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Don’t go overboard

This coordinator has learnt not to reinvent her unit every semester and to be economical with her time. She loves being an academic and the autonomy it allows. More...

I have been an academic for around 10 years now. I don’t enjoy the technology, and particularly the on-line learning component, associated with my role.  I find some of it a waste of time because even when you place everything up on the Web, students still contact you to find out what needs to be read, or what time a lecture is.  Universities foster this extra layer to learning and students have come to expect it.  They want everything put up on the Web so I give it to them.  They think that if they are given all this ‘stuff’; everything possible in terms of reading, PowerPoint slides, etc, it will be sufficient for them to do well.  I believe this adds to the students’ stress because they think they have to read absolutely everything that is given to them, which is impossible.  I worry also that they are lulled into a false sense of security.  The ‘old’ notion of walking out of a lecture and understanding what has been conveyed has been lost.  I tell them, though, that they would be better off just listening to me for an hour.  Although we trialled E-portfolios for a year, they were not well accepted by our students.

I am sure that people are aware of the policies they need to know, but most just do their own thing.  My feeling is that as long as academics do not do anything outrageous, no one minds that they are not totally familiar with policies.  On the other hand, we are all very familiar with policies about assessment schemes. You cannot do anything that is not covered by that policy. Like others I look them up on a needs-to-know basis.

Lack of time will always be an issue but I have learnt not to try and reinvent a unit every time you present it.  The unit does not have to be perfect.  I have learnt to get maximum value out of minimum effort by being more economical with my time.  One example is the tizzying up of PowerPoint slides.  You can go overboard, but it is not appreciated by the students.  Great looking slides are not mentioned in your student feedback and this effort does not help towards promotion.  I have learnt to relax and be more intuitive about what the students want and need rather than my dictating what might be good for them.  You can waste time second-guessing what students will find valuable.  You are better off giving them the basics and then adding as you go along.  Although I plan the course in advance, I do not plan the detail of every lecture before semester.  I think it is best to wait for them to tell you what they want and then give extra detail or extra help as it seems to be required.  This will vary between courses though – there is more freedom with electives. In core courses it is critical to cover the essential areas.

I do love being an academic, although I am unsure as to whether I might return to being a practising lawyer one day.  Academia is the next best thing to being self employed.  There is the guaranteed income; there’s no one checking up on you every day and that’s good.  I like the fact that you are left to do your own thing.  I am not really social and so like being left alone to get on with things. However, I realise that too much time alone is not really good for you, so I do have to force myself to mix with others.  My preference, though, is to mix with like minded people.

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