Higher education has become an increasingly challenging field for teachers. In addition to the ever-present complexities of teaching and learning, modern-day instructors witness growing student numbers and a diversity of groups entering universities:
Widening participation means that today’s academics are also expected to deal with an unprecedentedly broad spectrum of student ability and background. They can no longer rely on students having detailed previous knowledge, especially in mathematics and science. Attainment in literacy, the primary generic skill, often leaves much to be desired. One in five students in the United Kingdom, and one in three in Australia, will drop out. Yet most of these very same students are contributing substantial sums to their education and are working to pay their way. They have grown up with the expectation of staying connected to a customer-focused, instant, 24-hour, 7-day week service: why should a university education be any different? Today’s undergraduates are at once harder to teach and less indulgent towards indifferent teaching. (Ramsden, 2003, p. 4)
Despite those changed circumstances, learning remains a complex and fascinating matter. As Ramsden (2003) has noted, on the one hand, an “individual lecturer’s teaching and assessment methods will influence the quality of his or her students’ learning” (p. 77), but on the other hand, “[n]o one can ever be certain that teaching will cause students to learn” and “excellence in teaching cannot guarantee that students will understand” (p. 78). Learning is of a volatile nature, depends on a...
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