Teaching & Learning Portal


Complementing personal tutoring with group coaching

9 August 2013

Craig Daraz, Teaching Programme Manager at the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, explains how postgraduates’ employability is boosted through a combination of individual and group tutorials.


How it works

In September 2012, I put together a three-hour training course for personal tutors which I ran on three separate dates. My aim was to get them to consider the skills they need in order to be effective personal tutors because, while a lot of crossover skills will be used, personal tutoring can sometimes be quite radically different from what they do as academics. I am a qualified coach and have been running training courses with the Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT) for the best part of ten years. I combined some of the coaching tools that I use with clients and showed the staff how they could use the tools to get students thinking about their skills.

In the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies (BSGS), students have five tutorials per year: three one-to-one sessions and two in groups of five to seven. We try to mix the groups up so that the students are from a range of courses and work with an academic who doesn’t already teach them, so they can get a new and wider perspective on how their studies relate to the real world.

In the first group tutorial we aim to build rapport while covering the basics: things like accommodation, English language support for overseas students and access to doctors and dentists, in addition to their plans and goals for HE study. After two further one-to-one tutorials focusing on personal skill development, the group will meet again and may discuss assignment feedback, considering common themes and potential development opportunities in an environment in which everyone ends up helping everyone else; it becomes a big learning group with people sharing their experience with one another.

We can all sometimes be reserved when it comes to talking about our skills and that’s where the one-to-one sessions come in – they are of course also better for discussing personal problems. The whole aim is to build up students’ confidence within a supportive environment.

In order to support the personal tutoring system I have put in place a structure that allows for five bite-sized training courses over the course of the year. I keep these fairly flexible so we can adapt according to the needs of the students, but topics covered might include presentation skills, interview technique or CV-writing. The first one of the year, which runs in November and lasts for two-and-a-half hours, gets students assessing their own skills and thinking about the areas they’d like to develop. This new-found clarity can then be used to support their one-to-one personal tutorial meetings as they can work with the personal tutor on how to go about implementing their ideas. Because personal tutors only get a short amount of time with students (15 minutes for one-to-ones and 30 minutes for group sessions) I have extended the offer of one-to-one coaching to students who feel they need it.

I also set up a Moodle page for every student and member of staff in the department, which is mainly dedicated to personal tutoring. I’ve uploaded a selection of videos showcasing good examples of personal tutoring split into five different scenarios, which also have transcriptions and notes explaining why the personal tutor said or asked what he did in each part – building rapport, breaking down barriers, that sort of thing. [These videos are publicly available via the Centre for Recording Achievement.]

The Moodle site also contains essential information for personal tutoring including guideline dates for meetings, the contact details of staff and students involved in personal tutoring, a student pack and toolbox, guidance for staff, multiple intelligence tests, links to UCL documents and the Personal Tutors’ Handbook, and reference links to sites covering things like GP and medical services and financial difficulty. We’re also encouraging staff to regularly return to the site by keeping the documents they’ll require for things like peer observation of teaching there.

MSc students are often only at UCL for a year so you’ve really got to hit the ground running with them. In the BSGS we get a lot of mature students who are looking at this as an opportunity for a career change or enhancement and there is an implicit expectation that there will be jobs waiting for them at the end of the course. For that reason personal tutoring at postgraduate level is particularly important, as the work tutors do with students around key skills development will enable them to get better jobs after they’ve finished their studies. On top of that, many of our course directors and module tutors have got good contacts in industry and we have various Moodle forums where they can post job opportunities.

Since putting this programme into place, the feedback has been very positive; the system has been incredibly well received by staff and students alike. Everything we’re doing is there to support the student experience and make sure they get the most out of their time at UCL and it’s great to know that the personal tutoring system in the BSGS is contributing towards that.

Interview by Ele Cooper

Further information