Difficult situations during tutorials/office appointments


Difficult situations can arise when seeing students either on a one to one basis or in small groups when they come for tutorials and office appointments. Here are three scenarios and suggestions for how to handle them.

Students requests for help regarding coursework assignments

To avoid complications developing you may wish to clarify the policy in your module handbook. Follow whatever the policy is in your school or what has been agreed with the module leader. It is important for everyone to adopt the same policy especially within a module otherwise it can cause unnecessary student dissatisfaction.

Particular care needs to be taken on large modules where there is a large teaching team since students have been known to play off one lecturer against another, and they can be very subtle in their approach.

Example text from a module handbook:

Draft essays and emails

Students will have the opportunity to discuss the planning and organisation of their work with their tutors during seminar time. Please do not email drafts to tutors for feedback.

If the assignment involves group work then some details in the module book would be useful, such as how marks are awarded e.g. to the group as a whole, whether there are any marks for individual contributions, and guidance for students on how to handle the situation if a student in their group is not ‘pulling their weight’.

Complaints about marks for assignments

Prevention of complaints is the best tactic. Sufficient feedback on the assignment in relation to the given assessment/grading criteria should prevent most complaints. It also saves time if the student does complain since you can reiterate the written comments.

Sometimes, as well, it can be worthwhile giving some general feedback to the whole class about the assignment; common areas for improvement etc before handing back the assignments, while you still have the students’ attention. This can help to avoid individual queries from students.

See Chapter 2 ‘Designing assessment and feedback to enhance learning’ in ‘The Lecturer’s Toolkit’ 2nd ed. Race P, (2001) Kogan Page

Whilst marking if you:

  • Want a second opinion on an assignment.
  • Are giving something a particularly low or high mark.
  • Know the student is likely to complain.

then, it is a good idea to ask a colleague to double mark it and mark it ‘agreed’ and sign it. This will let the student know that it is not just the decision of one person. In any case students should be reminded that there are double marking procedures, and external examiners to ensure appropriate level of marking.

Students misunderstand your role as project/personal tutor

Make sure that students are clear about your role with regard to project supervision i.e. that they need to come to meetings well prepared and that you are there to facilitate and guide the student e.g. review their project proposal and whether they have a suitable project in mind or if they need to give it further thought; suggest additional sources for project related information. Clarity can help deal with difficult situations before they arise.

Occasionally, a student may have very high expectations of the frequency and length of meetings with you, which could lead them to become too dependent on you, so then you would need to clarify your role with them.

For further information please see:

University of Westminster Policy on Tutorial and Student Support Systems for Undergraduate Students (Full-Time and Part-Time)

University of Westminster Policy on Tutorial and Student Support Systems for Students on Taught Postgraduate Programmes.

Guidelines for Implementation: Tutorial and Student Support Policy.

The section on ‘Tutorial and Student Support’ in the Essential Information for Students.

People with a University of Westminster username and password can see a full A-Z listing of policy documents by clicking here.


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