2/6 Tutor Observation

Tutor Observation – with Neil Currant from the Educational Development Unit on Friday 17th February 2012.

The Observation and Class Session

Naturally with the thought of being observed I spent a generous amount of time planning the session in my usual way of jotting down notes on how I think the session will develop and then practice or read-up on any issues where I need clarification. On the morning I set-up the video recorder in which I am used to, so this did not cause any apprehension I feel it is a good habit to help increase confidence.  The thought of Neil did form some nerves but I realized that the sooner I forgot about him the more natural the session would run. Neil stayed for one hour and the session went quite well, but I failed to see a classic week three style issue developing. The session was in the computing suite with a piece of software called Solidworks, it is a 3D modeling package. The session started and I introduced Neil to the class. I planned the session to run as the previous week which went very well, though this week was going into a more complex topic. I started the session by explaining and showing the concepts needed to complete the session then I challenged the students to complete it by themselves. I knew there would be an element of confusion at this point but I wanted this as I like my sessions to contain challenges. Some students did at this point begin to solve elements of the problem. After this I explained how to achieve the solution in more depth and about half of the group began to solve the problem. Biggs and Tang (2009, 35) discusses ‘Achievement Motivation is about achieving in order to enhance the ego, such as competing against other students and beating them. They feel good about themselves’ this though has to be used with caution, they continue ‘Achievement Motivation in the raw is not a pretty sight. It kills collaborative learning. Other students become competitors, not colleagues, and so steps are taken to disadvantage others’. I feel the statement correct in the ‘raw’ state but when a managed level of competition is fed into the learning environment I feel it can be constructive, such as if the tutor creates a competitive spirit between a close group of hungry students or dressing the competitive task as fun.

As Neil left I began to realize that an issue was developing that I have experienced before. There was a gulf forming between the top end and the lower end of the group, this problem had not been so evident in the previous two weeks. The final 2 hours of the session were spent helping the students at the lower end, therefore leaving the top end to their own devices. After the session I felt that I had ignored the higher achievers too much. The session ended at 12.30.

Observation Meeting with Neil

We began the meeting with me revealing to Neil the problem as stated above.  We then discussed ways to ease this problem for the next session whilst developing a longer term plan. Neil suggested that I could pair the students into achiever/low achiever pairs therefore enabling the achiever to practice and fine tune their new found skills whilst helping the low achievers to understand the concept. I have never used this idea in this style session before and feel it is a great idea. We continued the discussion and Neil suggested a solution that will take a few weeks to fully integrate into the session, a workbook style approach. This would enable all levels to be able to use the workbooks to guide them as far into the session as possible and enable me to be less hectic in the session. This is evidence of me taking the pressure of myself and distributing it to the students to enable them to drive their own session which suits their needs better. Workbooks could be digital and contain important concepts towards getting the intended outcome done.  Neil has now got me thinking, could the workbook be a progressive digital chart of the students progression through the module, not quite a e-portfolio but something that they use to lead them that is designed and constructed by the tutor then they can build a record of their achievements through the sessions and the module, could this even extend to gain thoughts and feedback from students on their learning progression and thoughts on the delivery style. Race (2009, 100) discusses the power of well designed handouts in a lecturing situation, ‘many advocates of the use of handout material agree that it’s what students do with the handouts that really matters. Handouts should be learning tools, not just compendia of information.’ He goes onto suggest ways to interrogate your handouts which include, make handouts interactive, and including a tear-off short questionnaire to give lecturers feedback. This approach is a way to engage the learner throughout the session and encourage them to reflect on their learning Moon (2004, -) refers to research conducted in Sweden in the 1970s and states ‘ The research culminated in the descriptions of approaches to learning as ‘surface’ or ‘deep’’. She goes on to suggest that ‘the general intention of the learner is to ‘absorb’ as much of the content as it is necessary for the task at hand. The learner might do this by memorizing material in a routine manner without reflecting on it or the underpinning purposes or structure of it or without relating it to previous learning or knowledge’. She acknowledges that surface learning can be conducted by very intelligent individuals as they believe that the absorption of knowledge is sufficient without any form of reflection.  I believe my learners can easily fall into ‘surface’ learning and I need to ensure reflection and interaction is contained in the sessions (using workbook approach) to cause ‘deeper’ learning. Moon (2004, -) explains deeper learning, ‘The learner who takes a deep approach seeks the underpinning principles and endeavours to relate the material to previous knowledge and understandings’.

Room layout and staff/student interaction through the session was discussed and Neil commented that half of the computers in the studio are facing away from the screen at the front which is used as the main focus for the session. No real solutions can be immediately implemented because it would mean redesigning the layout of the room which would be very difficult. Neil noted my movement through the session was mainly up and down the centre of the suite and suggested I don’t speak away from the Thinking about the layout I must now ensure that I don’t speak to the students whilst facing away from them.

Post reflection and action

Reacting to the observation through reflection will happen progressively over coming weeks though I have integrated some changes in the delivery of the next session on the following Friday to the observation. I will now discuss changes made.  As a first step to a digital workbook I decided to create a series of digital movies outlining the activities that will happen during the session. I used Adobe Captivate 5 to record three short movies of my on-screen actions. I then uploaded these files to Blackboard in preparation of the session. Click on the image below to link to a movie example(it may take a minute or two).

My plan was to run the session similar to the previous week but invite students to access the movies to aid there progression in the session, rather than waiting for instruction from myself. The movies were graded easy, moderate, and difficult which enabled all levels of the group to be challenged.  You can watch the movies below. I feel the change to the session worked very well and I found it less hectic. It was easy to control the flow by reverting students to the movies. The students can access the files freely and are also available to non-attendees.

Davies (2008, 63) writes ‘To counteract the possibilities of non-engagement or of some students finishing the task before others, I use a number of techniques. (1) I tend to set some form of follow-up activity for those who finish the initial task early. (2) I move around the group to help ensure students are properly engaged in the desired activity. (3) I ensure the activities are relatively short, with clear time limits and reminders of the deadline. (4) I limit the amount of time spent for students to give responses, managing this process efficiently and in a manner that maintains everyone’s interest.

UK PSF: A1, A2, A4, A5, V1, V2, V3 V4, K1, K2, K3, K4


Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2007) Teaching for Quality Learning at University (3rd ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press

Samson, C., 1970. Problems of information studies in history. In: S. Stone, ed. 1980. Humanities information research. Sheffield: CRUS, pp.44-68.

Davies, M., (2008). In Fry, H. et al. (eds.) (2009) A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education : enhancing academic practice (3rd ed.). New York ; London : Routledge, pp.63.

Moon, J. (2004) A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning, London: Routledge

Race, P. (2009) The Lecturer’s Toolkit: A practical guide to assesment, learning and teaching. (3rd ed.) Oxon: Routledge.

2 Responses to 2/6 Tutor Observation

  1. pgcapsalford says:

    Hi Craig,

    This is a rich and deep reflection. You show analytical skills and have focused on specific items discussed with your observer. This is really good. It is clear that the conversation you had with the observer made you think but also made you more aware of specific elements in your practice. You bring in his and your own perspective and also refer to literature. This is useful. Remember, the UK PSF as well and that it is not about agreeing with everything your observer says but using the feedback as an opportunity to think about your practice in a different way, from a different angle.

    It was also interesting to read that the conversation you had triggered actions as well. Again, I would say, try and identify options first and then decide which path you are going to take and have a rationale for this. Because somebody else said it, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should do it this way. Be critical and seek confirmation from elsewhere as well, for example the literature, further colleagues and your students but also use your own judgement, knowledge and understanding.

    I hope the above helps formulate future reflections. Please let me know if you would like to discuss any of the above further. There is no need to make any changes to this one. Take the suggestions into consideration for future reflections.

    Very well done so far Craig! I am really pleased with what you have achieved already.

    p.s It would also be very interesting to read about your video project and how you and your students use these.

  2. gemmalace says:

    Hi Craig

    I found your reflection a great insight into your teaching world! Your reflection indicates you got alot out of this, from identifying problems to actually implementing solutions. You easily incorporate relevant literature and its great how you demonstrate which UKPSF sections have been addressed. I found the idea of pairing your students based on performance extremely interesting- did you actually implement this? If so, were there any instances where the ‘Susans’ took over ‘Roberts’ work or did it seem to work out ok? In my practical classes, I often find that in a group of 4 there is nearly always one who simply refuses to engage unless I directly get involved! I thought your use of a ‘digital workbook’ was FANTASTIC. I am trying to implement something similar in my school (though no where near as awesome!) and reading this has motivated me to crack on with it!

    Great stuff Craig!

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