Radiotherapy student researcher Shaun James observation cycle 2 reflection

As part of my role as a student researcher for the learning and teaching project, I observed the teaching, lecturers and student response in both a lecture and a workshop session. My aim for these observations was to understand how students learned and how they engaged with one another collaboratively, as well as with the lecturer, to improve their learning. The first lecture was an anatomy. The second session was based in the Virtual Environment Radiotherapy Treatment (VERT) suite where we were working on our own presentations for our end of module assessment. I observed 60 minutes of the anatomy lecture and 40 minutes of the VERT session.

Prior to my observation of these lecturers; myself, my fellow student research and my two lecturers had a meeting to discuss the aims of the observation and to ensure that we streamlined what, as student observers, we would be focussing on. The lecturers had very differing lectures to present with differing intentions. The anatomy lecture was based upon improving our own knowledge as practitioners and providing links to clinical practice. Whilst the VERT session was based around working on our own presentation plan, thus due to the differing session styles it would be probable that we would observe different styles of learning in both. The BSc Radiotherapy University course is spent 50/50 between clinical placement and university academic. This means that, unlike some university course, what we learn is meant to provide us with the tools for a successful and safe career, not simply just a means to pass an exam.

The anatomy lecture are meant to be a relaxed and informal session. However, as has been the trend this year, student participation and engagement was lacking from the offset. The lecturer tried to increase engagement through the use of humour and directing questions openly to the cohort. However, whilst engagement in the lecture wasn’t high this was through no fault of the lecturer who noticed non-verbal cues that students had issues understanding the content and this showed a solid understanding of the classes needs. There were only a few instances where the content of lecture delivery the lecturer took away from the classes learning, for example; when writing labels onto work sheets the students were distracted from the verbal teaching by the lecturer and thus lost out on valuable information. As far as observing the students needs within the educational environment the lecturer ensured that the students were consistently on task and that through the use of questioning students were taking in information. That being said not all students displayed the behaviour of those who were actively learning. In some instances the first time some students picked up a pen was when they were instructed to by the lecturer. Whilst some students may not be making notes due to using recordings of the session to compose notes at a later date it does raise questions over whether this actually happens and to what degree they are actually learning and engaging during these sessions. One of the major positives of my lecturers teaching style is an understanding of just how much information students can take in before they need a break. The utilisation of breaks ensures that students come back refreshed and ready to finish the content, rather than being worn down into an information filled stupor. Clever utilisation of these breaks is made not only through performing a check of understanding prior to it but also a recap upon return. Overall the lecturer was consistent in their approach to students, using questioning to ensure they had a grip on the content as well as singling out those who looked as though they weren’t engaged to ensure they kept pace with the group.

The second observation, as aforementioned, took place during a more practical VERT session in small groups of 6 to 8 students to the one lecturer, where the primary aim was to work on our own personal presentations. These smaller group sessions are meant to be more relaxed than traditional lectures and provide students with greater opportunities to work collaboratively. Within these sessions we can choose who we want to be in a group with and what time we wish to have the session delivered at. To avoid bias I booked into VERT with a random group so I would not be able to predict the groups behaviour or have any preconceived ideas at to what I expected to see. At the  beginning of the session the lecturer made use of humour to try to bring some engagement out of the students, which was not greatly received and from the offset it was clear this would be a quiet group. As such the lecturer tried to get around this by asking open questions of the student completing their work at the time. This was cleverly done as to not provide answers to the student but to more push them in the right direction and to lead them to the right idea under their own steam. It was obvious very quickly though that the students weren’t really learning from each others work as the lecturer had to repeat the same instructions to each participant and this lead to some slight annoyance from some members of the cohort. It was also obvious that when a weaker student who needed more assistance that the lecturer would step in to help and to ensure they achieved the aims of the session. Whilst with a stronger candidate the lecturer would take a more passive role and only broker advice when approached by the student. This, I believe was a very successful strategy as it allowed the students to work on their own presentations in their own way and ensured that not all of them would be the same. The lecturer also made sure to ensure there was good time management during the session and that the students didn’t run into each others time, however, this was done in a very passive manner which didn’t make the session feel rushed at any point. It was also obvious, as the session neared its conclusion and the concentration waned, that those students who had provided help to other student members before were now not getting the same level of help back from the students. Thus it opens the question; why should stronger students help the weaker students if they cannot receive the same level of support back?

The student observer process has been interesting and has made me think about how I as a student do learn and engage and how that is facilitated by the lecturers. I understand that not all students learn in the same manner and as such I commend the lecturers who I observed for the different techniques they used and how they tried to gain the maximum engagement from the cohort. Whilst the dynamics of the cohort can sometimes be difficult I feel that these observations have shown the need form a greater inter-student collaborative effort as we move into the third year to ensure that all students are as successful as possible. This being said there were times during my observations that I felt that I was looking more at what students and teachers were dong rather than at my own work – thus I have had to book tutorials with staff to ensure that my own learning was not affected during this work. Overall though I am happy with the observations made and look forward to seeing how the year and cohort develop as we move into our final year.

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