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Dr Scott Taylor and Dr Kelly Smith from Birmingham Business School (Department of Management) discuss personal academic tutoring.

Most of us have had experiences of personal academic tutoring as students – sometimes good, sometimes not so good. The principles we’re working to in the Business School are based on bringing together three practices in the pursuit of best practice tutoring:

  1. Continuous academic guidance
  2. Predictable, repeated social interaction
  3. Ensuring students in large cohorts recognise at least some academic staff and each other in the groups.

This happens in a working and learning context that is structured by some key challenges: increasing student numbers, work intensification, and increasing pressures on student wellbeing. In addition, students often come to us from educational settings that are founded on small group teaching and learning, combined with very high levels of personal development support. Each of these provides a challenging frame for us, encouraging us to structure personal academic tutoring more.

This structuring takes two main forms. First, the School supports a Senior Tutor role with reasonable workload credit, with clear responsibility and authority in personal academic tutoring design and implementation. This role carries prestige within the School and is supported by all departments. This allows us to structure in a second way, by communicating expectations to staff and students clearly and consistently, across subject specific practices and norms.

Of course, all of this is implemented and practised by people – academic staff, Professional Services staff, and students – and is therefore subject to variation! Nonetheless, our experience suggests that clarity of structure and framing is essential to shaping the conditions that personal academic tutoring happens within, encouraging the good best we can. 

This blog provides guidance on practice, setting out exactly why personal academic tutoring is important in building and maintaining good community relations. The blog is focused on undergraduate tutoring, but its message about ensuring myths are not propagated applies equally well to postgraduates.

We think it’s also important to recognise that while personal academic tutoring is extremely rewarding, it has historically had a low profile across the HE sector as a form of care work, and some colleagues see it as a hindrance to career progression. Our work in the Business School tries to challenge this, drawing on the arguments of feminist social scientists researching higher education, such as this group (above) based at University of Iceland.