Model response

August 8, 2013

Warren Bebbington gives a refreshing account of delivering engaging and relevant undergraduate education in an environment of static resources and rising student numbers (“Enlightened response to the limits of growth, budgets and time”, Opinion, 25 July). At Manchester Business School, the idea of lectures at either end of courses interspersed with small-group workshops has already been adopted for a first-year marketing course.

Our model involves dividing a cohort of around 400 students into workshop groups of 20 to 25 people. The course starts and concludes with large-scale lectures, but in each of the intervening eight weeks students participate in two-hour workshops delivered by one member of a 17-strong teaching team (made up of academics, not PhD students). The workshops use slides incorporating embedded online content, followed by an interactive exercise. The teaching material is collaboratively developed by the academic team as shared resources, so all students receive the same basic content with each tutor’s unique delivery style. A key benefit is that students actively participate and form strong connections with their tutors.

Getting 17 academics to buy into this teaching approach was challenging, but early scepticism in some quarters has given way to enthusiasm as the course has progressed. As for the students, their evaluations have been overwhelmingly positive, irrespective of their tutor, and attendance levels have remained consistently above 90 per cent.

The key differentiator here is direct contact between academics and students rather than overreliance on e-learning platforms. Bebbington talks about tutors finding time to teach larger numbers of smaller groups, but in areas such as the humanities, where student fees typically account for the majority of higher education income, perhaps it is simply a case of reprioritising what universities do (ie, more time spent on better teaching, and less but better research).

Dominic Medway and Anna Goatman
Course leaders, Marketing Foundations
Manchester Business School

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