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Wise up and take it easy

FE article | Published in TES Newspaper on 3 March, 2006 | By: Dennis Hayes

If you are not being asked to work at giving hard lectures, challenging seminars or at imparting difficult skills, what are you supposed to do?

Why worry? Why not relax with this survivor's guide to teaching that lists the seven techniques for skiving that are familiar to every experienced lecturer.

The FOFO technique

The initials stand for Fuck Off and Find Out! The original technique was simply to send your students to the library to research a topic or find the answer to a question. In its modern form, it involves getting students to surf the web in order to research a topic or answer a question. Whatever form is appropriate the result is the same, no students and some peace. The ICT form of FOFO has the added benefit of not disturbing the repose of librarians.

The Wilt technique

Make your teaching relevant by adopting this cynical technique inspired by Tom Sharpe's novels about the liberal studies lecturer, Wilt. This is more demanding than FOFO, as the lecturer has to listen to what the students are talking about and pursue that line of discussion before just letting them continue to talk. Only now it is a lesson and not just chatting.

"Wasn't that interesting?" they will say as they leave. If you hit on the right topic, for most of the session you can daydream, only waking up and interjecting a point here and there if the level of chatting diminishes.

The Circle Time technique

This will now be familiar to students since primary school, so it is easy to use and almost expected.

Sit your students in a single group or, preferably, independent small groups and encourage them to express their feelings about whatever topic is on the syllabus. Get one person in each of the circles to write the group's feeling down on a flipchart and discuss with the whole class.

Apart from odd moments of sitting by each group and pretending to listen to them and, at the end of the session, saying "tell me what your group thought", this is a really undemanding way of spending a few hours.

The Sociological technique

This approach involves keeping students occupied by getting them mentally confused. Its origins are in sociology and it works well with access and in-service groups. A warning is necessary as some effort is involved at first in producing a worksheet and a set of questions, or giving out a textbook.

Once started you can relax and leave the students discussing seven or more definitions or complex views of any topic, such as "class".

"I haven't a clue what that was about," they will say with obvious respect, and it just shows you how difficult everything is.

The Subversive technique

Despite the findings of some surveys, the trendy, subversive and preferably young or young-at-heart lecturer is very popular and need hardly teach at all.

Take up some issue that is close to the social or personal life of students, or give them their "voice" and conspire against the programme, other staff, the college, the examination system. As long as no action ever emerges from this form of free communication, the radical lecturer will gain respect and the students' self-esteem will grow. They will even work in their spare time so as not to get the subversive lecturer in trouble with management.

The Workshop technique

Another way of letting students teach themselves, although unfortunately the lecturer has to stay in the room.

This technique is adapted from real motor vehicle, and other craft workshops. All students have individual programmes they have negotiated and they learn at their own pace, while the tutor, although technically available, can sit at a desk and read. "Personalised learning" will extend it to all courses and programmes. The whole learning and skills sector is about to go on a big skive.

The Portfolio technique

Spend several sessions allowing students to build their portfolios. Lots of lever-arch files and plastic wallets are needed but there is nothing demanded of the tutor except some knowledge of alphabetical order and presentation.

Once, as an external examiner, I weighed a set of portfolios and the average weight was 1.5 kilos.

When they were first introduced and ridiculed as a trivialised form of assessment, one lecturer replied that portfolio building was so demanding her students never had time to watch Coronation Street.

By now, any attentive reader will have noted that these are not normally considered to be techniques for skiving, Indeed, they are techniques at the cutting edge of teaching.

Dennis Hayes is head of the Centre for Professional Learning at Canterbury Christ Church university


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