Personal Tutorial Systems – Departmental Good Practice
The summaries below highlight some of the good practice noted in departmental PTS model submissions. For further information on any topic please contact the Senior Tutor of the department acknowledged or Christine Edmead.
Role of Senior Tutor
Good practice was shown by several departments in being explicit both in their models and in the communication with staff about the role and responsibilities of the Senior Tutor. In some departments such responsibilities included mentoring new staff in their role as a Personal Tutor (Chem) or offering support to tutors when a report or monitoring indicated that tutor groups were not working effectively (Phy)
Information about the departmental PTS
One of the underlying aims of the Personal Tutorial System review was to address student expectations by improving clarity on the role of the Personal Tutor, the purpose of tutorial sessions and the expectation that students will attend such sessions. Most departments have responded by improving on the information given to staff and students about the purpose and organisation of the departmental personal tutorial system through staff and student handbooks and Moodle pages. Two particularly good examples were given by Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering.
Allocation of tutors
Avoiding the widespread problem of consistency of provision and engagement of academic staff with the Personal Tutoring System, a few departments addressed specific issues when allocating tutees to tutors. Natural Science tutees are allocated a tutor from the department in which they are majoring in that subject whilst Physics arrange specific tutor groups for students who are repeating a year in order to provide them with more relevant support.
Some departments have a dedicated International Student Tutor which can be helpful in providing relevant tailored support, but in such cases departments need to ensure it is not unintentionally marginalising international students or denying equivalent support to home students by supporting them separately.
Several departments allocate tutors according to the academic needs of the students (i.e. those entering Pharmacy without A–level Biology or Maths will be allocated a tutor covering biological or mathematical aspects of the course respectively.
Improving the induction process to support student transition both socially and academically has been a recent focus of the university. Many departments have responded by introducing more activities during induction week to encourage student interaction and integration (Man) whilst others have included sessions to provide more information on student support and address student expectations (P&P, ME). Pharmacy and Pharmacology offer a Moodle-based online pre-induction when new students may meet their peers through engagement with discussion forums and online e-tivities.
Not to forget progressing students, especially those returning to study after a period away on placement. Several departments including Mechanical Engineering have developed re-induction sessions to support students in adjusting to the demands of the new academic year whilst others hold placement conferences to celebrate and discuss the work students have achieved whilst on placement, using it as an opportunity to link it back to the academic tasks ahead.
The main focus of the revised Personal Tutorial System was the requirement for departments to address academic induction i.e. how students were being supported in the development of skills required for them to be successful in their studies and future employment. Departments were strongly encouraged to be explicit in both their PTS reports and in their communication to staff and students where particular aspects of academic induction were addressed. This was particularly evident in the submissions from Computer Science and P&P where topics were mapped to different academic units although several other departments have also addressed this well. The Department of Education now run an extended induction period to support both transition and academic induction.
Tutor / tutee activities
Specific activities for tutors to carry out with their tutees help relationships within the tutor group to develop (e.g. site visits (Arch), returning coursework (Health), Essays and problem based learning (P&P)) and also provide a positive focus to the tutorial sessions. Linking tutorial sessions to academic units also provides a positive reason for engagement by both staff and students (ME)
Some departments utilise Personal Tutorials to assess student skills needs through the use of discussion and checklists (Econ, P&P) and are then able to more accurately direct students to relevant sources of support and training. The good practice of holding occasional integrated across years tutorial sessions (yr1&2, 2&3 or 3&4) facilitates mentoring and peer support (Health).Several departments also draw on the expertise of PGT students to run academic skills tutorials or to provide support to UG students (SPS, Health).
The Department of Health put together a useful Support Services diagram to show students the availability of support services but tutors should also be encouraged to direct their tutees to the support web pages. Associated with this it is important to achieve clarity about the limits to the role of personal tutor in relation to student welfare (Chem).
Another requirement of the revised tutorial system is monitoring to assess the effectiveness of the model in providing support to meet student needs. Several departments including Biology and Biochemistry survey staff as well as students to help improve current practice. This is helped by good record keeping of student attendance at tutorials, copies of tutorial agendas, brief outlines of topics discussed, work set and follow up actions for tutor or tutees (B&B). Other departments have procedures in place for following up on non-attendance of students at tutorials (Phy).
Mechanical Engineering use a Request Tracker (RT) system to ensure quick and efficient responses to student enquiries (ME).
Several departments already have in place very effective peer mentoring schemes. The purpose of the schemes varies between supporting students during transition to university life (P&P) with some schemes focusing particularly on non standard entrants (Psy); offering pastoral and some academic support (CS); or purely academic peer assisted learning support schemes (MASH-Maths). Most are student-led and therefore not a great burden on staff time although setting up a scheme does require certain departmental support. Several other departments have indicated plans to set up peer mentoring schemes.
If you have any further examples of good practice related to the design, operation or monitoring of your Personal Tutorial System that you would be happy to share with other departments then please contact me, C.E.Edmead@bath.ac.uk