Student Voice

The relationship between student voice and personal tutoring

By Eve Bracken-Ingram

A personal tutor is a member of staff who is assigned to a student as their primary support within their higher education institute. Personal tutoring is designed to offer students support and guidance regarding personal and academic issues. Recognising student voice is essential to the development of inclusive educational practices, particularly those which rely on a strong relationship between staff and students. The 2020 paper by Raby (Source) investigates students’ perceptions of personal tutoring by considering a diverse range of voices.

Effective personal tutoring requires a strong relationship between student and tutor. Students have highlighted the need for tutors to be both empathetic and empowering. Care must be taken to minimise the unequal power dynamic between student and tutor to ensure students feel confident to participate in discussion. However, it has been argued that some imbalance of power is essential as to equip tutors with the ability to manage interactions and respond to issues.

It is important to acknowledge to effect of cultural background on students’ perception of personal tutoring, academic relationships, and voice. Universities are diverse institutions, where both students and staff come from many different countries and backgrounds. International students are less likely to approach tutors for support or view themselves as equals within the relationship. Therefore, it may be difficult for tutors to form relationships with international students and provide adequate support. The highlights the requirement for additional training for tutors supporting international students.

However, it is not solely international students who may struggle to interact with personal tutors. It has been observed that many students do not speak up in tutor meetings, which may be taken as a sign of poor engagement. However, as discussed by McLeod (2011), students may participate in a varying number of ways which are less obvious to an observer. Care must be taken not to remove voices from the discussion by imposing a narrow, culturally specific definition of participation on a diverse student population. It is the responsibility of a tutor and a university to ensure all student perspectives are recognised and engaged with. Additionally, it is essential that tutors ensure that confident voices do not overpower others.

There is a mutually beneficial relationship between student voice and personal tutoring. Student voice is vital to the effective development of personal tutoring schemes. Student feedback can be used to improve the personal tutoring service and provide tutors with insight into effective practices. Feedback collected by Raby in this study suggests that students benefit an informal and approachable relationship with their personal tutor, and particularly value empowering academic support. International students have expressed that tutors have eased their transition into another culture, and additional intercultural support would be incredibly beneficial. Reciprocally, personal tutoring can be used to encourage diverse student voice and provide students with a platform to express their opinions. It has been observed that more confident students can overpower others' voices. Alternative methods for students to express their voice could be provided through personal tutoring to ensure all voices are heard and engaged with.


Q: How can text analysis techniques be applied to better understand and interpret the range of student voices in personal tutoring feedback?

A: Text analysis techniques can be a powerful tool for uncovering the rich diversity of student voices within personal tutoring feedback. By employing natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms, educational institutions can analyse feedback at scale to identify common themes, sentiments, and areas of concern that might not be immediately evident. This approach enables tutors and administrators to gain a deeper understanding of students' experiences, preferences, and challenges. Specifically, sentiment analysis can measure the emotional tone behind students' comments, while thematic analysis can categorise feedback into relevant topics or issues. By leveraging these insights, tutors can tailor their support to better meet the needs of their students, ensuring that all voices are heard and valued. Additionally, text analysis can highlight differences in feedback among various demographic groups, such as international students, enabling targeted improvements in how support is provided.

Q: What specific training or resources are recommended for tutors to effectively support international students and ensure their voices are heard?

A: To effectively support international students and ensure their voices are heard, tutors need specific training that focuses on cultural sensitivity, communication barriers, and inclusive teaching strategies. This training should include understanding the diverse cultural backgrounds of students and how these backgrounds affect their learning styles, communication preferences, and comfort levels in speaking up. Tutors should learn about non-verbal communication cues and become skilled in encouraging participation from all students, regardless of their cultural or linguistic background. Resources might include workshops on intercultural competence, access to translation services or language support tools, and guidelines for creating an inclusive learning environment where every student feels valued and understood. By equipping tutors with these skills and resources, institutions can foster a more supportive and engaging environment for international students, promoting a more inclusive and effective student voice.

Q: Are there any best practices or case studies illustrating successful implementation of alternative methods for amplifying quieter student voices in personal tutoring sessions?

A: While the blog post does not detail specific case studies, there are recognised best practices for amplifying quieter student voices in personal tutoring sessions. One effective method is the use of reflective journals, where students can express their thoughts and concerns in writing, providing tutors with valuable insights into their experiences and needs. Another approach is the implementation of digital platforms that allow for anonymous feedback, enabling students who may feel uncomfortable speaking up in person to share their views. Additionally, small group discussions or peer-to-peer mentoring can create a more comfortable environment for quieter students to express themselves. Case studies from universities that have successfully implemented these methods often highlight the importance of creating multiple channels for student voice, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to be heard in a manner that suits them best. These practices not only empower quieter students but also enrich the educational experience by incorporating a wider range of perspectives.


[Source] Alison Rady (2020). Student Voice in Personal Tutoring. Frontiers in Education, 5.
DOI: 10.3389/feduc.2020.00120

[1] Julie McLeod (2011). Student voice and the politics of listening in higher education, Critical Studies in Education, 52(2), 179-189.
DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2011.572830

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