Lecturers SHOULD require a teaching qualification

A few months ago I came across this article written about Liam Burns, the current head of the National Union of Students, who claimed that lecturers should have teaching qualifications before being able to teach in UK Universities. From the comments on the article it seemed to be a controversial suggestion – there were people saying lecturers are qualified enough and people saying it wouldn’t solve the problem among other insults about Liam himself – however after completing my first year of my degree I can’t fathom why people wouldn’t agree with him.

As the article points out, the 2010 Browne Report suggested this indeed be implemented. And while the government has implemented the part of his report that allowing fees to be almost tripled, it’s conveniently ignored the part of the report that would really make a positive difference to our university system. Not that I believe the fee increase is completely negative – if less people go to university then the value of my degree may increase, which is an incredibly selfish argument especially coming from someone who was in the last intake of £3445 fees. However, I can’t help but fantasise about what a whole implementation of this report would have meant.

There are a few reasons why I believe lecturers should have teaching qualifications, however I’m first going to define what I mean by this. In my idealised vision, lecturers should not have to study for a PGCE on a compulsory basis, however should be provided with training sessions in how to plan lectures and tutorials, as well as how to communicate properly with students.

Now many people may have got this far onto my post and thought, “But I don’t understand the problem?”. Of course, they could be right. Many people graduate with good degrees from our universities each year and obtaining a degree should be down to the student themselves not just the lecturer. However I ask, have you ever sat through an hour long lecture from someone you know is a highly intelligent person, but without learning a thing due to their poor delivery? I unfortunately have, and I’ve only been at university for a year.

It’s not their fault. Unlike Dr Sheldon Cooper in the tv show The Big Bang Theory who once received twitter reviews of one of his lectures, these lecturers have no way of finding out whether their lecture was good. Maybe in their mind reading from an incredibly long handout without looking up or stopping for breath, is good teaching. But more to the point, these lecturers have also never had the training to know how to deliver their lecture effectively.

There’s also the issue of marking and consistency. What one lecturer loves is what another hates and a standardised teacher training might iron this out. Everyone is of course still going to have their own preferences but you’d hope it would make some improvements.

Of course, this may not tackle the problem of academics who simply don’t care about students. However if I knew the career I was aiming for was going to be more focused on teaching, perhaps I’d stay away if this wasn’t what I wanted to do.

With fees set to increase, and with degrees already costing students a fair bit of money anyway, isn’t it within our rights to demand quality? If you pay £3000 for say, a sofa, you wouldn’t want that sofa to be torn or broken and it was you’d be well within your rights to complain about it. I’m not then implying that lecturers are as useless as a sofa because they’re not, but with a teaching qualification they could be that bit better.

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4 responses to “Lecturers SHOULD require a teaching qualification

  1. While I agree with you that there’s some really lazy teaching at universities, I don’t think the kind of basic training you want is gonna cut it. The best university teaching isn’t trained, it’s idiosyncratic and creative, and dervies from a genuine engagement with undergrads and the subject material. I think the root of the problem is huge student numbers on courses and ancient syllabi. Both of those ultimately come from the students. The former because marketisation creates a huge incentive to expand the most popular courses. The latter comes from the idea that ‘traditional’ degrees are good. I’m sure you can see the irony – the calcified ideas which they’re based on were radical and explosive in their time.

    So yeah, viva la revolución académica!

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    • Well yeah ideally I’d say “shove em all in for PGCE’s” but I’m not sure turning to lecturers and insisting they are now under-qualified job they’ve been doing for years is a clever idea. Might create more jobs for the young in academia mind…

      Completely agree though that the best teaching is creative, although don’t you think a bit of simple training in how to be creative with their planning would help to create this? I also think there needs to be some sort of check on the material lecturers are using – if they’re recycling the same old syllabus every year then they’re clearly not paying attention to module evaluations.

      Really, the head honchos at unis should be focussing less on how much money they can squeeze out of students (I suddenly realise what my brother said to me a few years ago when he said “Universities are businesses first”) and more about the quality of their courses, because after all that’s what brings the students in. And in my head, the way to start improving the quality of the course is to improve the quality of the person delivering it.

      I think what I was thinking when I said simple basic training at regular intervals (at least that’s what I hope I said in this haha!) is that it’s a first step. Much like the House of Lords Act was for labour. Baby steps with simple training and then go radical (not the best analogy there considering labour didn’t finish their plan, but I wanted to sound clever so…)

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  2. I think a PGCE-alike would actually be even worse – you would simply stop any academics who do real work coming into contact with undergrads that way. In mathematics (and I’m sure other science subjects) taking a whole year off is likely to murder an academic career at birth. It’d be pretty darn disruptive to the academic ecosystem too. In Cambridge at least, many PhD students subsidise themselves through teaching.

    It would also stunt the diversity of characters who teach, which sets UK HE apart from, say, the Chinese. The best undergraduate degrees should give a vivid synoptic sense of the subject as a living thing. That can’t be developed by giving a standardised training. The best lecturers and university teachers I have have used approaches which I would never have thought of, and indeed sometimes didn’t make much sense at first look. Professors are professors for a reason, they’re a lot cleverer than you or me.

    Interesting that you think stale syllabi are to do with ignoring feedback. I think they are actually caused by module feedback. Innovators in mathematics teaching have to cope with torrents of negative feedback:
    – the exam was different (duh, this is a living subject)
    – it wasn’t clear what we were supposed to learn (duh, that’s part of the test)
    – there weren’t enough mocks
    – not enough examples
    – you missed x, y and z items of canonical material (so what?)
    whereas those who follow the tried and tested (tired and tested?) courses (some, especially Analysis and Dynamics courses have been broadly the same since the war) get:
    – the course was easy to follow
    – we were well prepared for the exam
    But… it’s deadly, deadly boring. And not always terribly useful for anything.

    I agree departments don’t focus enough on this, and I do think we should talk about teaching and creative teaching much more. But my solution would actually be to reduce the undergrad feedback cycle, which has a conservative effect, and strengthen intra department support, so that lecturers feel like they have the support to be able to take a risk – even if it fails.

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    • I do think some module evaluations are unhelpful but, I certainly tried to be very objective in mine and I think they should even take into account the subjective ones, because they still might give them a clue as to what was good and bad about their lecture. Whether it’s detailed or not they should still be thinking about changing their lecture rather than doing the same ones year on year. That’s what feedback is for after all.

      In the comments for the original article I cited someone suggested the opposite to you, in that maybe there should be a difference between lecturers and academics. In our Shakespeare module this semester, which I’m sure Natalie will corroborate, we sat through plenty a lecture about the lecturer’s own research which ended up furiously irrelevant (my favourite being children in Macbeth… like how would that help?!). And things like that made me really agree with them.

      Interesting what you said about a PGCE denting the academic cycle though, I can probably agree with you there but I don’t necessarily think stopping phd students teaching is a bad thing, considering a lot of the bad lectures I’ve had have come from their lack of experience.
      RE: Diversity, yes all for it, but diversity in good teaching styles, rather than diversity ranging from bloody excellent to bloody awful. And I think you’re giving the PGCE far too much credit by saying it’s standardised (although you probably went to a far better school than I did). I did say in my article though, that they’re bloody intelligent people, but not all intelligent people can teach. Teaching’s not for everyone you know, and our head of school is a prime example of that frankly. But if he’d been given a bit of training, this furiously intelligent bloke could then better explain his incredible intelligence to an audience, rather than fifty minutes of confused rambling.

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