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The Senses Framework: Understanding the Professional Development of Postgraduates Who Teach

Amy Burge, Maria Grade Godinho, Miesbeth Knottenbelt, Daphne Loads,
University of Edinburgh


Lost, invisible, intangible, an “academic underclass” (Brand, 2013; Sharaff & Lessinger, 1994, p. 12; as cited in McCormack & Kelly, 2013, p. 94): this is how tutors in higher education have been described. Yet tutors are essential to many universities’ teaching provision (Beaton & Gilbert, 2013). Tutors have taught a significant proportion of undergraduate courses in the USA for several decades (Park, 2004) and since the 1990s the use of part-time and temporary tutoring staff, in particular postgraduate students, has increased significantly in the UK (Husbands, 1998; Locke, 2014; Lueddeke, 1997; Muzaka, 2009). The importance of tutors as a resource for carrying out a range of teaching duties across the disciplines at our own institution – a large UK elite university – has been documented since the early 1990s (Knottenbelt & Fiddes, 1994). Key issues affecting this group include inconsistency of remuneration; lack of career structure, teaching development opportunities and on-going support; isolation from course teams; exclusion from feedback and monitoring processes; lack of acknowledgement of their efforts and general institutional invisibility; and lack of resources and poor organisation (see e.g. Tomkinson, 2013).

Researchers have addressed these issues by focusing on practical interventions, namely: investigating tutor support and development programmes (e.g. Blackwell, Channell, & Williams, 2001; Chadha, 2013; Dotger, 2011; Fisher & Taithe, 1998; Hall & Sutherland, 2013; Lee, 2013; Luedekke, 1997; McCormack & Kelly, 2013; Regan & Besemer, 2009; Truuvert, 2014); focusing on the needs of specific groups, including online tutors (Parker & Sumner, 2013) and female tutors (Starr, 2013); and highlighting the role of policy development (Gaskell, 2013). Recommendations have been made about the need for discipline-specific and detailed local briefings and the limited value of generic institution-wide induction (Chadha, 2013; Goodlad, 1997; Lueddekke, 1997); the benefits of peer support, face-to-face meetings and networking especially in relation to assessment and feedback (Handley, den Outer, & Price 2013); the importance of the relationship between tutors and their teaching teams (Devenish et al., 2009; Jawitz, 2007; Smissen, 2003;) and the pressing need to resolve the structural ambiguity around the tutor role (Luzia & Harvey, 2013; Muzaka, 2009) so that their activities can be properly resourced and formally integrated into university policies and procedures.

None of this research has considered the experiences of tutors more holistically, thinking about how tutors feel and experience their roles. We therefore know comparatively little about how tutors themselves see their professional development needs and how senior staff perceive their own role in supporting tutors’ development. While practical approaches can be helpful, neglecting to explore perceptions of identity and experience can lead to superficial rather than deep and meaningful interventions. Tutors are usually new to teaching, thus as a group they are ideal for examining identity construction and perception. Indeed, Handley, den Outer and Price (2013, p. 891) note that “identity is one of the conceptual cornerstones of situated learning”. This paper addresses this gap in research by attempting to make sense of these two perspectives – that of tutors and senior staff who support them – focusing on the role of feelings and identity recognition. Moreover, most existing research has focused on the experiences, wants and needs of tutors or on schemes and solutions proposed by senior staff. Ours is the first study to focus on co-construction and the relationship between senior staff and tutor perspectives on training and development. Our research thus offers a valuable insight into the potential difference in meaning and understanding between these two groups.

Given the absence of such an approach in existing research, we looked beyond the literature on tutoring for helpful frameworks, drawing on our experience of nurse education. The Senses Framework (Nolan, Davies, Brown, Keady, & Nolan, 2004) was originally developed in order to investigate how the nursing care of older people could be improved through a relationship-centred approach and was later adapted to investigate the professional development of gerontological nurses (Brown, Nolan, Davies, Nolan, & Keady, 2008). Brown et al. (2008) use the modified framework as an ‘analytical lens’ to distinguish between ‘enriched’ and ‘impoverished’ environments for learning and development. We suggest this work has resonance for university tutors and the staff who support them. As a cohort, tutors can also experience ‘impoverished’ and ‘enriched’ environments for their teaching and development. The framework is also helpful for considering the experiences of tutors and senior staff together. Transferred to the tutoring context, the framework positions tutors as members of a community that also comprises senior staff and students and invites us to pay attention to the needs of all community members in relation to the ‘six senses’: a sense of security, of belonging, of continuity, of purpose, of achievement and of recognition (Brown et al., 2008). Using the Senses Framework to inform our thinking (see table 1 below), we set out to answer the following questions:

    1. What do tutors feel they need in order to develop more fully to fulfil their tutoring roles?

    2. How do senior staff see their own role in supporting tutors’ professional development?

    3. How can we, as academic developers, make sense of these two sets of perceptions in order to support both tutors and senior staff?

    4. How can we help tutors to achieve the six senses identified by Brown et al. and what would those senses mean in this context?

Table 1: The Senses Framework, adapted from Brown et al. (2008, p. 1222).


Note: For a fuller discussion of our rationale for using arts-based methods and the benefits and drawbacks associated with cut-up and collage, please see Burge, Godinho, Knottenbelt, and Loads (2016).

The researchers are four members of a wider team based in the academic development unit of a large UK university. In addition to contributing to general academic enhancement activities, we have a particular remit to support tutoring across the disciplines. The participants in this study are tutors and the staff who support them. While our focus is on postgraduate tutors, we recognise the diversity of this role, which might include practitioners or professionals, online or distance learning tutors, postdoctoral researchers and retired academics carrying out a great variety of tasks including small and large group teaching, lab demonstrating, assessment and feedback (Gilbert, 2013, pp. 6-7; Tomkinson, 2013).

There are numerous papers researching tutors and their experiences by reflecting on training and development programmes (e.g. Blackwell, Channell, & Williams, 2001; Chadha, 2013; Fisher & Taithe, 1998), and using interviews and surveys (e.g. Gilmore, Maher, Feldon, & Timmerman, 2013; Muzaka, 2009). While this data is valuable, we wanted to engage senior staff and tutors in ways that were fresh and fun and that had the potential to be developmental in themselves. We were interested in going beyond propositional language and conventional academic interaction to create a different kind of dialogue and to explore previously unarticulated thoughts and feelings. For these reasons we chose an arts-based approach.

Arts-based research practices have been defined as:

a set of methodological tools used by qualitative researchers across the disciplines during all phases of social research, including data collection, analysis, interpretation, and representation. These emerging tools adapt the tenets of the creative arts [and] draw on literary writing, music, performance, dance, visual art, film and other mediums. (Leavy, 2009, p. 2)

These practices have become increasingly popular in recent years with researchers who wish to promote dialogue, give voice to previously silenced voices, and evoke powerful responses (Eisner & Barone 2012). Specifically, we used ‘cut-up’, a technique that involves taking a page of text, cutting it into pieces and re-arranging the words and phrases in the form of artefacts that make sense to their creators and can be engaged with by others. In addition, we invited participants to use collage, a method of introducing objects from different contexts into a two-dimensional or three-dimensional picture. Cut-up and collage, as used by visual artists, notably Picasso and Braque, were introduced into creative writing by poet Tristan Tzara and novelists Brion Gysin and William Burroughs (Colderley, 2012) to disrupt conventional ways of thinking and to open up fresh perspectives. Cut-up and collage have proved valuable in professional development research, for example, Williams’ (2002) investigation into the interactions of multi-disciplinary health teams and Loads’ (2010) study of nurse educators. We chose cut-up and collage because of our positive experiences of these approaches to research (see for example Bager-Elsburg & Loads, 2016; Loads, 2010). We had found that they are accessible activities, requiring no specialist skills or artistic talent. We hoped that these fresh, direct modes of communication would allow our participants to give voice to unfamiliar perspectives. Mindful of the disembodied nature of much academic work, we wanted our participants to engage physically with paper, glue and scissors as an alternative to dealing in abstract conceptualisations. We were interested in the unplanned juxtapositions that can arise from both cut-up and collage: we hoped that our participants would surprise themselves. We also wanted our participants to reflect on their own meaning making. Collages are particularly suited to this process of metacognition as they, “reflect, reveal and document the process of their own creation” (Vaughan, cited by Bager-Elsburg & Loads 2005, p. 42).

Most ambitiously, we hoped to challenge those epistemologies that rely on familiar standardised methods and so neglect complexities and ambiguities. Given that we had designed these events to be informal and open-ended, we wanted to look at the data that emerged in the light of a clearly-structured framework that had proved valuable in another educational context (Brown et al., 2008). The dimensions of belonging, significance, security, continuity, achievement and purpose had resonance for us in relation to our experience of working with tutors and the senior staff who had responsibility for their support and development. We also saw similarities between tutors and nursing students in their experiences of ‘impoverished’ or ‘enriched’ learning environments and the potential impact on their identities and practice. We did not use the senses framework to structure our workshops, but rather made connections between each of the six senses and the five themes that emerged: community, value, training vs development, administrative burden and enjoyment. The senses framework also provided us with an accessible and engaging format in which to disseminate our findings.

Drawing on our networks we identified individuals across the university who either worked as tutors or were intending shortly to take on these roles. In identifying and informing participants, facilitating the workshops, creation and storage of data, and disseminating our findings we followed the research ethics policy and procedures required by our institution. For the first session of data creation we chose a fairly informal setting and provided time for discussion. Seven tutors attended a three-hour workshop in which we invited them to engage with a university policy document: the Code of Practice on Tutoring and Demonstrating (University of Edinburgh, 2012). We presented each tutor with an envelope containing a short passage from the Code of Practice that had been cut up into individual words on separate slips of paper, along with a photocopy of the original page. We invited them to re-order some or all of the words into a representation of their response to the research questions. In addition we made available a selection of art materials, including stickers, coloured pens and glitter, with which they could embellish their artefacts. We encouraged them to discuss with each other what they were doing as they went along and finally asked them to provide a caption for each of their artefacts.

Six weeks later, we again drew on our contacts to invite staff with responsibility for supporting and developing tutors across the university to attend a second workshop. Eight colleagues accepted, including course organisers, administrators and senior tutors: groups who have not usually been consulted in other research on tutoring. Again the workshop combined discussion between the staff members and the creation of visual and verbal data in relation to our research questions. However, this time the stimulus materials were the artefacts produced by the tutors in the original session. The senior staff members wrote down brief comments about the artefacts and then created composite pieces by adding embellishments to the tutors’ artefacts. The integrity of the originals was maintained by placing acetate sheets over them. In this way, both the tutors’ artefacts and the senior staff response-artefacts were simultaneously visible.

Altogether, six tutors produced individual artefacts and senior staff, working in pairs, created five joint response-artefacts. For both tutor and staff sessions, participants were in the same room while they were creating their artefacts and were able to see each other’s work, although we did not invite participants to discuss their responses as a group until the end of the session. As a research team, we analysed the artefacts, response-artefacts, and comments looking for patterns and discontinuities. Throughout our analysis, we paid attention not only to the words that had been chosen, but also to how they had been placed in relation to each other, their visual as well as their verbal impact. We examined the objects that had been incorporated, and how they had been used – for example to produce two- or three-dimensional artefacts.

Our chosen approach seemed to be effective for some participants. Cut-up and collage helped us to access tutors’ and senior staff perceptions in ways that surveys and interviews might not have done. The tutors engaged actively and critically with the policy document, paying close attention to words and phrases. Instead of the more usual statement and counter-statement, both tutors and senior staff asked themselves questions and expressed feelings. The unfamiliar method of representation gave them pause for thought: we observed them pondering, hesitating and examining assumptions instead of repeating familiar viewpoints or quickly coming to settled conclusions. Several of the participants said that they enjoyed creating and discussing artefacts, finding it fun, different and liberating. Others, however, were uncomfortable with our methods, finding them patronising or unfocused. A fuller account of what we learned from taking this methodological approach is reported elsewhere.

The researchers spent time together examining the artefacts and reading the commentaries, paying close attention to both visual and verbal communications. We wrote individual notes on what was striking about each of the artefacts and then shared and discussed our initial insights. Through this process, we identified five themes: community, value, the administrative burden, enjoyment, and training vs development. We mapped each of these five themes against the the six senses of belonging, significance, security, continuity, purpose and achievement identified in the Senses Framework (see table 2). We found that the theme of ‘value’ which was frequently mentioned, connected to two senses: ‘security’ and ‘significance’ whereas with the other themes there was a 1:1 mapping. The Senses Framework seemed to bring the themes into focus.

Findings and discussion

1. A sense of belonging: community

A central theme that emerged from both tutor and senior staff responses was the need for tutors to feel that they belonged to a community of support for teaching and learning. The clearest example that expressed this feeling of not being part of a teaching community was articulated by one tutor, who states that s/he would feel more part of the team if s/he were involved in the planning of the course – notably, an aspect of the tutor role not widely mentioned by other tutors. This was picked up in the senior colleagues’ analysis, where the lack of a sense of community for this tutor was emphasised. Most obviously, the response-artefact created for this tutor’s work clearly emphasised the isolation of tutors, positioning them as distant from and on the outside of the colourful, collegial university team; in this artefact the tutor was represented as a small green dot in the centre of a blank, white postcard, while the university is depicted as another postcard, but this time covered with colourful foam shapes, glitter and feathers. The senior staff response-artefact highlights the importance of the ‘team’ with the addition of an image of a human tower, emphasising the need for ‘team-building’. Gilbert (2013) identifies feeling excluded from a community of scholars as one of the key challenges facing tutors.

The importance of communication between tutors, and between tutors and the staff who support them, is continually highlighted by researchers as essential for the development of tutors and, implicitly, to community-building (Blackwell, Channell, & Williams, 2001; Cho, Kim, Svinicki, & Decker, 2011; Myers, 1998). Both senior staff and tutors are clear that communication with all members of the academic community – students, tutors, course organisers, other lecturers and teaching administration staff – is key; communication was mentioned as a necessity in four of the six artefacts. When communication between tutors and senior teaching staff breaks down or is not present – for example, in the experiences of tutors described by Muzaka (2009) – it inevitably leads to a breaking down of community or, if such a community does not already exist, erects further barriers to its creation. The key concern for our tutors seems to be a combination of a lack of regular communication with more senior teaching staff, as well as a lack of ownership or belonging to a wider established academic community.

The first issue – that of regular communication – is relatively unproblematically echoed in the senior staff response-artefacts; it is acknowledged explicitly by them and they show strong agreement that regular communication is important for effective teaching. However, the way that senior staff interpret the second issue – tutors as colleagues or important stakeholders in the wider academic community – is less clear. Closer inspection of the senior staff analysis of tutor artefacts reveals that it is more common for senior staff to refer to tutors as separate or unrelated individuals than to talk about them as fellow members and colleagues in the teaching team. The tutors we worked with expressed frustration at a lack of involvement and co-ownership of the planning and implementation of teaching activities. This is something that has been expressed by tutors more widely (Muzaka, 2009; Fairbrother, 2012). What the tutors in our study seemed to want and need in order to carry out their roles well is access to the academic teaching community which includes senior academic staff. Some senior staff recognise this and explicitly add themselves to the ‘picture’ when annotating the tutor artefacts. One response artefact, for instance, adds a reference to course organisers. The different definitions of teaching community by senior staff and tutors is important for understanding how tutors are perceived in their role as university teachers. Asking senior staff to add their comments directly onto tutor artefacts meant that this mismatch could be clearly drawn out, illustrating the importance of including both groups in this research.

2. A sense of significance: value

Tutors expressed a strong desire to have their tutoring work recognised by the University, not only in monetary terms but also in the sense of being explicitly valued. The words ‘value’/’valuable’/’valuing’ appear frequently in their artefacts. One tutor asks explicitly: “Am I valued as a tutor? How is this demonstrated to me? I would like to see my value as a tutor demonstrated in terms other than payment”. While for the tutors, there was a relatively even split between a focus on monetary reward and personal, informal recognition of their teaching, senior staff focused on payment. Commenting on the above tutor’s artefact, senior staff noted a “desire for payment for all aspects including prep and providing feedback”, implicitly acknowledging that this does not always happen. Cho, Kim, Svinicki, and Decker (2011) investigate the nature of tutors’ concerns and their relationship with tutors’ sense of self-efficacy, participation in development and teaching experience. They conclude that tutors’ sense of importance (‘value’) correlates strongly with their confidence in solving their concerns (‘expectancy’). They show that concerns about task and roles/time and communication issues particularly are potentially ‘deficiency’ concerns; in other words, when tutors perceive these matters as problematic and undesirable, this ultimately undermines their confidence and effectiveness in the classroom.

Our findings are also worrying from another perspective. As highlighted in our discussion of the first theme above, there is repeated emphasis in the research on the need for tutors to have co-ownership and space to form their identity. For example, Kreig’s (2010) detailed textual analysis of senior staff’s guidance notes for their tutors reinforces the idea that the type of relationship that is implied in the guidance reflects on and fosters similar kinds of relationships between the tutors and their students. Equally, it is important for tutors to be valued not as “good (passive) students” but as co-creators of knowledge and expertise. The relationship between the tutor and his/her mentor needs to be reciprocal for them to learn to teach in ways that provide their students with the space to learn effectively. Communication needs to flow in both directions; tutors need to be considered as valuable contributors in this relationship and as integrated members of the teaching team. Smissen (2003) reinforces this point by showing convincingly how the responsibilities that are allocated to tutors can be expanded to the highest levels creating continuity and cover for full-time members of the teaching team.

3. A sense of security: value

The precariousness of early academics’ employment has been well documented (Ball, Metcalfe, Pearce, & Shinton, 2004; McAlpine & Turner, 2012; McAlpine 2014). In our research-intensive institution, as in similar others, most tutors are on short, fixed-term contracts and the criteria for their renewal are not clear. It is not surprising, then, that insecurity around employment status is articulated in our study as a structural ambiguity of the tutor role. Tutors are employed by the university to take on important educational work, yet they are often not viewed by fellow academic staff team members as ‘real’ staff. We seemed to see this in action as senior colleagues engaged with the tutors’ artefacts. At times they behaved as if marking or correcting the tutors’ work, evaluating tutors’ statements and even, apparently, awarding silver stars. One senior staff member comments: “This response is very similar to the kind of responses I am used to from students”, putting the tutors firmly back in the ‘student’ box. Equally, many tutors are postgraduates who are simultaneously colleagues and students of their supervisors (Regan & Besemer, 2009). This is likely to be a contributing factor in their ‘teacher’ status being undermined.

Supervisors often express concern that teaching preparation can detract from time tutors should be spending on their research (Fisher & Taithe, 1998; Muzaka, 2009). For some, this has manifested in postgraduate tutors “being told by their supervisors to spend as little time as possible on preparation for teaching, to make sure their research did not suffer, which conflicted with their feeling of responsibility and desire to deliver well-prepared lectures” (Regan & Besemer, 2009, p. 217). Tutors might therefore be less likely to approach their supervisors with any teaching-related problems (Regan & Besemer, 2009). This dual role, of tutor and PhD student, may limit the freedom for tutors to explore their roles as ‘real’ teachers, and to do so in a fully supportive environment.

4. A sense of continuity: training v development

Our tutors drew attention to discontinuity between the tutoring tasks they were undertaking and their broader career and personal development goals. As one tutor asked: “Will the value of my tutoring experience be recognised by the University when I am seeking full-time employment?” This discontinuity is reflected in the distinction that emerged between tutors’ and senior staff’s perspectives on the character of tutors’ support needs. Senior staff were much more likely to frame tutors’ support needs as ‘training’, whereas tutors were more likely to use the term ‘development’. Within the support offered by our central unit for tutors across the University, we generally use the term ‘development’. However, despite the context in which the workshops for this study took place, the response-artefacts and senior staff speed analysis made far more use of the term ‘training’ (mentioned nine times) than the term ‘development’ (mentioned only four times). ‘Training’ is collocated with words like ‘responsibility’, ‘resources’, ‘opportunity’, and ‘monitoring’, suggesting an employment and framework-focused approach. ‘Development’, on the other hand, is associated with ‘own’, ‘personal’, ‘possible’, ‘nurturing’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘contact’. Although ‘development’ and ‘training’ are often used interchangeably, we understand them as two ends of a learning spectrum.

‘Training’ can be defined as bringing a person to an agreed standard of proficiency: preparing her or him to behave in predictable or prescribed ways, in a limited number of well-defined and foreseeable situations. ‘Development’, by contrast, is open-ended and far-reaching, characterised by a greater degree of autonomy, flexibility and insight. A person can develop in a particular role so that s/he is able to make sound judgements in relation to a range of complex and unpredictable situations both within and beyond that role. Institutional approaches have traditionally reflected this discontinuity by presenting a suite of ‘training’ sessions that are accumulated by a wide range of participants in different roles from all corners of the institution in one large bag of unrelated skills. This is presented alongside ‘development’ activities often targeted to a much smaller range of staff, more personalised, progressive and reflective in character, on a smaller scale and exclusive, and more narrowly focused on teaching roles.

Dotger (2011) refers to tutor preparation unequivocally as professional development, since the role is too complex and uncertain to be addressed by training. This process encompasses development not only of knowledge and skills but also of identities, a particular ‘stance’, and their own theories and pedagogies. These are not conceived of as properties of the individual, but are entailed in their participation in communities of practice, drawing on shared meanings, discourse and resources. Like Handley, den Outer & Price (2013) pay attention to identity development and acknowledge the value of thinking in terms of Communities of Practice: “the interplay between identity-development, participation and social practice in the context of communities of practitioners are key to explaining the social process of learning” (p. 891). Similarly, Fairbrother (2012) describes the need for the tutor to create a space and take ownership to pursue personal objectives in order to develop their professional identity; however, she also warns of the potential for this to become exploitative in terms of workload, as it is not reflected in the payment they are awarded, and that it can detract from core research work (as outlined earlier).

5. A sense of purpose: the administrative burden

All the tutors in this study identified their ‘core’ teaching role as meaningful and important. At the same time, almost all of the tutors explicitly expressed concerns that heavy administrative duties were threatening to dominate their roles. One tutor commented: “tutoring at (this) university includes many aspects but all too often administrative jobs seem to take over which puts all essential elements – teaching, marking, and feedback _– at risk of being overshadowed”. Senior colleagues empathised with this worry, recognising that “tutors are concerned about its necessity and the quantity and risk of ‘swamping’ the key parts of the role”, overshadowing ‘essential’ teaching activities. One response-artefact depicted this visually, adding an embellishment relating to administration or ‘housekeeping’ that literally overshadows the artefact; a piece of brown-red card about the size of a bookmark with white paper on one side on which the word ‘OVERSHADOWS’ has been written was affixed to the acetate and folded in such a way that it casts a shadow over the artefact (see figure 1).

Figure 1: A response-artefact depicting ‘overshadowing’

Administration is distinguished from teaching activities and associated with the wider University context, rather than with student-facing dimension of tutoring, suggesting that administration is not seen as a core part of the tutor’s role (or perhaps, a core part of the value of a tutor’s role) by senior staff or tutors. Concerns about administrative and ‘non-essential’ teaching tasks have, for a number of years, been reported by tutors, supervisors and other senior academic staff (e.g. Fisher & Taithe, 1998, Muzaka, 2009; Chadha, 2013). The problem seems to lie in the tutors not understanding the purpose of administrative work, tending to disconnect administrative tasks from what they see as the meaningful core work of teaching. It would be helpful, then, for tutors to realise and understand that administration is actually a significant component of an academic career.

6. A sense of achievement: enjoyment

The focus of concerns about fulfilling professional goals was on feedback and mentoring from senior staff and on gaining professional recognition for teaching activities. The importance of feedback was consistently outlined by various senior staff in response to each of the tutor artefacts. One artefact elicited comments on the importance of providing regular, rather than ‘one- off’ feedback. Various other components of tutors’ professional development were also highlighted, such as guidance, mentoring and contact meetings. Some senior staff pondered: “not sure we do all of these adequately”, while others highlighted the need to “gather feedback from tutor’s requirements and desires for training, in order to provide something bespoke and helpful”. It was suggested that tutors should be encouraged to gain accreditation (presumably with the Higher Education Academy), and to gain recognition for exceptional work. Similarly, senior staff highlighted the need for and value of feedback on teaching, as well as financially rewarding training and guidance. There were also comments on monitoring and the need for reviews of teaching carried out by tutors and the feedback they provide to students. Langen (2011) has noted concern over a lack of scrutiny of tutoring: tutors are far less likely than other colleagues to have their work evaluated (Langen, 2011, p. 191; cited in Tomkinson 2013, p. 28). It seems that such a concern is borne out by both senior staff and tutors in this research.

The concept of enjoyment of achievement was also highlighted by both tutors and staff. There were two instances of comments from senior staff in response to artefacts describing the sense of fun. Interestingly, both of these occurrences were also associated with the idea of belonging to a community. In relation to one artefact, the senior staff responding to the work interpreted the tutor’s feelings of isolation and indicated vividly that these could be overcome by liaising with the lively, fun university community which was expressed visually with the ample use of colourful art materials. In another response-artefact, the idea of ‘fun’ also comes associated with the word ‘community’ and was positioned closely to ‘monitor participation’. Concomitantly, another tutor artefact conveyed the idea of enjoyment from the interactions with students. There is a notable lack of reference to ‘fun’ in the literature on tutors, compared with many references to functions, fundamentals and funding. Enjoyment is mentioned, but rarely for tutors and never as an end in itself.


We found congruence between how tutors describe their needs and how residents, staff and nursing students have described their needs in care settings. Tutors need to feel they belong to a community of academics who value their contribution to learning and teaching. They need to feel that their place in that community is secure. They need to understand the purpose of the different aspects of their work. They require feedback so that they can recognise and enjoy their achievements and pay attention to their development needs. Finally, they need a sense of continuity – a way of making sense of their tutoring in the context of their career and wider development. Senior staff on the whole empathise with these needs and acknowledge the importance of their role in contributing to meeting them. However, they don’t have a steady view of tutors as full members of the academic community. They tend to focus on training for specific tasks rather than considering tutors’ wider development needs. As academic developers we sought to understand the experiences of tutors using the ‘impoverished’ and ‘enriched’ model of the Senses Framework to understand these entangled sets of needs. It reminded us to focus on the relationships between tutors and those staff who support them and to develop concrete steps for both tutors and senior staff (see table 2). It also helped to identify important questions, such as: How can we ensure that tutors are recognised as valuable members of teaching teams with their own personal and professional goals? How can we help them to identify important personal and professional goals? It was the aim of this research to offer a new, more holistic, way of thinking about the experiences of tutors in higher education and ways in which we can better support this group. Our recommendations are summarised in Table 2 below:

Table 2

Many of our findings are not new, but rather confirm earlier research. Our original contribution has been to bring into view the interplay between tutors’ and senior staff members’ perceptions, through the use of arts-enriched activities that allow co-construction of understanding where staff are gaining insight into the tutors’ perspective and having an opportunity to comment on it.

It should be pointed out that some of these recommendations are not easy to carry out, and require significant focused effort over time to bring about cultural change. However, many require relatively little work and might be easily implemented, for instance: creating a tutoring ‘prize’ in the department to recognise achievement; supporting students to achieve teaching accreditation while they are teaching; giving feedback to tutors on their teaching, such as through teaching observation; ensure teaching contracts explicitly state what administrative work is required; invite students to attend teaching meetings, allow them to contribute to course development and review, and give them access to staff teaching spaces, such as staff rooms, to enhance security, significance and belonging. We have used the findings from this research to inform the design of a development activity for staff who have responsibility for the support and development of tutors. We suggest that the recommendations in table 2 will have relevance beyond our institution for a group of colleagues who for too long have been undervalued and overlooked.


We would like to record our thanks to all colleagues who participated in the workshops.

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