Participatory Learning in Action (PLA) techniques in tutor training

Objective tree 1I have been working quite a bit over the last two years with tutors in two faculties, EMS and CHS, along with tutor coordinators and T&L specialists. Our main focus has been to find new, interesting and interactive ways of training and supporting tutors so that they are better equipped to work with students in tutorials. This is enjoyable work, but also presents ongoing challenges and questions about sustainability because many of the approaches to tutor training in departments and faculties do not seem to find ways to give tutors more of a voice, and to draw in their own student and also prior tutoring experiences to make the training environment richer and more relevant to them.

The overall goal of the training programme I devised for CHS tutors this year was to do exactly that – to make it about the tutors, rather than about me or even the university. One of the ways in which I have managed to get them to engage on a more personal level is through using various PLA techniques in training, like the River of Life, Matrix Rankings, and Problem and Objective Trees. These techniques are fun to use, everyone can understand what is required, and they have helped tutors from different backgrounds to talk to one another across their different contexts and have built, even if only in the room during the training, a sense of shared purpose and community. The tutors’ feedback has also indicated the value of these approaches to them in terms of getting them to think about their own journeys through academia from a different angle, and also to get them to think about what the students they tutor might draw if given the same¬†opportunity. So they are developing an empathy for their students. They are also using these tools to reflect on things like problems and challenges they are encountering, as well as highlights and rewards of tutoring, and then moving on to look at goals and objectives for next semester – what will they change and improve on? How will they do this? So these tools are helping them to approach their work more critically and also more proactively – they are being given a chance to develop agency, even if they still have to work within departmental guidelines (and sometimes confines).

The value of using PLA techniques in tutor training is significant. We need to continue to find ways of getting tutors involved in their own training and support, and make their voices, experiences and knowledge count in ways that recognise the contributions they make to teaching and learning. I think this is the way to create more inclusive training environments, and also more inclusive teaching and learning environments where tutors and tutorials are part of the whole learning experience for students, rather than an add-on or in. And this is a worthy goal to have.


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I work with an amazing and diverse group of people who are passionate about teaching, learning, writing, thinking and rethinking, and making a difference in higher education in South Africa.

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