Never mind the contact width, feel the quality (3 of 3)

August 18, 2011

I couldn't agree more with Ann Mroz: it's not about how much time you spend with students, but what you do with it that counts.

However, the bean counters are in the field already, so might I suggest we start calculating individual contact time with students by the microsecond? That would, of course, be in addition to those valuable seconds, minutes and hours spent in tutorials, seminars, lectures, supervised readings, consultations, clinics and so on.

Regardless of student attainment at A level or the equivalent, the fees they have paid or the league-table status of their institutions, students badly need that extra microsecond of our attention. That's about the time it takes for us to make eye contact with them as individual learners. It's about the time it takes to initiate recognition that shows we really are approachable and willing to help, even if it might seem that we are also dashing off to produce that world-beating research or hone those cutting-edge thoughts that will keep us ahead of the pack.

So those microseconds have to be worth something. They need to be counted. And, if we do start counting them, just think of the hours of time and tonnes of paperwork we might sometimes save ourselves and our institutions in terms of dealing with "mitigating circumstances" at examination time, student complaints and other disciplinary matters. Here's to the microsecond!

John Thompson, Professor of English textual cultures, Queen's University Belfast

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