sexta-feira, 12 de agosto de 2016

Teaching practice

Student surveys are destroying my confidence, says new academic

I’m a new academic and I keep being told that my lectures are boring. Is this really the best way to develop as a teacher?

When I walked into a classroom to deliver my first lecture, early in 2014, I was terrified. Not long out of undergraduate studies myself, I felt like an imposter. Nervousness flooded every inch of my body and, once the lecture had finished, it immediately became a blur in my mind.
It took time for my confidence to grow but I slowly began to have more faith in my teaching. Engaged and responsive students fuelled my enthusiasm and boosted my self-esteem. As I began to understand classroom dynamics, I was able to adapt my lesson plans in response to a particular session or group rather than focusing my energy on making sure I got through every slide and remembered every point. Standing in front of a room of students began to feel normal.

But our mandatory student feedback surveys are crushing that confidence. They report that I seem “inexperienced” and the block that I teach is “uninteresting”.

The point about inexperience is accurate, of course; some of the staff I teach alongside have taught for 20 years, while I have taught for 20 hours (over two and a half years of PhD research). What’s more, those 20 hours have been passed my way in bits and pieces, spread across numerous courses and year groups, meaning that I rarely have long enough to learn student names or get used to a group dynamic. In terms of content, I have little control over what I teach and I am often called upon at the last minute, with little time to prepare.

I have always jumped at the opportunity to gain teaching experience. I know that it is essential if I am to secure an academic post after my PhD – otherwise I am unlikely to be even considered for roles that involve teaching. I also relish the opportunity to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for my subject. I want to inspire students in the same way that my lecturers inspired me.
Perhaps I’m just not cut out to teach. I have often asked myself this. But observations and feedback on my teaching practice from academics and fellow PhD researchers (from both within and outside of my discipline) have always been positive, encouraging and constructive. So what is happening with the student feedback?

Perhaps the issue is not with feedback from students, but with the way feedback is collected and used. I often teach on courses taught by up to five members of staff: each tutor teaches a segment of the course, which are all linked by a common theme. But the student feedback surveys do not take this fragmented structure into account. Instead, students are asked to respond to broad questions about the course as a whole: “What did you enjoy?” and “What could be improved?”.

I don’t blame the students for the negative feedback. In my department, these surveys are distributed in the final 10 minutes of a 50-minute lecture. I don’t think this set-up is conducive to thorough contemplation: they’re already eager to get away and may not be inclined to put in the effort to provide useful feedback.

Add to this the well-reported problem of gender bias in student evaluations and the value of these surveys disintegrates further. Are students reacting to the fact that I am a woman, as well as a young one?
Rather than encouraging young researchers to improve their practice, negative feedback from students at this very early stage can have a detrimental, demotivating effect. But as university students become consumers, more emphasis is placed on consumer responses and demands. So, rather than being guided through the early stages of teaching, PhD students are being exposed early on to the bruising student-consumer market.
Institutions should question how useful this feedback can really be to their long-term academic success. Perhaps student feedback is just a waste of everyone’s time – as well as putting PhD students off university teaching careers.

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