DIY lectures a success

September 10, 1999

A psychology lecturer conducting a six-year-long experiment into the use of undergraduates as lecturers has concluded that this novel approach to teaching is extremely effective.

While admitting that some colleagues thought he was just being lazy, David Shaw of Central Lancashire University says feedback now reveals that 89 per cent of third-years taking part in the trial reported being "very satisfied" with the course. None of the students expressed any negative evaluations, according to Dr Shaw, and some said it was the best course they had attended on their entire degree programme.

"I am convinced the students are getting so much more from the course in terms of transferable skills, ownership of the learning process plus independent and deeper learning," he said. "They also seem to be having fun in the process." Dr Shaw dreamed up the idea - which involves students being actively involved in the selection of topics of study then researching and teaching them to each other - when he was asked to teach a new module in an unfamiliar field. "The students and I were learning the subject matter together," he said.

With the reassurance of failsafe guidance from their tutor, the students determine the syllabus and form teaching teams, identifying one topic per group.

Dr Shaw said he always went to classes with a prepared lecture up his sleeve but in six years he has only had to use it once. "In addition to teaching some of the chosen topics myself, my role focused more on acting as a facilitator for teams enabling them to deliver well-organised lectures with supporting handouts, slides and reference lists."

Dr Shaw said the student presentations were usually good, often excellent and stressed that no one was forced to take a presenter role against their will. Overall, the students produced imaginative demonstrations and learning support materials. For example, one team produced a custom-made video, another gave a demonstration of juggling to illustrate a point and a third, who was dealing with the subject of aggression in sport, arranged for a mock punch-up to break out in the lecture room.

On the downside, Dr Shaw said he had found it frustrating at times to be in the audience rather than presenting, particularly as he learned more about the new syllabus. He was also surprised by the extra administrative effort required to get the course organisation into shape. And there was a minority of students who complained that researching, preparing and delivering lectures was too demanding a way to learn.

"It was also true occasionally that student teachers were not particularly gifted communicators," Dr Shaw said. "However, this problem is not unheard of among lecturing staff."

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