Hogwarts and C.S. Lewis aren’t the only things that have made Oxford University famous. A contender for the world’s oldest university, Oxford also developed a unique educational practice called the Oxford Tutorial Method. Under this system, attending the lecture-class is optional; skipping the weekly tutorial, however, can lead to failure. This method of education puts personal engagement in learning and transformation through study at the heart of the collegiate enterprise; at the same time, it places the responsibility for learning squarely on the student’s shoulders.
The tutorial method is best described in The Oxford Tutorial. In its classic Oxford form, the tutorial begins with a one-on-one meeting between the student and the tutor. In their individual, unrecorded meeting, the tutor sets the student a question. Over the following week, the student must research the question, write an essay on his or her answer, and prepare to present that essay at the next meeting. The most traditional method of tutorial involves the student reading his essay to the tutor; in some cases the tutor takes three students at one meeting, and at times the paper is given as a speech rather than read aloud. In each of these arrangements, the tutor then responds with direct feedback, pushing the student to defend his answer. The semester is composed of weekly tutorials that combine presentation, defense, and specific instruction in an individualized, personalized context. Periodically, students change tutors to benefit from specific expertise.
Here, in the individual conversation and the joust of verbal defense, lies the heart of education. The tutorial model contends that education is not about acquiring specific information, though the student will certainly do that. Education occurs in a relational context, allowing the tutor to guide the student’s skill in researching, developing, communicating, and defending his findings. This model of education uses the tools of research and defense to cultivate the abilities of dialectical thinking and strong communication (both verbal and written) within the student. Oxford’s age, traditions, and scholarship all make it one of the impressive universities in the world, but this tutorial method is at the heart of Oxford’s success. That success is why Thales College is placing an adapted tutorial method into its educational practice.
For Thales College, classes are not optional; it is vital for students’ success to learn the content their courses cover, and that they do so in the community of their cohorts. Complementing this group dynamic, each student is assigned a faculty member as tutor. Student and tutor will meet weekly, and the tutor will assign a research question for the student to have answered in writing and defended in speech. This tutorial component accomplishes several goals: It creates the opportunity for students to know their professors, for professors to know their students, and for students to develop strong communication skills through regular practice.
Russell Kirk called the modern collegiate environment “Behemoth University,” in part because he thought that the size of the modern college prevented relationships between people and removed the professor’s ability to ensure the students learned what they should learn. Thales College seeks to undo this trend, and the Oxford Tutorial Method is a vital part of that methodology. Through weekly tutorial meetings, students will grow in knowledge, dialectical skill, and in the formation of close relationships. Together, through rich study of the good, the true, and the beautiful, we will grow in wisdom and knowledge.