Thursday, November 16, 2006

Newspaper Links 4: Postgraduate Tutorials

Today being my teaching day - three tutorials - what really caught my eye was The Cherwell's article on postgraduate teaching (which, incidentally, quotes my friend Nick). Indeed, I was particular caught by their focus on students turning up only to find a note telling them the tutorial had been cancelled - I did that a couple of weeks ago, though not at 8:30 in the morning!

Tutorials are such a personal interaction between students and tutor that it's obvious some will be better than others, and indeed a tutor who's great for one student might be bad for another. There's no intrinsic reasons why a graduate student should be worse than an older professor. Of course, they may be very different - the professor probably has years of experience, but the grad student may have better knowledge of recent debates and have been through the reading and even exams and lectures recently him/her-self. Also the much more relaxed atmosphere you may get with a younger teacher may make the tutorial not only more pleasant but perhaps more relevant - like today, The Simpsons came up in my tute.

It's understandable that some students will want to be taught by leading figures in their fields, and they usually have the opportunity in lectures. Tutorial teaching, however, is very intensive. We'd be loath to lose it - see here, here and here - so we have to accept the reality: either it will be more graduates teaching or fewer tutorials.

Finally, they're quite right to point out grad students are often inexperienced teachers. I wish I'd been given more training - and I'm one of the lucky ones that has at least been through the system from the other side. But I simply don't see how having a DPhil - a research qualification - is supposed to instill teaching competence. If grad students weren't allowed to teach, we'd have a number of freshly-qualified doctors who'd be similarly inexperienced. At least while we're still pursuing the DPhil we have more time to devote to the teaching - indeed, it's often a welcome distraction from the dreaded thesis, rather than the burden it is for many fellows.

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