Teaching in School vs University: Is there a difference?
Hi, my name is Kelly and I now work in the Student Recruitment and Widening Participation department of the University of Manchester. For the past three years, I have been a student studying Psychology at the University and for the thirteen years before that, I too was propelled along the standard education pipeline (or maybe not so standard anymore) by attending first school, middle school and high school.
One of the main parts of my job, for the past couple months now, has been the development of an EBL project for our visiting Year 11 students. EBL stands for ‘Enquiry Based Learning’ (or Inquiry Based Learning if you’re American) and is equivalent to ‘Problem Based Learning’, which you might have heard of before. This method of teaching starts with a question, a problem or a scenario, and it is the student’s task to solve this problem, with the aid of a facilitator.
Not a teacher.
That’s great, right?
The lack of teacher leading the way means that the road from problem to solution is less smooth, less clear, but then when in life is the answer ever clear? In this situation, you are responsible for your own learning, for figuring out your answers and where they fall into the topic of your choice. This method of independent learning is fundamental to the way students traditionally learn at university.
- You’re given a topic
or a lecture – a foundation, so you can understand the task
- You are provided
with resources to be used as starting points (these can be textbooks, journal
articles or websites)
- And then you have to
produce work at the end of it e.g. an essay, a report or a presentation, about
what you've found out
This is what I've tried to recreate in my own EBL project for visiting Y11 students. This project is the finale to the flagship pre-16 Gateways programme, ran by the University of Manchester. Groups of school pupils visit campus year upon year, from Y7 to Y11, to find out more about the opportunities to study in Higher Education and develop new and transferable skills. In this final part of the programme, students are presented with a lecture on a case study (a Volcanic Disaster for this year). They were then sorted into groups depending on their interests and sent away (with the help of a Student Ambassador) to research that area for an hour and a half. The day finishes with each group giving a presentation on what they found and a prize is given to the group that presented the best.
This transition from teacher-led to research-led learning replicates what you would experience if you chose to study at university. When you’re at the cutting edge of your field and learning the newest knowledge being published to date, it’s highly likely that you’ll find yourself not knowing the answers, and being in the position where YOU could contribute to future knowledge, explanations and discoveries.
Throughout your early school days, you may have been taught that there’s only one right answer, and you’ll get a mark for getting that answer right. University is different. There might be some things that we THINK answer the question, but these may still be debated. Something you, or the media or the educational system take for a fact, may still actually be not so certain.
Some courses at university take advantage of this method. Medicine is taught using in many universities around the country. It works in similar to the EBL project above: all of the medics would be split off into groups with people they don’t know, they would be given a case study – perhaps a patient with a case of symptoms. It would be their job to work together to research and collaborate and figure out the causes and treatments of the case.
I believe taking part in EBL tasks early on in education has the advantage of pressing students to think outside of the box and to find their own answers; sometimes topics can be more complicated than just getting the answer right.
Here are some references you may find useful:
- If you're interested in topical debates about education, this video will be interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U
- More information about Manchester Gateways: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/connect/teachers/students/secondary/widening-participation/gateway/
- More about Enquiry Based Learning: http://www.teachinquiry.com/index/Introduction.html