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Blog post Part of special issue: Practitioner research in mathematics education

The role of in-person tutorials

Sang Hyun Kim, Doctoral Candidate at University of Auckland

The practices implemented in higher mathematics education are in a constant state of change, and where the research often lags the implementation. Recently, it has become evident that remote and online delivery modes come with a host of compelling advantages. The proliferation of remote learning methods presents a potential threat to traditional in-person education by offering greater flexibility, accessibility and tailored learning experiences more cost-effectively. There is no denying the merits of remote learning; however, there are aspects of in-person learning that cannot be matched. One such aspect of the benefits of in-person learning is tutorials.

In tutorials, students engage in problem-solving tasks, often in groups, under the supervision of a tutor. Unlike large lecture theatres, which often impinge on a student’s desire to engage in discussions and ask questions, tutorials encourage student engagement in mathematical thinking and are enjoyed by students (Oates et al., 2016). While providing adequate support for many students to perform well in assessments, there is a lack of research to substantiate their impact beyond the cognitive aspects of student learning. Given their significant role in undergraduate courses, I set out to explore how in-person tutorials support student affect as part of my Honours year research project.

In my research, I considered one aspect of student affect: self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in their ability to complete a given task (Bandura, 1977) and significantly influences performance outcomes. It serves as a central mechanism for human agency in Bandura’s social cognitive theory by influencing how individuals approach and navigate their goals, challenges and tasks. For example, someone with high self-efficacy might approach challenges with determination, view failures as temporary setbacks, and actively seek opportunities to learn and improve.

The research setting was a large second-year service mathematics course, where students are expected to complete a tutorial component of their coursework by attending in-person sessions or completing the work in their own time and uploading their work as evidence of engagement. Students were split into two groups using a quasi-experimental approach: those that engaged mainly with in-person tutorials and those that engaged with tutorials individually.

I used the Measure of Assessment Self-Efficacy (MASE) to obtain a quantitative measurement of self-efficacy beliefs relating to students’ beliefs in their abilities ‘to understand and execute on an assessment’ (Comprehension and Execution) and their beliefs ‘around their capacity to regulate their emotions as they prepared for and completed an assessment’ (Emotional Regulation) (Riegel et al., 2022, p. 732). Using this instrument, I could analyse the changes over the semester and delve into nuanced differences between the two tutorial groups.

Despite the groups having comparable measures of self-efficacy and achievement at the beginning of the semester, this was not the case by its end. It was found that there was a much higher increase in the ‘emotional regulation’ self-efficacy beliefs for the in-person tutorial group than in the individual tutorial group. This result was statistically significant, suggesting that in-person tutorials may improve and sustain student self-efficacy in tutorials, particularly factors associated with students’ ability to regulate their emotions. One possible reason for this could be the unique learning environmental factors that promote major sources of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977). For instance, consider the role of tutors and peers. Their presence can help to provide students with opportunities to practise and gain experience succeeding and learning from others.

‘My research suggests that in-person tutorials may improve and sustain student self-efficacy in tutorials, particularly factors associated with students’ ability to regulate their emotions.’

As the tertiary education landscape continues to evolve, let us not overlook the importance of fostering emotional and affective development alongside academic achievement through our practices. My study highlights the indispensable value of in-person tutorials in enhancing students’ self-efficacy, but much remains to be understood. Our current practices could influence our students in ways we are unaware of. I am optimistic that future research will delve further into the impacts on affect more broadly, enabling the implementation of evidence-based practices that nurture more holistic student learning experiences.


Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191–215. 

Oates, G., Paterson, J., Reilly, I., & Woods, G. (2016). Seeing things from others’ points of view: Collaboration in undergraduate mathematics. PRIMUS, 26(3), 206–228.  

Riegel, K., Evans, T., & Stephens, J. M. (2022). Development of the measure of assessment self-efficacy (MASE) for quizzes and exams. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 29(6), 729–745.