Teachers must tune in to student diversity 1

January 28, 2010

In the golden, privileged days when university students were the brightest and best, Eric Sotto's views about the training of lecturers may have had more validity ("You can lecture, but can you teach?", 21 January).

However, given the greater diversity of today's students in terms of educational and social background, their needs are more diverse and demand more of the training provided. Being a good teacher is not about merely delivering content effectively, it also means being attuned to the learning needs of those who even 15 years ago would not have aspired to higher education.

So, training should focus on how people learn differently in different contexts, recognising that some students will learn in spite, rather than because, of the teachers they encounter. In fact, that's what we should be aiming for in promoting more autonomous learning.

Teachers in higher education need a good grasp of their subjects as well as a wide variety of learning experiences. Think about the primary classroom, where teaching is less about content and more about stimulating interest and even excitement. How can we recreate that genuine wonder and constant asking of the question "why?"

It is also important to remember that teaching is part of our wider identity as academics, where research, teaching, scholarship, academic leadership and service to the university and community interact.

Ron Barnett's notion of "learning for an unknown future" in an age of supercomplexity provides an opportunity for us to see our role as working in partnership with students - our co-learners in dealing with uncertainty, ambiguity and ethical dilemmas. As such, training should model the social nature of learning we seek to create with our students.

Ranald Macdonald, Emeritus professor, Sheffield Hallam University.

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