Reflections on Tutoring Ancient Greek Philosophy: A Case Study of Teaching First-Year Undergraduates in the UK

Jun. 01, 2014

Source: Studying Teacher Education, Vol. 10, No. 2, 117–129, 2014.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of the study was to assess the author's practices as a teaching tutor and evaluate his students’ learning experiences. This study draws upon the notion of reflective practice as an essential feature of teaching. The author's aim was to show how a critical engagement with his teaching practices and the overall learning experience modified, developed, or strengthened his practices, attitudes, and teaching philosophy during the course of one term.

This is a case study of the author's reflections on teaching a first-year undergraduate tutorial on Ancient Greek Philosophy in the UK.

Methods for data collection included a weekly logbook, student questionnaires, teaching observations, reflective exercises, and peer discussions.


The evidence-based reflective practice conducted during the term had a great impact on the author's teaching. It changed and deepened his understanding of two main relationships.
The first is the connection between content/time and depth/breadth; the second is the relationship between learning experiences and beliefs about teaching.
For example, the author learned that the tutorials were helping with the understanding of the central concepts of the course and that his expertise on the topic was recognised as an essential element in that process.

In addition, analysis of the learning environment revealed that both students and observers held positive perceptions in terms of the engagement and overall satisfaction.
Further analysis of this theme revealed a delicate balance between participation and attendance, and the pace of the discussion during the sessions. Since attendance was normally very good, the greatest challenge in this area was participation.

The literature has emphasised the importance of depth, but the author's reflections also led him to value breadth. Without enough breadth, some misconceptions about the subject, and method may remain, even if some topics are analysed in-depth. This, however, creates a strong tension for the tutor due to the limited face-to-face interaction with students compared with the ambitious aims set by module leaders.
Being conscious of this situation made the author aware that one of the desired skills of a tutor is the ability to communicate in an extremely concise, clear, and effective way.

The remaining challenge in this area is that all these findings show that successful tutoring requires an enormous amount of time and effort for preparation of the tutorials and a continuous development of practical skills. This goes against the common view of many administrative staff at universities, who seem to believe that tutoring only involves chairing a discussion and, as such, needs almost no preparation and that only expertise and knowledge in the module’s subject are needed. In addition, although most universities require their tutors to take some preparatory course in order to teach, much more support and discipline-specific mentoring are needed. Institutions truthfully committed to the quality of tutorials, then, should be sensitive to these circumstances. Meanwhile, module tutors should be aware of and sensible about the tutors’ challenges and circumstances in defining aims and planning readings.

In terms of the learning experience, including environment and practices, and the author's beliefs about teaching, he came to two main insights: (1) there is bidirectional influence between how his learning experiences affect his beliefs about teaching and vice versa, and (2) both experiences and beliefs are shaped by his personal values and ethical reflection.
The observations on his teaching practices helped him to discover that his underlying beliefs value collaboration and collective understanding. Once he analysed these beliefs, they affected and developed further his teaching practices. In addition, his decisions regarding practical issues were informed by his reflections on fairness, collaboration, friendliness, and respect for autonomous thinking.

Updated: Jun. 29, 2016


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