Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Why Teaching Matters.

Today was my last official duty on the College wide Teaching and Learning Committee. An away day at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park. Ironically I'm stepping down to spend more time advocating effective practice within the institution, but I do feel torn having served as the rep for CCCA for four years. The time, however, is right for a change.

The art of teaching is under threat in all HE institutions and not just from the increased market forces that a rise in fees brings. The need for increased research funding means that, in many cases, lecturers and departments are actively looking to minimise the contact they have with their students perhaps recognising that essentially quality research and effectual teaching are, except when working with exceptionally gifted students, hard to bring together. In response the government are insisting that all courses publish accurate figures demonstrating contact hours. Welcome as the efforts to raise standards are, both initiatives put added pressure onto staff.

St Mary's has always had an excellent reputation as an institution with teaching at its heart, although recently the efforts to up the number of staff engaged in active research has led to some colleagues resisting and proposed changes to the way we deliver. It'll be devastating if we take our eye off the ball. Whatever else happens we have 4000 students to educate. One of the worst scenarios is where students are left largely unguided. Hand out a reading list, a series of downloads and an essay question and let them get on with it. There's no role for charisma in that future and, in the final analysis it's charismatic lecturers that persuade students to make decisions and take on adult responsibilities.

The general feeling of today's meeting was that time is ripe for a little counter punch and a number of ideas came through to strengthen the profile of teaching and learning over the coming year. My feeling is, and has always been, that real progress in effective learning will really be made if we can integrate student's into the debate, not just at the level of holding us to account, but by encouraging the Union to play an involved role in the way in academic as well as social issues. It's crazy that the student experience committee is chaired by a co-opted governor rather than the SU President. It's dangerous if students feel that education is something that happens to them rather than something they have a genuine personal investment in.

I suggested investing in a series of high profile lectures about educational issues within HE which could be advertised for both students and staff. It won't solve all the problems, but it will make a very public statement that whatever else happens in these turbulent times teaching and learning remains the core activity of St Mary's.

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