Dr Linden Bicket, Teaching Fellow in the School of Divinity, oversees the support and development of postgraduate tutors.
In 2014, I was appointed as Teaching Fellow here in New College. A large part of my work has been the revamping and development of support for our tutors, who teach level 8 (pre-honours) tutorials in Biblical Studies, History of Christianity, Religious Studies, and Theology and Ethics. The initiatives we now have in place to support tutors in these subject areas were identified as an area of good practice during our Postgraduate Programme Review in 2016.
My work with tutors has three main strands. The first is the development and regular updating of the School’s PG tutor handbook, which is distributed to all tutors at the beginning of each academic year, and which is also available on our tutors’ Learn page, alongside other relevant teaching materials, resources and media. This document contains written guidance on the role of the tutor, and it includes practical tips and advice on running tutorials, marking and assessment, and on supporting students. Our handbook ensures that tutors have a common starting point and reference guide, and it ensures a good degree of consistency of practice across disciplines.
I also organise and lead training and development sessions for tutors each semester. New tutors in our School are paid to attend one, three-hour session at the beginning of the year, where they are given a mixture of practical information and pedagogical advice (with a welcome tea break half-way through!). One of the liveliest parts of new tutor training is a plenary session, where experienced tutors from each subject area share their own experiences and answer questions. This informal segment of training is always enjoyable, and its purpose is twofold. It allows new tutors to share slight nervousness about beginning to teach, and they are able to ask for advice from their peers in a relaxed and collegiate setting. Hopefully, my facilitation of this segment also models how to run a tutorial. New tutors witness someone asking probing questions, encouraging a response, and allowing conversation to flow when it’s necessary to do so.
Experienced tutors in our School have their own, paid three-hour session, where they share best practice and engage with interactive talks. These vary according to what tutors would like. Last year, Dr Maria Grade Godinho from the IAD spoke about pursuing accreditation for teaching, and our Technology Officer demonstrated innovative ways of using technology in the classroom. This was filmed and put on Learn for all tutors to access.
Lastly, support takes the form of teaching observations. These are fairly light touch; I drop into tutorials at a pre-arranged time to observe part of the lesson. I write 400-500 words of feedback using a simple pro-forma, and send this on to tutors, inviting them for further discussion over coffee if they would find this helpful. Tutor feedback shows that this is considered to be really valuable. Our tutors have a rare opportunity to receive personal, specific, and detailed feedback on their teaching, and our undergraduates see that teaching is considered highly important by the School.
My role also ensures that tutors have someone who can be consulted and who can arrange support around specific challenges that teaching presents. I’m always available for a conversation over a cup of tea, and I hope I’m a friendly, collegiate and helpful mentor for new teachers. I am certainly hugely impressed by the work our tutors do – and I often borrow their teaching strategies for my own classes!
We are about to trial annual review for tutors for the first time. This is intended to strengthen feelings of support, demonstrate the value that tutoring has in Divinity, and it allows us to obtain a clear, ongoing picture of tutor experience and development needs. This will allow the School to regularly address these needs and augment tutor provision accordingly, showing our investment in tutor support and teaching enhancement, and helping to inform Course Managers and our Director of Undergraduate Studies about any areas of mismatched expectation.