Thinking Outside the Tutorial [and the PALs room]

2019 Festival of Creative Learning, Engaging the Disengaged: Creative Facilitation in the Tutorial

by Anita Lekova

Student peer assisted learning leaders (PALs) Anita Lekova and Julia Manzo detail their work with PhD student and tutor Larissa Nenning to create a festival event centered around promoting creative learning at the University.

The idea for this event conceived on a blustery Scottish evening under the dim lights in the DHT underground cafe. The idea was simple: to have a space for peer leaders and tutors to connect over the material they share. With the innovation and drive of former PALs leader and current tutor Larissa Nenning, a dream was able to become reality.

What followed was a whirlwind of brainstorming, coffee runs, avocado toast, and marketing. An event like this was a first for all of us involved, and we were determined to make it a success. Within the University, students have access to a plethora of materials, between lectures, tutorials, and peer learning sessions. Every student learns differently, however, and we really wanted to look at alternative teaching techniques that are frequently used across SPS tutorials and PALs sessions, and offer a space to discuss best practices.

In terms of marketing, Chrystal Macmillan building became our saviour. Posters and flyers about our event were placed all across the building, including in the PhD room. Once we had opened the event sign-ups to the public, we were thrilled to see that our advertising had worked – we had a mix of tutors, lecturers, and PALs leaders all signed up.

The day before the event was spent preparing custom-made booklets for participants and arranging goodybags, which included pens and further creative facilitation resources. These included a sample lesson plan template, information on PALS schemes in SPS, the official PALS Leader toolkit, and the SALTO Youth Holistic Learning Toolkit. At 9 PM we left CMB with high hopes for the following day!

On the Day of the Event

The day began the same way any successful event does – with copious amounts of coffee and a fair scramble to get materials in order. With the room set up, and ten minutes left until participants arrived, we took a moment to reflect on our plan for the day. With the outline up on the board, and catering waiting outside, we were feeling good about the next two hours.

Pedagogical Reflections

Anita Lekova, Event Coordinator, displaying participant work on University learners

The session began with reflections on the different types of learners that exist within the University. We ran an activity where groups worked to brainstorm the different enablers and barriers to learning at University. It was a great space for people across the University to discuss some common challenges that face students, how it impacts their learning abilities, and how we can help turn barriers into enablers.

Ingredients and Recipes for Successful Facilitation

The next activity was centered around what goes into creative facilitation. We had participants shout out key features and methods which we put into a framework of ingredients and steps to a recipe. With just a hint of patience and a dash of optimism participants were able to share methods that incorporated these creative ideas into the facilitation process.

Participant reflection on recipes for creative facilitation

Session Planning

The last event we ran was on practical application of facilitation techniques in session planning. First, we had participants brainstorm common problems that they face in their sessions – for example, students being rowdy or underprepared. They then had to create a lesson plan that actively took these problems into account.

Groups then shared their plans and got feedback from everyone in the room. It was really interesting to see how different people came up with a variety of different, and creative, ways of both presenting material and engaging students. For example, one group had the problem that sessions had low attendance, and the students that did attend were shy. The group had the idea to have each student create a diagram where they would write down what they know about a topic, and then pass to the next student. Each student would add to the paper, and the last student to add would present the final result to the group. This alleviates the stress of speaking as students can get their ideas out on paper, while still being able to work as a group and see what the other students think.


The session ended with some general discussion in the group on what their plans had entailed, and also some enlightening conversation on feedback methods. One participant recommended centering the session around a common question that would be raised at the beginning of the session, and then answering the question at the end. Another shared that she asked her tutorials a different feedback question each week, which we thought was a brilliant way of getting comprehensive feedback without overwhelming students. 

In the spirit of this conversation, we then had to ask participants for feedback specifically on our session. We included feedback sheets in the goodie bags that we handed out at the beginning of the session.

In general people thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to discuss different creative learning techniques and flesh out common problems with the other participants. Many also responded that they now knew more about PALs schemes within the School of Social and Political Science, and it was lovely to hear that the collaboration was appreciated.

To the Future and Beyond

One of the largest parts of feedback we received was on the section of our questionnaire that asked recipients if they wanted to have more events like this in the future. The answer was a resounding yes! In the future we would love to run repeat or follow-up events centered around charing facilitation techniques at the University. We are working with PhD Training to see if facilitation can be required (and paid!) training. Additionally, we would like to continue to harmonize the different teaching resources across SPS, including fostering further open communication and sharing between PALs leaders and University staff.

There is so much talent at this University, and there is so much that we can learn from each other, and that is why we think this event was not only a success, but also a sign of a bright future for University teaching techniques.

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