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A Call for Better Lecturers

Pema I’Anson expresses a desire for quality-checked lecturers.

So, St Andrews is supposed to be the best university in Scotland. Or something like that. All of these facts, figures, statistics. Since 1413 is emblazoned on every bloody thing in this university. And though it has been over 600 years since St Andrews began teaching, apparently we still have yet to figure out a way to ensure high teaching quality among lecturers.

Some of the lecturers I’ve encountered so far have been, honestly, abysmal. They mumble, they look at the ground, they don’t know how to move between slides on PowerPoint, they make mistakes in the information they’re giving – I could go on.

Yes, they’re academics. Academics are good at understanding, at reading, at studying, at writing horrendously long theses. Academics aren’t meant to be good at lecturing. Academics are, primarily, good at knowing about their chosen field of study. So, logically, because they know a lot about their topic they should be able to transmit their knowledge to the next generation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out like that. You can know a lot about something, even care a lot about something, but if you can’t lecture, you will be getting a lot of snoring in response. Sorry about that – to you, the particularities of Ancient Roman law codes might be fascinating, but for the rest of us, no thanks.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if my lecturers even care about what they’re talking about. Why employ someone to talk for an hour on a topic they don’t feel the remotest stirring for? How can we be expected to discover our passion for something if the person who’s telling me about it can’t even bring themselves to care? We can tell when the lecturer cares less than we do. It’s that dead-behind-the-eyes look, the I-signed-up-for-this-lecture-accidentally-and-I-regret-everything posture, the way the lecture ends twenty minutes early without even an “Any questions?”

To be fair to the lecturers: perhaps they have stage-fright, or are nervous speaking in front of crowds, or have never lectured before. Perhaps they are doing this to pay the bills, or they want to feel powerful, or they were threatened into it at gun-point.

Whatever it is, I feel like the University should at least provide some training in lecturing. (If they do already, my mistake, I couldn’t tell.) Lecturers should attend short courses in how to teach to a room full of half-asleep students, and then each should have to demonstrate their newly-learned skills to the others. This way, they could get feedback, and see what works well and what doesn’t, and most importantly, I feel like they would all have vastly improved computer skills. No more asking to the air, “How do I make this full-screen?” No more mumbling when someone yells they can’t hear you from the back of the room. No more lectures at a speed faster than the human hand can possibly move to write the relevant information down.

Please, St Andrews. If you want to maintain anything like the reputation you have now, begin to quality-check your lecturers. No matter how many books they’ve written, how many journals they’ve published, how many TV chat shows they’ve appeared on, that doesn’t mean they can teach. And in the end, that’s what we’re here for – to learn. So help us do that.


The views expressed in Opinion do not necessarily reflect the views of The Stand. 

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