In Praise of Student-Led Teaching Awards
Only time for a short post today. I was at a lunchtime meeting involving both staff and students in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences this lunchtime, and one item on the agenda was the University of Sussex student-led teaching awards scheme, which is run jointly by the University and the Student Union.
This reminded me of an article in last week’s Times Higher which argues that such awards are “divisive” and leave staff who don’t win such awards “demoralised”.
I suppose such awards are “divisive” in the sense that they divide staff into two categories: those that win and those that don’t. The same is true of any award. You might equally well argue that we shouldn’t award degrees to students on the grounds that some students get them and others don’t.
The negative feelings expressed about these awards seem to me to be more to do with sour grapes than with any genuine concern about the effect (or lack of effect) they might have on teaching quality. Staff who are upset that they don’t win an award would be better advised to learn from their more popular colleagues than expressing resentment towards them.
Another thing that annoys me about this criticism is that it assumes that it questions the motivations for students nominating lecturers; in particular that students pick lecturers who are “showy” or “entertaining” or who set easy examinations. In my opinion this assumption does a great disservice to students. Last year several staff in my School won such awards and it was quite clear that the students picked the staff concerned because they appreciated their approach to teaching, not that their courses were easier or for any other trivial reason. It’s more than a little arrogant for staff to assume that students aren’t qualified to comment on what teaching they like.
It’s over thirty years since I finished my undergraduate degree. In the intervening time the way students study at school and university has changed, partly because of new technology. I hear far too many lecturers demanding that students should learn the way they did when they were younger. We should always be looking for better ways of helping students learn, and I think student awards are one way of identifying examples of good practice.
So, to conclude, I think this complaint is tosh.
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