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Dr Z A Pelczynski talks about tutoring at Oxford

Dr Z A Pelczynski talks about tutoring at Oxford

January 5, 2011

How does teaching at university compare to teaching at school, and what are the benefits of the tutor system used at Oxford? A retired fellow and tutor from Oxford University offers some key thoughts on why the tutor system is effective.

Interview conducted on Thursday 30th December in the study of Dr Z.A.Pelczynski.

Recorded onto a Roland professional digital recorder (Edirol), downloaded onto a PC and transferred to Wave Pad, transcribed and edited. The opening question was re-recorded to make it more succinct and the levels/amplitude adjusted. The initial length of Question 1, given here, was cut from 00:09:00 to 00:04:05. This included removing a 90 second anecdote that was better suited to answering a later question, and compressing some 20+ hesitations/circumlocutions and repetitions … hopefully without diminishing the feel of the piece.

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TRANSCRIPT FROM EDITED RESPONSE (Original duration 09:00)

Jonathan Vernon:

My name is Jonathan Vernon. I am studying for a Masters in Open and Distance Education with the Open University. The purpose of this interview is to find out what it means to teach in tertiary education compared to teaching in a primary or secondary school.

From Drop Box

Dr Zbigniew Pelczynski:

There are two things about university teaching, one is imparting knowledge or transferring knowledge, and it is assumed that there is somebody who is a specialist on the subject; they have written a book, studied the subject or taken a degree or two in it, and so on, and then you need someone who is an absolute beginner in the subject and he's passing on this knowledge to him and which through the process of teaching, whether it is lectures, seminars or tutorials it filters down to the student.

So this is all based on your knowledge, of you having studied it, read about it, thought about it, and you sort, of passing on this knowledge, in some way or the other to the student.

From Drop Box

But there is a completely different aspect of knowledge, which is not passing on the knowledge, but teaching the student how to acquire and proess the knowledge by himself.

In this kind of thing there’s a sort of three things involved, first of all there’s the tutor who first of all actually introduces the subject and indicates roughly, the sort of the scope and the direction then there’s the student who’s doing actually a kind of mini research project. He goes to libraries, he's got to read as many of the books as he's got time for, extract was is relevant, make notes, then think about it, and process it, and analyse it, and synthesize it ... which is the beautiful thing about the Oxford system, that it has got these two aspects: first of all you have to chop up the material into bits, and extract it, but then you've got to reassemble it according to the topic, to the essay subject that you have, and this is a kind of synthetic thing so it trains you in both those skills.

Essentially, skills is the crucial thing, you're developing, you’re not teaching them, you're not imparting knowledge, you are helping them acquire the skills: rapid reading, extracting information, analysis, synthesis and finally presenting it, because presentation is an extremely important thing, so this is why I think the Oxford system is so marvellous, you know, this 1 on 1 or 2 on 1, or 3 on 1 tuition, virtually all the time, with just a minimal number of lectures, and seminars, and revision classes, but it's a sort of such an extraordinary investment; as what it means is that people who have gone through this process for three years of doing this kind of thing have, I mean, absolutely a trained mind ... three years of a BA, or four sometimes is absolutely enough.

From Drop Box

The point is, the other system, the knowledge is processed by somebody else, you see, it’s processed in books, it’s processed in lectures and so on. So what then happens is the knowledge is pre-digested, it is processed, you only, I mean your work is mostly understanding it in a passive sort of way and memorising it and adapting it to the sort of exam questions you get, so I'm a great sort of believer in the system, but at the same time I realise that it is a highly elitist system, it's an extremely expensive system, you know, instead of taking, 20, 30 or 50 people and giving them a lecture, I had 10 students, you know, who had me for an hour or so every week.

Duration: 00:04.07

Interview with Dr Z.A.Pelczynski on teaching in higher education and the academic writing style

Interview with Dr Z.A.Pelczynski on teaching in higher education and the academic writing style

December 31, 2010

'My name is Jonathan Vernon. I am studying for a Masters in Open and Distance Education with the Open University.'

This is how I introduce this interview. Only four questions were put, and the desired running length was under five minutes; just because it runs to nearly half an hour doesn't make it any the less interesting, though as an exercise in working to parameters it is intended to edit this down to the desired length.

ZAP2010.jpg

This interview has two parts, in the first I ask Dr. Z.A. Pelczynski, a retired Oxford fellow and tutor what it means to teach in tertiary education, compared to teaching in a primary or secondary school and secondly,  the difference between writing in an academic,  compared to a journalistic style.

My interest was this, in the context of module H808 'The E-learning Professional,' part of the Open University MA in Open and Distance Education, can a university tutor, lecturer or fellow, who may have several degrees and be a subject matter expert be considered professional if they haven't also had some formal teacher training.

Secondly, as a student, at school, at university and now as a post-graduate, my writing style has always been described, despite my best efforts to make it otherwise, been described as 'journalistic;' how therefore do I develop an 'academic' writing style.

On retiring some 15 years ago, Dr Pelzynski developed his interest in Poland further by establishing 'The School for Leaders.' Some would question if leadership can be taught: I had that question for him, but in relation to e-learning I wondered if  online learning had something to contribute.

The interview was recorded on Thursday, 30th December at Dr Pelczynski's home.

It is offered here, initially as an unedited 28 minute, single take. It was recorded using a professional Roland, Endirol, digital recorder, uploaded to a MacBook and transcribed using Audacity. The intention, having recorded a buzz track, will be to retain the first two questions, which run to around 9 minutes and edit them down to less than 5 minutes.

The edit will close a series of pauses caused by a dog tracking us down and enterring his study and to emphasise the most telling and pertinent points.

The transcript of this edited version will be offered to support the listening experience and to link to a number of references.

To achieve this edit I will re-record the questions that I put, keeping them succinct. I will also record a 'buzz track' in his study, this is a minute of ambient sound that will help paste over the edit points. I may prefer to edit in iMovies or Quicktime, rather than Audacity. I'm loathe to purchase professional editing software.

On reflection, and as I would have done when working in the media professionally, I would have re-recorded the question where we interrupted, perhaps even gone for a second or third take where I thought the response could have been more succinct. Asked what we'd be talking about I made the mistake of running through each question beforehand - I say in error, because Dr Pelczynski immediately offered responses and often it is these first moments, when someone is first 'challenged' that they say something of most pertinent.

The pleasure I find in listening to this as the spoken word is the obvious enjoyment Dr Pelczynski had as a tutor and fellow for several decades and the genuine desire to bring the best out of his students.

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