I started as an undergraduate social work student at Griffith Uni in 2011. I am currently a second year PhD candidate in social work. My research is about an exploration of social work education in China and Australia. It is a research project that helps me to think about the application of my experiences in Australia and the possibility to apply this to the Chinese context.
Doing a PhD is like a process of an academic apprenticeship. I can obtain an opportunity to have a taste of everything that an academic does in a university. I have had some experiences of research and surveying the literature and I wanted to try some new areas in academia, such as teaching. So I made myself known to the course convenors and the teaching staff at the School of Human Services and Social Work in relation to pursing a sessional position as a tutor and I got an opportunity to be a tutor for a second year course, which is both exciting and challenging. This would be my first time of being a tutor for a large cohort of students (nearly 100 students are enrolled in this course), significantly more than my prior small group tutoring experiences. It is an exciting opportunity filled with challenges. I want to make this a good experience for both the students and myself.
In spite of my learning and practice experiences in various community settings, I still felt nervous and anxious about being a tutor for a large cohort of students the first time I taught. So I found some of my uni friends and did a few practices with them about the process of a tutorial session. I trialled it many times with them. Having these practices made me a bit less anxious when I started the first tutorial session. I guess I am slowly getting into the tutor role, after running it four times a day. But the first tutorial session always feels like an experiment for me to examine what aspect is working and how I can improve for the next session. So by the last session, I feel the most confident about it.
It was my first time to facilitate learning with a large group of students (around 20 students in each group). I even Facebooked about it and said that I would be the most nervous guy in the class. Well, things were way better than I expected during those first four tutorials. I think students were quite nice to me and listened to my instructions. Eventually I was able to get through it. But I was so exhausted after doing these four tutorials. However week after week, I really enjoyed working as a tutor. I enjoyed listening to students share experiences and viewpoints on different issues and the vibe they created in the group. I realised that this role reversal helped me better understood students’ experiences and challenges they may face. Hopefully, it will help me better facilitate their learning experiences.
For me, it is a challenge for my thinking and English language skills. As English is my second language, I need to speak loudly and clearly to ensure the clarity of the message. I practice saying some words (before class) if I feel some words are difficult to pronounce. Also, I need to think about the way I present the message in order to help students understand it. When students ask me a question in the class, I want to answer it in a way that will make sense for them so I use many examples from my own experiences and use different strategies to explain some abstract concepts. Structuring all this complex information in a short period of time is challenging for me but I think I am adapting to this process.
I understand that students will now see me as part of the teaching team and ask me many questions about assessment. This reverse role makes me feel strange as I was in a position to think that the person who stands at the front of the class is the one who would know everything and provide assistance to my learning and now I am that person and may be perceived in the same way by my students.
Also, I have provided some tips for students.
- Definitely attend the tutorials and lectures to enhance your learning. When I was an undergrad, attending classes helped me to understand the key concepts and keep track of what I was learning.
- Look for what has been emphasised in the tute and lectures, as it helps to prepare for your assessments. Also, this helps you to find your focus of the study and understand the gist of your course.
- Required readings are essential but also some other research on the topic will further enhance your understanding. Required readings give you a sense of the topic but further readings allow you to gain an insight into the topic. In some cases, you may need to understand the contextual or background knowledge about the topic.
- Link theory to practice and find examples from life experiences or news events to help you understand the complex and abstract theories. Sometimes, students may find it difficult to understand the abstract theories. Having concrete example for real life experiences enable you to link the theory with practice and view the theory from the practice viewpoint.
- Plan ahead for your assessment;
- From week 1, develop a schedule of your assessment especially for the major assignment and then make some progress each week and keep track of your thinking and readings.
- Do the required readings first and undertake some further research on your assignment questions. Required readings give you a direction of learning. Your assignment questions should have a link to these required readings and key concepts.
- Use tutorials to discuss any questions you have in relation to the assessment with your peers and the tutor.
- If English is your second language, seek help from EnglishHELP. Also the Student Advisors and Uni Skill groups can help you understand the academic norms at Griffith University.
I hope my tutorials are engaging and conducive for learning!