Caricaturing Third Level Education

The ongoing debate in the media about the proposed changes to the Junior Cert is interesting for all sorts of reasons. But one aspect that has caught my eye is the impression I get that many people’s perception of third level education is based on nothing more than a caricature.

Many people still seem to think that third level is characterized by the following:

  • A mode of teaching that is dominated by lectures delivered to hundreds of students sitting in large lecture halls.
  • The complete absence of any relationship between the student and the lecturer.
  • A passive learning experience in which students do little more than assimilate the ‘wisdom’ of the lecturer.
  • Extremely small contact times.
  • Little or no oversight of marking by lecturers.
  • Rampant plagiarism.

We’re not getting the message out there that third level education in 2014 is not what it was in 1984.

We need to  ‘market’ third level  as being more diverse, more accountable, more personal, more innovative  and  more interactive than ever.


About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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2 Responses to Caricaturing Third Level Education

  1. Treasa Lynch says:

    Greg, one of the comments I would make is that the experience of third level education differs considerably depending on what faculty, what course and what level you find yourself at. The issue for this debate, however, is, as with many other things (including the Junior Certificate itself) is that most people generalise their experience onto populations as a whole. They do this for many things, not just their own education.
    That being said, in the context of the discussion on the Junior Certificate, the experience and implementation of systems at third level should have little bearing.

    • Greg Foley says:

      I suppose that’s true to some extent but while recognising that extrapolating is dangerous, I think it is possible to espouse some general principles that apply essentially universally even though there might be differences in the detail. If you don’t believe that, discussion becomes impossible and everyone can plead that their case is’special’. I see no difficulty in principle in second level teachers assessing their own students. The key is to design the assessments so as to make them as robust as possible. I think this can be done especially in quantitative subjects where assessment tends to be less subjective. Imagine how much interesting maths you could do (e.g. numerical methods) if you could assess students using class tests employing appropriate software (resource implications of course). Subjectivity and plagiarism wouldn’t come into it at all.

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