Teaching: on the front line

April 23, 2004

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

Name: Peter Chevins

Age: 60

Job: Senior lecturer in biology and neuroscience; director of studies and finance manager, School of Life Sciences, Keele University.

Salary: Senior lecturer scale.

Qualifications: BSc zoology; PhD (Leeds University); higher education teaching certificate (SEDA).

Experience: Assistant lecturer, Glasgow University department of zoology, 1967-69; demonstrator, Newcastle upon Tyne University and the Dove Marine Laboratory, 1970-72; lecturer, then senior lecturer at Keele University since 1972; head of biological sciences, 1989-94.

Hours spent teaching: My formal contact hours are about 320 a year, and I spend about three hours on average in preparation and assessment for each contact hour, so this means about 1,200 teaching-associated hours. I teach on principal courses in biology, neuroscience and biomedical sciences and make small contributions in physiotherapy and medicine.

Hours on red tape: As chair of the teaching and learning committee, responsible for teaching quality throughout the school and for managing the school finances, most of the remainder of my time is spent on management and administration.

Hours on research: About 150 hours a year. My PhD student has just completed so I do little science research now. I have begun some research into teaching methods and student learning styles.

Teaching bugbear: Getting students to be actively involved. In seminars and tutorials I find it hard to generate discussion, and in lectures students too often take notes without thinking and then file them away until exam time.

How do you solve it? In small-group teaching, so much depends on the quality of the students: poor ones need prompting with specific questions.

In lectures, I have recently started giving prescribed reading with weekly tests to try to keep them learning all semester, not just cramming for exams.

Worst teaching moment: Whenever the projector displays inverted images, and the day when it had been stolen from its ceiling mounting and replaced with a 35mm projector.

Funniest: Lecturing on animal behaviour - the topic was mate choice and courtship - and by chance it was Valentine's day. I was interrupted by a student wanting to deliver a red rose to someone in class.

Teaching tip: Try to see the experience from the students' viewpoint, not your own. Is it interesting for them, and what will they gain from it?

Outside interests: Bowling leg-breaks and googlies - recently retired; badminton, gardening, walking, theatre and concerts.

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