Laurie Taylor Column

November 18, 2005

"Staff-to-student ratios in higher education are now worse than in schools" - The Times Higher , November 11.

From: The Director, Teaching Quality Unit

I am writing to let you know that this university has further increased its TAMS (Teaching Accommodation Minimums). The new figures are as follows: Undergraduate seminars : Minimum 26 students

One-to-one tutorials : Minimum 15 students.

To help staff cope with this increased throughput, the TQU has devised the following DAMS (Density Alleviation Measures):

Calling the Register : Taking the register in expanded seminar conditions can use up to one-eighth of the total available time. This is greatly reduced by the electronic register system currently being tested in medieval history in which bar codes are attached to student clothing, which register when a student enters a seminar room. But, until this has been rolled out campus-wide, tutors should save time by encouraging students with four or more syllables in their name to adopt a sobriquet

Getting to the blackboard : The complex problem of reaching one's blackboard through a high-density seminar group may readily be resolved by attaching the chalk to a 5ft pointer. Board writing can then be handled from the comfort of one's desk

People at the back : Difficulties in seeing students at the back can be alleviated by use of a Crowd Periscope. These may also be used for backward viewing on occasions where spatial-density optimisation requires some students to sit on the window ledge

Maximising contributions : Tutors who wish to ensure contributions from every member of the seminar might adopt Choral Answering. Instead of putting a question to a single student, several named students are asked the same question simultaneously. The fastest answer receives the highest mark.

Another promising approach undergoing trials in psychology involves "down weeks" in which half of the group is "stood down" (asked to remain mute) every other week.

I hope this clarifies things.

Christopher Fearnley-Heppingstall (Director, TQA Unit)

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