Teaching and Learning in First Year Seminars

Article excerpt

Introduction

The aim of this paper is to highlight a challenge faced by many university teachers and to consider a practical method of dealing with the situation. Biggs (1994) summarizes the problems faced by teachers in higher education. He notes that resources are constrained and hence class sizes are on the increase with the emergence of mass methods of teaching and assessment. Restrictions also exist in the structure of the degree programs themselves and the manner with which they are delivered. The end result is that many students have little contact with their lecturer and the lecturer has limited chance to assess the course and the progress of the students. Since little can be done to change the overall picture, the lecturer must work "smarter" and use the teaching time available in the best possible way. A weekly seminar in which the large lecture group is divided into smaller groups of fifteen students or less could hold the key. This provides an opportunity for the student to learn in a less formal environment than the lecture theatre. Furthermore, the lecturer has direct contact with the students. However, the pertinent question is, "How should the seminar be organized?"

There exists a vast literature in the area of education and while space permits the inclusion of a detailed analysis, Biggs (1994) provides an excellent summary of the competing models. He outlines the various theories of learning and notes how opinion on these has evolved over time. However, his most salient points concern the link between research and teaching. He notes the importance of a sound theory underlying the practicalities of teaching but also that the theory should be derived from the individual teaching context.

In light of this, the author compares the relative successes of three different teaching techniques in seminars for a first year university course in Finance. The aim is to deliver seminars that offer the students the best possible learning environment. This paper tests to see if there is one overriding approach that enables all students to learn effectively in the seminars of this course or whether different students benefit from different teaching techniques.

Background

The author of this paper is neither a psychologist nor theorist in the area of education. Quite simply she is on the front line of teaching and seeks practical, sensible approaches to teaching seminars in a large first year university course.

At this stage it should be noted that the same arguments may be applied to courses in Information Technology. Certainly, there is growing demand for these courses in universities worldwide since companies demand graduates to be competent in the use of computing in the workplace. Hence the same problems of large class sizes are encountered. However, of equal importance is the fact that Finance and IT are inextricably linked (See the work of Penceck and Bialaszewski (2001)). Hence techniques that aid both disciplines would be welcomed.

This experiment is carried out on a subset of the first year Finance group at Adelaide University in Semester 1, 2001. It is based on a pilot experiment run on the same course in the previous year, the results of which may be found in the proceedings of the OOICTL Business 2000 International Conference, (2000). There are 450 students registered to take this course. They come from a variety of academic backgrounds and have very different requirements of the course. For instance, some will aim to major in a completely different area and hence choose Finance as a one-year option to get a basic overview of the subject. At the other end of the spectrum there are students who wish to major in Finance. It follows that the course must be relevant for those wanting a one-year option but also for those wishing to pursue Finance in later years.

In terms of course structure, each student faced two lectures per week for the duration of the twelveweek semester. …