The Personal Tutoring Project – using research to reimagine personal tutoring

Nienke Alberts (University of Bristol)

Tuesday, April 5, 2022 3:30 PM - 4:15 PM

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Session Outline

In 2019 the University of Bristol set up the Personal Tutoring Project, an academic research project focusing on personal tutoring, in order to generate an evidence-base for the development of personal tutoring policies. In this presentation I will outline the project and how it has helped the University to reimagine personal tutoring. I will describe the purpose and scope of the project before discussing three findings and the University’s response to them. Both parts of the presentation are outlined below.

The Personal Tutoring Project was set up to review and evaluate personal tutoring models at the University and across the sector. It is uniquely placed within Professional Services and it therefore able to feed directly into policy development and implementation.

The Project has two strands of research. In the first, I follow 55 undergraduate students throughout their time at Bristol, to get a better understanding of their needs, expectations, and experiences of personal tutoring at different points in their degree. In the second, I talk to students and staff in six University Schools about their experience of personal tutoring, to get an understanding of how the school’s context, such as the culture within the school, teaching practises, and attitudes toward personal tutoring, influences the way personal tutoring is implemented. The aim of these case studies is to identify best practice and areas for improvement.

The main finding of the longitudinal research with undergraduate students is the importance of the personal tutor as ‘someone who knows you’ at university. The University has begun to ask if we provide personal tutors with enough time and support to form meaningful relationships with tutees. Specifically, the University is reviewing the number of tutorials, time allocation in workload models, and IT systems needed. A second finding from the longitudinal research is that the purpose of personal tutoring is often unclear to students, even in later years. This was in part due to the overlap of the tutor’s role with the role of other support services. In response to these findings the University is now reviewing the purpose of personal tutoring at Bristol and mapping out the support available to students through professional services with the aim of slimming down and focusing the role of personal tutors. A third finding, this time from the case studies, is the variability in the quality of the provision of personal tutoring. As this variation was found within schools, this was not due to the specific model of tutoring but due to variation in the engagement of individual academics with personal tutoring. This has led the University to question how ‘good’ personal tutoring can be measured for use as evidence in e.g. promotions and whether all academics should be personal tutors.

Delegates will learn how research can inform policy development and improvements that can be made to personal tutoring.