Observer’s Name: Liz Peters
Date & Time: 22/03/2012, 5.30-7.30 pm
Location: Mary Seacole Building MS167/168
Module & Session title: ‘Gait assessment tutorial’
Number of learners: 27
I attended Anne’s session, not knowing quite what to expect, but excited to see how someone else taught. Coming from a performance background, I was interested to see how Anne ‘acted’, as my big interest is in how effectively lecturers ‘present’ to their class. We had a session that morning for the core module, where several students were invited to give us their opinions on how they were taught, and I thought it was interesting that several of them voiced concerns relating to ‘dull’ lectures, where tutors simply read from a piece of paper, or slide.
Anne had already let me know in advance, that she was very interested in hearing any tips I may have in terms of confidence and presentation, so I did have an inkling that she was feeling a little under-confident in this department.
Anne’s session started with a fairly full room of students. They were evenly spread around the room, and Anne was in one corner, operating the computer to show different slides etc from time to time. It felt like Anne was a little weak vocally, I do feel that a stronger voice would’ve helped at times, as there were members of the group that were a little rowdy. I almost intervened at one point, as a particular student was very disrespectful and disruptive, and to be honest, it took all my strength not to tell her off!
I liked the fact that Anne had the students answer some of their own questions, but it was a double-edged sword. I’m all for making them think, and work things out for themselves, but it wasn’t really clear when the student had given the correct answer. My suggestion would’ve have been to get the student to repeat the answer so the rest of the group could hear, and then reward them vocally, making sure the rest of the group had heard Anne say “yes, that is correct, well done”. On the flip side of this, there were times when students asked questions, and no-one gave a clear answer, Anne included. I did notice a huge level of frustration from some students because of this. I could see students quite clearly asking each other for help, some were googling things on their phones and passing them around, long after Anne was trying to move on to something else.
In my discussion with Anne, we talked about this, and she pointed out that she was normally used to dealing with small groups of medical professionals, who would answer their own questions, and that at times, there was no ‘absolute correct’ answer, so it was difficult to say “yes, it’s exactly 15”, when in fact, the answer could be anywhere between 10 and 20.
During my observation, I felt that the whole group needed to be brought up to the same level of knowledge and learning. Anne very much stayed in one corner of the room, near the computer. When the group asked a question, Anne would address the same few students in her corner, and move on. Unfortunately, the rest of the group weren’t up to speed, as they were further away, and it seemed to me they hadn’t heard, or hadn’t understood properly.
My suggestion would be to address the room more, come out from behind the computer, and walk up and down in front of the class, therefore keeping their interest. It also means that you can keep an eye on the whole class, and pick up on any potential stragglers. Mandel (2000) also adds that speakers who stand in one spot and never gesture, experience tension. He says in order to relax, you need to release tension by allowing your muscles to flex. Even when ‘stuck’ behind a lectern, he suggests moving around the side of it for emphasis, to help release tension and draw the audience into the presentation.
I think for me, as a performer, Anne needed to ‘perform’ more. She is clearly a very smart lady, who knows her subject extremely well. However I felt that her delivery could have been much stronger, vocally and physically.
I would absolutely suggest that Anne gets out of her comfort zone, and really takes ownership of the room; however I know that this is a hugely difficult thing to do, if you aren’t a naturally confident person.
The discussion with Anne made me think, are we as lecturers, also expected to be ‘performers’? People may presume that if you’re a ‘lecturer’, then you’re happy in front of an audience, speaking to the masses. However, this really isn’t always the case. There are many lecturers who are experts in their field, who are suddenly thrust in front of a group of students, and expected to perform/deliver a lecture like a master-speaker. Public speaking is a difficult thing to undertake, if you have no training or experience in it. Connecting with your audience is of vital importance, and the non-verbal signs that we all give off play a large part in this connection. Mira (1997 pg.18 ) states that looking at an audience is not an easy task, and suggests people are more comfortable to concentrate on other things and avoid the pressure the audience puts on a speaker. However, he says that doing this can be a big mistake, as it’s important to be continually aware of the mood of the audience. Eye contact is the way to do this, he states that it (eye contact) involves your audience, keeps you aware of their reactions, and identifies friends and ‘predators’, i.e. potentially problematic members of the audience.
I agree with this entirely, and I feel that eye contact is vital during any kind of teaching, as Mandel (2000 pg. 79) states it can also help to relax the speaker, by connecting them to the audience and reducing the speaker’s feeling of isolation. He suggests the rule of thumb for eye contact is three to five seconds per person, focussing on one person at a time, long enough to pull him/her into your presentation, but not long enough to make them feel uncomfortable.
Anne mentioned that due to English not being her first language, she felt at a disadvantage vocally. Shepard, (2005, pg. 66) highlights some of the issues when presenting to an audience when English is not your first language, and says that the process can also be particularly challenging for the audience, as it is extremely difficult concentrating on what a presenter is talking about, at the same time as trying to understand them; because they have a difficult accent; or because their use of English is just not good enough for the circumstances in which they find themselves.
She suggests speaking as clearly as possible, slowing down, facing the audience, and identifying words that are problematic, and writing these on a whiteboard as you say them; or use PowerPoint and point out the word in question as you speak it.
This is all good advice, but I have to say I don’t think Anne is at this level. I think Anne’s English is very good; she is mostly very easy to understand. Some vocal coaching may be of benefit, particularly for Anne, who I think would feel more confident with a stronger, clearer voice.
Talking to Anne about the disruptive students, made me wonder whether we are expected to discipline? I do find that 1st year students particularly, can be very much like school children, in their attitude and behaviour. This is a world apart from the medical professionals that Anne is used to dealing with, and I think that at times, they may see her uncertainty, even if Anne feels she is delivering the ‘right’ information. We can send messages to our students about how we are feeling without even knowing, Tiberius (1999 pg. 184) states that our tones of voice, rates of speech, hand gestures and facial expressions all communicate emotional messages. He goes on to say that it is useful to know what emotional messages you are sending so that you can make them more compatible with your cognitive message.
I think this is very true, and on a personal level, we need to share with our students when we may not be on the ball due to outside factors, otherwise they may misinterpret our tiredness etc. Tiberius agrees, and suggests asking students what kind of emotional message you are sending to them. He states that in order to avoid misunderstanding, it’s a good idea to interpret your emotional state before the students do, for example by saying ‘Let me take a few deep breaths and slow down. I have been running around since eight this morning so I’m all geared up. If my speech starts to speed up and I appear nervous, remind me and we’ll take a stretch break’. I think this is a good idea, and it’s certainly one that I use in my own sessions. Students need to understand that you are human too, and that you can’t be on ‘shiny TV Presenter mode’ all the time!
The problem though, is how much discipline do we need to instil into our classes, lectures, or seminars? If we are interacting on a personal level, how will a student feel when you have to reprimand them for their behaviour? Is it our job to ‘tell off’ unruly students, and I suppose the golden question that we’ve all asked ourselves and each other, is – why are they so unruly, when they are paying to be here? Teachers and lecturers are put under an enormous amount of pressure, as we are responsible for other peoples learning, but as Cotton (1995, pg. 121) points out ‘the rights of the individual learner are emphasised, but not the rights of the trainer or teacher’. Cotton goes on to say that under the early influence of the 1944 Education Act, the opportunity to stay on at school and go to University was a privilege. Teachers and lecturers…commanded respect…but today education at all levels is regarded as a right, and teachers and trainers can no longer expect respect.
I think this has an element of truth about it, and I certainly hear students talking about their ‘rights’, and what they should be entitled to, as they are paying for their education. I think sometimes they forget that indeed it still is a privilege to go to University, and that without mutual respect and appreciation, their learning could be affected. This could be why students feel they have a ‘right’ to chat if they want to, be late if they want to, be disengaged if they want to – because they are paying us to teach them, therefore it’s up to them how much they get out of it. I don’t agree with this; however I can see why it would cause such attitudes.
As a current student on the PGCAP course, I’ve started to understand this more I think. I have been the unruly student at times, I’ve been late due to traffic, I’ve had to surreptitiously check my phone, as I’ve got other things happening, I’ve chatted to fellow students while the tutor has been talking. The question is why? And how can my own experience enable me to perhaps change the attitude of some of my students who are disruptive?
I now understand a little more, as I know that there are times when I have no choice but to ‘tough it out’, even if I don’t feel well, or am not in the mood, I simply have to knuckle down, concentrate, and get on with the task in hand. I think some young students, 1st years particularly, are not as used to doing this, having only recently moved away from home for the first time. They’ve had parents to take care of them, supervise them, motivate them, and ultimately, they’ve rarely had to take too much responsibility for themselves.
Interestingly, I had a call today, as a student had complained, after I’d pulled them up on their unacceptable behaviour. The student in question was over an hour late for an assessment, amongst other issues, and yet apparently felt that me pointing this out, and telling them that it wasn’t acceptable, was unfair of me – this despite the fact that I still let them undertake the assessment. Many colleagues said they would have simply failed them. This seems to imply that the students feel that they can’t be ‘told off’, as they would be in high-school education. However, surely, even in the workplace, a manager would reprimand an employee, for unacceptable behaviour, or underperformance, and be within their rights to suspend, or sack them.
So where do we stand as lecturers? It seems to be a bit of a no-man’s land. They are ‘students’, yet they don’t want to be treated like school students. They don’t want to be reprimanded, or told off, as they’re paying to be here. But we can’t ‘sack’ them, for underperforming. It really is a bit of a minefield to say the least! I don’t know what the answer is. I try and treat my students as equals, as adults. But this is very difficult at times, particularly when they let themselves down with bad behaviour. It’s certainly food for thought! Would I have done things differently with the aforementioned student? No. I’m glad that I am fair, and I gave them the opportunity to still be assessed, and I also wouldn’t change the talk that I had with them. I think you can be fair, but there’s a fine line between being fair, and being a pushover. I think we’re doing our students a disservice if we don’t address bad behaviour, as some of them are very young and inexperienced, and need to be reminded of the ‘rules’, as perhaps they’ve not learnt this at home or at school. However, it is important to take into account personal circumstances, and not simply presume that because someone is late, they are deliberately lazy, or a bad student. The PGCAP has taught me that sometimes, life does get in the way – even with the best will in the world.
Cotton, J. (1995). The Theory of Learners. London: Kogan Page.
Fry, H., Ketteridge, S., & Marshall, S. (2009). A Handbook For Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Oxon: Routledge.
Mandel, S. (2000). Effective Presentation Skills. California: Crisp Publications.
Mira, T. K. (1997). Speak Smart – The Art of Public Speaking. New York: Random House Inc.
Shephard, K. (2005). Presenting at Conferences, Seminars and Meetings. London: Sage Publications.
Tiberius, R. G. (1999). Small Group Teaching: Kogan Page.