Tackling Students’ Concerns

A few days ago, I posted a Wordle word cloud which highlighted students’ thoughts on research methods classes. (If you are yet to have the pleasure, you can read the post here.) This showed overwhelming support for the notion that they are ‘boring’, ‘confusing’, and just about ‘maths’. What can we do about this?

Instead of approaching this top-down, I thought I would ask the very people who raised these concerns. So, in two lectures last year, I asked students what they would like to see implemented in research methods lectures and classes. Again, I collated the responses and pushed them through Wordle. The two word clouds below represent the opinions of Level one students and Level two students, respectively.

These clouds aren’t quite as efficient as the one last week, as students didn’t just write one word each; instead, responses came in in sentences. But, Wordle is still able to pick out the main themes common to most responses.

What jumps out at me is that students are craving examples. We give plenty of examples in lab classes which supplement lectures, so I interpret this as referring to examples in the lectures themselves. Interesting idea!

Linked to this, students are also after more interaction. This is likely true of most lectures: I recall my days as an undergraduate fighting sleep as the monotone orator at the front droned on. I particularly empathise for those students who suffer from maths-anxiety (a typical affliction!), who—after a dribble-ridden lecture experience—might be worrying they suffer also from narcolepsy.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

What can lecturers do about this? The first step, I contend, is to appreciate the problem and listen to students’ opinions. It’s all too easy to think student-disengagement in research methods classes is the fault of the student. “They should be interested in this stuff! I am!”. It’s our responsibility to make student engagement happen.

Going forward, I aim to break the lectures up with “hands-on” examples. Give the students a small data set to work on; give them a discussion point to talk to their neighbours about; use gap-notes (lecture notes which have gaps in that students must complete from the information you provide in lectures).

What can students do? Engage with your tutors; tell them your honest opinion and inform them what you would like to see happen in class. Do you also want more examples/interaction/practice? Say so! You might be surprised; lecturers aren’t all THAT bad. (Honest!)

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2 thoughts on “Tackling Students’ Concerns

  1. tbirdcymru says:

    Great blog post, Jim, and I like the idea of gap-notes; never heard that term. One thing that stands out is that you asked their opinion before the end of the module. Of course the modules get evaluated at the end, but why not ask during term while there’s time to fix things:-) Please blog about how things develop! -Terese Bird

    • Jim Grange says:

      Thanks Terese – I actually asked students these questions right at the beginning of the semester. My intention was to implement changes based on their responses during the semester, as you mention. However, it turns out that the changes I wished to make required revision of the module via university committees, so I was unable to do it “on the fly”. I have made some changes for this coming semester, though!!

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