Thursday, October 23, 2008

A better lecturer...

Today, my junior at University of Malaya told me a grim story:

Examination is just round the corner. So after days of studying, he had a list of questions which he wanted to ask the lecturer. However, as he approached the lecturer, he was told by the lecturer, "my consultation fee is MYR500.00 an hour. Are you going to pay me?" Now, to make matters worse, that lecturer happens to be the dean of the faculty.

Funny, I had similar experiences too when I was at UM. I remember during one of the class for 1-st year students on mechanics: one of the students in the class asked, "what is moment of inertia?" The lecturer simply ask the student to push the entrance door and look at how it swung. He then claimed, "that is moment of inertia! Now, if you have vacuum in your brain, please do not ask questions!".

I believe this is not an isolated case, not only in UM, but in local government universities in general.

I am not interested in what has gone wrong, but what we can do to make it right.

We need to educate these people (who is, ironically, working in the education industry). There is need for lecturers not to confine themselves to their own academic world, but to cultivate a passion for teaching as well. To respect the students as much as the students respect you.

There are no doubt some good lecturers, dean and VCs within our local universities. And whenever, these 'good' people found out that bad attitude such as the above is present, they will try to 'educate' those 'bad' people. These 'good' people will emanate an aura that will help to reduce the occurrence of events such as the above.

However, they are the minority and they can only do so much. It is quite impossible that their aura can reach each and every staff of the university to make a significant change. And most critically, good people leave more often than they come.

The key to improvement, I believe, is in setting up a system that 'automates' such an 'education', that is self-sustaining in this sense.

Leading universities in the world like Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford and MIT relies on a strong culture for this 'automation'. Whenever a lecturer behaves out-of-place, students and lecturers alike will condemn him/her because it is just not the norm in that university. Whenever a new lecturer joins the faculty, he/she will be overwhelmed by this culture that 'forces' him/her to change attitude to fit into this group of people.

We do not have such culture here.

Therefore we need another kind of 'system'. Remember those survey forms or questionnaires that we submit at the end of every course? I always wondered what happened to them. Are they processed? What bearing do they have on the appraisal of the lecturer? What if the dean is the one getting 'hit' badly by the students?

The thing is, faculties do not put too much emphasis on those surveys. They are just supplements to 'help' lecturers improve themselves. However, more often than not, the lecturers just turn a deaf ear to them.

I would like to suggest that these surveys be published to students at the notice board, just as the students' exam results would be published. So, not only the students will be judged, so will the lecturer. Lecturers have to be accountable, play their role as educators and cannot get off scot-free for intimidating students like above.

Of course, this will generally put lecturer in an unfavorable situation because students can gang up to 'score' their lecturer unfavorably low. But if the survey forms or questionnaires are carefully constructed, it can help to develop an effective communication between the lecturers and the students. The students can voice their dissatisfaction, but so can the lecturer defend themselves. And I'm sure, that if the students disliked this lecturer merely because he/she gave the student bad grades, the students themselves will be disgraced and it would instead reinstate the lecturer's pride.

It would be difficult for the lecturer if their sole appraisal is based on the surveys alone. This is because as students, they care for nothing except for getting a pass (or good grades). Previously, even as a part-time lecturer, I received numerous e-mails and calls requesting for me to pass them for exam even though they handed in the answer sheet scribbled with all the wrong answers.

Also, in general, Malaysian students like to complain that lecturers do not spend enough time teaching. However, in other parts of the world, it is common that a more renowned professor will actually spend less time teaching. Lecturer is slightly different than a teacher. A lecturer imparts his/her experience and insights, a lecturer does not go through line-by-line of the syllabus, and it is the student's responsibility to ask question when he/she doesn't understand. However, when the students do ask a valid question, the lecturer should answer it to the best of his/her knowledge.

So there must be a balance. The student must know their responsibility too.

I believe this mechanism of revealing the outcome of the survey, and encouraging discussions between the lecturer and the students on how to improve teaching sessions is like freedom of speech in the society. It's the clashes of different views that would help both the lecturer and the students to improve themselves.

Instill freedom of information in the faculty and it shall help to instill a culture for excellence among local varsities.

1 comment:

Cheong Tatt said...

I agree with the suggestion. If we want to be in the bracket of the the Top 100 universities, we should only accomodate the lecturers with passion for sharing knowledge and with good attitude.
I had my share of good and bad lecturers in my 4 years in UM.
I recalled in my first year EM class, my classmate asked this lecturer C a question and the lecturer C could not answer on the spot. He then reverted to my class mate a day later. I discovered in my final year, this lecturer C still blamed himself for not totally prepared for the lecture and since then, he vowed to do better. And indeed he did.
He gained respect from all of us. and that what we want all lecturers to have this attitude.
I have no memory of the performance of the bad lecturers. My brain does not store junk :)