Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Education: Personal Experiences

I remember well my under-graduate lectures. I studied both chemistry and law, and they had very different methods of achieving the same neglect of teaching.

In Chemistry one lecturer would come in with the overheads pre-prepared on a roll and unroll them while repeating what was written on them. Many of these were written some years before and had not been updated, after all the subject matter had not changed. Others would come in with a ring binder of notes and lay these on the bench. They would then pick up the chalk and start writing for an hour while we wrote down everything they put on the board.

In Law it was a little different. The lecturer would sit behind a lecturn and read out the lecture dictating what we had to write down.

This was exactly what R.K. Rathbun meant when he said "A lecture is a process by which the notes of the professor become the notes of the students without passing through the minds of either. "

Even worse than this was their opinion about feedback that they gave to you on your work. The lecturers believed that students should not be given any sort of mark, no matter about feedback other that the vague you are doing well or badly etc. After the first mid-sessional exams we never knew another result. How can you possibly learn if you do not know how well you are doing? The closest we got was knowing our classification if our tutor was a younger member of staff who was more progressive. In my final year the first time we wrote an exam like answer to a question was in the final exam itself! This was an inexcusable, this is not education.

Luckily for students today this was how it was nearly twenty years ago. Since then the Government in the UK has brought in Teaching Quality Assurance and whilst this is not perfect and has many weaknesses one of the key points is that lecturers now give feedback. It might be cosmetic but it is something.

If you want to see some more educational wisdom like Rathbun then you can find it at:
Speaking of Education II
Speaking of Education III (pdf)
Quotations by George Polya

PS I am not convinced that the Rathbun quote first came from him as it seems much older, sometimes it is attributed to Polya and it might even be from before him. If you want to know who Polya was then there is a biography here.

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