Chapter 3: Methods of teaching: campus-focused

Scenario D: A stats lecturer fights the system

Clive (looking carefully at his partner, Jean): So what went wrong at work today?

Jean: So you noticed – nice.

Clive: Now don’t take it out on me. How could I have avoided the slamming of the door, the shouting at the cat, and the almost instant demand for a large glass of wine – which incidentally is sitting on your desk?

Jean (grabbing the wine). Well, today was the last straw. I got the results of the student end-of-term evaluation of my new class I’ve been teaching.

Clive: Bad, eh?

Jean: Well, first the rankings are odd: about 30 per cent As, about 5 per cent Bs, 15 per cent Cs, 15 per cent D’s and 35 per cent E’s – NOT a normal curve of distribution! They either loved me or hated me, but the average – which is all Harvey, the stupid head of department, looks at – came out as a D, which means any chance of a promotion next year just went straight out the window. I’m now going to have to explain myself to that old buffoon who last taught a class when slate tablets were the latest technology.

Clive: I’m not going to say I told you so, but…..

Jean: DON’T go there. I know I’m bloody mad to have stopped lecturing and tried to engage the students more.  I could kill that faculty development guy who persuaded me to change how I teach. I didn’t mind all the extra work, not even the continual fighting with the guy from Facilities who kept telling me to put all the tables and chairs back properly – he was just a jerk – and I loved the actual teaching, which was stimulating and deeply satisfying, but what really finished me was when the department wouldn’t change the exam. I’ve been trying to get the kids to question what is meant by a sample, discuss alternative ways of looking at significance, solve problems, and then they go and give the poor kids multiple-choice questions that just assessed their memory of statistical techniques and formulae. No wonder most of the students were mad at me.

Clive: But you’ve always claimed that the students enjoyed your new way of teaching.

Jean: Well, I was fooled by them. From the student comments on the evaluation, it seemed that about a third of them really did like the lessons and some even said it opened up their eyes to what statistics is all about, but apparently what the rest wanted was just a crib sheet they could use to answer the exam questions.

Clive: So what are you going to do now?

Jean: I honestly don’t know. I know what I’m doing is right, now I’ve been through all the changes. Those kids won’t have crib sheets when they start work, they will have to interpret data, and when they get into advanced level science and engineering courses they won’t be able to use statistics properly if I just teach to the exam. They will know a bit about statistics but not how to do it properly.

Clive: So you’ll have to get the department to agree to changing the exam.

Jean: Yeah, good luck with that, because everyone else will have to change how they teach if we do that.

Clive: But I thought the whole reason for you changing your teaching was that the university was worried it wasn’t producing graduates with the right kind of skills and knowledge needed today.

Jean: You’re right, but the problem is Harvey won’t support me – he’s old school down to his socks and underpants and thinks that what I am doing is just trendy – and without his support there’s no way the rest of the department is going to change.

Clive: OK, so just relax for now and have a glass of wine and we’ll go out somewhere nice for dinner. That will help clear my mind of the thought of Harvey in his socks and underpants. Then you can hear about my day.