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Teaching and Students - I feel like crying!!

(49 Posts)
berryupset Thu 19-Oct-17 15:37:41

Hi all, so I'm an SL currently teaching a module to over 300 first year students. I have worked so hard over the summer on turning round this module, which essentially has been failing. I think it's well organised now and although I have to deliver certain content which is quite theoretical, I have tried to make that content as relevant and interesting as possible.

I feel at the moment as though nothing is good enough for the students. I have basically given them the answer to their first formative assignment, but they still say they don't know how to do it. They say that they do not have enough support or contact hours, but routinely turn up to seminars having not done the reading. (So far today, I have had 60 students of which about three have prepared). They seem to want their hand held on absolutely everything, in a way that I can't sustain. Last week they had one section of a journal article to read. They complained that it was too hard. This week I've given them something much more accessible and, as I say, almost nobody has read it. I could go on ....

I feel that their expectations are to be taught as they were at school, which is completely unsustainable when the course is designed for so many students, and meanwhile the pressure from the university to meet their unrealistic expectations is very heavy. One other problem I have is that I don't have control over the seminar teachers on my module (who often are inexperienced and in some cases not very good) but do have to take full responsibility for the feedback the module receives.

I don't know what I'm expecting back here - I'm just demoralised I guess and wanting to vent! Anyone experienced anything similar?

try2hard Thu 19-Oct-17 20:33:25

I'm having exactly the same issue. Students point blank refuse to read journals saying they're too difficult. We had a talk about student experience recently and that basically said that a good idea would be to provide them with video summaries of the papers they're required to read hmm

I agree it's unsustainable, the whole student satisfaction metric is ridiculous. I'd be satisfied if I ate cake all day but it doesn't mean it's good for me! cake

Summerswallow Fri 20-Oct-17 08:01:36

That sounds awful. Are they 'ahem', not the best students or something? We have a course which isn't the most demanding to get into (RG) but populated by students with mid-level results, and they still read academic papers, chapters and so on. There's no short cut to that, that's just part of what they have to do (read academic things and not blogs/BBC websites!)

The not reading thing and poor attendance at seminars- I feel your pain, I just keep thinking I'm providing high quality education for those that want it and the rest, well that's up to them. It is frustrating though- but I think expectations are kept reasonably high in the dep't as a whole and so students do feel stupid if they haven't read anything, that said, I do structure it so they can 'catch up' or put those that have read in with those that haven't in groups, so they all work together to work out the meaning of a paper or two in an hour class. So, if they haven't read both papers one week, no biggie.

Some of my colleagues mark participation at 10%- that means showing up, reading, and often writing a short precis of the piece. That gets them focused, but probably isn't appropriate in large first year classes where you aren't delivering the seminars yourself/have oversight.

Sounds awful, I don't think I have an ideal solution, except to keep saying 'you are at university now, you need to be able to read academic articles and books, that's it, now crack on!' Don't get rattled, don't dumb it down further this is just first year flapping and anxiety (esp high achieving students can spend more time being anxious and flapping at you than actually get on with reading). Set the right work, offer office hours/time to ask questions and mark accordingly. If they can't read a journal article at all by the end of the first year, they can't do the second year, can they?

CiderwithBuda Fri 20-Oct-17 08:06:58

I haven't been to uni and am obv not a teacher or lecturer but I would go into your next session and tell them in no uncertain words that they are not still at school, this is university, they don't get their hands held, they are pointed to th information, they are told what to read and they need to actually read it, if they don't actually do any preparation and do the reading required they will fail.

How the bloody hell did they get in to uni in th first place???

GuntyMcGee Fri 20-Oct-17 08:19:27

Are you any to introduce a problem based learning approach to sort of the module? Put the ball back into their court.

Part of the issue is the difference between school children being taught and given information and adults being expected to actively find information and learn it.

This early in the semester is it possible to go back to basics and stating 'rules':
I.e. Participate in class; do the set pre reading before class; if you're struggling, ask for support early so that it can be given.

Talk to them about the difference between pedagogy and andragogy and how as an adult learner they need to take responsibility of their own learning.
If something it not at their level to contact you for support rather than just not bothering.

Maybe a PBL session with feedback to the group would give them the kick up the butt needed to realise that they have to participate.

Summerswallow Fri 20-Oct-17 08:29:43

I also think that they are bewildered that they are in classes of 300 which is ridiculously large, they probably were in far less and far more responsive teaching groups at A level, and whilst they should be becoming autonomous learners etc this need help in the early stages, help they aren't going to get in this huge and anonymous classes. So- they take out their worries and frustrations at the cattle-like cramming of them on courses where they feel like a number and now their money is handed over, there's not much to support them.

This may not apply if it's a course which genuinely one in which large numbers won't matter (e.g. stats course which is taught traditionally) but in my social science sector, the management are constantly mystified that despite tinkering around the edges with flipped classrooms (which are very hard for the not so good/students who come late to the autonomous learning party) and tutoring, the NSS results are terrible. They can't understand that just doubling or trebling numbers in a few years, breaking down the ability of lecturers to know their students, making them fight for a space in a library to learn, taking away departmental space and leaving them with 'pods' where no-one can tell who else is on their course (so lacking community), and making them feel like a learning sausage in a learning sausage factory having paid 9K might all then make the students pissed off- and the only outlet for this frustration is to moan to the first-year teacher in front of them about 'how hard 'it all is.

It's probably nothing to do with you, or the course. They are dissatisfied and you are an outlet for that.

Asking students to read a journal article, then come ready to discuss is not some enormous departure from what we've been doing for the last 100 years- I'd structure the seminars with the assistants very carefully though, as it may be with tinkering with them you can get them to work through papers together, with support, as their powers of discussion will be sorely lacking if they haven't read them.

GalaVanting Fri 20-Oct-17 08:40:38

OP totally feel for you. I’m a mature student in well-known distance learning uni on a popular course. I was at a RG uni about 20 years ago for first degree on a v unpopular course.

I’m SHOCKED at what first years this time round were complaining about. There’s a massive sense of entitlement stemming mainly from them seeing themselves as consumers of a service, rather than students. Telling them this isn’t school and they need to actually do some things themselves is simply not possible because then they’ll leave negative feedback.

The course is for a profession that will require postgrad study. In my opinion the learning materials are exceptionally well put together (and I used to edit learning materials in another life). There was complaint online that the course materials and tutors were going to stop people (1st years, remember) doing postgrad study because they hadn’t made them interesting enough!! They were being stopped from reaching their dreams because they had to study research methods and/or statistics! They were deadly serious and indignant! And honestly, the materials have been put together in a way that drier areas have flesh on them, are made relevant to daily life and accessible to people who are not so mathematically inclined.

Assessments have extensive written guidance, not just a line of an essay title and you do the rest - even the relevant book chapters are indicated as well as what the markers are expecting!! And they’re still complaining that there’s not enough support (tutors can be contacted any time too).

And there’s always someone commenting along the lines of “I’m paying for this” or “You deserve more, you have a right, you’re paying for this”. Always.

So very long, but the culture has totally changed and universities and individual teaching staff are running scared of negative reviews. I’ve no idea really what is the solution (apart from abolishing fees) but really pity teaching staff.

GalaVanting Fri 20-Oct-17 08:43:33

Just to add about being in an unpopular course last time round was that it was a small department and they therefore had much more opportunity to hold our hands, but they didn’t.

Summerswallow Fri 20-Oct-17 08:49:27

If it's a stats or research methods modules, students moan endlessly on those, and the evaluations are always lower. No-one is penalized in our dept for taking on those courses and teaching them well! So, even if the evaluations aren't that good compared with say the sexy fun courses on trivial topics, that wouldn't matter to the staff. We understand that the courses on less popular/harder/stats have to be delivered and they typical rank a whole point (in our assessment system) below other courses. The teacher who manage to get most of the class to pass, and do a good job despite the histrionics, are well regarded. No-one would take the module evaluations at face value. I've taught them!

berryupset Fri 20-Oct-17 08:51:23

Thanks so much for replying everybody, it helps to have some support.

It's just so very demoralising. I totally agree with the point that the class size is way too big - it's actually closer to 400. The university management do this because our department is a big cash cow for the whole institution, enabling much smaller departments to stay open - they are constantly pushing us to up our numbers further, with very little additional resource. What is so frustrating is that inevitably we get poor NSS scores as a result, but rather than acknowledging a problem with numbers, this is blamed on the fact that we are poor teachers. So we have to put this emphasis on student satisfaction metrics that are impossible to deliver, and the students are supported in their complaints by the university when, in my view, the university (and wider system) is largely responsible for the problem in the first place.

Having said which, while I do have some sympathy with the students, they do seem to have completely lost sight of the fact that they are paying to be educated (and that this requires their own input), they are NOT paying for a degree. But then this also is not helped because we have had rampant grade inflation here, so in essence, it is possible to do very little and still leave with a respectable degree. Although the university is not RG, it is reasonably well ranked. Nevertheless, too many of the students I teach ultimately probably will not benefit from a university education. That's not a criticism of them, but of the system.

Aaaaaaargh.

Postagestamppat Fri 20-Oct-17 09:06:14

I feel your pain and also a huge sense of guilt. I am a teacher in an expensive independent school. I learnt the hard way that I was expected by students, parents and management to spoonfeed the students if I wanted to keep the prestigious post-18 teaching. I teach abroad where coursework is part of course and have had parents come in to argue over marks on behalf of their children. I cringe when I think of the attitudes of these students when they go to university.

It sounds as if you are doing enough for them. Although I have found that this entitled attitude isn't really placated with help and support. They tend to moan more and try to push the boundaries even more. I think whinging just comes with the job.

But thanks for making me re-think my approach.

ArbitraryName Fri 20-Oct-17 09:34:59

I was in classes of 300 as a first year undergrad. It was absolutely fine and didn’t seem to bother any of us.

My students are exactly the same. They are completely unwilling to read a journal article. Even the third years won’t/can’t do it. They won’t even try. I can guarantee that less than 15% of the students will have done any preparation for a class (and that’s 15% of those who turn up, which is nowhere near all of them).

I hate seminars. The students always say they want more small group teaching but, when you give them it, almost none of them turn up and those that do are unwilling to do any work. So I end up doing an enormous amount of work for no value whatsoever. Flipping the classroom doesn’t work because they won’t even do so much as watch a video in their non-class time.

Admittedly, our entry requirements are in UCAS points. So even where it appears that we have high-ish points tariffs, it’s usually BTECs etc. And it appears to be BTECs where the tutors have basically written the assignments for the students and the apparent distinctions are the result of resits and represent the work of the teacher not the student. This means that they are wildly unrealistic about assessment and get very angry at the idea that they need to think for themselves about how to respond to a task. It’s frustrating because, if they had done the reading and even just attended the actual classes, it would be really obvious how they could respond to the task. Instead they moan and complain that they’re expected to do anything at all.

I know my teaching is effective because the small numbers of students who do attend and who do the work produce genuinely excellent work. But I fail large numbers of students too because I not willing to do it for them (or to pass incomprehensible work based on a website, what their mum says and their personal opinion).

It’s very frustrating. If only the powers that be in my university could recognise that student satisfaction in our courses is usually inversely related to the quality of the provision.

berryupset Fri 20-Oct-17 09:40:42

Don't feel guilty postage. And glad it's not just me arbitrary. I think I need to develop a thicker skin somehow and let it flow over my head - but difficult when you know that management will be all over you when they consider your feedback scores are too low. We have to write a bloody letter to management explaining this now! God, the things I could write in that letter. Maybe I will.

ArbitraryName Fri 20-Oct-17 10:02:10

I have to write a report complaining the low feedback scores on one of my modules last year. The scores are actually highly polarised and the low skew appears to be the result of a highly personal social media campaign by the (very problematic) class rep who appears to think that 10 hours of assignment support time in a 20 credit module is not enough. This included a 2 hour seminar where we planned out responses to the assessment task using two articles (that none of them read, so they couldn’t do the task), a Q&A session, highly directed peer feedback sessions, and the chance for individual tutorials). Apparently there was no support at all on the module and it made all the students ‘anxious’. And we’re mean and nasty as well apparently.

This was exacerbated by my deeply irritating colleague (in a pointless and minor ‘leadership’ role) who undermined me and the other tutor on the module with the students at every turn. She even forced us to put on an additional 2 hour session (so they got 12 hours!) because we have to respond if students use the trigger word of anxiety.

If the union weren’t completely useless where I am, I think I’d be talking to them about it. I’m pretty sure that the complaining students don’t like me (and my colleague) because we’re Scottish and women. Having a different accent means that no matter how kind or supportive we are, a group of the students will always claim we’re nasty. I’ve had peer review that confirms that I am not nasty too them (and I video recorded the sessions they complained about, which colleagues have confirmed are completely fine - including the external examiner). But still every year I am forced to deal with FB fuelled accusations that I’m horrible to them and a dreadful person from a (not insignificant) group of students.

I have never had this before in other posts. But it’s definitely an issue here and I’m getting increasingly cross about it, especially when some colleagues deliberately undermine me and exacerbate the issue (simply because they cannot bear to be anything other than the difficult students’ favourite lecturer).

Summerswallow Fri 20-Oct-17 10:08:00

Arbitary that sounds awful. I do think possibly contacting the union is the way to go- do you have a rep you could chat with as a starting point.

The one thing I am grateful for at our institution is that the lecturers still back each other! So, the director of education will come in behind the lecturer in a complaint unless there was really clear evidence of poor/very bad teaching. Sometimes it seems to me complaints are a function of all types of things, general dissatisfaction, individual student struggling to cope (we had one serial complainer for years and years, it was always personal there were never any witnesses to any of the insults/slights) as well of course of justified dissatisfaction.

That's not to say if a course has low module evaluations, it's ok- but they seem to see it as a collective responsibility to solve this and I don't think individual blame is attached in the same way.

Our students definitely read journal articles from day one. I expect 10 or more academic refs per essay, and additional reading for higher marks, all from academic journals.

I don't think our students are the absolute best, now I am starting to wonder!

ArbitraryName Fri 20-Oct-17 10:30:59

Unfortunately the two union reps in our department are two of the most toxic people you’ve ever met. There’s absolutely no way you’d take an issue to them.

It would be ok if the stance was to support your colleagues as a default, and certainly to present a united front in relation to student complaints. But that definitely isn’t what happens. And the difficult students know it. So they won’t actually complain to you at all, or to the programme leader (who will tell them they have to speak to you). They’ll seek out one of the underminers and tell them how awful and unfair you are. The worst colleague I have responded to a complaint from a student whose essay we failed last year by looking at her essay, saying she would have passed it (despite it not answering the question or having any appropriate references) and that ‘the procedure’ in these cases is to go back to the marker, put your point across and try to persuade them to change the mark. She then pretended that she hadn’t looked at it when we asked her. It’s a nightmare but the leadership team in the department (actually the whole university) are chocolate teapot-like.

So instead I am working on my exit plan to try to get a job at one of the other universities in the area. Obviously no workplace is perfect, but this is particularly horrendous. And I know for a fact that the students at both of these universities are far better than the ones I teach (still demanding but they actually do work).

Summerswallow Fri 20-Oct-17 10:36:30

I think your plan to get out sounds sensible- this sounds like a nightmare place to work and it isn't like that everywhere. We have heavy teaching workloads compared with some RG places, but the support and admin is there which makes it just bearable.

geekaMaxima Fri 20-Oct-17 10:46:17

flowers OP, I feel for you. The students at a previous institution of mine were entitled little shits like yours but they're inexplicably less whiny where I am now despite having similar entry requirements and backgrounds. It makes me think it's a cultural thing within the course/university, where they egg each other on to demand ever more pandering.

One "setting expectations" idea that's doing the rounds is to drum into them that a place at university is like gym membership. Paying for gym membership won't make you fit: you still have to turn up and work hard. The harder you work, the fitter you get. A top gym gives you access to world class equipment and personal trainers, but it's up to you to make use of them. No one else can exercise for you. If you're a member of a fabulous gym but don't ever go there to work out because it's "too hard", then that's your decision but it's a foolish waste of a great opportunity.

I tell my students something like the above and I like to think it helps, but who knows? confused

berryupset Fri 20-Oct-17 11:32:04

I like that analogy geeka - maybe I will try that. The only trouble at my institution is that it's a magical world in which lack of effort can lead to decent results due to aforementioned grade inflation. Not cheating exactly so not a very good analogy but I guess we could think of as the equivalent of steroids in this instance?!

try2hard Sat 21-Oct-17 07:35:37

My issue is I teach 3rd years so the damage has seemingly been done by the school's culture before the get to me. I ask them to read a journal and use citations in their assignment and they are literally astounded by this and can't understand why I don't accept websites/blogs as evidence confused

try2hard Sat 21-Oct-17 07:45:03

We have a lot of students with 'anxiety' too. No, that's just the general sensation of having things to do!

CommonFishDiseases Mon 23-Oct-17 21:46:23

Following for advice.... I am a new Associate Lecturer/Seminar Tutor (PhD student), my students don't read anything before the seminars... how are they supposed to answer the discussion questions?! I don't know how to handle them. They just sit there in silence or look it up on their phones. It's very pointless and depressing.

ArbitraryName Mon 23-Oct-17 21:54:18

I have taken to sending them away to use the seminar time to read the article and try to answer the questions themselves.

It is absolutely depressing but I refuse to take on all the responsibility for summarising the reading and the key points for them.

berryupset Tue 24-Oct-17 10:38:29

Glad it's not just me ... well wish it was in one sense. I have done exactly that arbitrary previously. Towards the end of term or when there's assignments due, I end up getting almost no students. But then the sessions are quite productive and I tell the students who do turn up that they are getting a very high quality experience!

CommonFishDiseases Wed 25-Oct-17 11:02:42

Minor success this morning with my students....! Explained about why we read - having informed vs uninformed opinions, need to properly reference key points in essays rather than using Wikipedia, etc etc. Ditched the original discussion questions which there's no way they would have been able to answer without proper reading (which they haven't) and went for easier questions about their own experiences, which seemed to get them more engaged and made the subject feel a little more real and not so dry. I know we can't carry on like that for the whole course, but it felt positive for today at least.

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