Effective Personal Tutoring in Higher Education, by David Lochtie, Emily McIntosh, Andrew Stork and Ben W. Walker

Harriet Dunbar-Morris applauds a new guide to how academics can serve as coaches and ‘signposters’

October 3, 2019
Source: Getty

In a world of excellence frameworks, league tables and the annual National Student Survey, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that the real face of the university, for most students, is their personal tutor. They function as part academic, part coach, part guide and signposter. They are not in loco parentis, but are often the go-to person for many students making the transition to adulthood, alongside the transition to university and the transition to independent learning (not to mention students with other needs and requirements). Personal tutors are at the front line of what we are trying to achieve in universities. This book is for them. (In fact, this book is for anyone who advises students. In the UK, that is often, although not always, an academic. In other countries, and in some UK institutions, it can also be a professional adviser. The authors draw on US literature, experience and practice.)

While the authors say Effective Personal Tutoring in Higher Education is for both new and experienced alike, the book will be most useful for those newer to the role, or those who are working towards recognition of their personal tutoring practice as part of a fellowship application. I was heartened by the focus on personal tutoring as central to, rather than separate from, the mainstream delivery of curriculum. In my institution, it will be of particular interest as we review our personal tutoring framework and our professional development framework (for students) – what this book calls the personal tutoring curriculum.

There is a very good chapter on reflective practice that I will be recommending as a stand-alone read to one of my doctor of education students. Indeed, one of the design features of the book is that one can dip in and out of it as required, or read the chapters in a different order. That makes it very handy for the personal tutor who is inundated in the first weeks of the academic year and needs a few tips on how to approach the getting-to-know-you phase and identifying students “at risk”. He or she can then return later for Egan’s Skilled Helper Model, which allows tutors to think about how they help students to help themselves.

One of the chapters examines solution-focused coaching. This will be a new approach for some, or one of those moments when one realises that what one was doing intuitively was actually a thing. Described as a means to “enable students to develop self-efficacy, self-reliance and improve independent learning”, it certainly has a place in any institution’s personal tutoring curriculum. Another, albeit brief, section about the benefits of group tutorials, which go beyond cost-saving, is also worth keeping up one’s sleeve for discussions about personal tutoring models.

In summary, the authors provide a very useful resource, incorporating a range of references, case studies and critical thinking exercises as well as checklists at the end of each chapter. In the foreword, Liz Thomas describes the book as “a much-needed resource to develop understanding of the role, and the values and skills required to be an effective personal tutor in higher education in contemporary times”. I could not put it better myself.

Harriet Dunbar-Morris is reader in higher education (and dean of learning and teaching) at the University of Portsmouth.

Effective Personal Tutoring in Higher Education
By David Lochtie, Emily McIntosh, Andrew Stork and Ben W. Walker
Critical Publishing
240pp, £24.99
ISBN 9781910391983
Published 8 October 2018

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