It is often mentioned that with large engineering classes, it is difficult to truly engage students and provide them with the opportunity to get involved in classroom activities. I recently had the opportunity to teach a tutorial review session, for which I prepared extensively. I presented the material in a very organized fashion, while being careful to periodically ask a few questions while I was solving problems on the blackboard. Based on the answers I was receiving, as well as some feedback from the class, I felt that students understood the material very well. However, upon marking a final exam question, one very similar to the one I had solved in class, I was quite surprised to see that the majority were not capable to meet the basic framework of the solution. Upon reflecting on this fact, I realized that there is a major difference between students understanding my approach and them being able to solve questions on their own. This realization was quite important, because it has forced me to somewhat re-think my tutorial teaching strategies in the future.
Provide more opportunity for students to think about the problem
Instead of dwelling on copying the problem requirements on the board, I could provide students with a copy of the question (wither on a Power Point slide or a handout) and ask them to take two minutes to read it carefully. Then, I would ask students a few clarifying questions to make sure they have understood the problem requirements.
Provide more opportunities for students to solve the problem
After going through the first step, I would allow students to work in pairs or about 2-3 minutes to discuss a few ideas on how to start solving the question. I feel that it is important, as it would make students feel that their suggestions are valuable to the development of the solution. This would increase their level of “ownership” over what is discussed in the class, rather than having a one-way teaching approach.
Facilitate and moderate discussions on alternate solutions
Often times, students only have the opportunity to be exposed to a single solution to a problem. Offering students the opportunity to think and suggest alternate solutions in a supportive environment would be a great opportunity to expose students to more approaches as well as to encourage creativity in engineering classes. This is a critical point that should be endorsed in tutorials. Students may be encouraged to propose an alternate solution in class or they may be to be allowed to post their own solutions on a forum or wiki page, where their peers can discuss or correct their input (this would be a bit harder to moderate, but it would certainly be interesting).
In general, I think that tutorials in engineering should be more student-focused and should promote discussion, rather than being an extension of lecture time. These are just some of my ideas which stemmed from recent experience in teaching tutorials in large engineering classes.