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I intend to relate a problem subject experience Define them and talk about their characteristics Consider some ideas for improving the teaching of problem subject?
Student Nurses Management Module. Evaluation of the module: Not interested, disruptive, evaluations 63% didn’t want to do the module (and those were the ones who bothered to fill in the evaluations) Led to a PG Teaching Certificate project: Teaching students what they don’t want to learn Redesigning the management module of a nursing programme Lack of literature except a few subject specific articles and one reader: FALLOWS, S. & AHMET, K. (Eds) (1999) Inspiring Students, Case Studies in Motivating the Learner (London, Kogan Page). Started a collection of subjects Statistics/quantitative methods Research methods modules Communication skills for Engineers ‘Study Skills’ Any other suggestions?
No fixed definition to plug into a search engines, databases or ejournal searches We decided to stick with a fairly general definition ‘PROBLEM SUBJECTS There is a link to poor and inappropriate teaching methods.
Compulsory - often foundation knowledge in the first year of study (although RM may be another eg later in many programmes) Difficult – e.g. statistics. Worry many students Different – quantitative modules on mainly qualitative programme, different paradigm. But same applies other direction – ‘touchy feely subjects for scientists, (maths students on an IB course) No prior background knowledge – e.g. critical management studies, compulsory language study Perceived to be irrelevant e.g. nurses don’t understand why management. How does it fit with the rest of the course? Overload students – busy students might not see the need to do a language or communication studies or other transferable skills subjects Have a diverse student body – optional students or several year groups all together, common foundation programmes Can be compounded by staff attitudes and comments
Ghetoization Pass them on asap ‘Rite of passage’ or ‘Poison Chalice Module’ Cut off Problems compounded by student body and staff I argue it is a course/department problem rather than an individual member of staff.
CHALLENGE THE REVCEIVED WISDOM: Some of this is obvious stuff: Establish Relationships with other modules – make sure that data is relevant and techniques are linked to other modules Other components of curriculum e.g. RM link to dissertation IT and communication linked to presenting group work Career benefits concrete examples e.g. languages lead to attractive placements in year 3 (Michelle off to Basle) Demonstrate Link to other modules by the use of cases and examples Link to work experiences - concrete examples from the group through feedback Experience the subject – video case studies, e.g. hospital food impact on pts and nurses
Challenge preconceived notions Use lots of examples and draw on direct experiences Encourage and build opportunities for students to demonstrate knowledge Emphasise the connections with other components of the discipline and later career choices Use appropriate teaching styles Aim for students to experience the subject Quantify the extent of the problem with the problem subject Establish collective responsibility A cautionary tale = Statistics for Managers Module – contextualised but ….
Also if you are supervising someone doing a problem subject Or allocating teaching responsibilities?
Teaching problems subjects
How can problem subjects be
made less of a problem?
Durham University Business School
• What are problem subjects?
• Do they have any common characteristics?
• Ideas to improve the teaching of problem
• Why my interest in problem subjects?
• Any suggestions for a list of problem
In the literature, subjects were described as:
• ‘Where learning interests lie elsewhere’ Fallows and Ahmat 1999
• ‘Unpopular’ Arnold & Truran 1999
• ‘Peripheral’ COLES 2002
• Subjects students don’t want to do
• A waste of time
‘Problem subjects’ (Warwick and Ottewill 2004)
Characteristics of problem subjects
Problem subjects tend to be:
2. Impart ‘essential background knowledge’
5. Perceived to be irrelevant
6. Have a diverse student body
7. Overload students
Sometimes problems compounded by staff
What can be done?
What usually happens
• Staff hand them over ASAP (someone else’s problem)
• View it as a ‘rite of passage’ for new staff
• Problems compounded by student body and staff
• Cut off from colleagues who grumble about evaluations
Best practice guidance
•Take collective responsibility
•Tackled as part of course design
•Utility of the subject is emphasised in other modules
•Establish and demonstrate relevance to the students
• Relationships with other modules
• Other components of curriculum
• Career benefits
• Link to other modules
• Link to work experiences
• Experience the subject
• Challenge preconceptions about the module
• Use lots of examples and draw on direct
experiences of staff students or through
• Encourage and build opportunities for
students to demonstrate knowledge
• Emphasise the connections with other
components of the discipline and later career
• Aim for students to experience the subject
material rather than learn about it.
Student Nurses Management Module
• Emphasis on management experiences
rather than management theory alone.
• Experiences of good leaders and managers
• Experiences of team working
• Practical exercise on NHS finances rather
than a lecture
• QALY calculation and vote in the lecture
• Ward budget exercise in seminar
• Change management case study based on
hospital food video
Have you got a problem module?
• At some point in our HE careers we are
likely to find ourselves teaching a problem
• Did you pass it on to a junior colleague?
• Did you grin and bear it?
• Did you leave the organisation to dodge it?
• Did you do something about it?
ARNOLD, A. & TRURAN, J. (1999) Working with students to enhance an
unpopular course, in: S. FALLOWS & K. AHMET (Eds) Inspiring Students.
Case studies in motivating the learner, pp.113-119 (London, Kogan Page).
COLES, C. (2002) Variability of student ratings of accounting teaching:
evidence from a Scottish business school, International Journal of
Management Education, 2(2), pp.30-39
FALLOWS, S. & AHMET, K. (Eds) (1999) Inspiring Students, Case Studies
in Motivating the Learner (London, Kogan Page).
WARWICK, P. & OTTEWILL, R. (2004) How can problem subjects be made
less of a problem? Teaching in Higher Education, 9(3), pp337-347