Teaching Methods: Small group teaching

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Faculty of Science

Optimising small group teaching in Psychology

Antonia Hamilton (School of Psychology).

Background & Significance

Small group teaching (tutorials) forms an essential part of the psychology course and is valued by students, with many students asking for more contact with tutors. However, the quality of small group teaching can be very variable, as noted in the recent National Students Survey results for University of Nottingham. Improving the quality of tutorials will help students progress in their degrees and result in higher student satisfaction levels. In the School of Psychology, 1st year tutorials are used to support students and teach general skills which students need to study successfully at university. Currently individual tutors differ in the topics they cover in tutorials and the skills they teach. This project aims to investigate the topics covered in first year tutorials, and to create a guide for tutors to improve future tutorial teaching.


An online survey was used to assess what 2nd year psychology students thought of their 1st year tutorials and to assess what topics tutors covered in tutorials. Both freeform and tick-box questions were included in the survey, with the tick-box questions on a Likert scale. An additional email survey of tutors was used to gain more detailed information regarding what tutors thought worked best in tutorials.


An email invitation to complete the survey was sent to all 180 2nd year undergraduates and all 39 members of academic staff. 44 undergraduates (24%) and 23 tutors (59%) completed the survey. Results showed a reasonable agreement between what topic coverage undergraduates want from tutorials and what tutors provide. Undergraduates most commonly asked about – literature searches (43% want more), multiple choice questions (43% want more) and essay writing skills (45% want more). Tutors provided most coverage of – referencing (87% covered), essay writing (91% covered) and feedback on essays (83% covered). Students also asked for more consistency between tutors. These results together with freeform comments from students and tutors were analysed and compiled into a ‘tutorial guide’ which has been circulated among tutors at the School of Psychology, in order to share best practice and enhance consistency. The guide includes four possible ‘tutorial sets’ covering a series of tutorials (presentations / essay planning / student-led seminars / social support) as well as 14 ideas for individual tutorials, ranging from a ‘bring-a-brain’ party to ‘dragon’s den’.

Conclusions and implications

This project provided an overview of approaches to tutorial teaching in the School of Psychology, and assessed whether it meets student demands. The results highlight the demand for consistency between tutors and the tutorial guide produced in response to this project provides a mechanism for improving consistency. More broadly, this project demonstrates the importance of providing good guidance to tutors about what is expected in tutorials, in order to maintain high standards and enable students to learn effectively.


This project assessed what topics tutors attempted to teach in tutorials, as a first step towards measuring how tutorials meet the student’s needs. Limitations of the study include the low response rate from students and imprecise wording of the questions. A further project could investigate how successful this teaching actually is, and what the students learnt in tutorials. This would allow further development of specific learning material to improve small group teaching in psychology.

Small group teaching resource 8 of 16
Paper presented at the University's Seventeenth Learning & Teaching conference (September, 2010).
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