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The tutor as facilitator

In an active learning environment, the tutor often takes on the role of facilitator, supporting students as they learn and develop skills in, for example, negotiation, decision-making, solving problems, working with others.  Student participation is essential.

Sometimes it helps if the facilitator takes on a particular role/function in an attempt to enhance the learning or challenge the students’ thinking.  Some of these roles include:

Neutral facilitator: enables the group to explore a range of differnet viewpoints without stating their own opinion

Devil’s advocate: deliberately adopts an opposite stance to confront people, irrespective of their own views (slightly ‘tongue-in-cheek')

Declared interest: declares their own position so that the group knows their views

Ally: supports the views of a particular sub-group or individual (usually a minority) within a group

Official view: informs the group of the official position on certain issues, eg. ethics or law

Challenger: through questioning, challenges the views being expressed and encourages students to justify their position

Provocateur: raises a viewpoint or provides information that will provoke the class and which they do not necessarily believe, but because these are authentic beliefs of other individuals or groups, they present them convincingly

In-role: the facilitator may ‘become’ a particular person or caricature (for example a church leader or politician) putting across their arguments and position to the class

(adapted fromActive Learning and Teaching Methods for Key Stage 3, a PMB Publication, produced by CCEA)


Common elements in active and interactive learning

  • Informality: ‘The fun and informal atmosphere in the session is designed to relax the students and allow them to perform in front of their peers and learn from each other’ (Staff quote)

  • Peer learning and peer review feature strongly

  • Learning journals or portfolios often contribute to the module’s summative assessment

  • Students are able to learn by doing and to contextualise abstract theory, leading to deeper learning

  • Students receive hands-on instruction and are able to gain familiarity with equipment relating to their future professional practice, e.g., the use of the core components of an electronic sound studio and industry standard software by a cohort of 40 - 50 BSc Music Technology students

  • Interaction allows students to develop graduate attributes, such as critical reflection and team working skills

  • There is an emphasis on demonstrating professional behaviours

  • The learning environment may be off-campus in locations that facilitate engagement with real life issues or challenges

  • Role plays and scenarios are staged in often highly realistic simulated settings

  • The frequency and immediacy of tutor feedback enables students to make ‘quick gains’, reinforcing their confidence and improving their future performance: ‘Immediate feedback, new techniques were very well explained.  If I was ever unsure, help was always available’ (Student quote)

  • Staff frequently work in teams which may be interdisciplinary and they tend to use a light touch facilitation style of delivery

  • Running multiple tutorial sessions to allow small groups of students (5-6) to get hands-on experience often requires the use of additional teaching assistants

  • Flexible teaching space that allows desks, tables and chairs to be reconfigured in a range of options provides the ideal setting for active and interactive learning to take place, but where this is not possible staff find creative ways to use the rooms available