Lectures lose student appeal

October 6, 2000

Like Paul Sander and Keith Stevenson ("How to save students from boredom", THES, September 29), we have been monitoring first-year university students' preferences for different teaching methods.

Last year, in conjunction with a five-yearly course redesign and revalidation, we asked students to recommend which teaching methods they would like to see in the new programme.

Our results are similar to those reported by Sander and Stevenson. The majority disliked formal lectures and liked interactive lecturing styles. Only 4 per cent requested greater use of formal lectures, compared with 62 per cent who wanted more interactive lectures. In some contrast with Sander and Stevenson's students, structured and self-directed forms of groupwork, student presentations and - yes - even role play were well received. Only a minority (less than 15 per cent in each case) recommended less use of these active learning approaches.

As suggested in the article, it is possible that students' choice of course and career aspirations affect their preferences for active or passive forms of learning. Our students are following BSc occupational therapy and physiotherapy programmes and are entering professions that will require a high level of interpersonal skills. Possibly the students more readily see value in peer-group work and students' presentations.

We also have a large number of mature students. Compared with school-leavers, the older students express somewhat more favourable attitudes towards learning through student presentations, guided and self-directed study, and seminar discussion.

Whereas Sander and Stevenson monitored students' expectations at the start of their courses, our evaluations were at the end of the first term. Positive seminar group experiences possibly shaped favourable attitudes towards role play, presentation and other active methods.

Sander and Stevenson raise the possibility of tailoring teaching methods to students' expectations. We provide an interprofessional module for about 200 therapy students and clearly cannot modify methods to suit each student. However, our evaluations have led to two conclusions: that students appreciate a diversity of methods and that their confidence in participating can be increased by sensitive tutors who foster a supportive, non-defensive climate in seminar groups.

Frances Reynolds (on behalf of Rachel Crookenden, Chris Thomson and the Year 1 interprofessional module team) Department of Health Studies Brunel University

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