer questions because you haven't done the reading; and all-in-all it's a painful process of the tutor attempting to inveigle responses from a very quiet audience.

This also doesn't make tutorials very useful, and seeing that time is being put aside to this end (by both students and staff) it often feels a real waste.

For anyone unfamiliar with such tutorials, they tend to be for 1 hour each fortnight; designed to discuss subjects that have been lectured on with a view to informing students in relation to a continual assessment deliverable (e.g. an essay).

I'm now in the position where I can dictate tutorial structure of a subject (though I'm not actually a tutor). While I don't want to make any massive revolutionary changes in relation to tutorials, I'm curious what changes to the subject as a whole could produce an environment more conducive to interesting and productive tutorials. What alterations could help tutors and students make the most of these sessions?

  • @FedericoPoloni college, university, etc.: any institution above secondary school
    – Stumbler
    Jun 9, 2017 at 9:56
  • Oh, I see, thanks. I have heard "tertiary education", but not this variant. Thanks for the clarification; I am going to self-destruct my comments. Jun 9, 2017 at 9:58
  • Maybe have an introduction session during the first tutorial. You should open it yourself by giving your background, then ask a confident student to go second. You should stress that saying your name is minimal, but you'd like to hear more.
    – user2768
    Jun 9, 2017 at 11:11
  • I don't understand "informing students in relation to a continual assessment deliverable (e.g. an essay)." I think it would be a mistake to try to figure out an engaging way of doing something that you don't have clear in your own mind. Well, you might have it clear in your own mind, but if you do, you didn't manage to convey your clear idea to me. Maybe this is a UK-US English problem. Jun 10, 2017 at 2:37
  • @aparente001 in layman's terms: teach people how to write an essay (for example)
    – Stumbler
    Jun 10, 2017 at 9:13

2 Answers 2


I think that it is a mistake and a waste to approach a tutorial like a lecture.

In my own experience both in leading tutorials (in a more STEM environment, but still one with some open-ended discussions) and in being a student in them (both STEM and liberal arts), the instructor needs to actively cultivate an culture of participation by the class. Once such a culture is established, you can much better use the uniquely interactive format of a tutorial to really follow the students interests and needs in exploring the material.

Some tactics that can help in doing this:

  • Begin each tutorial by asking the students to set an agenda of things they would like to discuss. Bring a few of your own that you can use to seed the list.
  • Along the same lines: be confident enough in your knowledge and the material to let the students see your process as you work through your thoughts on their harder questions. They will generally get more out of understanding how to engage with the material than out of the specific answer to a specific question.
  • Giving enough quiet space for students to feel comfortable to speak takes longer than you may think. You will often need to silence stretch long enough to be uncomfortable.
  • Avoid conversation being dominated by a couple of active students by occasionally saying things like, "I'd like to hear from somebody who hasn't spoken much today." This asks the active students to step back while avoiding the down-sides of calling on individuals to speak.
  • Set clear expectations about culture at the beginning of the class, and explicitly revisit your commitment to them from to time as necessary.

You could find and present examples of spectacular blunders and failures (and then try to analyze them together).

The lecture has to be concise and to communicate the general concept. It would be fun and educational if you could present examples from history when things went horribly wrong, while apparently obeying all the "state of the art"/"unwritten rules"... not to prove the gereral concept is "wrong", but to put to attention there's usually more in it than following the the simpler rules. Exceptions, side effects, surprises!

Was nice for STEM ("...and that's the algorithm they put into the autopilot. See this formula? - Now, imagine what happened at a later time, when the first F16 fighter jet crossed the equator... surprise, it automatically rolled to upside-down flight!"), should work for any field :)

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