Saturday, 23 March 2013


Hello. My names is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

The other day a few of us were sitting in the cafeteria having our lunch when in burst Richard Gardener in a very stressed and agitated frame of mind. "Students!" he yelled. "But they love you, Richard" said Gus. "You give them so much time and attention". "That may be so" said Richard "but that doesn't seem to stop them arriving late for lectures, talking to each other when I am trying to take them through a rather difficult proof, and sitting there texting when they should be concentrating on what I am saying".

"That reminds me" said Sian, "Did you see that thing that someone posted on Facebook last week? A picture of an overhead slide with the words 'Dear Students, I know when your'e texting in class. Seriously, no one just looks down at their crotch and smiles'".

"Maybe your students arrived late because the previous lecturer overran. You know that we are supposed to finish at ten minutes to the hour so that students can get to the next class in time but not everyone complies" said Jack Cork. "Perhaps, but that still doesn't excuse their talking and texting" replied Richard.

"Perhaps you need to break up the lecture session a bit more and get them to do some things themselves" said Gus. "Why not put up the proof with a key line missing and ask them to see if they can work out what it is? It makes them active participants rather than just spectators." "Yes" said Jack "Attention spans are not what they used to be. I heard someone on the radio the other day say that TV commercials are going to get shorter because people just tune out of them now after three or four seconds"

"You could make use of the Personal Response System that we have installed in some lecture rooms" said Sian. "You ask a question and offer three or four answers and get them to tell you what they think the answer is". "That all takes so much preparation" said Richard. "Well just get them to put up their hands then if you won't use the technology "said Gus. "And as most of them have mobile phones now you will probably find there is an app that can automate it for you and send the results straight to your website."

"They were even using their mobile phones to film me" said Richard. "Bits of my lecture are probably up on Facebook or YouTube by now". "Is that a problem?" said Gus."It will give them an accurate record of what you said that they can go over again and again. And if you don't like that you use the Capture technology to do it yourself as Dave Starr advocates."

"You know" he continued, "that reminds me of what happened in one of my lectures back in the 1970s. A Cypriot student, Christos something or other, asked me if it was OK for him to bring in a tape recorder to my lecture so that he could listen to it all again later. All was going well until the third lecture when, just after I had completed my recap of where we had got to in the previous lecture, as I always do, I heard my voice booming out at me. When I asked him what he was doing he said that he didn't need the recap and that he was rewinding to start again when I said something new, but he must have accidentally hit the Play button instead of Stop." "What did you do? asked Sian. "I told him please to leave his editing until he got home! "said Gus.

"Going back to the late arrivals do you remember what old Gavin Alexander used to do?" asked Jack. "He used to lock the lecture room door so that they couldn't get in. We'd be in trouble if we tried to do that now." "But they used to love him "said Gus, "His nickname was Mr Mackay, you know the main prison guard from Porridge".

"Well what else can you suggest?" said Richard. "And how can I get my attendance rate up too? It has fallen off a bit in the last few weeks." "If you want them at the lecture" said Gus" you have to give the something there that they can't get just by reading the notes or looking at your PowerPoint slides". "Why not include a few YouTube clips? There are some great ones out there. You can use funny ones too. My students love it when I play them that JZ style spoof that those Berkeley students made 'I've got 99 problems, econometrics ain't one'".

"Yes" said Jack, "show them a few cartoons or tell a few jokes".

"But the lecture shouldn't be too gimmicky" protested Gardener. "This is a university, after all". " Look, there is no reason why you can't have a bit of fun in the lecture" replied Gus, "I mean would you watch a TV programme that, however informative, wasn't entertaining?".

"Emily Willis from the School of Computing reckons that we should issue all students with iPads when they arrive and get rid of traditional lectures completely" said Gus. "And Steve Wheeler argues that as well as formal classroom learning we should pay more attention to collaborative learning. It doesn't undermine personal learning, it enhances it". "Well thanks guys" said Richard."I will give it all some thought before next week's lecture. Now, I had better go and order my panini or they will have sold out." "Are you having more than one? " joked Jack. "I think the singular is panino!" "Don't be a pain Jack" said Gus, "pun intended!".

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