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How to find out teaching/contact time for uni courses?

(26 Posts)
zamantha Tue 09-Jul-13 13:18:52

I'm helping my DS look at courses on the web in his chosen discipline.

Was horrified to hear friend's daughter at highly regarded course ( diff. choice to my DS) at Birmingham has hardly any lectures or tutorials. Students complain - no real change, slight concession.

Back in the day, I had a full timetable.

My Ds will need some structure - how do we find out about their teaching timetables?

zamantha Thu 11-Jul-13 11:52:15

All very interesting - thank you. I'm afraid I have not been convinced by all the arguments although all so well put and I want to be understanding of hard pressed lecturers.

Luckily, my DS wants to do Engineering where timetabling appears to be different. Although, my DD will probably choose a discurssive degree of some type (a few years away yet) and I will have to help her look closely at info. provided.

thanks to alreadytaken - when I have time I will look at this website.

Xenia Thu 11-Jul-13 08:37:22

My daughter (Bristol) had 8 hours a week and had a very good time and got a very good job (over £80k in her 20s). It depends on the subject. Some young people can work well alone doing their own research.

On engineering my other daughter's friend read it at Oxford [[]] I am sure engineering is a lot more contact time than subjects like history.

I would go for the best university she can possibly get into and not worry about contact time.

alreadytaken Wed 10-Jul-13 18:03:59

the open university provides a wide range of courses and many people live close enough to a university town to access the library. For 9k in fees you want a bit more than telling the student to read a lot and write essays that may or may not get meaningful feedback. Zamantha you've already been given a link to the student room but they have an engineering forum here

You could write what I know about engineering on a stamp but if you start a specific thread there will be people on mumsnet who do know about it. Has he decided what type of engineering?

EduCated Wed 10-Jul-13 17:54:55

Variable development is why my university offered study skills sessions through the library and academic support services, why they had subject advisors who you could go and see to help you develop your research skills. All our lecturers had office hours where we could go and see them about our assignments.

What I'm trying to say is that formal contact time isn't necessarily a measure of support and engagement.

UptheChimney Wed 10-Jul-13 17:54:49

Exactly, mummytime That's why creamteas response upthread is the most sensible thing said on this thread. And why all of us experts always say that "value for money" isn't a simplistic equation of hours/fees. That is reductive and insulting to the expertise offered to students, and the complexity of what the university experience as a whole offers a student.

And why AnythingNotEverything's response is also so interesting, and a really useful way of looking at things.

But this thread makes me think further about this whole [mis]understanding about independent learning and so on ...

One of the things we are trying to teach/have students learn** is how to work independently. So, at some point, they will have to work independently. It's difficult. Deep learning (cognitive change) is damn difficult. It's hard, we make mistakes (I make mistakes all the time & I'm a senior professor), we learn by not succeeding. Fail again, and fail better, as Beckett said (well, one of his characters, actually).

So at what point do we require/teach/facilitate independent learning? It has to be done at some point, and in my view, the earlier the better. I really think that parents worrying about "value for money" really need to think about this. It's what will get their children jobs, and move their children into adulthood. There was a very wise post on another thread in here about the duty of a parent to facilitate this.

**and there's a difference between teaching and learning, a big difference!

mummytime Wed 10-Jul-13 17:37:55

But Engineering is a very different subject to English.
I would be shocked if any Engineering (or Science) Degree was only offering 8 hours contact time a week; unless you are excluding lab time because they are supervised more by technicians, or research projects (supervised by post-grads).

UptheChimney Wed 10-Jul-13 17:27:25

I know the course you speak of, zamantha extremely well -- I've been an external expert on evaluating its quality over several years -- and I think that your friend's daughter probably did not take advantage of all that was offered. It is a general problem raised each year that students do not use office hours or progress tutorials. And going by posts on here, that's a fairly general problem.

But at 3rd year level, a student reading English should be doing a lot of reading: in my degree, we read about 3 novels a week (although they let us have two weeks to cover Clarissa). I could get narky about the way that schools prepare pupils for university, but actually, I do understand a lot of the pressures that schools operate under.

And if students aren't able to study independently by the end of 1st year, they're not ready for university, frankly.

zamantha Wed 10-Jul-13 16:57:29

Thank you for your post anythingNE,

I do not want to diminish your experience, clearly what works for some is not for all and it must be true some students want to do mostly independent study.

AnythingNotEverything Wed 10-Jul-13 16:44:23

I hate to get all existential about this, but it may depend on what your son (or you?) wants to get from a degree.

Your degree is just a number on a piece of paper really, but the skills you learn during your degree are the ones which set you up for a long and successful career.

Less contact time also allows you time for part time work, volunteering, and society activities.

I resent your statement that I was robbed because I only had 8 hours contact per week. I received excellent quality teaching, and studied subjects which were heavy on reading and independent research, the resources for which were available on campus.

zamantha Wed 10-Jul-13 16:35:00

I thought I would inspire a rant! I do passionately believe that sometimes people/professionals think all students at 18 are able/should be able to support their own studying and they are not and should not - development is variable.

I teach English and Drama- I have worked in all manner of schools, much time is spent on independent learning skills as a school and a department - very much part of the ways schools prepare students now and they (the students) can all do it to varying degrees. The degree my friend's daughter is on is also English and Drama and she has hardly any contact time with professionals - I think it is wrong. I am entitled to my opinion and will help my DC choose differently. In other words, a course which is rich in lectures and seminars.

At uni, I studied well in to the night but by day I was highly stimulated by excellent lectures, seminars/tutorials and practical workshops - reading was part of my study, being engaged by professionals was nearly as equal a part.

I want my DS to have structured sessions and so he can feel confident he knows what to do by himself - have to add he has a history of SEN and is doing very well but organisation is still developing.

Thank you for all your posts.

EduCated Wed 10-Jul-13 16:10:49

If I could like your posts, UpTheChimney, I would.

An hour tutorial with my lecturer was probably worth about 5 lectures. They would happily and regularly provide this.

UptheChimney Wed 10-Jul-13 13:43:24

Now, rant over, and back to your question about finding out about teaching practices.

Can I suggest you ask at Open Days? But that you ask in a way that is productive. As creamteas says, simply asking for the raw "face time" figure is actually not very useful. Take notes (or better still have your DS take notes!) when the presentation at Open Day goes through the typical course structure for the degree DS is interested in.

At all the universities I've taught at, we have several PowerPoint slides, and information on our website, about the course structure -- down to the compulsory and optional modules likely to be required/offered. And you'd be surprised how little notice intending students take of that detail -- but that's where you'll find your answers.

Ask about styles and modes of teaching. There might be 8 hour labs, with minimal supervision, or 40 in a lab with a wandering PhD student as tutor. Or there may be a one-hour one to one tutorial. Now on a simplistic "contact hours" model, the timetable with an 8 hour lab might look "better value" but is it really? I know in my subject, an hour one to one is very intense. I do 90 minutes routinely with PhD students, and 40 minutes routinely with undergrad dissertators, and I push them. (I joke that if they survive supervision with me, the viva will be easy!)

So a tutorial for 1 hour may actually be "better value" in terms of active learning.

UptheChimney Wed 10-Jul-13 13:35:31

Have to say 8 hr teacher contact time a week - you were robbed - not value for money. And for some students a disaster if they are still developing their independent learning skills as many are

How do you know that's not value for money? In my field, students need to do at least 3 hours of independent work for each hour of contact with staff. They have around 10-12 hours pw in 1st year, so that's a 40 hour week. And the really successful ones do rather more.

In my field they do a lot of reading of primary sources. I could add 16 hours pw of "contact time" if I scheduled 2 x 8 hour days in a lecture theatre where we all sat and read the texts for the next week.

But that would be silly.

You say that as a grammar school teacher you feel your opinion has validity -- I might think better of your opinion if you also spoke about what you actually do as a grammar school teacher to develop your pupils' independent learning skills, which you acknowledge are sometimes not as develped as they could or should be.

If there's one thing that pupils intending to become university students, their parents, and their school teachers should understand, it's that university s not school.

Thing is, this society -- employers, parents, educators, business people -- keep on saying and saying that they want graduates with transferable and employable skills, knowledge, and abilities.

How about letting us academics -- the experts at university teaching -- get on with facilitating undergraduates in acquiring and developing those transferable and employable skills, knowledge, and abilities?

zamantha Wed 10-Jul-13 13:24:31

Thank you for all your advice.

KIS stats really helpful as proved my hunch about a course - if you can take them too seriously!

Have to say 8 hr teacher contact time a week - you were robbed - not value for money. And for some students a disaster if they are still developing their independent learning skills as many are - must confess experienced A'level teacher in a grammar school so I feel my opinion has some validity.

However, don't want to skew the thread - what more can I do to find out about quality of course?

thanks to all so far.

EduCated Wed 10-Jul-13 10:46:49

Agree, it's quality, not quantity. Helpful lecturers who respond to emails and have plenty of office hours but low official contact time are far better than lecturers with lots of contact time but who are unhelpful and unresponsive.

Independent learning and research is a huge and important part of university.

alreadytaken Wed 10-Jul-13 07:19:08

have a look at the student satisfaction ratings. You can be on a course with a lot of contact time but have terrible teaching, limited feedback and a higher than normal failure rate in exams. If students are happy with the quality of what they get quantity is less important.

Timetables are sometimes posted on noticeboards of the corridors where tutors have their rooms - but you may need someone to explain them to you (they can cover more than one group on a large course). If you go before the open day subject lecture and photograph them you can always ask questions after the lecture.

creamteas Tue 09-Jul-13 17:13:31

The problem is with this question is that it can be difficult to answer.

On our courses we can give accurate information about the first year, but after that it is more difficult as we have lots of options and the contact varies because of this.

That's way the KIS data is pretty worthless, it gives an average of a typical pathway but that is not very helpful.

AnythingNotEverything Tue 09-Jul-13 16:19:23

Oops - sorry for the double post!

AnythingNotEverything Tue 09-Jul-13 16:07:28

Different subjects train you in different skills. I did politics and German. Was on campus for about 8 hours a week, but did about 25 hours per week at home or in the library, plus I wrote 25000 words' worth of essays each year.

But, a politics degree is meant to train you in skills like analysis and independent thought - this can't be done in a classroom.

Some courses are 9-5 mon-fri with no other work.

The course tutors will make this very clear at the beginning of the course, and also at open days. It's not all about contact time.

AnythingNotEverything Tue 09-Jul-13 16:06:05

Different subjects train you in different skills. I did politics and German. Was on campus for about 8 hours a week, but did about 25 hours per week at home or in the library, plus I wrote 25000 words' worth of essays each year.

But, a politics degree is meant to train you in skills like analysis and independent thought - this can't be done in a classroom.

Some courses are 9-5 mon-fri with no other work.

The course tutors will make this very clear at the beginning of the course, and also at open days. It's not all about contact time.

eatyourveg Tue 09-Jul-13 15:55:44

Southampton would be where I would look then. Excellent reputation for Engineering.

On the open days we went to, some of the talks included a powerpoint slide of a typical timetable. You may have to ask each place individually or try browsing here to see if there is a similar question on one of the threads. Its a great site for getting info

zamantha Tue 09-Jul-13 15:38:40

You are a star eatyourveg - great website. Still doesn't quite specifically answer my question though and wonder whether unis have an obligation to tell you.

zamantha Tue 09-Jul-13 15:26:25

Yes, I've heard this bluestocking - he wants to do Engineering down South somewhere.

Bluestocking Tue 09-Jul-13 13:39:56

What subject does your DS want to do? Science and engineering courses have much more contact time than humanities and social sciences.

eatyourveg Tue 09-Jul-13 13:33:31

Type in the institution and the course here and it gives you all sorts of useful information under KIS

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