Talking Teaching

October 10, 2012

sending mixed messages

Filed under: education, university — Tags: , , — alison @ 9:48 pm

I attended a presentation today that just didn’t sound right. It was one of several about teaching and learning, & I’m afraid that if I’d been doing a formal appraisal I’d have marked it down.

Why? Well, for starters the presenter seemed a bit confused about IP & copyright. (OK, they had a fairly jokey way of presenting that could have clouded things, but still…) Students’ work is their own, it doesn’t ‘belong’ to the institution or the teacher. This means that if you’re going to make it available to subsequent classes as, say, an exemplar, then you really do need to make sure you get their written permission for this. This, of course, opens a whole new can of worms, & the wriggling is due to the power imbalance that exists in any classroom.

By which I mean that students may feel that they can’t really refuse a request such as the one I’ve mentioned. They may not actually want it to happen, but their response is always going to be tempered by the awareness that the person doing the asking is also the person doing the assessment of their performance. This shouldn’t matter – but the student may still worry about it. (This is why, when we get a paper & teaching appraisal done, the lecturers never get the original handwritten responses back until after the semester’s grades have been finalised – just in case they recognise the writing, or can in some other way identify the respondent: it protects the student.) If I was in this position, I’d be waiting to ask about using their work until after I’d finished teaching (& assessing) them. And maybe that’s what happened, but it wasn’t made clear.

The other thing that bugged me a bit was how the students were presented almost as acting as research assistants – unknowing aides, in that their projects could be mined for useful information that would inform future lectures. OK, from time to time (actually, reasonably often, & it’s one of the things I enjoy about teaching as it creates the opportunity to model how scientists think) my students will ask a question I can’t answer, or tell me about something I’ve not heard of before. In the former, I’ll find out the answer & let them know in a subsequent class (that’s how I learned about s*x determination in mosses, for example), & maybe incorporate what I’ve learned in next year’s lectures; in the latter – well, I’ll probably go & check it up. But that’s not the same as regularly ‘mining’ information to use in future classes.  Especially if the students aren’t aware that someone’s doing it, but even if they do know – well, should they be acting as unpaid research assistants? It comes back to that power imbalance thing again :(

Jokey or not, that presentation wasn’t my style.


  1. Good points, Alison. I have come across this recently both as a student and as a course coordinator. It becomes more complicated when the course is a ‘research’ project and the student’s paper includes research results form the lab work (not just an in course lab – actual research) – should the student be able to post their report on say their blog (since it is theirs) when the research results are a shared IP with the supervisors and the supervisors might want to continue the work towards a scientific publication? Tricky.

    Comment by kubke — October 10, 2012 @ 11:13 pm

    • That is as tricky one, Fabiana. Wouldn’t the shared IP thing limit what could be done?

      Comment by alison — October 13, 2012 @ 7:25 am

      • Indeed, it falls under shared IP very much like PhD thesis or other research-based work. But I often wonder whether this should be the case. If a student is writing a ‘research report’ (say a lit review or something else, for a class, the teacher also contributes to it (through formative feedback or whatever), yet they will have no claim on the student paper. This is not the case when the student works in a lab. Should it be different? I think I struggle with this because when I put my teacher hat, I think this is the student’s work. When I put my researcher’s hat, I recognise that the experiment the student is doing is possible because of individual researcher’s work (formulating ideas, getting funding etc) that are much broader than the student’s experience. But then I see projects that are specifically formulated for this particular research experience, funded solely by the course budget (so indirectly by the student’s fees!) etc etc and I can’t help by wonder whether these are any different from a lit review in another course. I’d say that in all cases the supervisor or teacher should be acknowledged for their contribution – but who has the final say of how an when that work is communicated?

        Comment by kubke — October 21, 2012 @ 10:26 am

  2. I agree that presentations that step from casual to jokey create confusion in an audience. (Side note: I wonder if “jokey” is also hurting the instructor’s teaching style?)

    I can easily see your interpretation. Another might be whether what looks like students acting as research assistants might, in fact, be an instructor trying to measure what students understand versus where the lessons are falling short. My point is that even if everyone in the audience assumes the best possible reasons for why the presenter says things, it seems certain that there will be a range of what people guessed was the point being made.

    I tend to be a casual presenter when with colleagues. I know I’m not jokey, but now I want to ponder whether I am too casual to be clear. Thanks for making me think!.

    Comment by complynn — October 11, 2012 @ 8:36 am

  3. On the copyright ownership issue, that digs up a sore spot. Just to stick to one example and in a slightly different setting – high school! I wrote a kids book as part of my final-year art course. The attached primary school kept my little book for many years (about 20, I believe), binding in a thick plastic cover to keep it going. I tried to get it back so that I could try get it published. The teachers stood in the way. It’ll have gone now, no doubt, but it annoys me as it has already shown itself to be successful, so would have stood a good chance of being pitched to a decent publisher.

    Comment by Grant Jacobs — October 12, 2012 @ 11:47 pm

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