Do students shun courses taught by ‘neurotic’ lecturers?

Study examines the personality traits in lecturers students most like and dislike

May 17, 2017
ignoring each other
Source: Rex

New research has revealed students’ preferences for their lecturers’ personalities: and if you are neurotic, disagreeable, closed off and unreliable, you may want to look away now.

We have heard recently of lecturers rating students; now students have got their own back. Looking at the “Big Five” personality traits – openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism – a survey of more than 260 students, from three London universities, found that conscientiousness was the most desired trait in lecturers.

This was followed by agreeableness, extroversion and openness. Unsurprisingly, neuroticism was the least desired trait for university teachers. The findings were recently published in the Journal of Further and Higher Education.

“Neuroticism (emotional instability) was unanimously reported to be the least-preferred trait in lecturers,” the research concluded. “Indeed, emotional stability in lecturers is highly prized by students. They want them to be resilient, able to cope with stress and stable as opposed to being moody.”

The study, “Students’ preferences for lecturers’ personalities”, added that this could have implications for teaching practice beyond the “personality-related behaviours” that students value.

The authors noted that many degree programmes offer elective modules outside core content and posed the question of whether student choices are made based on the topic of the module or the personality of the lecturer. If the latter, this could lead to an imbalance in some universities, with certain lecturers “assiduously sought out or avoided”, the paper suggested.


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Angela Mansi, co-author of the paper and senior lecturer in leadership and professional development at the University of Westminster’s business school, told Times Higher Education that at a time when students are paying high fees, lecturers who are open and extroverted are more and more popular among the student body.

“They’ll say: ‘that’s a great course’ or ‘she’s really funny’; ‘he’s really [agreeable]’,” she added. “If someone was really neurotic, moody or unreliable, it would impact on the way they were seen by students. It’s got quite a high importance because students are shopping around.”

Conscientious, agreeable and open lecturers are those that turn up on time, mark assignments and return them to students when they say they will, and put the student at the heart of the educational experience, according to the researchers.

“Conscientiousness provides that adult care, if you like,” Ms Mansi added. “That comes with providing a sense of safety, reliability.

“The converse would be neuroticism. Tutors who are neurotic [often display] anxiety, hostility, impulsive[ness]. They’re vulnerable and sensitive themselves. So students aren’t the prime focus for a neurotic tutor, the tutor is.”

What kind of personality traits did the researchers display? Ms Mansi noted that there were parallels in her own teaching, and that of her co-author, Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University College London.

“I am quite extrovert, so is Adrian, and we both put on a bit of an act; we like the interaction with the students,” she said. “We’ve noticed if we are acting the part, we’re [extrovert], we’re funny, that’s great, students like that; but it’s not the prime reason they choose someone.”

So is the ideal lecturer open, agreeable, amusing and wacky? Not quite, Ms Mansi said.

“I wouldn’t say wacky. Wacky can be quite exhausting for students,” she added.

john.elmes@timeshighereducation.com

 

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