Lecturers bored by lessons in teaching

April 22, 2005

Some young academics are so unimpressed by universities' attempts to teach them how to lecture that they are dismissing their training as a waste of time.

Lecturers, mainly those at the start of their careers, are encouraged and sometimes required to complete academic development courses in how to teach.

But many claim they are unnecessary because they already have teaching experience, that they add to already heavy workloads and that they take up time that might be better spent on research.

Joanna Bryson, a lecturer at Bath University's computer science department who completed a development course two years ago, said: "It's a huge issue.

It takes up more time than we have.

"It's not that you don't need people helping you out and showing you the ropes, but they are not used to teaching people who have PhDs. There's no other country in the world where you need another qualification to be an academic."

Dr Bryson said that there was often a wide range of staff, with different experience, on the same courses. "Imposing a uniform system is a mistake," she said.

Bath defended its course, saying it was committed to excellence in teaching and took the training of its probationary staff seriously. It had reviewed its scheme and made some changes such as dropping the number of modules lecturers needed to study. It was made more flexible to take into account existing experience.

Roman Belavkin, a senior lecturer at Middlesex University's School of Computer Science, is in the throes of a postgraduate certificate in higher education.

Dr Belavkin said: "My students are happy, my university is happy, my external examiners are happy, so why must I do this course? You can have fascinating academics who are great teachers without having a PGCHE."

The 2003 Higher Education White Paper said all new teaching staff would receive accredited training by 2006.

Most institutions run courses. There are 153 programmes at 120 institutions accredited by the Higher Education Academy. About two thirds of programmes lead to a PGCHE.

Dylan Evans, senior lecturer in intelligent autonomous systems at University of the West of England, was an experienced teacher before he become an academic. He holds a diploma in teaching and has taught English as a foreign language.

"None of this was taken into account when I started," he said. "Everyone hates the course but has to do it, which doesn't seem rational. It's not appropriate for those starting off with lots of research to get off the ground."

One academic from UWE's psychology department, who declined to be named, said: "The course is a bit of a joke, an initiation rite for those unable to worm their way out of it, which is ridiculous given the time pressures on lecturers."

Ron Ritchie, dean of education at UWE, said: "It is factually incorrect to state that everyone hates the course. We have considerable evidence that the programme is highly valued, that the content is appropriate and that the overall experience is positive in helping staff to develop their practice."

Sue Hallam, professor of education at the Institute of Education, said: "A lot of academics find it a burden because it's a taught course, but in order to be accredited, they have to be assessed."

Judy McKinn, the Higher Education Academy's senior registration and accreditation adviser, said: "I think universities need to think through the implications of programmes... It helps put teaching and learning on the agenda, but staff need to be supported."

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