Friday, June 8, 2012

T is for Tutorials

The tutorial system at Oxford is a big selling point: arguably the best small-group teaching method, close interactions with your tutors and classmates, a 2-in-1 essay-writing and intimate discussion opportunity.

At the undergraduate level, from what I've gathered, teaching is dispensed mostly through lectures (the type that we're all familiar with) and tutorials. That is, students are given reading lists and then sent off to research and church out essay after essay. The tutor, which can be anyone from a faculty member to a graduate student (but usually someone within your college when you're an undergrad), will read the essay, give you constructive criticism and a mark of sorts. At the tutorial, you and fellow tutorial groupmates will either discuss your essays or some related topic. All of this, I understand, prepares you awfully well for the Oxford exams where you have to churn out 3 wonderful, original and well-argued essays in 3 hours. From memory. And handwritten. (And in sub fusc of course, this is Oxford we're talking about!)

The Examination Schools, where said exams usually happen. This is an
old picture from 1905 (source), but trust me, it still looks exactly the same. 

At the graduate levels, things are a bit different. For one, teaching is mostly done through lectures and seminars (but mostly the latter, as lectures are reserved for courses where they think you have vast amounts of new material to learn before being able to debate about underlying issues). Tutorials, therefore, serve the practice-writing-essays function, as well as a hey-remember-this-material? review one. This would explain why most of my tutorials have been at the end of a semester, or at the end of the academic year altogether. Of course, as they are in small groups (usually no more than 4 students and 1 tutor), they do also foster dialogue and academic friendship (academship?). And I must admit, I get a kick out of seeing my different tutor's offices, which are usually located within the college to which they are attached. (Ah, the college system. That'll be for a different post, I reckon. 'C is for Colleges', upcoming.)

...or sometimes, they're n the Law Building. A.k.a. St-Cross Building,
possibly the ugliest building in the world

In total, I've had about a dozen tutorials this year. For me, the most striking ones were the Jurisprudence tuts, where I finally gained some understanding of the material and relished the discussions my discussion group (myself, a fellow Canuck and an Aussie) had in, and out, of our tutor's office. And the essay-writing does make a huge difference, as can be expected. Unfortunately, not all tutorials have mandatory accompanying essays. (The rationale is that we're mature graduate students who will get out what they want from this degree. Oh dear.) And, even more importantly, not all tutors give out actual marks. Now, while it's true that every tutor is different, I think that, as we have no evaluation whatsoever throughout the entire year, a bit of feedback and a number scribbled in the corner would be beneficial to all. Finally, if I had one last complaint to make, it would be the scheduling of tutorials: I myself had the great number of them all squeezed into the middle weeks of Trinity Term. I appreciate the revision opportunity that such tutorials afford, but if they're too many of them too close by, then I really can't adequately prepare for them and thus kind of defeat their entire purpose. (Arguably, you could say that this was simply a sign for me to study more assiduously and continuously throughout the year. La la la, I can't hear you.)

Well now, this was a rather longer post than I had anticipated. Hm. Can you tell that I'm preparing for my upcoming churn-out-3-essays-in-3-hours exams? Jolly good, I shall now go prepare more flashcards and practice my speed-handwriting.

(P.S. By the by, if the non-orderliness of my abecedary of Oxonian odds and bobs confuse you, you can see all of them - though still not quite in alphabetical order - by clicking on the 'odds and bobs' label below.)

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