Tutor professional development: A focus on classroom practices

The Tutor Professional Development Project (TPDP) is a collaborative project between the staff of Numeracy Centre, University of the Cape Town and the Engineering Faculty, Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

The purpose of the TPDP is to design and implement a model for tutor professional development (TPD) with specific emphasis and focus on tutor classroom practices in higher education courses. As such, the TPDP is an exercise that straddles the spheres of academic research and practice: research into the preparation by and classroom practice of tutors (facilitation of tutorial sessions) and what the results suggest for tutoring, as well as, student achievement and throughput in higher education. TPD will be implemented in two courses, namely, Quantitative Literacy (Numeracy Centre, University of the Cape Town) and Engineering mathematics (Engineering Faculty, Cape Peninsula University of Technology); both of which are offered to students on extended degree programmes (EDP). These courses cater for students who in the main attended under-resourced schools located in low socio-economic areas.

The TPDP seeks to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the key features of TPD activities that promote the development of:
  • the tutors’ common content knowledge (CCK); namely, the mathematical knowledge and skills of the tutors to understand the quantitative literacy (QL) and mathematical content; and
  • their specialised content knowledge for teaching (SCK), that is, the type of knowledge required by tutors as they engage in specific learning tasks, particularly when explaining representations and procedures, presenting meanings of terms, identifying the sources of errors and ascertaining the legitimacy of alternative algorithms?


2. Does the TPD as a model improve the students’ performance supported by aspects of deep learning practices and/or self-directedness? 

To answer these questions, tutors and the research development group (RDG) of the TPDP will design tutorials and video-record the tutorial sessions. The video-recorded activities will be analysed to examine how tutors’ experiences in dealing the CCK and SCK inform what they do during tutorial preparation, facilitation, and post-facilitation analyses.

The students’ performance will be tracked in order to identify:

  1. Aspects of deep learning by assessing their ability to develop hypotheses about structures of concepts and problems that are embedded in contexts when they engage with the relationships between facets of the content under the guidance of a tutor.
  2. Evidence of self-directed learning or self-directedness amongst them by recognising students who take primary responsibility for planning, carrying out, and evaluating their own learning experiences.

Both these constructs promote the dynamic engagement of students in learning activities.

In answering the above questions, the TPDP aims to:

  • explore sustainable and practical approaches to tutoring higher education courses,
  • contribute to the theoretical debates about using the cognitive apprenticeship model as a framework to TPD.
  • enhance the classroom practice skills development of future academics within courses/disciplines, and
  • support tutors in cultivating mathematically rich learning environments for students by focussing on normative ways in which tutors engage with classroom practices.

To achieve the TPDP goals, the research team will employ a design-based research (DBR) method thus granting them the opportunity to simultaneously pursue aims of developing learning interventions and use such interventions to study complex learning and teaching practices. In addition, to facilitate the working together of tutors and researchers to design tutorials, lesson study will be used.

Finally, the primary data source for the research is the analysis of video recorded activities of the TPDP. These will constitute of recordings on the preparation sessions where researchers and tutors discuss tutorials prior to facilitation; implementation of the tutorials in the classroom; post-facilitation meetings to analyse the tutorial taught; and focus group interviews with students and tutors. The video recordings of the tutorial sessions will serve a two-fold purpose; provide information on how the implemented lessons play out while affording the tutor an opportunity to reflect on his/her own practice. Given that these “research lessons” will be planned by the researchers in the collaboration with the tutors, these recordings will also assist in the revision and re-teaching of the research lessons where applicable. In addition, we will collect documentary evidence in the form of students’ work from tutorials and assessments.

TPDP Partners: 

  • Numeracy Centre, University of the Cape Town:
  • Research development group (RDG): D Mhakure (PI), J Jaftha & S Rughubar-Reddy
  • Collaborators in Numeracy Centre: V. Frith, R. Rix & M. Manzini.


  • Cape Peninsula University of Technology: M. Jacobs.