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What are the costs and benefits of sequential teaching and how can we maximise student learning through this style of instruction?

Helen Spafford-Jacob, Robyn Horney and Catherine Jordan
The University of Western Australia
The dual nature of the university as a research and teaching institution provides students the opportunity to be taught by experts. However, with course offerings decreasing, teaching loads increasing, and class sizes swelling, the access of students to expert instruction often becomes limited to 1-3 lectures on any one topic. A sequence of lecturers will present material in their field of expertise and a unit coordinator (who may or may not attend the lectures) is the students' sole continuous contact. This creates a process of "sequential teaching" which is qualitatively different from an individual lecturer, team-teaching or guest lecturing. While sequential teaching provides some benefits for students and teachers it also has certain disadvantages, predominantly borne by the students.

In many classes the desire to expose students to expertise is often fulfilled at the expense of the student-teacher relationship. Students may have up to five or six lecturers in a single unit. This makes it practically impossible, even for skilful teachers, to build a rapport with students and constitutes a barrier to effective teaching.

Furthermore, with sequential teaching, there is little opportunity for true integration of concepts. The teacher may be unsure as to what the students have already learned and the depth of their understanding of the fundamental concepts.

Sequential teaching also complicates learning assessment. Students are exposed to examination questions written by various people with varying expectations that may not have been clearly communicated to the students in the lectures. Where this occurs, students may understandably become confused and worried in attempting to predict each teacher's approach to and expectations in assessment of their work. Furthermore, they may be concerned as to whether each teacher's requirements and "standards" will be similar to and consistent with those of other teachers in that unit.

The aim of this session is to discuss the process of sequential teaching and address some of the consequences of this practice. In addition we will consider the following questions:

Contact person: Dr Helen Spafford-Jacob, Lecturer, Department of Zoology, The University of Western Australia

Presentation format: Dilemmas in teaching or teaching/learning research

Please cite as: Spafford-Jacob, H., Horney, R. and Jordan, C. (2002). What are the costs and benefits of sequential teaching and how can we maximise student learning through this style of instruction? In Focusing on the Student. Proceedings of the 11th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 5-6 February 2002. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2002/abstracts/spafford-jacob-abs.html

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Created 4 Dec 2001. Last revision: 2 Feb 2002. HTML: Roger Atkinson [ rjatkinson@bigpond.com ]