February 23, 2008, by Teaching at Nottingham

Altering lectures in response to student input

Video >>
Interviewer: “Does the student voting actually affect what you deliver in the lecture?”

Andrew: “Yes, yep, it does. I know where I want to go, and how to get there is pretty much mapped out, but I’ll put a different emphasis on things. So if typically I’ll have a thought experiment sort of scenario I present and quite often the people who’ve written the original will say “Well everyone’s intuition is that they believe X” and I get 90% disagreeing saying “not X”.

“So I have to think on my feet and say “Why is this?”, draw out responses from people, so there’s twists and turns I take but I know where I want to go. So it’s sort of odd points I move towards the final conclusion and summary.”

Andrew: “In the long run relief aid to starving nations does not help them. What do you think about that?
What other things might cause hunger and poverty? What other things were you thinking of? Yes?”

Student: “Governments that fail to have a way to distribute food properly. There’s enough food in the world to feed everybody, no problem at all, but it just doesn’t get to the right people. So population numbers – doesn’t really matter.”

Andrew: “OK, so he said basically the idea of the fact that the Government itself doesn’t distribute the food and it just goes to the wrong people. There’s enough food anyway in the world so why isn’t it getting to the right people? It’s not just to do with overpopulation. OK, thanks.”

Interviewer: “What were you trying to do by following up the vote with a question to the whole class?”

Andrew: “OK, one thing I wanted to do was to draw out of them more information and just a number, although it’s informative, it doesn’t give you much to go on as a lecturer. So I’ve found that if people vote then they’ve put their head above the parapet and they’re more willing to commit to putting their hand up on the back of their commitment.

“So if they have said “I’m one of those people who agree” then they’re more likely to put their hand up and say “Well, I agree because of this,” and that’s really interesting, and it’s especially interesting if you get people divided, the class is divided 50/50 or something, because then you can get discussions going. I mean you don’t want it to break down, you want to hear what people are saying, but you can to a limited extent have discussions amongst students.”

Andrew: “A lot of people think that, agree with that, that it doesn’t help them, and it would be interesting to find out what your reasons for that is, and that’s something you can explore in the seminars.”

Andrew: “So often I’ll start the next lecture by saying “Well, 80% of you actually think that abortion is wrong. Now let’s look at another issue about killing, or letting die, or whatever, and think about how you guys voted in that scenario and why it would change in the case of euthanasia, say”. So I immediately bring them in on what they’ve said and I tailor if I get a lot of people saying its OK to chop downs trees and fill lakes full of concrete and there’s no moral issue there, then I can change what I do the next lecture depending on that.”

Andrew Fisher 
School of Humanities

Andrew is lecturing on a first/second year module on Applied Ethics (V7AAPE) to approximately 40 students in the Clive Granger building. Produced February 2008.
This video was originally published as part of PESL’s Teaching at Nottingham collection.

Posted in LecturesTeaching