Institute for Academic Development
Institute for Academic Development

Understanding the professional development of university tutors

The Senses Framework: Understanding the professional development of university tutors. Research overview and findings.

Understanding professional development 1

Background and overview

During the academic year 2014-2015, we researched the development of university tutors using arts-based methods, borrowing themes from the Senses Framework

Using cut-up-and-collage with the Code of Practice on Tutoring and Demonstrating we asked tutors and senior staff how they saw tutors’ roles and support needs.

Recommendations have been made about how to support tutors and deal with key issues (e.g. inconsistency of pay, lack of career structure), but we wanted to find out how tutors see their own professional development needs and how senior staff see their own role in supporting tutors’ development.

This research offers a new, more holistic, way of thinking about the experiences of tutors in higher education and identifies ways in which we can better support this group.

The Senses Framework (PDF - Sheffield Hallam University)


Research findings are organised according to the Senses Framework. We also offer some strategies for staff who work with tutors.

Senses theme Issue identified What we can do
Belonging Tutors need to feel that they belong to a community of support for teaching and learning

Communicate (in both directions) with all members of the academic community – students, tutors, course organisers, other lecturers, senior academic staff and teaching administration staff;

Involve tutors with planning, owning and implementing teaching;

Acknowledge tutors as full members of the academic community.
Significance Tutors want their tutoring work recognised by the University in both monetary terms and in being explicitly valued

Value tutors not as ‘good (passive) students’ but as co-creators of knowledge and expertise;

Develop a reciprocal relationship between tutors and senior teaching staff so tutors learn to teach in ways that provide their students the space to learn effectively.
Security Insecurity around employment status is a structural ambiguity of the tutor role

Ensure tutors are viewed by fellow academic staff team members as ‘real’ staff;

Recognise the dual role of many tutors as both tutor and PhD student and the tensions of this.
Continuity Discontinuity between tutoring tasks and broader career and personal development goals Be aware of tutors’ support needs as developmental (not just ‘training’).
Purpose While ‘core’ teaching is meaningful, tutors worry that heavy administrative duties dominate

Ensure that tutors are fully aware of the administrative work which is part of their job;

Ensure tutors are adequately rewarded for administrative work;

Demonstrate more clearly the transferable skills gained through teaching administration.
Achievement Tutors are concerned about fulfilling professional goals and gaining professional recognition for teaching

Make sure tutors receive feedback and mentoring from senior staff;

Encourage enjoyment of achievement.

Executive summary

Download the full executive summary of this research (PDF)

Strategies for supporting tutors and demonstrators in your area

We can help you develop these strategies for supporting tutors and demonstrators in your School.

IAD support for staff with responsibilities for tutors and demonstrators