University lectures are too boring, say school heads

21 September 2015
Posted by Heidi Salmons

The Times, 21.09.15, many lecturers at top universities have failed to adapt their teaching methods to the digital age, a leading headmaster says. HMC Chairman Christopher King, headmaster of Leicester Grammar School features.

Too many academics continue to give traditional lectures without using technology to make their teaching more engaging or check whether students have understood, he said.

In an interview with The Times, Chris King, incoming chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of leading private schools, said that universities must rethink teaching, especially to first-year students. “Pupils have changed. The way they are taught and the way they have learnt has changed,” he said. “There is no good bemoaning the fact that children of today don’t sit down, quietly absorb what the teacher says and write copious notes which they then revise from: they learn in different ways and have different expectations of the teachers.”

The best lecturers should embrace technology to give students a “mixed diet”, he said. They could also use apps to run a short real-time test to identify points or concepts that students had not understood. “Delivery and review and reflection on the material that had been covered and feedback for students would make a huge difference to their confidence,” said Mr King, who is headmaster of Leicester Grammar School.

“Too many university lectures begin at the beginning, finish at the end, no review, no variation pace and no opportunities for questioning and review.

“The universities have been proactive in putting their lecture notes on their intranet for example, but have they been as pro-active in reviewing whether the material has actually been read and understood?”

Private school heads are to push for a dialogue with leading universities on how they can improve teaching in order to ease the transition from sixth form to university, he said. Schools must also prepare sixth formers better, for example using the extended project qualification to improve independent research skills.

He said that students had been demanding better teaching since the introduction of tuition fees. “There is a big change in students in one respect, which has occurred over the last 10, 15 years,” he said. “They are terribly serious about going to university — it is not a frivolous exercise. They want to get a really good degree.”

Mr King’s remarks follow an attack on teaching in universities by Jo Johnson, the minister for universities and science, who said that standards were “lamentable” in some and patchy or variable in too many others.

Assessment of teaching quality will be introduced by the government next year and will determine which universities can raise tuition fees beyond the current maximum of £9,000.

© The Times