One of the biggest differences between school or Sixth Form College and university is the mode of study.
Modes of study
At school, teachers give their students a lot of guidance. They coach them to succeed. Though A-level students are expected to work alone they still have far more contact hours with their teachers than do university students. We expect our students to spend 200 hours on study per module. We offer them 36 hours of classroom time plus a few exchanges via email and some one-to-one meetings. There is no compulsion to attend. This is neither school nor work. The taught class is really just another resource.
Teachers as a resource
Lecturers are in fact very valuable resources. Here too there is a vast difference between what happens in the school system and what happens in Higher Education. In schools, teachers follow a curriculum. In institutions of higher education we teach according to our research. We find out new information and out students are very privileged to be amongst the first to encounter that.
My situation – cause to be proud
At the institution where I teach, the Creative Practice team comprises two senior lecturers, two readers and three ordinary lecturers. The two senior lecturers are also published commercially so both also work as creative practitioners. One also runs her own publishing company. The two readers are also published commercially and both have some innovative research in poetry, with one also specialising in visual text. One of the ordinary lecturers is an experienced playwright and is writer in residence for the National Theatre. Another is an experienced actor, producer, director and translator and also runs her own publishing company. The third is developing a practice as a dramaturge and working internationally.
A talented bunch, then.
Learning not teaching
Our students are privileged also to be taught by four experienced members of staff as well as by seven creatively active ones. This is a little unusual. Some institutions use more Associate Lecturers – ones that are good in their field but who know the university less well. We also use a talented fiction writer and another is an experienced theatre practitioner.
You have to be good at teaching to become a senior lecturer. If you’ve got that far, you may even be a little too institutionalized. The two senior lecturers and readers are in fact also very experienced. Yet one of the ordinary lecturers is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, another has extensive experience of school teaching and a third is a performer who has much experience in schools and universities.
There is still a range of expertise and unfortunately it seems that students expect the performance by all to match that of the very best. They must accept that they will encounter a range of teaching abilities.
The onus is on them, isn’t it? There’s a lot of privilege here in the Creative Practice expertise they’re offered. Shouldn’t they be milking that? They must take their part in learning as well as being taught.