Wednesday, March 06, 2013

"Boring" Classes - You Can't Polish a Turnip

I student recently came to me during a break in one of my Project Management classes to tell me that he found the subject "boring". At least the student was honest - his body language throughout class suggested that he would rather be anywhere else than at my lecture. The topic was time management and we had just completed a class discussion on estimation the duration of a task (during which almost all the class engaged). The exercise I use is common to both my Project Management and Business Systems Analysis classes and I usually find that it works very well. My satisfaction was quickly deflated with the "boring" comment.

Can you polish this?
Image source: Best In Season.
I responded to the student that "You Can't Polish a Turnip" - an expression I heard many years ago. Even I who have been teaching it for many years know that Project Management is not an exciting subject. It is worth five credits on the way to achieving a degree, it is a mandatory subject, and arguably it is a very important subject to prepare students for the "real world". My module is based on the PMBOK methodology, so there's not much I can do about the content.

I have often heard colleagues in my own and other Colleges say that lecturers are "not entertainers", that it is not our job to make courses "interesting", and that we have a job to do to cover a syllabus. We know that not everybody in any of our classes is excited by the thoughts of coming to our lectures.

So the challenge to us educators is - how do we cater for the student who is finding the subject "boring"? Should we attempt humour? Should we sing and dance? Should we find ways to make even the driest topic the most exciting thing possible? Should we be aiming for smiling student faces when they leave the classroom? Should it be compulsory for us to achieve a 100% rating on student satisfaction surveys?

On the other hand we do have a responsibility to avoid being boring if possible. I have been at many dreadful lectures where the "lecturer" simply read from slides and did not engage the students. I try not to read from slides as much as possible (this is based on the fact that students can do this themselves) - my slides are (I hope) an anchor for class discussion. There are many different learning styles in my classroom, so while some students will be interested in a class discussion - others just want to sit back and listen without being asked to get involved. While my colleagues and I try to vary our teaching styles to cater for different learning styles, we can't please all of the students all of the time.

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