We don’t often talk about undergraduate teaching on the Whisperer, but I am beginning to think we should since so many of us do it. Unlike primary and secondary school teachers, those of us teaching in universities do not always have the benefit of a specialist qualification (ironically the PhD itself is the defacto ‘qualification’ for becoming an academic… but that’s a debate for another time!)

My colleague, and ‘go to’ person on all things teaching related, Ruth Moeller was kind enough to write a guest post for those of you who are looking for some tips to improve your teaching. Ruth is the Senior Advisor on Learning and Teaching in the Design and Social context college at RMIT University and contributor to the Teaching Tom Tom blog. This post is written from the point of view of a student in your class who has some ideas for making your teaching better. Enjoy!

Dear Tutor,

Welcome back to a new semester. I hope you were able to take a time off over the summer! I know your research is pretty full-on when we are not about. I have been thinking about last semester’s tutes and would like to offer you some feedback and ideas. I want to make all our lives easier, so please take my ideas in the spirit in which they are offered.

Please start on time:

Waiting for “just a few more to turn up”, is punishing those of us who made the effort to get here on time. If you begin the ‘rule’ of starting on time and stick to it the others will soon learn. If you are concerned we will be missing important new stuff, start with a 10/15 minute review of the lecture/reading so we are using the time productively.

Names are important

I’d really like you to know my name – I know it’s hard when I am one of 300.  There are games and activities that can help with this, but an easy, no cost way to help is name plates. Yes, they may be slightly daggy, but it means that you can call us by name. It will also remind me of the name of the person sitting across from me whose name I’ve forgotten but who I’ve wanted to ask out for a coffee for a long time now…

3. Make the link

Your tute is a great opportunity for me to check I understood (or really didn’t) the key points from the lecture. Can I suggest you use the first 10/15 minutes of the tute to review, reinforce and reflect on the key points? (this may be the first time some of my fellow students have heard the material…).

I have some ideas on how to do this. You could ask us students to take a minute and write down 5 key points from the lecture. This is a chance for me to reflect on what was covered and then discuss with the group, or in smaller groups if the group is large. You might also ask “Are there any parts of the lecture that need clarification?” (Never “that you don’t understand” – I always feel like you are judging me when you say this). To address any points, you can either get other members to help explain their understanding, and /or do it yourself. This ensures that we understand before you add more.

4. Questions

“Does anyone have any questions?”


I know it can be frustrating when you ask for questions and get none, or just from the same people all the time. Here are some ideas that may help:

  • “Any questions?” is too broad and unfocussed. Try “What questions do you have about … “ this gives focus and is based on the assumption that there will be questions.
  • “What comments or questions do you have?” Often I may not have an actual question, but I may have a point to make, or an example to offer.
  • When you have asked a question – pause. Wait. Give me time to think. I need to formulate my question then respond (and never ask “any questions before we finish/go to lunch” – you have just signalled that we are out of here and I am thinking about that coffee date!)

We are all adults

Yes really, and one of the most important things that you can do to foster an adult relationship is to ensure that I am treated with respect and dignity. I should do the same to you.

There are many traps I have seen tutors fall into:

  • If I give a wrong answer, try “what do others think?”, or “that’s a common mistake”, rather than “You are wrong, can someone tell me the right answer” – that puts everyone on edge.
  • If I haven’t read or done the calculation sheet, don’t make a fuss. Yes, it’s annoying, but it is my loss not yours.
  • If you need someone to read, ask for volunteers, not “I choose you!” – there may be may reasons why reading out loud isn’t for me.
  • If I am late, again no need to make a fuss, just continue. Asking “why am I late, did I know what time the class starts?” etc doesn’t help anyone in the room.
  • If I treat you or anyone in the group inappropriately – address the behaviour quickly. You have a responsibility to ensure that the tutes are ‘safe places’. An effective response is, “this is like a workplace and that behaviour is not appropriate for this environment”.

And one final thing, share your research with us, let us know what you are doing and how it relates to what you are teaching. This gives us a chance to see the discipline in a broader context and what opportunities there might be for us to contribute to it later on. When I think about all the tutors I have had, their research is rarely mentioned except perhaps as part of an introduction. It’s  certainly not used as illustration of what we are learning. We are interested! But just be careful of lapsing into ‘war stories’ about your thesis. What a buzz kill!

Thanks for listening and see you in class!

Kind Regards,
The Student from up the back on the left

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