KvaNT - Kvalitet i utdanning naturvitenskap og teknologi

Quality in tertiary STEM education

Creating consensus in education

Gareth Tribello, Queen's University Belfast


I want to state at the outset that I do not know how you should teach your classes.  Furthermore, I increasingly feel that the language that is used to extoll the virtues of blended, online, flipped or connected learning is not helpful.  It is unlikely that there will be a revolutionary change in the teaching methods used by universities any time soon.  I would argue, furthermore, that discussions premised on a belief that revolutionary change is on its way are just polarising debate and making everyone more anxious.   


There is a scene in the 2015 film the man who knew infinity which illustrates what progressives might argue is the problem with the teaching of STEM in many universities.  The film concerns the experience of Srinivasa Ramanujan, a brilliant Indian mathematician, who comes to Cambridge to study.  In the scene that stuck with me, Ramanujan is in a maths lecture watching one of the professors write equations on a blackboard.  Ramanujan is surrounded by students who are eagerly copying the equations from the board, but he is not.  The professor challenges him on this, and Ramanujan responds that he is enjoying what the professor has to say.  The professor responds by calling on Ramanujan to contribute something.  Ramanujan then writes the final solution to the problem the professor is solving on the board.  The professor, his pride hurt by being bested by his student, asks Ramanujan to stay behind after class and then scolds him using a racist epithet for what he has just done. 


Everyone knows that the teacher in this scene is a terrible human being.  It is thus not helpful to argue that colleagues are deliberately teaching in this way as no one believes wants to be seen in this way.  The fact remains, however, that even though they have the freedom to chose to teach in whatever way they think best many STEM academics still choose to teach maths by writing on a blackboard.  As they do this, students happily copy the information from the blackboard into their notes and tell us that they like being taught in this way.   In other words, although the pedagogical literature is filled with countless better methods for teaching, we continue to accept weak defences for using lectures, blackboards and the features of traditional university education.  Even now with the COVID-19 pandemic raging, my colleagues and the university are bending themselves over backwards to preserve the conventional lecture.  


The reason for all this, I believe, is that we are by nature conservative.  We teach in the way that we were taught and are suspicious of unfamiliar things.  Similarly, students want to be taught in ways that they have encountered elsewhere and do not particularly like to be challenged.  


Given this conservatism, then the language of change that is used to explain new pedagogical techniques is unfortunate.  In my seminar, I will discuss how this language has confused and undermined the transition to "connected learning" in response to the COVID-19 pandemic at my university.  I will then explain how we need to take a more measured approach that focusses less on the way we "teach" students.  I will argue that in many discussions about pedagogy, "teaching" is used as a synonym for instruction and that this is unfortunate.  When we focus less on how students are instructed, we allow ourselves to recognise that assessment is the most important educational activity that is going on in universities.  I will thus argue that it is only by relentlessly focussing on how students are assessed, that we can start to challenge the inherent conservatism of both students and colleagues. 

Ansvarlig for siden: Huru, Hilja Lisa
Sist oppdatert: 23.02.2024 14:52