Monday, July 06, 2009


I'm just waiting for my mushroom soup to simmer for 15 mins before I put half of it in the blender at which point I'll be minutes away from tonight's dinner. Since I have to wait, I thought I'd take the opportunity to reflect a bit on the teaching results I got today. I don't want to spend too long on this, otherwise I will obsess until my head explodes, because that's how I am.

I taught in two subjects at different campuses of the same university, which is not the one where I'm doing my PhD. The comments I got on one subject really arise from the fact that I had minimal face to face contact with the students. I marked their weekly blog posts and I posted questions for the Twitter workshops, only occasionally interjecting beyond that. It wasn't an ideal situation, but it was a solution that the course convener came up with when he was handed the subject a week and half before the semester started and discovered the room bookings were completely unworkable for the usual tutorial structure. There's not much I could have done when the students say they would have liked to have seen more of me.

The second subject I tutored in was a bit of a disaster as far as the support from the course convener went. It wouldn't have been so bad if I'd been left to plan my own tutorials, but along with the total lack of support was the demand to follow a tutorial plan that I only ever got at the last minute. About half way through the semester things came to a head and I told the students of the situation, and I made a request to be exempt from the survey that the students do.

You've probably gleaned that my request from exemption was refused, so today I got to read the comments that the students from that subject made. I find these things confusing. I think overall they were positive, but when you get extremes it isn't clear which to take on board. I certainly don't like to hear that someone stayed away from the tutorials because they didn't like my teaching style, but I don't want to delude myself either that I should only listen to the student who said that I really helped their understanding by persisting with discussing the readings in the face of a class full of people who generally hadn't done them. I'd like to think that it was only one student who thought I shouldn't have been chosen to tutor the course and a whole lot more who would echo the sentiments of the student who said s/he would actively sign up for one of my tutorials again.

I suppose if anything came through more than once then it was a question of my teaching style. I'm not sure what to make of this. Someone said it took them a while to get used to my style. Is it really that unusual? Each week, I tried to take them through the practical tasks that I was directed to so they could complete their assessment. Initially, I tried group work, getting them to talk amongst one another, take notes, and present their ideas, refined through interaction, to the rest of the class. They really seemed to hate group work and writing things down, so then I switched modes and resorted to asking a bunch of questions arising from the readings in an effort to stimulate discussion. A lot of the time many students hadn't done the readings, and worse, hadn't even brought them to class, so that we might go through them together. In the end, I did just persist. I got some good feedback on that strategy, so I stuck with that.

I don't know. What's your teaching style? Or what was the style of teaching that you found most effective for your learning at university?


Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to come back to this for *aaages* to comment.

I liked small tutorials in which there was much discussion and I felt guilt-ridden if I had not done the reading.

Most successful was the latin class in which the tutor usually picked on someone - and for some reason he almost always picked on one particular individual. I started feeling really bad for her so over prepared and jumped in with answers before he could turn to her to force her to answer his questions. Though I often dreaded going to class, I learned the most that way, i.e. from preparing beforehand. That helped to develop better habits in for my other classes.

People hate things like group work and prep because they're lazy. And that's their fault, not yours.

Kirsty said...

I'm probably going to sound like an old lady here, but it seems to me that 'students these days' seem a whole lot more immune to guilt about not doing the work. In fact quite the opposite. If they didn't do the reading then it's not about a lack of application on their part, but a problem with the reading: it's too difficult or irrelevant (as far as they can judge these things). They're certainly a whole lot better at articulating their dissatisfaction.

I have of course generalised. But one of the side effects of making higher education more accessible (which I think is a good thing) is that students don't always have the habits of study that are required. And the trouble is that as a casually employed academic, I just don't have the resources to give them the support they need.

Anyway, an ongoing conundrum. I have come up with something of a solution for the reading problem for this semester. I'll report back at the end of the year.