Prepared for DUT, Nov. 13, 2013, New Brunswick, Canada
Being a student in the Diploma in University Teaching course, I have learned quite a lot about teaching. This was surprising to me, as I never thought of teaching as something one learns to do, but rather something one has a “talent” for. The course proved me wrong. I saw many teachers who, while not very social or even interesting to talk to in person, are amazing lecturers when presenting a carefully crafted lesson on their subject. The course has showed me that being a good teacher is not about “psyching” yourself up for the lecture or only knowing your subject well, but about preparation, practice and communication. The three most important things I learned about teaching are: engagement, variety and assessment.
I learned that without engagement no matter how good my knowledge of the subject is, students will simply fall asleep. I learned that a simple question at the beginning of the lecture, to make the students feel part of the class will do more for me as a lecturer than an hour’s worth of most elaborate explanations of the most exquisite theories. Not only is engagement good for the students, but it is amazing for the lecturer as well, as, instead of the droopy heads and sleepy eyes, one is greeted with attentive faces and curious smiles awaiting for the continuation of the story or a discussion that the lecture becomes. To me, this was an amazing revelation that will forever change the way I lecture.
I learned that by varying the lecture methods or style I can not only explain the topic in more detail but also keep the students interested longer and also present the same concept to different types of learners to give them a chance to grasp the concept. Before taking this course I was sure that lectures via slides were “the” definite way to teach. I always thought it was my fault for not making “good enough” lecture slides when the presentation went down the hill. I was surprised, and relieved, to find out that lectures (via slides) are almost the worst way of conveying knowledge to the students. By varying the way I teach, not only do I enjoy the lecture myself immensely (as when I get to draw pictures on the blackboard!) but also I see immediate improvement in the attention and interest of the class. I will never teach only from the slides again, and will strive to include at least two different ways of presenting the material during the lesson.
I learned that assessing students’ learning and understanding is just as important as teaching itself. The novel ways of asking students what they did not understand via summary notes or question cards make sense to me and I am eager to try them in class. What is more, I realize now that homework is not the only way for me to find out whether students are understanding the material. By assessing students’ knowledge of the subject I can judge whether a test is fair ahead of time, and by assessing students’ understanding I can decide whether I should continue with the lecture or step back and review some misconceptions; this takes a great weight of my shoulders in trying to figure out how fast I should advance through the material. My goal is to conduct some form of student assessment every single class.
In conclusion, I wanted to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the usefulness of the course. Not only did I learn that teaching is not a “gift” but something that can be taught, but I also gained confidence in my own teaching. Special thanks to Peter Gross who made taking this course a pleasant experience, and for the sly trickery played on us all when he confessed to being an “imperfect” teacher — for as the weeks went by and we learned the material, he perfectly personified the very concepts he taught.