vi. Emotion, Empathy and Sensitivity in Teaching

Alison Shreeve and Ray Batchelor (2012) ‘Designing Relations in the Studio: Ambiguity and Uncertainty in One to One Exchanges’ in Design and Technology Education: An International Journal, 17 (3).

This article focuses mostly on studio practice in Art and Design education but I nevertheless found it useful when reflecting on my own practice in one-to-oe feedback tutorials.

The article explores the type of tutor-student relationships that ‘support or restrict student learning’ (20), with the authors finding that ‘two-way exchange on an equal level’ (20) most enabled students to reach their potential and become independent practitioners.

One-t0-one tutorials have the benefit of being bespoke to each individual student (21), with the article finding such relationships to be ‘incredibly nuanced, complex and fluid’. Tutors interviewed found relationships with students to rely on ‘interpreting or understanding what might be appropriate with each individual on a particular occasion. This required negotiation on the part of the tutor and a sensitivity and a awareness towards individuals’ (21). Empathy was also recognised as important. These factors gave rise to a level of ambiguity in such relationships.

However, although empathy and sensitivity were found in many cases to facilitate positive student engagement, there is nevertheless ‘a point at which emotional exchanges are unhelpful’ (22). Professional distance is particularly important when the tutor needs to deliver negative feedback, assessment and critique of student work. There seems to be a ‘line between emotional engagement and professional distance’ which is optimal (22). The ambiguity in art and design education can mean there is ‘difficulty [in] drawing a precise line between friendliness, friendship and professionalism’ (23).

Mutual respect was identified as key to positive student/tutor relations. This involves ‘tutors [respecting] students as individuals and students [respecting] tutors for their professional expertise’ (23). Some students found tutors’ manner to be demanding or saw tutors as having a ‘superiority complex’ (23): this top-down model is something I am at pains to avoid in my teaching, perhaps to a fault. In terms of respect, there can be an expectation on the part of students that tutors are there to ‘demand and deliver’ rather than being seen as ‘guides or enablers’ (23). Part of respect means ‘being sensitive and aware of individual difference’ (23).

Parent/child dynamic can also be an issue (22) – ‘too close or too emotional a relationship has been identified as leading to dependency’ (23). There can also be a danger whereby students are temped ‘to please the tutor, rather than to grow and develop their own personal approach to being a designer’ (24) – this is definitely something I have encountered, particularly with conscientious students. As one tutor noted ‘It’s never about the mark, it’s the learning experience’ (25) – this is perhaps something I should emphasise more with student when it comes to Theory. Particularly in the first and second year it’s about students taking risks and trying out new ideas. As a conscientious learner myself, this is perhaps something I need to emphasise even further.



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