Teaching: on the front line

September 26, 2003

What is your experience of teaching? Pat Leon asks teachers how they manage.

Name: Carole Roberts.

Age: 55.

Job: Professorial dean, faculty of business and informatics, and director, Higher Education Research Centre, University of Salford.

Salary: £51,000

Qualifications: BSc maths (Southampton); MSc mathematical statistics (Birmingham).

Experience: I taught mathematics, statistics and operational research at a London polytechnic, moved to a teacher-training college in Wales, then came to Salford in 1977, initially as a lecturer in quantitative business analysis.

Hours spent teaching: I am now involved only in postgraduate supervision.

Hours on research: Not enough. Some weeks it is impossible.

Hours on red tape: I am responsible for a £25 million devolved budget. My faculty comprises five schools. We have about 100 taught programmes with about 5,000 students from more than 75 countries and three internationally excellent research groups. Last year, I established Salford's Higher Education Research Centre. I spend much time in committees and other meetings but do not really regard this as red tape.

Teaching bugbear: Semesterisation. I was sceptical of its benefits and argued strongly against it. My fears were that it led to excessive workloads, over-assessment and encouraged a surface approach to learning.

The reality has not changed my view. Salford was widening access long before the latest government policies. The greatest challenge is how to respond to more diverse student learning needs. Widening participation will not be achieved until the students are retained and are successful.

Research indicates that some students take time to adapt to university.

Plunging them into large amounts of summative assessment soon after arrival does not help.

How would you solve it? Some universities are desemesterising. But, whatever the framework, we need to be more creative in curriculum design.

We also need more flexibility. For example, my art and design colleagues believe that short intensive periods of study work best for some modules, while humanities colleagues argue for modules spread over the year.

Teaching tips: Salford runs a number of projects to get to know our students better and identify factors that contribute to their success. One project is comparing schools that are improving retention with others where it is declining. One interesting result is that our improving schools tend to make all assessment count from the start. The early tasks count for little. This encourages students to take assessment seriously but means early difficulties need not have fatal consequences.

Career highpoints: Being awarded the Operational Research Society's President's medal; being submitted to the research assessment exercise 2001 with our information systems group, which rose from 4 to 5*. Organising, with Dorothy Oakey, Salford's inaugural Learning and Teaching Research Conference last month.

Outside interests: Governor of Eccles College. My two daughters. My husband and I are involved in our local church. We enjoy classical music concerts and camping in France - along with the wine.

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