Do University Lecturers Teach?

My undergraduate education began in 2002 when I enrolled in University College Dublin to study Gaeilge and Music (Information Studies during my first year). I only wish I had written this blog post or jotted down my thoughts on the topic of ‘Do University Lecturers Teach?’ back then as certain things get lost from memory to time.

What I do remember quite clearly though is bad teaching. This is not to suggest that every lecturer was bad at teaching, there were some inspirational ones, but the bad ones stood out then and still do now. How do I define a bad lecturer? I’ll confine this to my undergraduate experience as my postgraduate experiences were quite different.

A bad lecturer reads from the €70 book that is on the required reading list for the module. This can last for the full ‘lecture’ and offers no opportunity for engagement from the students, as well as no audio/visual aids or examples to enhance instruction.

A bad lecturer in a small group setting will make no effort to discuss the topic. To me a discussion is a conversation between two or more people. A bad lecturer’s view of teaching is talking from the top of his intellect with an expectation that students will learn something from this.

A good lecturer interacts. He asks relevant questions. He answers questions thoughtfully. He invites opinions. He invites disagreement. He invites debate. He invites correction! Fortunately, I got to see this in action on a few occasions.

I’m a firm believer that every third-level employee who has lecturing hours should be required to undertake a mandatory course in teaching/lecturing skills. Some universities offer such a course (UCDMaynooth; and there are probably more), however it is not a mandatory requirement for the lecturing staff.

I believe the outcomes of such a course for lecturers would be of most benefit to students in their first year of study. The transition from school to third level can be a tricky one for some, and if such people experienced good quality lecturing in the initial stages, the potential for dropping out could be lowered. There’s always the argument that the student in university is in charge of his own learning, and I agree to a point. But when there’s a job to be done by lecturers, it should be done properly, and not merely as an afterthought.

Mathematics in MIE – A Summer Course Review

Every year I make an effort to return to Marino Institute of Education to do one of their summer courses and I’ve always been impressed. Two of the courses I’ve been most impressed with have been Brendan Culligan’s ‘Learning Difficulties – Literacy’ and David Ruddy’s online ‘Teacher and the Law’.

This year I decided to do ‘Observing Teaching, Children and Mathematics’, with Dr. Seán Delaney as course tutor. I originally tried to enrol in this course 3 years ago but that particular course ended up not going ahead that year. This year I was delighted that it did. If you ever consider booking this course in the future, here are a few reasons why you should do it:

  1. Participants get to observe real teaching for 2 hours per day. For 1 hour before and 1 hour after, course participants discuss what’s to come and what has been observed. This is not a 20-hour course on the theory of teaching mathematics. It is theory in practice.
  2. There is as much focus on the teaching as there is on how each pupil learns. The fact that primary school pupils attend these sessions means that course participants can immediately take note of anything interesting to discuss or make comments on later in the day when the pupils have left.
  3. Course participants can contribute to what shape the following session may take by raising this during the final hour’s feedback session.

Our course tutor was quick to point out this was not to be seen as ‘model’ teaching, rather it was ‘public’ teaching. This is an important point in that this summer course is a teaching ‘lab’ of sorts, and that participants are free to question why the course tutor did what he did, in fact this was encouraged by our course tutor at the beginning of our first day. We also had opportunities to discuss the pupils’ reactions to Seán’s various approaches to the topics taught throughout the week and how we thought they learned best.

What I noticed most from this course was that the tutor strongly encouraged ‘mathematical thinking’ amongst the primary school pupils present. There was very little ‘instructing’ them how to do something and the majority of the pupils’ learning came from their own discovery through collaboration, discussion and investigation. It would be safe to say that the course tutor allowed the pupils to do most of the talking. The massive benefit of this was that through the development of mathematical thinking skills, they could use this way of thinking to apply to future mathematical problems, as opposed to memorising something that they were being ‘taught’ by the simplest (and worst) of methodologies – explanation. Memorising something is very unreliable and does not encourage real mathematical thinking and problem-solving skills.

I would highly recommend this summer course to absolutely any primary school teacher. It is not something that could be done online, the benefits of this course can only be realised through an onsite environment. You’ll learn the foundations of mathematics knowledge and methodologies during your initial teacher training, but you’ll learn a great deal more about how children learn mathematics if you sign up to this course. It’s definitely worth it.

CPD in Marino Institute of Education