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Excellence in Teaching 26 November, 2012

Excellence in Teaching

Rev. Dr. Jose Kannampuzha, Principal, Amal Jyothi College of Engineering, Kanjirappally, Kerala led a discussion on “Excellence in Teaching” on 26th November 2012 via A-VIEW.

The talk was targeted at professionals who are new to teaching. Dr. Kannampuzha focused on ten aspects of effective teaching.

1. Audience Analysis

It is important to have an analysis of audience before you start teaching. It is not healthy to make too many assumptions about the audience. For instance, while teaching a class of computer science students, you cannot assume that all of them would be very proficient with mathematics. There can be students who come from a biology background, commerce backgrounds and so on.

Figure out the basics of the class. What is the mix of students? What level of knowledge do the students have? How is the lighting of the class? How many students are there in the class? These details would help the teacher set the tone and the nature of the class.

2. Opening and Closing of the Class

The very first day of the class is very vital in setting the expectations for the course. Take this time to introduce the content that would be covered. Clarify the objectives for the students and set the benchmarks for tests, assignments, notes and so on. It is not good to take students by surprise in the middle of the course.

When opening a class, try to establish a creative environment. Don’t be predictable with the openings such as “Good Morning” every time. Use a quote, news you read in the day, some advice from your personal experience or the content covered in the previous classes to start the class.

It is also important to plan out closing of the class beforehand.

3. Preparation

Just like a speech, it is vital to prepare for every class. Decide what is essential, important and helpful for each class. Devote more time for the essentials and encourage students to study the helpful topics at their own time and pace.

Plan a lecture into discrete segments. Set time for each segment of the lecture. Also, lecture from notes or an outline rather than directly from the textbook. Try to cite examples during the lecture, even though they may not be directly available in the textbook.

4. Delivery

“Like any skill, delivery is not innate, but must be learned.”

It is good to be conversational, speak naturally and be yourself rather than “lecturing” to the class. However, a monotonous voice does not serve the purpose well. Try varying the pace and voice during a class. Use gestures to emphasize points. Mirror your voice to the size of the room. Maintain eye contact with the audience and use language to create pictures of concepts.

Learn to observe others and even yourself. A lot of great professors videotape themselves to look closely at them from students’ perspective.

5. Credibility and Commitment

To establish credibility, it is vital to have a sense of comfort and confidence while presenting the teaching material. Do exhibit enthusiasm and interest in teaching. Also research your own ideas before going to class.

Only 7% of your presentation is verbal. This refers to the content of your talk and the words you use. 38% of presentation is vocal – how you sound and 55% of the presentation is visual – how you look when you present your talk. To teach well, relate to your own experience, ideas and feelings. Also, take a first person approach to the class and relate your passion for the subject.

6. Building Interactions

Learning takes place best in an active environment, not a passive environment. So, interactions play a great role in teaching. Encourage questions from the students, no matter how trivial they sound. Also, set up hypothetical and problem solving exercises for students. These problems need not be ones found at the end of each chapter in the text book. It is best to come up with your own problems.

Work to get everyone involved in the class. For instance, invite students to solve problems with you on the board for a joint experience. Check student notes. It also helps you realise how much students understand you.

7. Chalkboards

Use the board, slides or overhead projector to reinforce your points visually. Put most of the work on the board before the class. Also, don’t talk while you write on the board. Stand such a way that when you write on the board, you don’t block the view of the board from the class. Have a plan for your board work. Start at the top left corner of the board as that spot attracts most attention. So, it would be good to split the board into three or four segments so that at the end of the class, most of the portions covered will be there on the board as a snapshot.

Do remember that visuals are only supplements, not substitutes.

8. Handling questions

Encourage questions during class. Never give a negative response for your questions. By behaviour, set the tone for questioning. An intimidating attitude can suppress questions. When a student asks a question, repeat the question so that everyone hears it. This also helps to clarify questions. Answer questions as directly as possible and be diplomatic in answering tricky questions. It so happens at times that students ask questions just to show off their skills and intelligence. You should be prepared for such instances and deal with them properly.

9. Getting feedback

Get regular feedback on your techniques and way of teaching. Use eye contact as a tool for continuous feedback. You need not wait for the end of the term or semester to get your student feedback. Try midterm course review for instance. As mentioned before, borrow student notes and arrange to have your lecture videotaped as a means of measuring yourself.

10. Tests and Grades

“Poor answers are often results of poor questions, not poor minds.”

Decide what your goal of testing the students is. Consider the format of the questions and the format of the exam as a whole. The questions should be progressively harder. Initial questions should be easy and progressively they get harder as the students proceed.

Try to take your own test. Make your grading and testing policies clear on the first day of the class itself. To tackle tests well, ask students to make short notes by themselves after the class.

“A good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward