Teaching and Learning Forum 95 [ Contents ]

Student input and tutorial organisation

Michael Sturma
School of Social Sciences
Murdoch University
In this presentation I will discuss a technique for eliciting student ideas for tutorial organisation. While the technique itself is simple, I believe it is effective in generating new ideas and stimulating greater student participation.


I would like to share a technique for tutorial organisation which I've found very useful. I am not claiming credit for originating this technique. I may well have gotten the idea for a previous Teaching-Learning Forum. But having practised this technique in a couple of different courses I can certainly endorse it.

The technique

The technique, I believe, should be used at the first meeting of a tutorial group after members have been introduced to one another. Each student is given an index card and asked to write one or more ideas on how the tutorials might be made more enjoyable and beneficial. Their ideas may relate to something they would like the instructor to do, or something they would like all the students to do. The ideas are contributed anonymously so that students do not feel inhibited in making suggestions.

Once everyone has had a chance to write their ideas, the cards are collected. Each idea is read out to the class for discussion. At this stage students can debate the pros and cons of each suggestion, and reach a consensus on whether they wish to adopt the suggestion. Only rarely, in my experience, do suggestions have to be put to a vote. I reserve the right to veto anything too outlandish, but so far I haven't had to exercise this.

Before the tutorial meets again, the instructor compiles a list of the accepted suggestions for distribution to all students. If necessary points can be refined at the second meeting, but otherwise the suggestions for tutorial organisation are immediately put into practice.


This technique, it seems to me, offers a number of benefits to both instructors and students. First of all it generates new ideas. In the course I taught last semester, for example, one of the suggestions was for a weekly trivia quiz. I was a bit sceptical about the value of this, but it proved a good way of loosening people up at the beginning of each class as well as a way of reviewing the week's work. It was extremely popular with the students. A running tally was kept of individual scores, and the person with the highest score received a prize at the end of the semester.

Because the suggestions come from the students themselves, it provides an opportunity to try out ideas which might not work as well if imposed by the instructor. For instance, one class thought it would be a good idea if they changed seats each week so that they would get to know a wider range of classmates. Frankly, I would have felt authoritarian telling students they had to change places each week, and they might well resent this. Since this was student initiated, however, it was happily implemented.

Although I don't have objective evidence to prove this, I believe allowing students the opportunity to contribute to tutorial organisation gives them as feeling of greater control over their learning. Especially with 2/3 year students, I've found that they often have quite definite ideas about what style of tutorial is most conducive to learning. Students do not always agree on this, but usually a compromise can be reached. In one case students were divided as to whether they should give formal presentations at tutorials. Rather than having one or two students give a paper at each session, it was decided to assign half a dozen people a focus question for each tutorial. This worked well, with some students commenting that they were the most useful tutorials of their university career.

Course evaluations suggest that allowing students a large say in the format for tutorials increased their degree of satisfaction with the classes. I believe students felt more committed to making the tutorials work and fostered a sense of group responsibility.

Please cite as: Sturma, M. (1995). Student input and tutorial organisation. In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p250-251. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/sturma.html

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