Additional Tutorial Activities

In Rachel Gillett's sophomore tutorial for History and Literature, she and her co-instructors use a number of activities to engage the students in the material. In addition to three oral presentations, another component of the course is peer-evaluation, which is used at several stages, moving from initial topic brainstorming together, to reading and commenting on paragraphs, to full drafts. They discuss the peer evaluations in class, with added input from the instructors.

There are several other activities used. For example, the students give each other mock oral examinations, in preparation for the oral examination they have to do as part of their tutorial at the end of semester. In one class the professors asked the lead student to draw a timeline on the board using the suggestions made by other classmates, drawn from their readings. On one occasion the class went to Harvard's map room, having prepared questions ahead of time, and on another occasion they invited a film-maker to class, having asked the students to watch his film and prepare questions beforehand.

The end result was a research essay and a final oral examination. The active (workshop) sessions were throughout.

Rachel suggests thinking about the course objectives and how these activities serve them. Think about how to model presentations to students before they attempt them, and be clear about expectations and grading and how those are linked to activities. It also helps to be transparent about what you hope the activity is achieving, i.e. asking them to take a position in a discussion that aligns with the position of an author, then asking another student to take the opposing position, in order to help them identify an author's vantage point, and the validity of the evidence.