It’s happened. From this week, the teaching day lasts from 9am to 7pm.
And it’s likely to stay that way. Despite the Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s acceptance that the sudden announcement of an extension from 6pm to 7pm (via a staff intranet post in the last week of July) was ‘less than ideal’, and involvement of staff and students’ unions in a task group to ‘mitigate adverse impact’ and develop ‘recommendations for 19/20 and beyond’, nobody is seriously expecting evening lectures to be ceasing any year soon. The students’ union has loudly protested about the loss of time for extra-curricular activities and family life – although we’re still not sure what the dressing up as cows was all about – to no avail.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this has been caused by an increase in our overall student numbers, but in fact, the number of new registrations in 2018 is nigh on identical to the number of new registrations in 2017. What we have are larger numbers of large courses, trying to fit into the same number of large teaching spaces – i.e. not many.
Here are the figures. If you have a class of 200 or more that wants teaching, there are five places on campus you can put them: Biology Lecture Theatre, Bowland Lecture Theatre, Faraday Lecture Theatre, George Fox Lecture Theatre 1 and, for those seeking the ‘school assembly experience’, the Great Hall. If we want to Keep Wednesday Afternoons Free – and we do – that gives roughly 200 slots available in large theatres over the course of the week. Doesn’t sound too bad … but now assume your class size has gone up to 300. You’ve only got George Fox 1 and the Great Hall to play with, and suddenly the timetable looks likely to fall over.
What’s the solution? Slowly and surely, double teaching has become the norm. Well, after all, you spent so long preparing for that lecture, that it seems a bit of a shame that you only have to give it once, eh? But then … double teaching a class of 300 might mean that you aren’t crowding out the big theatres any more, but now you’re causing logistical hell for the medium sized rooms. Something’s got to give.
Across campus, sage minds have pondered this problem and shrugged their shoulders. What else can you do?
Lectures at 8am, perhaps? They’re the norm in many parts of Europe, after all. A few months ago, Durham made the … courageous decision to bring these in for 2018/19. It didn’t end well: https://www.palatinate.org.uk/exclusive-durham-university-cancels-plans-to-introduce-8am-lectures/
Live-streamed lectures? This is popular with many students – possibly the same students who aren’t great fans of 8am lectures – but has been ruled out by our senior management. ‘I didn’t pay 9 grand in fees to watch lectures in my bedroom’ and so forth.
Our disgruntled moles in the Law School (should that be Law moaners?) have reported that they recently received an entreaty from their Head of Department that there should be no consumption of alcohol during lectures. Perhaps this is one of the coping strategies that students – or staff – have had to resort to when forced to take part in a lecture at a time more usually spent cocktail-making than note-taking.
So 6pm lectures it is, then. Fingers crossed we might get a big new lecture theatre some time soon. We wish the Deputy Vice-Chancellor well in his new position as Dundee’s Vice-Chancellor.