Friday, June 6, 2008

Not Forgetting the Tutorial in Theological Education

The tutorial may seem like ‘old hat’ to many theological educators and students but in great slabs of the world it is unknown or unpracticed and the lecture method reigns. The reasons for this are many but it can involve barriers toward the sharing of insights and questions with other students and the favouring of the teacher-student approach especially in cultures where being a teacher is highly prized.

The ‘tutorial’ means different things in different countries and cultures (see this link for a detailed discussion) but we are talking about a small group (6-8 or sometimes up to 18 or 30) with a ‘tutor’ (often a senior student), where there is the opportunity for greater discussion, interaction and questions by the students that lectures or classes don’t always permit because of numbers and the pressures of time.

While in some tertiary established the tutorial is the primary teaching method, in many more establishments the tutorial or ‘tute’ is seen as a supplement to the large class. Tutorials will often involve discussion on material that has been read and presentations by students.

Tutorials involving small groups of people often figure in distance education via the Internet although often the term is used misleadingly to applied to a small lesson (module) with step by step instructions about how to master some task.

Tutorials can assist students to work through course and assignment issues. They can help students to think through issues of application especially in different cultural contexts. They can be an effective way of helping students pastorally, especially if the primary educational method involves lectures or classes with high numbers in which people can feel lost.

Even when class numbers are small and manageable many theological educators see the tutorial as a valuable component of the learning process.

Graham Hill, Lecturer in Pastoral and Practical studies at Morling College, Sydney, Australia, shares a simple idea of how he has transformed lectures into tutorials with good effect:

This semester I have been running one session per weekly lecture as a tutorial. My class times look like this:

* Ministry Formation – one 50 minute tutorial, and then two 50 minute lectures
* Youth in the Churches – two 50 minute lectures, and then one 50 minute tutorial
* Leadership – one 50 minute lecture and then one 50 minute tutorial

The tutorials are adding dynamism and a participatory element that students enjoy and learn from.”

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: “The tutorials are adding dynamism and a participatory element…”