Recipe for a firm student favourite

A new analysis claims to have uncovered what makes a great lecturer, writes Sarah Cunnane

July 15, 2010

Take one part educator and one part entertainer, throw in a dose of feedback and assessment and mix thoroughly.

Although it may seem impossible to quantify, academics think they may have discovered the recipe for what students believe to be the perfect teacher.

The formula, created by Mark Russell and Helen Barefoot of the University of Hertfordshire's Learning and Teaching Institute, is based on an analysis of more than 400 student submissions to the institution's annual Tutor of the Year award.

A ranking based on the number of times the most valued traits were mentioned shows that, unsurprisingly, "great teaching" is the most sought-after quality in a lecturer.

Less predictably, feedback and assessment was judged the least important of the ranked skills (see chart above). Mr Russell said that he had not been overly surprised by this outcome, but was pleased that students were discussing such issues positively.

Mark Israel, Winthrop professor of law and criminology at University of Western Australia and associate Fellow of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council, said the results accurately reflected the fact that students rarely talk about assessment and feedback, despite the crucial role it plays in the learning process.

"Students might need more help to see the role that assessment and feedback plays in their learning," he said. "Academics could also continue to be more imaginative and engaging in the way that they integrate assessment and feedback into their teaching."

The study also highlights the emerging importance of what it calls the "edutainer" - a teacher who is able to combine education and entertainment.

"It's not just about the member of staff having a sense of humour or being funny; it's about the education experience being enjoyable," Dr Barefoot said.

Professor Israel argued that this trend may in part be due to a decline in the attention span of students, which he said was "dropping in each successive generation".

He also pointed to the growing popularity among students of "infotainment" shows such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and QI as a possible explanation.

Mr Russell and Dr Barefoot plan to present their work at the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning conference in Liverpool in October.

"This isn't a discussion that's just going on in the UK," Dr Barefoot said. "There's been a lot of work internationally, particularly in Australia, on recognising and rewarding excellent teaching. This is something that people (around the world) are trying to define."

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