Overworked students suffer lower quality of learning

June 20, 2003

Students at Oxford University are so overworked that the quality of their learning may be damaged, according to a consultation document from Oxford's key educational policy and standards committee, writes Claire Sanders.

It recommends that students should not have more than one tutorial a week and should be taught in a variety of ways.

The growth in the number of tutorials students are expected to attend - a 46 per cent increase since the 1960s - along with an increase in seminars has meant that students have little time for reflection.

"Numerous review committee reports have identified the twin problems of overall growth in the demands on students and lack of coordination in teaching provision," the document says.

In particular, the document points to "tutorial overteaching", where tutors try to cram in factual content rather than using the tutorial to stimulate debate and independent thought. The paper argues that the tutorial is being used to make up for deficiencies in schools. It recommends that all students have a director of studies to coordinate their tutorial needs.

Learning and Teaching in the Collegiate University: Teaching Norms and Subject Families also draws attention to concerns about inequalities in teaching provision between different colleges. "This issue surfaced regularly in Quality Assurance Agency subject reviews, before its demise, making it difficult to represent the tutorial system and the associated quality assurance regime in unequivocally positive terms," it says.

It argues that graduate teaching and provision is neglected and proposes the development of college-based subject families that include tutorial fellows, postdoctoral students, research students, taught-course graduates and undergraduates in the same discipline as a way of properly integrating graduate students into college life.

"The college-based subject family could involve postdocs in access initiatives and the kind of career development opportunities envisaged in the Roberts report; it could provide research students with part of their supervisory team, structured opportunities to teach, and a chance to contribute to school liaison; it could give taught graduate students an intellectual dimension to their college life," it says.

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