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‘Lectures with the teacher talking for 90 minutes are completely outdated’

Historian Robert Stein is a lecturer in Medieval History. He was recently awarded the Senior Teaching Qualification. What did he learn from the STQ track and what lessons does he plan to apply in his hybrid lecture room?

Robert Stein

What kind of lectures do you teach?

‘I specialise in Medieval History. I teach lectures at all levels, from pre-university to master’s programmes, and I also offer tutorials and individual thesis supervision. What I most enjoy is linking my teaching to original source materials in libraries and archives. Students also find it very inspiring. It’s something I use in my Medieval Palaeography course, for example, where students learn to read medieval script, but also in a number of tutorials.’ 

What drives you in your teaching?

‘The contact with students. I try to introduce them to the fascinating period of the Middle Ages, a period that seems very far away, but often turns out to be quite close. Ultimately, I want to help my students grow into creative and critical thinkers.’ 

On 7 July, twelve highly motivated lecturers were awarded their Senior Teaching Qualification (STQ). This article is the second in a series of interviews with lecturers who completed their Senior Teaching As part of the qualification, lecturers are required to create a portfolio demonstrating that they meet the four learning outcomes: conduct within the academic teaching environment, creating a didactic programme with a view to the context of a curriculum, preparing and providing teaching, and impact on education within one or more degree programmes.
Some STQ candidates follow inspiration sessions under the guidance of an educational adviser from ICLON. 

What did you gain from the STQ track?

‘I think it’s important to reflect on your own teaching from time to time: where do I stand now, and is this where I wanted to go? At the same time I find it very useful to look at how other people do it. Lecturers from all kinds of study programmes follow the STQ track, so it’s interesting to hear how they approach teaching. It was also inspiring, encouraging and sometimes confronting to test my teaching, which had developed over the years, against the theory. The STQ track taught me to look beyond what is allowed, but mostly at what is possible.’ 

How did you experience the switch to online teaching in coronavirus times? 

‘My experience varied. It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, but in the long run, it’s at best an addition to in-person teaching. The tutorials can be very slow-going (‘Wait, I have to turn on my microphone…’) and the discussions always involve the teacher, instead of taking place among students. As a teacher, I found online lectures quite alienating: you’re basically talking to your own PowerPoint; I need much more direct contact with the students.’ 

What would you like to change about your study programme’s curriculum?

‘I would mostly rethink the role of lectures. Lectures for large groups are necessary to make sure that students have enough contact hours, but talking for 90 minutes at a stretch is completely outdated. I think the solution might lie in hybrid teaching: short lectures, interspersed with more active teaching formats, or interaction through online assignments. For that, the curriculum would need to be revised, but also new textbooks and working methods would have to be introduced.’ 

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