Students ‘underestimate time required for class preparation’

Large-scale study at a top Danish university reveals mismatch between student and teacher expectations around learning

December 20, 2016
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Opposite views: ‘Most students are thinking they are doing a good job, but it is clear that teachers do not agree,’ explained the study’s co-author, Hanne Balsby Thingholm

Many students do not realise that they are unprepared for class because teachers do not make their expectations about learning explicit enough, a study suggests.

Based on a survey of 1,410 undergraduates at Denmark’s Aarhus University, nearly three-quarters of students (72 per cent) said that they were well prepared for their lessons.

However, when their teachers were asked about the same students, just 43 per cent felt that these undergraduates had prepared well for their lessons, according to the study, which was presented at the Society for Research into Higher Education’s annual research conference, which took place in Wales earlier this month.

Less than half the teachers surveyed (283 in total across nine subject areas) agreed that their students submitted thoroughly worked-through assignments, even when 83 per cent of students thought that they had done so, the study adds.

“Most students are thinking they are doing a good job, but it is clear that teachers do not agree,” explained the study’s co-author, Hanne Balsby Thingholm, assistant professor in education at Aarhus’ Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media.

The wide disparity in teacher and student ratings at Aarhus, one of Denmark’s top-ranked universities, pointed to a lack of effective communication between educators and learners, Dr Balsby Thingholm told Times Higher Education.

“Teachers need to be more explicit about what they expect from their students,” she said.

“It should not be up to students alone to figure out these expectations for themselves,” she added, saying that more time should be devoted to conversations about how undergraduate study differed from other levels of education.

According to the survey, 68 per cent of students felt that they were good at organising or structuring their study time, but just 51 per cent of teachers agreed with this statement.

“Teachers need to think not just about what they are teaching, but whether their students learn how to study,” said Dr Balsby Thingholm.

The study is likely to have implications for the international learning gain agenda, with some potential metrics for the UK’s teaching excellence framework relying on students’ own assessments of their key skills and competencies.

It supports the notion that students’ self-assessments are inherently unreliable after a study at Sapienza University of Rome found that 80 per cent of students overestimated their abilities.

Dr Balsby Thingholm said that the latest study was not about determining whether Aarhus had good teachers or lazy students, but why their respective expectations were not being met, she added.

For instance, 89 per cent of teachers felt that they had set clearly defined learning goals, but only 59 per cent of students agreed that this had happened, she explained.

“It is not enough for teachers to simply formulate learning goals – they need to discuss them with students,” said Dr Balsby Thingholm.

“If students understand what their lecturers want to achieve with them and how they will develop their skills, then it will help students to develop their own learning strategies,” she added.

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