Learning to be a postgraduate tutor in a mathematics support centre

2019-04-25T12:26:38Z (GMT) by Michael Grove Tony Croft
The study reported here investigates the role, experiences and aspirations of a community of mathematics postgraduates as they learn to tutor in a mathematics support centre in a research-intensive university. This is achieved through in-depth interviews with nine postgraduate tutors all of whom had experience working in the centre. The data is analysed through the lens of communities of practice and presented through the voices of the postgraduates themselves. It sheds light on their personal trajectories as ‘newcomers’ to the peculiarities of tutoring within a mathematics support centre, and the ways in which they learn from, support and cooperate with each other in their common endeavour. As the postgraduates progress through their three or four years working in the centre the data reveals a growing confidence and, for some, a strong willingness to nurture and encourage their younger colleagues. Some of the ‘old timers’ go on to assist in the recruitment of new tutors and demonstrate insights into the ways their experience as tutors in the support centre will inform and influence their own future careers as academics. In particular, our work highlights the ways in which tutoring in the centre contributes to their own mathematical learning and personal development. The work is driven by a need to better understand the practices of postgraduate tutors in the growing field of university mathematics support and a desire to improve these. We consider how what we have learned can be put to use both in mathematics support centres and in university mathematics education more generally. By doing so we contribute to the solution of a widely reported ‘mathematics problem’ in higher education. At the same time this work strengthens what has been described as a ‘fragile’ relationship between mathematicians and educational researchers, bridging the gap between theoretical understanding and practice in a research-intensive university mathematics department.