Learning Effectiveness in the 21st Century & How the Uni Experience can be Improved

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. All recommendations and opinions posted are my own and are not associated with any institutions I am affiliated with.

As an undergraduate about to finish my degree, I have some advice to lecturers/teachers/professors/universities to help motivate students more. After 5 years, I have noticed some trends that need to be addressed. These are minor frustrations at first but once they have been encountered multiple times, it becomes obvious that it is a problem that many other students experience as well.

Start giving some help to local students. University is so, so different from high school or full-time work (for mature age students or students who have worked for a few years first). Recognise that. There needs to be basic mathematics catch-up courses; how to reference effectively; how to write an academic essay – all of this should be compulsory in first year. The maths courses are particularly important because they do crop up in degrees that you wouldn’t expect them to be in, and if the student has not done anything covering it in 3-4+ years it can be daunting. Also, university mathematics is presented as complex, when it is actually easy, explain it in words and diagrams to non-maths discipline students and you’ll find a lot of them understand it a lot better.

People learn in different ways, but no one is entertained or motivated by old school lecturers talking for 2+ hours in the exact same tone with accompanying black text on a white background slides. You have to try and make it interesting, pictures, fun videos (there’s so much available on YouTube), readings and case studies that are relevant to everyday life – students will become so much more engaged with relatable material.

Don’t use the fact that 60% of students fail your class as some sort of humble brag to encourage students to study. It will not work and will instead scare a lot of them into not studying at all. Include content that is interesting to study and will help students connect to the subject on a deeper level.

Please, for the love of god take it easy on the group work. One semester I had four groups. FOUR. That’s too many. When there is that much, it feels like they are doing it for two reasons: 1 – they do not wish to mark as much individual work, and 2 – there are high achievers and low achievers in each class so by putting them into groups this can drag up the low achievers grade. However, this method is INCREDIBLY unfair on high achievers who work really hard to get where they want to be. Constantly having to check on others standards of work (some of it is really poor, I do not understand how someone could want to go to University and then write like that) is exhausting and have to source every reference yourself (because this seems to be particularly difficult for people for some reason) takes so long and reduces the quality of your own work that you are contributing. Unless there is an actual benefit for doing it in a group environment (for example it is a very large piece of work or it is cross-discipline) give people the freedom of an individual essay and presentation.

Do not test on material you have not covered. Don’t do it. Do not TELL students that they do not have to study this part because it’s not in the exam, then put it in for funsies, this is cruel and is purposely messing with someone’s grade. There is an overwhelming amount of material to study, narrow it down and tell students which weeks will be covered instead of saying ‘the whole course’ then wonder why your average mark for the subject has gone down. Along with this, do not rely purely on students to read pages and pages of textbooks each week. Weekly reading is great and complements the course, however if every week the amount of material to read is 100+ pages with no guidance on what to retain, this is plain ridiculous and anyone would be bored at this point.

Give students attention that need it. Some are going to need more than others, but this is not purely the responsibility of group work. Facilitate discussion, but make it relevant. Utilise technology, use Power Points and Prezi’s that are engaging and fun. A student aid per subject who was available for questions via email at any time would not be a bad idea, especially in more difficult subjects with many students, where an email can so easily get lost in the system and go unanswered.

Do not assume all of the students want to be there and hold the same amount of enthusiasm for the subject that you do. They do not. They want to study and get a good job, they do not actively follow the subject like you do, that is why you are the lecturer and they are the student.

Ask the students what they want to do with the course, what their learning is like, include aspects of every type of learning. Visuals are important! Good content week by week that will keep people coming back is integral to keeping attendance up and assuring a good grade on the exam.

Do not start lectures at 8.30 in the morning or end them at 8.30 at night. This is unbelievable. A lot of young people are still living with their parents all over the place and cannot move closer to University. Going from one place to the other on public transport can take hours, and having such early starts and late ends exhausts students and almost ensures a lower attendance rate in classes nearing the end of semester.

Understand that universities should work for students too, and not always the other way around. I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to go to university, if someone has good grades and wants  to go and further their education, it should not be so difficult for them to do it. University should be challenging in its work, but not in the facilitation of its work, and it ought to be fun. Enjoying the challenge is the key to unlocking a brighter, more educated future generation.

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