"Teaching works best when the activity engages and inspires students."

Dominic Furniss, UCL Interaction Centre

Students chairing tutorials

9 August 2013

The Department of Speech and Language Therapy’s Dr Rachel Rees explains why students are asked to chair their own tutorials during the first and second years of their degree.

A student talks in his tutorial

The concept

At the beginning of the second year, and throughout their third, students are randomly put into pairs and asked to chair one tutorial per term. This initiative was pioneered over ten years ago by Ann Parker and other members of the professional studies staff teaching on the BSc Speech Sciences and MSc Speech and Language Sciences programmes, and is a system used throughout the department.

How it works

In the first tutorial of the second year I tell the students that from the following week onwards they will be taking it in turns to chair the sessions. We put their names in a hat to decide on pairs, and they have to send me a plan for their tutorial in advance so that I can comment on it then send it back with suggestions prior to the class.

The course handbook already has aims, intended learning outcomes and assignments for each session, which they base their plan on. The idea is for the chairs to facilitate learning in the group – they do not have to be didactic or actually teach the other students new information, the idea is for them to help the group to discuss the material and discover things together.

I’m in the room the whole time but I tell the students to treat me as if I’m another member of the group, and that they should get me to do the activities along with everyone else. Obviously I’m contributing extra knowledge as I’m a qualified speech and language therapist, but the students are still chairing the session. I tell them to set aside ten minutes at the end so that we can get into pairs again (including the chairs themselves) and think about one or two ways in which the chairs worked well to achieve the aims and one constructive suggestion for what they could have done a bit differently. This enhances the learning experience.

The benefits of the system are that it gets the students really engaged with the material they’re learning – they always say that they prepare a lot more when they know they have to chair the session! It’s also an effective way of giving the students the skills they will need in their future work as speech and language therapists, as they will probably have to run parenting groups, training sessions and so on and will need to know how to encourage other people to speak. Being able to lead a discussion is a good life skill to have in general.

In the third year, they’re given more responsibility: they’ve already chaired two tutorials by then so we don’t comment on draft plans.

We ask the students for feedback at the end of every year and I’ve never had a student who’s said it was a negative experience, they all think it’s very positive.

What the students think

Oli, a second-year Speech and Language Therapy student

Oli, on chairing his first tutorial with Rukhaiya

“Chairing has been useful because we had to do all the reading whereas for a normal tutorial we would just do some of it. We thought our first plan for the session was fine but then I realised I wouldn’t understand the tasks we’d thought of if someone else asked me to do them. Rachel also said that we had allowed too much time for each activity in our first plan. The chairing experience definitely made me feel more empathetic towards teachers – it can feel very awkward if nobody’s contributing!”

Rukhaiya, a second-year Speech and Language Therapy student

Rukhaiya, on chairing her first tutorial with Oli

“This process really helped me to focus my reading on the questions [provided in the course handbook] that we’d be working on in the tutorial because I was going to be chairing it. I felt quite nervous before the session – it’s nerve-wracking if no one responds to a question, you feel like you’ve got it wrong and have to provide the answers yourself. You really need to know what you’re talking about so that if no one talks you’re able to offer some opinions to stimulate a conversation.”

Georgia, a second-year Speech and Language Therapy student

Georgia, a participant in Oli and Rukhaiya's tutorial

“The idea of having students chair the tutorials is a good one because it makes everyone take responsibility. If you didn’t do all the reading you would feel more guilty knowing that one of your fellow students who was running the session was sitting there thinking ‘No one’s saying anything!’ than if it was the teacher. I know that sounds bad but it does make a difference because you want to support other students that much more!”

Interviews and photography by Ele Cooper

Further information 

Page last modified on 09 aug 13 13:06

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