June 1, 2007

The new age of higher education, with its vast increase in the numbers and types of students now mostly paying for their education, provides lecturers with daunting challenges. Student expectations of courses are higher than ever and academics, faced with the demands to produce good research as well as to fulfil their growing administrative and pastoral care duties, are struggling to meet these expectations.

This supplement is intended to help them. Our academic writers advise on how to cope with the growing workload, how to use the latest in technological innovations to hold students' attention in lectures and, crucially, how to ensure students engage in learning at a deep, life-changing level.

Lindsey Neville paints a sobering picture of what it is to be a front-line academic faced with the conflict between academic support and the pressure to be a personal tutor to students who may be failing to cope with the transition to university life. Staff are struggling "to be all things to all people" - researcher, media don, admin supremo, effective teacher and a shoulder to cry on. Therefore, says Wyn Grant in an extract from his new book, academics must learn when to say "No" to demands and must be supported by their universities' structures.

In this altered landscape, the challenge of teaching students who have grown up in a high-tech culture is addressed by Stella Cottrell and Alan Clarke. Cottrell advises how lecturers can adapt their teaching to the short-attention-span soundbite culture by using DVDs, audio and online resources to break up lectures and keep students engaged. Clarke gives us top tips on how to match e-learning to learning objectives, and he offers key advice on where to find the resources for this virtual world. Michael Kelly, meanwhile, provides a taste of the innovative changes in pedagogy in language teaching.

But all the resources and reading materials in the world are going to be of no use if the lecturer's message is being processed by students only on a surface level. Brian Greetham makes the radical claim that universities can turn literate school-leavers into illiterate graduates by failing to guide them in their learning. He suggests how to make students connect with ideas and express those ideas with fluency and passion. Claire Morris then takes us from words to numbers in discussing how tutors can replace students' inadequate mathematical skills with "dataracy", the ability to process numbers intelligently.

Lastly, in a piece on study skills, Gina Wisker examines how to imbue students with an awareness of just how they study, and she urges all tutors to become more involved in this fundamental area of learning.

So for overworked lecturers everywhere, this year's teaching supplement gives scope for reflection and the chance to be re-energised in what Wyn Grant views as potentially the most fulfilling of careers.

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