What do students find irritating about their lecturers?

Another university academic semester is coming to a close in my part of the world. Formal student surveys to determine student satisfaction with a whole host of teaching-learning related experiences will soon be conducted.

The comments below come from an informal student survey conducted with university students who were asked to anonymously write down the three most irritating things about their lecturers’ conduct. What they shared is noteworthy, albeit at times amusing.

The comments had to be of a non-personal nature, without naming any of the lecturers or identifying course names. It was not an official student survey, but the results were shared with teaching staff as part of a teaching-learning workshop and they certainly generated a lot of animated discussion.

Of course, there are multiple factors that will influence student perception about their lecturers, including context, expectations, experience and personality – just to name a few. And lecturers are people – some will be more charismatic than others, some will have a greater ability to charm and get away with doing things others can’t.

As you reflect on the semester, take five minutes to ponder if any of the student remarks below ring true… even just a little bit?
  • • Lecturers who take delight in telling the class on the very first day that “about 25% of you will fail this course on your first try”, as if this is something to be proud of, when it might just signal that he or she is a lousy teacher!

  • • Lecturers who complain all semester long about having to teach this course because: i) the person who usually does is on sabbatical leave; or ii) they were on sabbatical last year and when they got back someone else had taken over their favourite courses and they were left with this one.

  • • Lecturers who are never organised and ask at the beginning of every week, “where are we up to?” How much preparation have they bothered to do really?

  • • Lecturers who insist you buy the expensive set textbook then never refer to it in class or use it to support assignments.

  • • Lecturers who behave as if their course is the most important course in the degree and talk down the other courses – and some of the other lecturers.

  • • Lecturers who change the assignment details well into the semester when you have already done some pre-reading and preparation, based on the original assignment details.

  • • Lecturers who will not accept an assignment with references more than five years old yet use references in their classes and materials for students that are up to 25 years old.

  • • Lecturers who do not hand back assignments before the next assignment is due so you are devoid of any potentially useful feedback to help you improve next time round.

  • • Lecturers who talk too much about their personal life during lectures, especially about what they did on the weekend, assuming we students are interested and will think them cool.

  • • Lecturers who only teach to the front row or two, speaking quietly to them and ignoring the other 400 students.

  • • Lecturers who are boring and do not actively involve the students in any way. The content may be interesting, but their delivery is so dreary with minimal acknowledgement that there even are any students in front of him or her.

  • • Lecturers who never bother to learn student names even when there are only 10 or 12 people in the class.

  • • Lecturers who don’t teach. Instead they just read the PPT slides or show multiple YouTube clips, which they didn’t even make, and which we could just as easily spend time reading and-or watching in our own time.

  • • Lecturers who promise to post notes or materials up on the website by a particular date or time and never do, but blast students for not getting their work in on time.

  • • Lecturers who go overtime, which means you are always late for your next class or miss your bus or arrive late for work.
Much of the conduct commented on revolved around how lecturers can easily and quickly demotivate students. It was this factor that participants in the workshop honed in on and for some it provided – at times uncomfortable – insight into why ‘their students’ responded the way they did.

Many of the student reflections are ones that can be attended to by lecturers without too much effort. They could be used as gentle reminders for the beginning of next semester about what you might adjust in your class conduct to ensure you and the students both get the best out of the teaching-learning experience.

Dr Nita Temmerman is a former pro vice-chancellor (academic) and executive dean (faculty of education) at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. She is currently chair of two higher education academic boards in Australia, visiting professor to universities in the Pacific and Middle East, as well as invited specialist with the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications, invited external reviewer with Oman Academic Accreditation Authority, registered expert with the Australian Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, and a published author.