Teaching needs support, too

October 22, 2009

Mary Malcolm's opinion piece "Nurturing critical minds" (15 October) made me laugh aloud. Just one sentence of her article focused on the workers meant to deliver her vague aims - "Of course, this imposes considerable demands on lecturers." Yes, it does, and it is senior management's role to consider how to nurture our "critical minds" and protect our welfare as well as that of the students.

I speak as the holder of a teaching award for "student-led" learning, which included replacing lectures with inquiry-based activities. But I did this at an institution - the University of Warwick - that provided a well-equipped independent-learning centre, an average seminar size of 12 and grants for teaching resources. My current institution has seminars of 15-plus, uses graduates to teach most them and relies heavily on technological interfaces such as Blackboard that often fail. Recently, we were advised to access our student-support system (which includes attendance registers) early in the morning or late at night to avoid crashing it. I could not envisage implementing the kinds of reforms I instituted at Warwick here - and sadly my current experience is far more typical of higher education institutions than my Warwick days were.

If senior managers believe that we must be told to "interrogate our practices and assumptions", I must question their calibre. I don't know about Mary Malcolm, but this is something most of us who face classes daily do hour by hour, day by day - that is the nature of the pedagogical relationship. It would be nice to have some genuine support rather than the facile implication that we can compensate for serious institutional deficiencies.

Selina Todd, Lecturer in modern British history, University of Manchester.

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