Treasure or Trivia? A Tutoring Journey.

Posted on November 12, 2023

As we are about to enter the ‘exam season’, the tutors in the Faculty of Humanities were invited to share their experiences at the fourth annual Tutor Colloquium. Attended by tutor coordinators and tutors from ten departments, each presenting their yearly experience through the lens of this year's theme: Treasures and Trivia: Becoming and Standing Strong as a Tutor in the Faculty of Humanities.  Chaired by Mrs Morena Lotriet (Education Consultant of the Faculty of Humanities from the Department for Education Innovation) and Professor Karen Harris (Head of the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies), who both initiated this event, this colloquium provided vital on-the-ground feedback on how the skills learnt in tutoring training had been implemented and adapted to meet the educational needs of our students.

The Department of Psychology kicked off the proceedings with tutors, Khanyisile Mahlangu, and Michael Geraszounis, who presented on “Adapting to a post-COVID world”. The tutors highlighted the difficulties they have faced upon returning to contact classes as opposed to online sessions in our post-COVID world. The colloquium then moved on to Netshisaulu Gundo from the Unit for Academic Literacy. His presentation focused on the use of AI from a tutor’s perspective. Gundo commented on the use of AI from both positive and negative perspectives.

The Department of Political Sciences then presented on the mentoring role of senior tutors within their department. One of their senior tutors, Sicelo Ngwenya,  relayed the unexpected challenges faced by Political Science tutors and the need for experienced tutors when these problems arose. Tina Manyaneso and Gemma Mills (Department of English) presented on “Dealing with the unexpected”;

Very much in line with the theme for this year’s colloquium, “Treasures and Trivia”, Justine Binedell and Duncan Lotter from the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies entitled their presentation “Treasure Hunt”. Their presentation highlighted the implementation of the skills learnt during the tutor training into their tutorial classes, which encouraged critical engagement with course content within a safe learning environment. Following this presentation, Innocentia Nkosi and Noelien Wilsnach, also from the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies but representing Heritage and Cultural Tourism, considered the challenges faced in supporting differently-abled students in the learning process. Their presentation expressed the important role that tutors play in ensuring that these students are not left behind despite their disability/s.

The colloquium ended on a slightly sombre note as Dr. Vangile Bingma, the Tutor Coordinator from the Department of Sociology, presented on Tutor pressures and dealing with sadness and grief as a tutor group. Dr Bingma shared their department’s difficult experience of having to handle the loss of a colleague during the 2023 academic year. Dr. Bingma emphasised the importance of open communication beyond the professional level and stressed the availability of health services for both students and tutors alike during the grieving process.

While each department interpreted this year's theme differently, there were common sentiments echoed by all. Artificial intelligence was a hot topic, with many presentations providing feedback on how tutors had adapted their skills to this new learning “threat” or using it as a teaching “tool”. While the verdict is still out on AI, other key issues were addressed, such as the growing number of students who lacked access to learning materials, the educational gap between high school and university, and assisting differently-abled students in tutorial activities. Furthermore, the unique structure of tutorials was emphasised for its ability to combine ‘trivia’ based factual information, as well as provide a space for students to build upon this knowledge through ‘treasure’ style discussions. The conclusion was made that this combination of trivia and treasure equipped students with vital skills of critical analysis, independent thinking and academic articulation.

Each presentation at the tutor training webinar referenced Mrs Lotriet's yearly tutor training, which emphasises the structural framework that each tutor group uses as a foundation for their teaching. Mrs Lotriet noted the valuable insights and solutions shared during the webinar and emphasized the need to incorporate this feedback into future tutor training.

Professor Karen Harris concluded the proceedings with a few discerning remarks about each presentation. She then thanked the tutors for their insights as well as the indispensable role they play in assisting with the teaching process. The Department of Education Innovation was commended for their wonderful support of the tutor system and the valuable training they provide. In closing, she emphasised that ‘UP Cares’ is more than just a catchy slogan, but an integral practice of departments throughout the Faculty of Humanities.

- Author Innocentia Nkosi, Justine Binedell & Duncan Lotter

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