Speaking in Academic Contexts 

Rhetorical Functions in Academic Speaking: Arguing & discussing

Talks which contain argument usually have the following sections: background, author's argument, arguments against, rejection of arguments against, arguments for, discussion & conclusion.

Example 2

Student evaluation of lecturers.

Anyone who has ever attended a university knows that the quality of lecturers varies greatly. A few are very effective communicators: they convey the substance of their lectures clearly and interestingly and inspire students to want to know more about the subject. Others produce dull, rambling and sometimes even incoherent lectures and the the students learn little from them. These are also likely to kill any interest the students may have in the subject. Lecturing is a major part of a university lecturer's job and it would seem reasonable that effectiveness in this task should be a major criterion in assessing a lecturer for promotion, tenure and so on. However, it is very often the case that far more weight is given to such factors as participation in research, number of publications and even performance of administrative duties. It is my contention that a lecturer's performance in the lecture hall should be regularly evaluated and that the best people to carry out this evaluation are those directly on the receiving end - the students.

You could, of course, argue that students, particularly undergraduates, are not competent to evaluate the academic quality of lectures. They may know little of the subject and have no means of judging whether a particular lecturer is giving them outdated or irrelevant information and concepts or whether he or she is accurately reflecting the current state of the discipline. If anyone should evaluate lecturers, the argument goes, it should be their colleagues. However, I am not arguing that students should be asked to comment upon the academic content of lectures. We can still assess the academic calibre of lecturers in the usual way through their qualifications, publications, course outlines, performance at staff seminars and so on. What students are best placed to do is to evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching which goes on in a lecture. Lecturers often have little time to regularly attend one another's lectures. Moreover, their comments are likely to be affected by personal or academic prejudices. Students, on the other hand, know perfectly well when they are learning something and are normally quite clear about which lectures are interesting and give them a clear understanding of the subject and which are boring and leave them baffled.

Another common objection is that the students do not know what is good for them. They are likely to rate highly lecturers who do not demand much of them, who keep their lectures very simple, give few assignments and award good grades for mediocre work. They might even be influenced by such irrelevant factors as whether a lecturer is good looking or how friendly he or she is. This argument assumes very low levels of maturity, motivation and intelligence among students. University students, after all, are no longer school children. They come to the university to learn and normally expect a certain amount of stimulation and challenge. Anyone who has mixed with undergraduates will know how critical they can be of lectures which are uninspiring, dull or too elementary. I am certain that most students care far too much about the quality of education they receive at university to treat the evaluation of lecturers as a mere popularity contest.

I suspect that many of the objections to student evaluation of lecturers stem from the fear some lecturers have of being subject to criticism by their students. However, lecturers should see such evaluation as an opportunity to become aware of defects in their lecturing techniques and thus to become better lecturers. Such a system could benefit both students and lecturers as well as help department heads to more realistically assess the strengths and weaknesses of their teaching staff.

(Adapted from Interactive Writing by Anna Kwan-Terry, Prentice Hall, 1988, pp.60-61)

 

Back to: Speaking: Functions 13: Arguing & Discussing

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