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Student perspective: the importance of lecturer enthusiasm
16 October 2012
Third-year Biomedical Sciences student Eleanor Knuckey shares her thoughts on the highs and lows of her teaching and learning experiences at UCL so far.
My time as an undergraduate at UCL so far has exposed me to a huge variety of teaching methods adopted by various professors and faculty members alike. Through this I have been able to develop an understanding of the more (and additionally, less) valuable methods established in the midst of such a fast-progressing and innovative time of teaching. Moreover, I have come to appreciate the true importance of these for an effective and enjoyable learning experience.
At a basic level, the skills and approach used by any lecturer are vital for the student. Day-to-day enthusiasm in teaching, when coupled with an in-depth knowledge of one’s subject, means a much greater want by the student to delve further into the subject area. A truly engaging form of teaching can at times be hard to come by but when in place it really does make a world of difference. I have found the unusual and quirky teaching methods adopted by some to be extremely effective whilst also helping to keep the topics covered really fresh in mind. Notable examples include: broadcasting lecture material before the set lecture date (and then discussing in a classroom-like environment); incorporating mind-stimulating elements such as juggling into teaching; singing a set list of items when mnemonics become ineffective. In this way, concentration levels remain high through encouraged student involvement and the degree of mind-wandering is kept to a minimum.
Many technological advancements have been made over the course of my studies and it is interesting to see how these have been tied in with and used for the benefit of teaching. There has been a definite switch to more online-centred learning in a lot of cases and whilst sometimes very effective, I remain unsure as to how readily I support this. In my field of Biosciences I can see that this is an obvious way of reinforcing the material studied and of lessening the hassle when accessing resources and relevant published work. However, I do find personally that when used excessively and in the place of other methods it can detract from the overall learning experience. Reduced interaction with teaching staff and working solely from behind a computer screen can very quickly become quite isolating and make one lose sight of the bigger picture in their studies.
The assessment methods used nowadays at UCL are a great success in my opinion. Having such a wide variety in place ensures that students are kept on their toes and that they train themselves to use their minds in myriad ways. From essay-based, in-course assessment to presentations, structured debates and the dreaded end-of-year examinations, it is refreshing to be able to switch from one to another during the academic year. It also helps to minimise the potential for course stagnation as workloads become impossibly heavy. The importance that students attach to module assessment types during course option selection reiterates this, although it may also be in part due to want of avoiding particular less-highly-scoring choices.
One area often proving to be a huge bone of contention between students and teaching staff is that of assessment feedback, notably the rate of this feedback. Sluggish and slow returns of long since forgotten work can become quite irksome, especially as the usefulness of the feedback is often severely compromised with time. In contrast, prompt and detailed feedback from markers and course organisers is really second to none and helps the student to fully grasp any areas of the subject they may previously have been struggling with. Likewise, a willingness of lecturers and tutors to accommodate their students with quick meetings or email feedback is very much appreciated, even though at times it may perhaps seem not so much so.
Finally, I think a hugely important aspect of study which is often overlooked is that of communal study (or more accurately, peer-assisted learning) amongst students. Discussion with someone at a similar level of understanding and expertise lessens the likelihood of embarrassment and fear of seemingly lower intelligence. It is also much easier for a fellow student to resolve a previously baffling issue for another, especially given that they have most likely dealt with the very same problem themselves. As students progress further in academia, the competitive edge becomes sharper and the willingness to help each other dwindles somewhat. I feel it is very important to work against this in some way, as it undoubtedly hinders the overall learning potential and detracts from the spirit of the studying as a whole.
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