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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 30  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 75-78

Small group tutorials in physiology - Undergraduate students' perspectives in a Northeast Indian Medical Institute

Department of Physiology, Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, Imphal, Manipur, India

Date of Web Publication24-May-2016

Correspondence Address:
Jayshree Phurailatpam
Department of Physiology, Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, Imphal, Manipur
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4958.182904

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Background: Students consider physiology as a dry, difficult, and vast discipline to be mastered in too short period. Small group tutorials (SGTs) per se are "extra efforts" in the curriculum, conducted every week for assessing the effectiveness of lectures on knowledge delivery, and in part, a formative assessment for the student. At present, tutorials consume a considerable 60 h in an academic term which may be utilized otherwise for the students, if not beneficial. Aims: To highlight the perspective of undergraduate students with special regards to SGTs and to identify modifiable/amendable areas, if any in the current form of SGTs, which may likely improve teaching-learning process of physiology in a North Eastern Medical Institute, Imphal. Materials and Methods: Anonymous feedback questionnaires from 95 students in 1 st year MBBS were obtained after exposure to existing tutorials in physiology and analyzed accordingly. Results and Conclusions: Students perceive the present form of the tutorial as one that benefits them in many positive ways in improving their understanding and knowledge of physiology. However, insufficient interaction time as well as tutor's attitude during tutorials attracted negative responses. They expressed strongly against the tendency of the teachers to re-enforce the importance of memorization as the ultimate way to learn and 95% of them wanted more tutorials as they found that it drives them toward more study covering more topics which increase their self-confidence and can assess their own level of knowledge so that they can improvise accordingly in time.

Keywords: 1 st year undergraduate students, perspectives, physiology, small group tutorials

How to cite this article:
Phurailatpam J. Small group tutorials in physiology - Undergraduate students' perspectives in a Northeast Indian Medical Institute. J Med Soc 2016;30:75-8

How to cite this URL:
Phurailatpam J. Small group tutorials in physiology - Undergraduate students' perspectives in a Northeast Indian Medical Institute. J Med Soc [serial online] 2016 [cited 2021 Sep 24];30:75-8. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Physiology is usually considered as a dry and difficult discipline that involves the memorization of names and complex concepts that are to be mastered in a short period. [1] Most educators agree that students do not perform as expected [2] and although the passive lecture does not promote long-term retention, it is still a common approach used by many teachers. [3] Analyzing the length of physiology textbooks, one can recognize students' frustrations and why they feel overwhelmed by the excess of content covered by each topic. [4] If students are expected to master a large amount of material in a semester, efficient teaching methods need to be developed to encourage learning. It is essential to involve students into traditional teaching, which will stimulate students intellectually and promote better learning. [5] Such two methods are small group discussion and small group tutorials (SGTs) in which one teacher interacts with about 8-10 students. [6]

The Department of Physiology in this above 40-year-old medical institute, Imphal, Manipur, has been conducting weekly tutorials throughout 1 st year MBBS course for many years now. These are used to assess and supplement conventional lectures in delivering theoretical knowledge in physiology to undergraduate students. The tutorial topics are selected from those already covered in lecture classes and announced a week in advance. At present, out of the Medical Council of India-recommended 480 h for teaching physiology in an academic term, a considerable 60 h is spent on SGTs. It is the time that we need to assess these SGTs from the viewpoint of the students and study how they perceive them as a means of teaching - learning process. If not beneficial, this large quota of time may be utilized otherwise to help the students better. The results will also help teachers reflect on how to improve their style of teaching and deliver knowledge to these students in a more effective way.

Aims and objectives

To highlight the perspectives of undergraduate students about SGTs and to identify modifiable/amendable areas, if any in the current form of SGTs, which may likely improve teaching-learning process of physiology.

  Materials and methods Top

  • Study subjects: Ninety-five undergraduate students of 1 st year MBBS course of the institute
  • Study instrument: Anonymous printed feedback questionnaires
  • Methodology: Institutional ethical clearance concerning the study was obtained and a prior written consent from the students was taken. A feedback questionnaire was developed, peer-reviewed, and validated.

As is the usual norm, the selected tutorial topics from among those already covered in lecture classes were announced a week in advance and conducted. After the interaction, the anonymous feedback questionnaires consisting of both closed and open-ended questions were distributed immediately to the participating students. Responses were collected back on the same day. Anonymosity and complete confidentiality were maintained to ensure open answers as far as possible. No incentives were given for participation.

Feedbacks obtained were analyzed using descriptive statistical tools such as percentage.

  Results Top

Students rated the tutorials on a 5-point scale to close-ended questions [Table 1] and responses are expressed as percentage. Multiple responses are allowed to open-ended questions [Table 2]. Analysis showed that weekly tutorials are useful for increasing learning by students who feel they study more with tutorials than would otherwise. They responded positively to almost all aspects regarding the present form of tutorial except on two, first regarding sufficient interaction time and second, about the attitude of the tutor during the tutorials. The majority of students (82%) feels that there should be more interactions among the students and tutors in the form of group discussions and that conducting tutorials close to the lecture class on the concerned topic will improve the quality of tutorial. Regarding the second issue, only 50% agreed that the tutor gave complete interest and motivation to the students while the rest of the students played safe by not commenting although few of them openly disagreed.
Table 1: Feedback responses about weekly tutorials in physiology

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Table 2: Responses to open - ended questions about tutorials

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Students agreed that the present tutorials covered key areas in the topic (87%), was well linked to the lecture classes (72%), and are well planned and structured (68%). They felt that their level of understanding increased as a result of the tutorial (75%), maintain punctuality in studying, better than self-study, retained more, and helped them (84%) to prepare better for examinations. Eighty-three percentage expressed that they learned a lot from the tutorial like important areas in the topic as well as communication skills.

A significant 95% of the students wanted the same or even more of tutorials as they found that it drives them toward more study covering more topics which increase their self-confidence [Figure 1]a and can assess their own level of knowledge so that they can improvise accordingly. They find tutorials a time when they can clarify their doubts and queries. However, few students were apprehensive that more tutorials may cause too much stress and workload that may hamper their performances in other subjects. Some commented on tutors giving more emphasis on memorizing and wanted markings based on "parroting" to be done away with and replaced by an open marking system based on conceptual understanding of the topic where students can gauge their performances directly [Figure 1]b and c.
Figure 1 : (a) Most significant thing learned after the tutorials. (b) Students' suggestions on how to improve the present mode of tutorials. (c) Certain aspects which are better excluded from the present mode of tutorials

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The students expressed that tutors, especially junior residents if included for the tutorial should be primed before conducting tutorials and once scheduled; tutorials should not be cancelled as it tends to demoralize the mind of the students.

  Discussion Top

Student learning should be the focus of teaching in any course. Many factors are there that affect student performance out of which some are in the hands of any teacher. Among these, motivation is the most relevant, and other factors that foster cooperative learning such as feedback and participatory activities [7] are identified to be important for a successful student. [3],[8],[9] The weekly tutorial serves as both as a route of motivation as well as provide an environment for cooperative learning.

The present study has thrown light to gray zones about current SGTs in a more definitive form, forcefully in students' own words. Students responded positively to almost all aspects regarding the present form of tutorial except on sufficient interaction time, and tutor's attitude during tutorials attracted negative responses which need to be addressed. Certain things need to be modified or incorporated into the existing tutorials to further reinforce learning. The introduction of the item card with the open marking system and incorporation of small group discussion in some of the tutorials where the students are actively involved instead of just being passive responders are a step toward this.

Nowadays, many students use memorization to pass an examination without learning the material. It is important to note that the present work shows that at least some of the students are aware of the importance of long-lasting learning and not just memorization when they commented that the evaluation should be done not on mere memorization of concepts or "parroting" (in the own words of the students) and emphasis should also be given to the actual understanding of the subject.

The study was a welcome step for the students who expressed their happiness that their opinions are taken into consideration and needs are addressed while preparing the tutorial.

  Conclusions Top

The undergraduate students perceive the SGTs as a necessary component of their learning and in spite of time constraints expressed that they effectively supplement lecture classes and improves their performances. In future, more of teaching programs should be subjected to careful assessment and evaluation with feedbacks from both the teachers and the taught. This will help maintain a high standard of learning in this discipline and produce more efficient future doctors.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Nordquist L. Physiology education and the linguistic jungle of science. Adv Physiol Educ 2008;32:173-4.  Back to cited text no. 1
Michael J. What makes physiology hard for students to learn? Results of a faculty survey. Adv Physiol Educ 2007;31:34-40.  Back to cited text no. 2
Lujan HL, DiCarlo SE. Too much teaching, not enough learning: What is the solution? Adv Physiol Educ 2006;30:17-22.  Back to cited text no. 3
Michael J, Modell H, McFarland J, Cliff W. The "core principles" of physiology: What should students understand? Adv Physiol Educ 2009;33:10-6.  Back to cited text no. 4
Richardson D. Don′t dump the didactic lecture; fix it. Adv Physiol Educ 2008;32:23-4.  Back to cited text no. 5
Singh T, Gupta P, Singh D. Tutorials and small group discussion. In: Principles of Medical Education. 3 rd ed. New Delhi: Indian Academy of Pediatrics, Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers; 2009. p. 33-5.  Back to cited text no. 6
Higgins-Opitz SB, Tufts M. Student perceptions of the use of presentations as a method of learning endocrine and gastrointestinal pathophysiology. Adv Physiol Educ 2010;34:75-85.  Back to cited text no. 7
Bransford JD, Brown A, Cooking RR, editors. How People Learn. (Expanded Edition). Washington, DC: National Academy; 2000.  Back to cited text no. 8
Michael J. The claude bernard distinguished lecture. In pursuit of meaningful learning. Adv Physiol Educ 2001;25:145-58.  Back to cited text no. 9


  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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