Cutting the Learning Experience

Tutorials in the arts give students the opportunity to exchange and express a variety of perspectives and opinions. Conversations and discussions can trigger, provoke and inspire new thoughts and ideas. Despite these indispensable learning experiences, the university plans to cut tutorials and merge them with lectures into forum-format workshops.

We need to change the environment of tutorials where vocal students dominate the discussion while others sit and listen to their presentations. Tutors can bring into tutorials a wider range of activities, such as group presentations and debates, where everyone has the chance to work together and share their take on the task. The idea of getting more students engaged in discussion is in line with the form of workshop, when everyone is expected to have some contribution in a workshop.

The question is: under time constraints, can workshops deliver the same teaching quality and tutorial experience without reconciling the two? Currently, an average later year arts course includes three contact hours each week – two hours in a lecture and one hour in a tutorial. The digital lecture delivery service and multiple tutorial options allow students to work out flexible timetables. However, if the lecture and tutorial were simply merged together, a workshop would last for three consecutive hours. In that case, part-time and non-traditional students would have little time to attend to work and family obligations. Moreover, it remains unclear how the university would resolve more predicted course clashes across colleges and the way to record lecture-tutorial-mixed workshops.

If the lecture and tutorial were compressed into a two-hour workshop, the time allocation of lecturing and workshop activity would have to be negotiated. Lecturers would need to either speed up teaching within a shorter time period, or give way the length of workshop activity to the lecture quality. Either way, the learning experience would be negatively affected.

In most later year arts courses, tutorials are run by lecturers and an average tutorial holds up to twenty students. In a one-hour tutorial, the tutor can invest at least some effort in bringing all students to the discussion. In a workshop, however, the lecturer would walk around the classroom and tend to as three or more times more students than in a tutorial. The tutor-student ratio would be sharply reduced. Students who rarely speak up in tutorials would have little opportunity to interact with the tutor and other students in workshops. The workshop format also puts more pressure on lecturers and students who have less time to consolidate the lecture and reading material before group discussion.

If the university’s motive behind the new plan was to achieve innovation, lecturers should have been given more autonomy to design the form and content of lectures and tutorials. However, the day-to-day conduct of courses is becoming increasingly removed from the control of those who actually teach them, and becoming more standardised across the CASS.