It is not how we teach but how students learn that matters

Contributed by Mr. Fong Woon Yim, Associate Faculty (School of Business)

Early Oct 2012, I was invited to a fellow associate’s class to observe how to engage students in group work.

Till then, I had followed the lesson plan religiously i.e. cover the learning objectives, and make sure students go through the activities.

That evening, I observed that the colleague:

–          Interacted well with students

–          Did not hurry to cover the teaching materials given

–          Allowed students time to discuss during activities and respond if they want to

I should say that the class seating arrangement was not the most ideal for student interaction. The seats in the lecture room were arranged in rows and students had to turn around to see their team members and engage in discussions. However, this did not seem to deter students from engaging with one another. Those who participated actively seemed to enjoy the sharing and flow of ideas.

This experience got me thinking and I came to the conclusion that “It is not how you teach that matters but more importantly how students learn”.

In the following semester Jan 2013, I started out with asking my students to suggest ways to make the course meaningful.  To my surprise, students were forthcoming in providing ideas. Some of these were really good. Here is a sample of suggestions.

–          provide an overview of the course

–          activities should be “exam oriented”

–          participation should be by choice and not compelled

–          allow time to get to know each other especially during the first seminar

–          provide snacks for motivation

–          slides should be not be too wordy

–          cover what is relevant (to exams)

–          provide revision class at the end of the six seminars before the exam

–          I should be accessible by SMS as well as by email for questions after class

With this feedback in mind, I went over the teaching materials (especially the slides) and made the following changes.

–          Provided an overview of the course. I drew a concept map of six questions – each question linked to the six seminar topics to be covered. I used this overview to indicate where each seminar was at and guide students in their learning journey

–          Highlighted the key points (in boxes)

–          Added relevant and local examples as illustrations

–          Colour coded the slides. Blue titles are for slides which I will go over. Yellow titles are summaries and orange titles are meant for activities. As a result, students knew when to participate.

–          Conducted the seminars around activities. Focused on a key learning point in each activity

–          Gave a short quiz comprising of 10 questions at the end of each seminar

Other than that, I

–          Responded to students inquiries as soon as possible. I did this within 24 hours. Students could reach me by SMS as well as by email

–          I got the students to sit in their GBA teams and encouraged interaction

In one of the seminars, my Head of Programme joined us midway for class audit. He asked for student feedback and later shared the positive comments with me. Among these, students commented that they liked the class because they felt that

–          I showed care and concern about their learning experience

–          I tried to make sure that students really understood the concepts before moving on

–          They liked the quizzes at the end of the seminar since it gave them a chance to gauge their own understanding

On my part, I felt that

–          Students liked neat slides where key ideas are highlighted in boxes

–          They also liked the idea of a quiz. This helped them to revise, pay attention and prepare for the next lesson

–          Activities that were taken from past year exam questions and modified for discussions helped students know what is expected for the exams

Looking back, what I did obviously required extra effort and time. But it was worth the effort because students appreciated the effort taken to help them learn. This was evident in the end of course student feedback.

At the end of the January 2013 semester in May, my student feedback was more than 4.0 points for each of the three courses that I taught.

One of the three courses was new and had been challenging to start with, especially in terms of teaching materials. But I am glad that my teaching approach has been validated by student feedback. Obviously I am elated with a sense of achievement. Indeed, it is not how you teach but how students learn that matters.

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About tlcunisim

This is the TLC UniSIM blog: the virtual community space for associates and faculty members to share ideas on teaching and learning. This blog is edited by Dr. Abdel Halim Sykes, Lecturer, Teaching and Learning Centre, SIM University, Singapore.
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One Response to It is not how we teach but how students learn that matters

  1. hsiaoshuang says:

    The only important take-away from your students’ feedback is that lecturers should focus on how to pass exams. That’s all that matters, particularly to part-time working adult students (like myself during Open U days of the 1990s). Unfortunately, lecturers are obsessed with their “lesson plans” and boring presentation slides.

    So what else is obvious which lecturers are deliberately not aware of?

    First, Powerpoint slides with their proliferation of cartoons and moronic photos that lecturers plagiarise from the Web! Ban them!

    Just concentrate on writing out meaningful, understandable SUMMARY lesson notes (in double-spaced text), print them and distribute them in class one week before the lecture day. During the actual lecture, use the white board to present key learning points, and DISCUSS with students. The discussion sholud follow the pointers on the printed lesson notes. In this way, as the discussion session progresses, students can scribble additional points on the printouts.

    On lesson notes: I noticed most university lecturers are too lazy to do anything but simply copy-and-paste chunks of text from books or magazine articles, and then hand them out as “lesson notes”. Any lecturer caught doing so ought to be hauled up in court for copyright theft!

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