Anthony Seldon (“Right to reply”, Opinion, 19 September) declares that university teaching can be improved through student feedback appraisals. Yet this reverses the normal teacher-student relationship, which assumes the mastery of the teacher, not the student. To appraise the quality of teaching properly, the student would need a greater understanding of the subject than the teacher: an unlikely scenario.
Seldon rather impertinently assumes that “we” (teachers) (but not himself) do not sufficiently reflect upon performance. But we know, often by intuition, whether our ideas “go”, aren’t really understood or arouse resistance – a natural process more immediate and valuable than formal feedback.
He also assumes that any failure by the student to grasp what they are taught inevitably is the fault of unsatisfactory communication by the teacher. This leaves no room for more abstruse types of knowledge barely within the student’s mental range. Should any teacher be penalised on the grounds that they are duty-bound to “communicate”, no matter how difficult the subject matter?
A fundamental question not addressed by Seldon is this: what should be assessed? If classroom doors are “permanently open” to assessors, the basic teacher-student relationship is undermined and the teacher is required to address (“teach”) the assessor rather than the student. Hence in truth, teaching is not being assessed at all.
The kinds of demands for appraisal made by Seldon are far from new and seem inspired by motives that have nothing to do with improving education: allowing non-teachers to assume control of the classroom and learning the secret of “good” teaching in order to “industrialise” it.
Anthony Seldon argues that student feedback should play a greater role in the assessment of academic teaching. This is surely an idea whose time has come. At the end of each lecture, students could vote it a “hit” or a “miss”, Juke Box Jury-style. If the latter, the lecturer could exit via a trapdoor in the floor of the lecture room.