I am working on a theory that lecturers gain magical powers the longer they stick around in universities. There is a self confessed Gandalf in my department, for example, whose job is to defend the rest of the staff from the Balrog that is the central university. I would quite like to be a female equivalent when I get more grizzled, but unfortunately Tolkien wasn't big into writing female wizard characters. Maybe the White Witch in Narnia? <cackles>.
My reason for thinking I have magical powers is this: I see students in lectures! (Live ones, luckily, although it can be hard to tell). Yes - it's true! When I am standing up in front of the class I can actually see to the back of the class. I can see students in the back row snoozing. Or avidly reading Facebook on their laptops. Or chatting to each other. Once I even saw one read a newspaper. Astonishing, no? All this time students have been assuming their activities are invisible but now I have the power to see them. If only all my colleagues had the same power...
For the sake of my pride, I will point out that the more blatant of these activities tend to occur only in classes where I am taking a guest lecture. Students who take a module with me know I have the unfair habit of making them solve problems in class, or even discussing learning related topics with each other. Like my colleague Wizard Pooley, I even have been known to walk the aisles of the lecture theatre among the masses, looking at their solutions and trying to help. It's rotten of me, I know. It interferes with honest people's sleep and relaxation and destroys their invisibility illusion.
At a class recently I made an epic journey to the back row where I enountered some students staring at blank paper instead of writing code as I decreed. When I asked them about it, they said they were too tired to think. Said I "Perhaps you would be better catching up on your sleep at home if you're too tired to learn". "Oh no" said the student piously , "It's important to attend".
This is an echo of an argument I sometimes have with colleagues. They talk about wanting good attendance in classes. They want bums on seats. I have a naive longing for more than that. I want brains on seats! Attendance is half the battle, of course. But while just turning up in a lecture and expecting that you will understand more at the end of an hour might make you feel virtuos, it is not exactly effective. In my evil White Witch-in-training view of the world, it is not soley the responsibility of the lecturer to make sure that students learn something during a class. At least half of the effort should be going on inside studenty skulls.
My point today, apart from just liking to rant, is that we lecturers (in my dept) anyway have cocked up. We have set our expectations for student behaviour in lectures too low to the point that if you try to do something different to promote more effective learning,the students resent it. You have to have a gentle period of re-training until they arrive all bright eyed and busy tailed with sharp pencils, calling out for opportunities for active learning. My cute little first years are almost there, bless them. Older students continue to cast their cacoons of invisibility.