Provision of sufficient effective tutors for students in undergraduate courses in engineering can be a difficult and time-consuming process. One solution is a program of high quality training made compulsory for all new tutors. Trained tutors yield statistically significant gains in learning for students compared to untrained tutors (Bloom, 1984; Chi et al., 2008; Slavin et al., 1989; VanLehn et al., 2007). Tutor training programs in Australia generally adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach that fails to acknowledge or accommodate the enormous diversity of tutor roles and the importance of context; the role of context has previously been highlighted in reviews of professional development (PD) for academics (Steinert et al., 2006).
Modifications to the university-wide generic tutor training program (Tutors@UQ) were undertaken to enhance attendance, role-relevance and contextualisation. This was expected to have flow-on effects to student engagement and retention and provide teaching skills relevant for engineering graduates.
Modifications to the content of Tutors@UQ to highlight engineering-specific assessment, tutorial situations and case examples were made in consultation with EAIT academics. Greater emphasis on program components of most relevance to the majority of tutors was key. Engineering academics were responsible for facilitation of the program. Evaluation included quantitative measures of tutor satisfaction with the program and its elements, and qualitative comments regarding the training.
Evaluation using the standard institutional instrument revealed improved tutor satisfaction with the overall program, with ratings (out of 5) increasing from 3.97 in 2011 to 4.28 in 2014. Comments highlighted that the introduction of specific engineering context was one of the best aspects of the training. More relevant context lead to increased engagement from academic facilitators, which lead, in turn, to greater buy-in from tutors. This evidence resulted in the modified program being endorsed at faculty level for future implementation.
Just as high quality PD for engineering academics is best embedded in engineering-contexts (Papinczak et al., 2013), tutor training is improved when context is given paramount consideration. There is also a level of ownership by academic facilitators as the training program is owned and operated within the faculty. The program is therefore likely to be better able to improve tutoring practice within engineering courses.
Professional development, Tutors