This is part two in a series of four blog posts conceived by Tom Langston and Rugaiya Ally as part of Rugaiya’s work placement within DCQE’s Academic Development and Technology Enhanced Learning teams.
Tom and Rugaiya wanted to explore students’ feelings about higher education and their expectations about life at university, and therefore devised a set of questions to ask students about their experiences. Rugaiya then interviewed 14 fellow students from across the university faculties (with a predominant number studying in the Science and Business faculties) with most studying at Level 5. This series of posts constitutes a condensed summary of the thoughts and opinions of those 14 students.
In part one we investigated what areas of their course students found to be a strength and where they struggled with the progression through their course. Here in part two, we explore the student expectations of their modules and courses. It will look at what made the module interesting, what should academics continue to do for their students and what areas should be changed or stopped. (Note that some quotes have been slightly edited to anonymise the academics who are referred to.) In part three we examine the students attitudes towards their employability skills. Finally, in part four, we look at university life in general.
What makes a module/course interesting
The first question I asked was:
What do you think the instructor/lecturer did the best and made the module/course interesting and enjoyable?
One response highlighted the positive aspects when the lecturers use their own reflection and life experience to highlight the content and teaching material:
“Some did well in making us have a clear understanding of their modules by always providing enough examples and scenarios to understand firmly; however, with other lecturers, the reverse was the case”
Another student appreciated the group discussions organised by the lecturers:
“Group discussions and talks through forums made the course enjoyable”
When lecturers put in what the students considered to be “extra work and enthusiasm” learning was easier and study became a positive experience both inside and outside of the classroom.
Within the Faculty of Science and Health, the students reflected that:
“Lecturers within Pathological Science 2 made haematology interesting for me and the way they delivered their lectures online and in-person with interactive sessions with quizzes and case studies. Meanwhile, others made learning microbiology much easier with small quizzes they would put at the end of the video. It helped me with retaining what they taught during the lectures much faster”.
“The lectures of some lecturers … were really interesting since they explained well and answered our questions accordingly. Also, the presence of dispensing and lab sessions, as well as a practical simulation session enabled us to gain hands-on practical skills and knowledge and was very enjoyable”.
Within the Faculty of Business and Law, students had an equally positive experience when scenarios and interactive demonstrations were used to provide context for the theoretical teaching:
“The second term of my second year, we did a module called Critical Issues. The module coordinator that taught us managed to make the lessons interesting by letting the students discuss the notes in class in a creative and memorable way. For example, in order to learn more about inflation, she printed out fake money whereby we the students got to understand that having more money doesn’t solve the problem”.
My next question expanded on the area of the enthusiasm of the lecturers that were teaching the course. Responses were about how the lecturers made the classes more engaging as we all know how hard learning can be sometimes.
“Instructors were completely immersed in this course and made sure every student understood everything that was taught and were quite enthusiastic about the course, which gave it a lively feeling.”
“Yes. Some of them were really keen to deliver the lectures and were always willing to answer the questions whenever I emailed them”.
“Yes, some of my lecturers were good at explaining, ‘lecturer 1 for instance’ who does so in a way that everyone can understand.”
One student felt there was a split between how the lecturers delivered their materials:
“The lecturers mentioned in the previous question above were enthusiastic while others… made it seem like they weren’t. They couldn’t explain or answer our questions well and it seemed like all they were doing was just reading off the PowerPoints.”
What lecturers should continue to do
It is important to consider the good practice of academics within the University so I asked:
“What do you think lecturers should continue doing?
One student found the revision sessions conducted by lecturers really helpful:
“They should continue to have more revision time. For example, I managed to uplift my grade in taxation during the speculated revision time we were given by the lecture. Since the lecturer wouldn’t be teaching, they will have enough to explain concepts in the pace more acceptable to the student”.
Another student liked the drop-in sessions and found them to be helpful since the lecturers mainly supported students with the specific academic problems they are facing:
“Helping students’ drop-in sessions on face-to-face classes should definitely continue”.
Another student felt that providing context to their learning really beneficial:
“They should continue explanations with real-life scenarios.”
One student found the material uploaded on Moodle useful as it provided guidance and supported preparation ahead of the lectures:
“They should continue to give more help and guidance to everyone through platforms like Moodle, continuing to record their lectures and giving relevant materials for extra reading lists”.
Moodle can be seen as a positive force for many students, although having a variety of external tools can also be overwhelming. Where academics feel they are providing choices or alternatives for engagement, they may be increasing a barrier to the learning experience.
What lecturers should stop doing
Finally, what students found to be less positive is an important part of the reflective process. I asked:
“What do you think the lecturers should stop doing?”
Lecturers should stop simply reading the words on a slide. Instead, they need to provide context to their content and offer explanations of the information being presented:
“Some lecturers should stop merely browsing through the topical notes and then head straight to the questions but instead they should explain to the students what exactly is being required and the deeper meaning to the notes given”.
Another student replied:
“[Stop] holding revision classes very close to exam time and teaching contents 2 weeks before the exams”.
This answer provides insight into the notion of tight deadlines and issues of workload.
One student commented on how repeating exams (or past papers) is just testing their memories rather than their understanding of the concepts:
“Some exams were a complete copy of the past papers. I believe this forces students to just memorise answers from past mock papers instead of understanding more from textbooks. Exams should have past questions I agree; however, the paper should not be a complete copy of a past paper and rather should have different questions from different papers/books”.
With the university acutely aware of issues with awarding gaps, this area was important to students too.
Research suggests that lecturers are impacted by implicit bias and this can impact all areas of teaching, learning, interaction and marking. One student highlighted what they felt was evidence of an implicit racial bias, suggesting that all black students in their class were given the same mark in the assessment of 50/100.
Every student experiences university life differently, with some seeing a wider range of problems than others. As this blog highlights, there are areas that students feel academics can improve on but other areas that demonstrate a strong and positive experience in learning.