Parkville Station

Review: first year students

Last week, we asked our contributors to review Arts Foundation subjects to give you an idea of what they might be like. We thought we’d turn that around, and ask a lecturer to review his students.

What do you do to students who come into your lectures late?

On the whole nothing at all! Unless I know them, at which point I make a joke or engage in a little light banter. I know some people are real sticklers for punctuality, but the modern world is difficult to negotiate and the vagaries of timetabling make students and lecturers have to rush from one end of the campus to another in a very short space of time. And then, of course, there is PTV, which isn’t always reliable. So on the whole I’m pretty forgiving.

Why do you think lectures are an important part of the learning process?

I guess they do a couple of things. Firstly, they help to define the story that a subject is telling, giving the students an indication of the areas that they should be studying. They can, therefore, form a foundation for learning. But only a foundation. Secondly, they should be engaging – ideally they ought to hook the students, enthusing them about the subject, and therefore encouraging a deepening of learning.

Should lectures be collaborative or informative?

They should actually be both. I reckon a good lecture involves two-way communication between the lecturer and the student body—asking questions, getting them involved, making them think are all things that the lecturer should be doing. At its best this kind of lecture should have at least one section where students are actively engaged in thinking and then feeding back to the lecturer. But lectures also have to be, by their very nature, informative.

How informative a lecture is – how much it covers – is in part a function of the lecture’s relationship to examination. In some subjects, like biomedicine, lectures form the core of what is to be learnt. In humanities subjects, like the ones I teach, they can be more discursive – just a platform for further exploration of a subject.

What’s the benefit you get from coming to lectures rather than listening to them online?

While physical lectures remain – the advantage is the engagement with a real person in a real space. Obviously, if the lecture is interactive the student who attends can take part, so they have a different intellectual experience to the stay-at-homer. I imagine that watching lecture capture is a far more passive experience. I would imagine too that the scope for distraction is far greater. At the same time, at least you can rewind the online version. I know that a lot of students actually attend and then download for exactly these reasons.

What’s the worst thing a student could do in a lecture?

Talking loudly with your friends can be very distracting. Even if you think you can’t be heard you can be. But sometimes there are good reasons why you might be talking. I remember in one first-year lecture when I was student (back in the Middle Ages), the lecturer was supposed to be talking about “the burlesque”. I had no idea what the burlesque was. 40 minutes into the lecture, I still had not idea, because the lecturer hadn’t bothered to define what it was, let alone mention it. So I asked my mate “what’s the burlesque?” The lecturer saw me and pulled me up in front of the class – “Have you got a question?” “Yes”, I replied, “what’s the burlesque?” I was embarrassed but I think he was more so – “Er, I was just getting around to that”, was his response. The point is, if you’ve got a question put your hand up and ask away. You’ll almost certainly get a decent answer.

I think what is more galling is students leaving half way through the lecture, which can be dispiriting and disruptive. Again, I know there is often a good reason for this, and if it is done discreetly it isn’t a problem (where possible, leave through the back door). However, on a couple of occasions students have walked out right in front of me – across the area I was standing in. One time the student was so close they almost bumped into me. I was so gob-smacked I stopped and stared at the student as they left, and then gave the rest of the class a talking to about the area round the lectern being MY performance space.

What makes you like a student right away?

I like ALL students right away. If I didn’t, I don’t think I’d be doing this job

What’s the most common First Year Student mistake?

In our areas, probably to expect the same level of support that you got in Year 11 or Year 12. Uni is a step-up and requires far more independence than you might have been used to. Expect to feel at sea in some subjects, but work hard by reading and researching to get yourself on track. Finally, if you are running into trouble with deadlines let the coordinator know – don’t leave it too late.

Any advice for uni outside the classroom?

Don’t do too much paid work. Don’t pull all-nighters on your computer. Get enough sleep. Get engaged with wider university life – student societies, sport &c. When you are partying make sure that you’ve got mates who’ll watch your back and take care of you. Remember that when things get tough, there’s a lot of support around the university for you – including an excellent counselling service.

Do you like the people who sit in the front row more?

I like people who sit in the front row a lot. Usually because they are happy to engage, answer questions &c. But more? No. Just differently. I’ve always been a back-seat of the bus sort of person. And I was certainly not front row during my undergrad days. I like the view from the back of the lecture theatre!

Can you tell when people are browsing Facebook instead of listening?

Yes, pretty much. In fact, I’ve stood at the back of lectures when other people have been lecturing and watched student interaction with their devices. I’ve watched people flick from Facebook to the LMS, to the library web-site, to Wikipedia and back again. I’m sure some people watch Netflix and I imagine that it is not beyond impossible that one or two people have made the odd sporting investment with Bet365. It’s a fact of life. And I’ve been known to ask people to use their devices to look something up for me that I might have temporarily forgotten!

What makes a student memorable?

Same thing that makes a lecturer memorable – engagement – if they engage with you, ask good questions &c. they become memorable.

Do you believe in lecture recording?

Among lecturers this is a really controversial subject. There have been a lot of debates about declining lecture attendance and the reason why fewer and fewer students have been coming. Many put the blame for this on the lecture recording system, so it is has become a bit of a bugbear with some.

The fact is we are not called university lecturers for nothing. It’s because we lecture. And that is a central part of our identity – our conception of who we are and what we do. If we end up performing (and a lecture is a performance) in front of 10 people out of a class of 100 we’re naturally disappointed. As any band will tell you, it’s hard to generate the required energy when playing in front of a couple of punters in an otherwise empty band-room.

The other concern is whether the lecture recordings themselves provide a decent (i.e. effective) learning experience for the student. Again there is very little evidence about whether attendance at lectures impacts upon the overall grade a student gets. Certainly I’ve had students who have been unable to attend lectures, but have listened to them in considerable depth and have excelled. And I’ve had students who have attended lectures and not done very well.

There are issues of equity as well. Online lectures are essential for students who may also be carers (there are a lot of you out there) and have to prioritise those duties over attending lectures. They are also brilliant for overseas students whose English might not be absolutely fluent and they can use the recordings to make sense of what has been said. They are a great tool for revision too, so even if you attended the lecture you can go back to it and revise the contents.

So all things considered they are a necessary and important part of the 21st-century university.

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