Faculty Discussion Series - “A sudden turn to online – the Tutors’ voice”

Posted on August 21, 2020

At the start of the second semester tutors in the Faculty of Humanities were invited by Prof Sandy Africa, Deputy Dean Teaching and Learning, to present papers that dissected their tutoring experiences under lockdown. Tutors prepared short focused presentations on key issues relating specifically to the “sudden turn to online tutoring”.


Students were asked to home in on these key topics:

  • Digital inequality and its impact on tutoring
  • How online tutoring affects interpersonal relations
  • Disability in the virtual classroom
  • The post-Covid classroom and the future of tutoring.


Over 70 staff and students attended the session and seventeen tutors representing ten departments presented their findings. Prof Harris, Head of the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies opened the session by appreciating the tutors as an “indispensable and integral part” of the teaching process, a true “conduit” between student and lecturer. She also referred to tutoring’s medieval ancestry where tutors were charged with “helping the students help themselves”.


The following students and departments  were represented: Felicia Noluthando Khambule,  Refiloe Maano and Charnelle Findlay (Social Work and Criminology); Kristen van de Venter (Political Sciences); Natasha Chapman and Lethu Mathibela (Criminology); Bianka Thom and Blinko Ndlovu (Drama); Angela Damons and Jeandré Visagie (English); Ruby McGregor-Langley and Christopher Sanderson (Historical and Heritage Studies); Hannah Acutt (Anthropology); Pfarelo Matsila (Sociology); Chris Maas (Visual Arts); Edrich du Toit (Music); and Ayrton Amaral (Ancient Modern Languages and Cultures).


In their presentations, these tutors highlighted challenges students across the Faculty experienced – the inability to access data and devices being the most salient. They were, however, quick to acknowledge the University’s support and admitted that some issues such as the lack of electricity in remote areas and the recently introduced load-shedding were beyond UP’s control. The tutors also described the difficult home environments some of their students endured and how many were also isolated from other facilities and services available on campus.  From a personal well-being perspective, tutors highlighted the effects of isolation and the lack of social interpersonal relations brought on by the lockdown which was so critical to a students’ growth and development. This physical distance also challenged the tutor’s ability to engage appropriately with their students especially since they could not read their facial expressions and body language – and give them that individual attention, that smile of encouragement and look of understanding.


Marena Lotriet, the Educational Consultant for the Faculty of Humanities, who chaired the five sessions, was very impressed with the tutors’ presentations. She commented that the “tutors are such a bunch of energy and enthusiasm”. Senior Instructional Designer, Gaby Pretorius, who recorded the session said: “It was very exciting to see how tutors developed resilience amidst the challenges that they themselves and their students experienced, and the element of care that was seen for their students”.


In closing, Prof Harris referred to the outstanding professionalism of the presentations and to the valuable contribution the tutors were making in these “abnormal” times. She commended them for how they identified a range of challenges that went far beyond the technological to include the interpersonal, the learning environment and the lack of access to what on-campus university life offered. She praised them for their wonderful initiatives and said despite the odds “we will get through this”. This was the first Faculty discussion forum of its kind where tutors took part. Due its success and the insightful contributions Prof Harris has suggested that this should be repeated again towards the end of the second semester. 


The recording is also available in the clickUP module, called "Humanities Tutor Coordinators" which is available here







- Author Faculty of Humanities, Communications Department

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