Top 10 Teaching Style Peculiarities

Why are British students so impolite and just shout answers? That was one of the questions that engaged me during my first weeks in Edinburgh. The initial uncertainty and confusion have vanished. Now, I shall highlight the 10 main differences in the teaching style at the University of Edinburgh compared to my home institution in Freiburg, Germany.

1. More Time, more Content

As the University of Edinburgh awards so many credit points for each course, naturally, there’s a bigger workload to cope with. Whereas in Germany there are two contact hours for each course, it’s three in Edinburgh. Also, hours are longer in Edinburgh (50 minutes) than in Germany (45 minutes). More time means more content and more content means more learning, obviously. So, although I have only three courses, there is significantly more work to do for each of them compared to my home university.

2. Viciously short Breaks 

In Germany, there is a strange rule, called “academic quarter”. That is, courses start 15 minutes after the full hour and end 15 minutes before the full hour. In consequence, there is a break of half an hour between courses. There is no such time wasting thing in Edinburgh, but only a 10 or, at the most, 20 minutes break between courses. Just enough time to get to the other course and grab a coffee on the way. Luckily, many lecturers like to have short a break in the middle of the course.

3. The daily Assignment Struggle

At my home institution, a course grade is usually based on a written exam or essay at the end of the semester – solely! In Edinburgh, depending on the course, you need to do graded exercises and write essays during the semester. Plus: There will be another essay or exam at the end of the term. Not a bad thing as this forces students to revise the lecture contents continuously. Or in other words: The University of Edinburgh nips a possible dissolute lifestyle in the bud.

4. Confusing Grades

Marks in Edinburgh are given in percent. So, the highest mark one can get is 100. However, as I learnt at the beginning of the semester, it happens virtually never that a student reaches such high scores. And that’s not even necessary, because: Everything above 60 means that you did very well and everything above 70 is an “excellent” performance, according to the grading scheme. This is because the scale works differently than in Germany. And it also means that grades that don’t look so great at first glance are actually pretty good.

5. ECTS-Points (x 2)

When I had to choose my courses in Edinburgh, I was confused by their credit point system. Most courses yield 20 credit points. Yes, you read correctly. It took me a while to find out that these are “Edinburgh Credit Points” (a special scale for a special university…). To get the ECTS equivalent you just divide by 2. So, for most courses, you’ll get 10 ECTS. Still, this is a lot compared to courses at my home university where 6 ECTS is the common amount of points awarded for a single course. I really need to suggest introducing “Freiburg Credit Points” to make the points appear more massive.

 6. Lectures that aren’t Lectures

All courses I am taking this semester are “lectures”, according to the course catalogue. But I found out that this term doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. Two of my courses consist of 20 students only and require steady active participation. Consequently, the lecturer does not lecture all the time. In Germany, such courses would be called “seminars”. My third lecture in Edinburgh, however, is indeed a lecture. But be prepared for a bit of confusion: Lectures can be anything.

7. Calling Lecturers by their Forename?

“Hey guys, I’m Sophie, how are you?” – This is how many professors introduced themselves at the beginning of the semester. They don’t want to be called “Ms./Mr. X” and prefer being called by their forenames. Conversely, they call students by their forenames. I like that casual atmosphere. However, when I write E-Mails to my lecturers, I still address them as “Dear Ms./Mr. X” because they are authorities – It’s kind of hard to overcome my German habits…

 8. Those not so deadly Deadlines

At my home university, deadlines are what their name suggests: fixed due dates. To avoid fatal consequences, you can arrange an extension by agreement with your teacher if you’re lucky enough. But usually, to miss a deadline means to fail. In Edinburgh, however, you can simply hand in your essays after the deadline. But then your mark is subject to late penalties. A nice and fair approach, I think.

9. Modern Technology

At the University of Edinburgh, many things happen online. There’s no old-fashioned lists at the lecturersoffice doors and no paper-wasting essays. Instead, you make appointments online and hand in your essays on a specific website. One of my teachers even has a professionally produced online lecture on Youtube where students can revise the content. The way how the university uses the internet is doubtlessly  very efficient.

10. Impolite Students?

British students are impolite. This claim sounds pretty odd as it contains the words “British” and “impolite” in one and the same sentence. However, that is what I thought during my first weeks at uni. And here is why: In Germany, when you want to contribute to a class discussion, you usually raise your hand and wait until the professor asks you to speak. In Edinburgh, this is also a common method. However, there is another one which is “shouting” answers, or in other words, talking without being asked. What in Germany would be considered nearly rude, is a common practice here. And although I found this kind of weird at the beginning, it’s working perfectly fine and I’m getting used to it.