Student fees in England are high. And as someone who received a grant to study from a local authority – as almost all students did, back in the good ol’ days – I feel sorry for the youngsters who have to shoulder a debt into the world of work before they’ve even earned their first full-time, career-type-job pay cheque.
Today, yet again, stories of student dissatisfaction are in the news.
They don’t feel they’re getting value for money. Specifically, many of them, don’t rate the teaching and cite – irony of ironies (read on) – lack of contact hours.
And the more work they have to do, the happier they are, it seems.
Well, I thought those of you who studied before the advent of the internet might like to know – and marvel at – what resources today’s students have available to them at my husband’s university.
First, the online handbook, which is introduced to students at the beginning of the course. This details what the course they’ve chosen entails, its requirements, deadlines for assessment, essay questions, reading lists and timetables for classes, lectures, exams, dissertations, etc.
And everything on the reading lists, btw, should be accessible from the library at the click of a link.
Thus, it’s a doddle to find out, in an instant, what’s expected, when work is due and to access the resources needed to complete it.
Lectures are filmed – the lecturer wearing a mic to record the content.
I hate this idea. I’m sure it hampers a lecturer’s style, knowing throw-away, controversial remarks and dad (or mum) jokes are forever accessible online. Not to mention my own feeling that it’s dodgy in terms of copyright. Lecturing can require not just a lot of personal research (and constant updating) but plenty of original thought.
But never mind that now. Back to spoonfeeding.
So (to start this sentence as so many academics irritatingly do now) the lectures are available online if a student misses a class.
The PowerPoint slides are online.
The notes are online.
Thus, if the student fails to attend any lecture, the material is there to work from, no excuse.
So far, so good. And arguably, so valuable, yes?
Here are a couple of examples of what actually happens.
Student turns up to session, week before presentations are due. Previous week lecturer told students what’s expected – details of format, style and content – this is simply a reminder. OK?
So (again). Student arrives for class. Unusual in itself.
‘What’s the presentation about? What are we supposed to do?’ s/he asks. (I’m leaving personal pronouns vague on purpose.)
The subject was discussed in the previous week’s lecture. The actual lecture was online. The PowerPoint was online. The online handbook detailed what was required.
That same student is now applying for postgraduate courses.
With a lousy attendance record, you might think s/he would consider choosing a referee whose course s/he had attended diligently. And you might think s/he’d ask the lecturer first.
But no. A reference request arrives with no warning.
Now, cut this student some slack. S/he’s far from being the only one. And given all that’s available online, you might not be surprised attendance can be pretty poor.
So (getting used to this ‘so’ starting?) let’s move on, to assessment. Of lecturers and courses, not students.
Students are routinely asked to rate their lecturers and course material in end-of-course evaluations. It’s pretty much the norm in higher education and is used in deciding on the allocation of funds, curriculum development, performance rating of academics – and so on.
A brilliant first class student recently marked down my husband’s course because (wait for this) that student felt s/he had just done badly in a class test.
The students had access to a previous test online, had been given a detailed week by week review of topics to study – and this was all two weeks in advance (and filmed and available online).
The student actually received first class marks. But by the time s/he knew that, the damage was done.
So (I’m getting the hang of this), to return to the question of the title, what does it take for students to feel they have value for money, to rate their lecturers and courses highly?
I have the answer. It was reported in the i newspaper earlier this week.
Dr Manuel Wenk, as reported in the i, is one of the authors of a study to be published in the journal Medical Education. That study:
found that those groups who had received chocolate cookies evaluated their teachers as being significantly better than those who received nothing.
They also considered their teaching materials to be better and their scores for the overall quality of the course were significantly higher than those of the control group.
Dr Wenk, according to the i:
warned that while the research may at first appear light-hearted, the fact that teacher evaluation could be so easily influenced revealed the “total inadequacy” of such important teaching surveys.
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
So (last one, promise), to return to the title once more, my advice to lecturers in England is: stock up on chocolate digestives, Choco Leibnitz, whatever.
In fact, why not invest in choux buns with fresh cream and chocolate icing? Or gateaux? You know there will be an escalation now the truth has been revealed, don’t you?
Whatever you do, feed ‘em – and watch your obese ratings swell your university’s rankings.