The purpose of tutorials is to interact with students
in small groups and to shift emphasis from acquiring
knowledge during lectures to data evaluation and
problem solving. Class size is vital in determining
the efficiency of teaching and discussion in a tutorial.
However, due to the large student intake and the lack
of facilities, teaching staff and time, tutorials may be
conducted for students in groups as big as 30. With such
large tutorial groups, it is difficult to even give each a
chance to speak in class or get to know all the students.
In a traditional tutorial, students often have to be called
to answer questions, and the quieter students or those
who are less prepared can easily 'hide' behind the more
vocal or better prepared students.
One possible solution to overcome the problem of a big
class is to 'divide and conquer'. By dividing the tutorial
group of 30 students into smaller teams of 5-6, students
are instructed to prepare the answers and participate in
the tutorial as a team rather than individuals. When the
tutor poses questions to the class, these teams will be
given an opportunity to discuss and answer as a team
through a representative, with other members chipping
in when necessary. This ensures that there are no
'sleeping members' during tutorials.
I had the opportunity to test out the feasibility and
effectiveness of this method on four groups each
consisting of 28 second-year students from Yong Loo
Lin School of Medicine, in two different tutorials
conducted in September 2005. One tutorial, entitled "Critical Evaluation of Clinical Trial", was based on
a critical appraisal of a paper on a clinical trial and
the other, entitled "Critical Evaluation of Appropriate
Use of Statistical Tests", was about problem solving in
biostatistics. These tutorials were part of the module
on "Principles in Evidence-based Medicine" for second
year medical students. For both tutorials, reading
materials and questions were distributed to students
in advance. One of two groups in each tutorial was
randomly assigned to be the team-method group.
Instructions were emailed to students in the two team-method
groups one week in advance of their tutorials
so that they can divide themselves into teams of 5-6
(according to the alphabetical order of their names) for
Before the tutorials for groups using the team-method,
I arranged the chairs into five small circles to facilitate
group discussions. This was not easy in a small tutorial
room. Students came prepared with written answers,
presumably from their earlier team discussions. Teams
took turns to present their answers and for certain
questions, I had to allow for 'buzzing' within the teams.
The noise level was high during discussion time, and
the room sounded like a market-place. In the two-hour
tutorial, I did less didactic teaching and spent more time
commenting on the teams' different answers.
Students' Feedback Through Questionnaires at the
End of the Tutorials
I collected students' feedback through questionnaires
at the end of the tutorials. 60% of students indicated
that they would usually discuss tutorial questions with
their classmates before attending the tutorial. For those
who did not do this, the reasons given were: "not seeing
a need since questions would be discussed during
tutorials" (32.3%); "not thinking of doing such a thing"
(29.0%); "not having the time to do so" (25.8%) and "not
being able to find classmates who would want to do this
Among students in the team-method groups, 76.1%
agreed or strongly agreed that the pre-tutorial team discussions were useful and 62.2% agreed or strongly
agreed they were enjoyable. Students were asked what
their greatest source of learning was at the end of the
tutorial. The contrast in response between the two
groups was statistically significant (p=0.006).
Table 1. Feedback from students in team-method versus conventional method
Greatest source of learning
|The tutor’s teaching
|Input from other classmates
during the tutorial
|Pre-tutorial team discussion
(for the team-method groups)
or discussions with other
classmates prior to the tutorial
(for the comparison groups)
|Student’s own discovery
In additional feedback questions posed to the team-method
groups, 66% agreed and another 17% strongly
agreed that this method was more enjoyable than the
conventional method. Finally, 76% said they would
recommend pre-tutorial discussions in teams, as "it
enforced better preparation before the tutorial" (40.0%);
"it allowed me to interact with my classmates" (32.4%);
"it facilitated learning" (22.7%) and that "it was fun"
(4.9%). Similarly, 76% of students in the team-method
groups also recommended conducting the tutorials in
teams as "it allowed me to learn more from classmates"
(25.9%); "it was a more active way of learning" (28.2%);
"it widened the scope of discussion" (18.8%); "it was less
intimidating" (12.9%); "students could be less reliant on
tutor" (7.1%) and "it promoted self-learning" (7.1%).
This simple study has shown that the team-method of
conducting tutorials in teams may enhance student-initiated
and -directed learning during tutorials,
although a formal assessment of the students will be
necessary to prove that this is a more effective method
of learning. A majority of students do discuss the
tutorial questions with classmates before the class.
Hence, formalising team formation for pre-tutorial
discussions will facilitate such activities. Students feel
less intimated if asked to answer as a team rather than
as individuals and are therefore more involved in class
discussion. For medical students, this also provides
an opportunity to work in teams and learn from their
peers, which they have to do as doctors subsequently.
However, suitability of tutorial material and size of
tutorial rooms are important considerations for the
success of this method.