Sunday, December 29, 2019

Improving Tutor Training

How much teacher training do those teaching at university need and how should this be provided? This is a question I have been looking at since first becoming involved in teaching at a university twenty years ago. I have been subjected to poorly designed online introductory tutoring course, a better four day face to face course, as well as longer programs. I decided to look at some of my frustrations, and recommendations, so I do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Online course exemplar: In reflecting on being an online student of teaching, one frustration was in difficulty using the Learning Management System (LMS). In that case I was using one unfamiliar to me (Blackboard). In teaching tutors, who are mostly students, it would therefore help to use the LMS they have been using as students. It would also help to lay out the tutor course using a familiar standard template of courses at the university. The online materials should be an example of good design. One of my frustrations as an online student of education, was where the content of the course said to do something, but that was not followed in the way the course was implemented (a case of "Do as I say, not as I do"). It is especially important that the materials are provided online for a tutor training course, as you only have the students for a short time.

Provide Assessment: As a form of staff training, short tutor training courses are often not assessed, although the student may get a certificate of attendance. There may be some optional assessment offered, if they intend to apply for credit to program, or apply for an external certificate (such as fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, Association for Learning Technology, or the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia). However, I found it difficult to take some teacher training seriously as there was no assessment, and I just needed to turn up. Even if only for the purposes of formative feedback, some type of assessment should be provided. This will also provide the participant with some idea of what it is like for their own students.

Peer Support: As a student I disliked any form of group work. My attitude was that I just wanted to be told what to do, I would do it on my own, and then get out of there. However, this does not make for a satisfying learning experience. New tutors, like new students, need help and support, which they can't just get from supervisors. So forms of group work, peer feedback and assessment, should be built into the tutor training. This may be difficult to arrange, and unpopular, but is useful.

Practical Exercises: Much of the teacher training I have been a student of has been very "academic", with theory expounded by an expert talking to a passive class of students. There is plenty of research to show this is not an effective way to learn. Ironically, some of that evidence was cited by people standing up presenting slide after slide, just as that research said not to do. What I found most useful as a student was to be told a little theory, and then have to prepare a practical lesson, with my peers as students.

Not Intensive Mode: Being crammed into a room for a few hours, or days is not a useful way to learn. There needs to be time to reflect, and ideally try out, what is being learned.

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