When you walk into the lecture theatre, what do you see before you?
A) Eager minds waiting to interrogate you to gain the maximum from their precious contact time with an expert in the subject?
B) Confused and bored students who don’t really know why they are there or the relevance of the content you are about to transmit?
C) A bunch of ‘parrots’ who will simply regurgitate anything you tell them?
Teaching parrots may be amusing for a short period, but if all they can do is to squawk back answers to questions without any apparent understanding, then it ultimately becomes unfulfilling. In this scenario it would be inevitable that academics will end up seeing teaching as an activity that lacks intellectual challenge. Like the little fellow perched on my shoulder in the photo, we could teach them to grab peanuts at the right time – but is that really higher education?
If the students feel that you are regarding them as parrots, why would they do anything other than search for peanuts? There has to be some mutual respect demonstrated in order for the quality of teaching and learning to shift to a higher level. In conversation with an undergraduate recently, he told me that one of his lecturers had informed the class that it didn’t matter to her whether they passed or failed – she would be paid just the same! In this scenario, even the peanuts were missing!
If you are faced with option B above, then you have some work to do. Teaching is not just about entertainment, but if the students are bored (perhaps even before they get to you) you have to make the effort to transform the situation to resemble option A more closely. It cannot be presumed that A is the default setting and that all the students will be naturally curious before they come to your session. I have heard a number of lecturers start sessions by saying, “sorry guys, this topic is really boring, but we have to get through it!”. Not a great introduction to a lecture.
Referring back to my last blog post about starting and ending a lecture, it would be a valuable use of time for a department to brainstorm some lecture openings for topics that are generally regarded as ‘dry’. Otherwise prepare for some squawking – if not in class, perhaps when the NSS comes around again.