If you talk to some lecturers, you will find no shortage of opinion about the shortcomings of our students. They are ill-prepared for the university curriculum; don’t turn up to class; aren’t interested if it isn’t assessed; lack motivation; don’t love the subject; don’t know what they should; are only interested in how to pass the exam; lack basic skills; can’t write properly… Teaching in a university would be great, if it weren’t for the students.
Our own experiences are atypical. Contrast the caricature presented above with an equally broad-brush picture of a lecturer: we love our subject; are good at it; are motivated and hard-working; are interested in a deeper understanding; could cope with exam stress; and we’ve spent our adult lives surrounded by similar colleagues.
Drawing on work from the More Maths Grads project, which examined four diverse departments ranging from 30 to 350 students per cohort, we compare what students and staff say about their aspirations and consider how this impacts the students’ enjoyment and confidence in their subject. Whilst we found evidence of special effort being made to overcome the perceived student shortcomings, we nevertheless detect some frustration at these. If we become frustrated, is it us or them that have the problem? Is it reasonable of us to expect our students to share our outlook?
We suggest that our perceptions can lead to messages – explicit or implied – to students about their abilities can easily damage their confidence and well-being.
In particular we discuss ways to generate a more positive attitude so that more of our students might report, as one did:
“The … tutors treat the students as equals, I have never been talked down to … I feel that the tutors and students work as a team aiming for one goal and that is the students understanding and enjoyment of the subject.”
Click to view: 289 course ethos it’s not the students who are strange