Oxford tutorials come under scrutiny

March 8, 2002

Researchers are taking a close look at Oxford University's traditional tutorial as part of an investigation into what undergraduates think helps or hinders their learning.

In the first phase of the project, initiated by Institute for the Advancement of University Learning, students consistently mentioned tutorials, assessments and workloads as the most important influences on the quality of their learning. But they held such a wide variety of views on tutorials that researchers wanted to explore the area further.

Researchers Keith Trigwell and Paul Ashwin said the sample size in phase one was too small to generalise about correlation between student satisfaction and final result. "Although students come to Oxford with great entry qualifications, there is still a variation in degree results," Dr Trigwell said.

A course experience questionnaire was tried out on 387 students from four departments who completed their finals last summer. They said feedback in weekly tutorials was vital to the understanding of their subject.

One student said: "If they don't question you and find out what you haven't understood, then you tend to learn nothing new." But students' view of tutorials was often tainted by a feeling that, despite promoting the exploration of knowledge as the Oxford way of life, "deep down it's just getting you through your exams".

The second phase of the research involves inviting departments and courses to try a modified version of the questionnaire. Departments will be able to compare their results with the university as a whole.

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