There are increasing numbers seeking qualifications from the Higher Education institutions in the UK, and static or decreasing budgets available.
Additionally, some institutions are seeking to re-align themselves to focus more on research, which means they have a need to reduce the teaching 'overhead' for staff to free up time for them to conduct quality research.
With the increase in numbers of students, it is hardly surprising that many staff report that ability levels appear to be declining, on average.
Top-up fees impact on the perception of the role of the institution, and place an emphasis on the idea of the student being a customer; a customer who typically expects to be taught to pass the assessments.
Many students appear to have difficulty learning to solve problems.
Many students appear to have difficulty managing their time and objectives.
It seems that because many students are virtually demanding to be spoon-fed bite sized chunks of knowledge, and because they now consider themselves to be customers of the HE institution and thus expect their demands to be met, that there is a tendency to cater for this. Apart from the fact that this does not lead to them fully engaging with problem solving or with managing their own time well, it is also untenable where there is an decreasing staff:student ratio. Therefore, it is necessary for practical as well as learning-theoretic reasons to re-address the provision of tuition.
In some cases, providing self-paced eLearning packages may be beneficial to the student. However, in most cases this is delivered in the same bite-sized chunks, and fails to address the problem solving needs of the student. Additionally, there are some students who actively dislike eLearning as a concept (although they are generally happy to use Google and wikipedia...) and many who believe they should be getting more face to face contact time than they do at the moment.
It is necessary, both from an idealistic and a pragmatic point of view, to develop active self-learners who can manage their own learning agenda and identify how to develop their own skills to allow them to take advantage of the opportunities on offer from an HE institution. Students should learn in their first few weeks at university to evaluate the required outcomes of a module, compare this to their current understanding of a subject, and break down cognitive gap into a series of small learning paths. They should be able to suggest suitable ways of assessing the progress they are making, and be in a position to maintain a log of their progress.
I would recommend that one of the first things students should learn to do is use techniques to enable them to map out their own knowledge of a subject, their 'best-guess' of a subject map for the module they are studying, and to evaluate what stepping stones are necessary to get from 'here' to 'there'. They should learn how to use an agile project management tool, tracking the issues they encounter in their learning, and using it to log results. It appears that encouraging students to develop a series of tutorial sheets covering what they are learning can help as a log of their progress to demonstrate their learning, as well as providing a spring-board for further enquiry.
This has the advantage of also developing some transferable skills e.g. project management, developing procedures, problem solving, basic 'mentoring' as well as regular reporting.
Ideally, students who are capable of learning these sorts of techniques will then place very little demand on staff time. They should be in a position to read the basic outline of a course, determine what they need to learn and possibly even reflect on what methods they can use to learn it, based on their records of earlier learning experiences. However, the key element is not the saving in staff time - the main point is that this should enable the student to gain the most from their time at university, and develop skills which will be useful both in the workplace and to them as life-long learners.
If we don't do something like this, though, it seems likely that the current pressures on HE will lead to increasing attempts to provide highly controlled, labour intensive, learning to large numbers of students in an economic environment which cannot support it.
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