Pie-in-sky methods? 1

January 23, 2003

Nathan Abram's account of his attempt at radical change in teaching and learning methods ("It's time to rock the lecture boat", THES , January 17) sounded several warning bells. However laudable the intention to oblige students to assume responsibility for their learning, unless an innovation, such as switching from lectures to student-centred seminars, is carefully managed, it could be destroyed by a backlash.

Changes need to be spelt out and discussed with all parties so that everyone understands what is happening, why it is happening and what the benefits are likely to be. Teachers are in a Catch-22: exhorted to produce autonomous, self-starting, lifelong learners but in universities strapped for cash, encouraged to treat knowledge and its apprehension as an unproblematic "one-size-fits-all" process and constrained by largely mechanical audit systems that allow little scope for ambiguity and uncertainty.

Small wonder that many students believe that "right" answers exist and that it is the teacher's job to "find" them and "deliver" them. For many students, the process of learning has become akin to receiving regular injections of the "right stuff".

Patrick Smith
Buckinghamshire Chilterns
University College

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