Dear All 

Wish you a wonderful year ahead in 2013.The blog post theme for 2013 is Online Teaching. 

So I decided to start with a video, experiment with the tools available to me and share my experience. 

Instructors could prepare a self-introductory video in a similar manner to  share with their students prior to the first lesson. 

While videos can be uploaded to Blackboard directly, there is a size limitation. Since media files tend to be large, providing a hyperlink  through Blackboard or UniSIM email would be better. 

Do take note that the audience may experience slow streaming if several  users are attempting to view at the same time (this mode is meant for asynchronous view).

Here is the YouTube version of my video.

I used my Macbook Pro and started with the Photo Booth but realized that the audio is out-of-sync. You can check this out here:

So then I attempted the iMovie. The sound quality was much better.

This being my first attempt, it took me close to 1 hour for the one minute of recording :-). And the Vimeo upload took 30 minutes.

I thought I was done. But good thing that  I decided to check out the blog on my mobile . And I realized that Vimeo videos do not play on Android. 

So then I attempted YouTube and it turned out to be a better choice :-). The upload took just a couple of minutes. And it plays on my Android.. as well as iPhone.

While it is probably easier not to attempt these tools as they seem to take up much time, I believe that this  will get better with practice and experimentation.This also highlights the need to share and learn together.

It should be remembered that there are multiple tools and variety of approaches. The right choice of tools depends on needs/purposes,  and available resources.

The key thing is to experiment and enjoy the learning process.

So here are the steps 

1) You may want to write out a script if you want to video-record.

2) Find a place that is suitable. Self-record using your laptop/Mac

3) Your final video file should be in  the format required by YouTube:

  • .MPEG43GPP  MOV files –
  • .WMV
  • .FLV

 4) You need to sign up with YouTube to upload files 

5) Upload files, set the privacy settings

6) Test 

7) Share the link


Contributed by 

Dr. Nachamma Sockalingam, TLC


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Setting clear expectations

Contributed by Dr. Selina Lim, TLC, and Mr. Laurence Ho, Associate Faculty and 2011 Teaching Excellence Award Winner from HDSS

As instructors, it helps your students greatly if you outline and reiterate from the outset the (1) requirements, (2) expectations, and (3) learning outcomes that they should achieve at the end of the course.

Given the packed semester schedule at UniSIM, and the many other demands on your students’ time, such elaboration and clarification at the start of the course will help provide meaning and focus to what your students are studying; it would also give your students a better handle on why they are studying what they are studying, and how these (courses / topics / sub-topics) are related to their programme of study.

By clearly articulating and explaining the learning outcomes of the course you’re teaching, and how they relate to the discipline of study, you also provide your students with clear targets which they can use to monitor their own progress towards those stated goals.

Education researchers have found that clear articulation of learning outcomes and expectations serve as guideposts that provide students with clues as to what minimally they need to do or show in their assignments and assessments, in order to demonstrate their competence in the subject matter.

Assignments are one of the milestones along your students’ learning journey that serve to measure their progress in their studies. Yet, students often encounter anxiety when tackling assignments, especially when expectations and requirements underpinning those assignments are not clearly articulated and further elaborated.

As an instructor, you can help alleviate your students’ anxiety by clarifying the requirements of assignments, and providing the required scaffolding to aid their learning. Here is what Laurence Ho, 2011 Teaching Excellence Award winner with HDSS’ Counselling programme has to share.

Laurence: I make it a point to make sure that I have a good balance between delivering the contents and also spending enough time to go through the TMA requirements with them.

 I think students need to feel secure; they need to know what is expected. Some of the students that I have taught so far have not been in education for quite a while, which means that the last time they were in school could be 10, 20 years ago.

So, I think that probably explains why some of them are very anxious – “Am I understanding the TMA requirements right? Am I writing to the point?”  All that.

So I do find it helpful to dedicate some time, especially when the deadline is drawing nearer for TMA submission, to really go through with them about the requirements.

Most of the students that I have encountered so far don’t really expect me to give them model answers. But they appreciate a lot when I go through the TMA requirements with them on what exactly I am looking for.

As Laurence points out, clarifying basic expectations and requirements underpinning course assignments is not the same as providing your students with model answers, or telling them exactly how to craft their answers. By explaining how the assignments are related to topic learning outcomes, students would have a better idea as to the areas of competencies they must demonstrate in their assignments, in order to show that they have achieved the expected knowledge or skill sets required of them.

Laurence also sees much value in clarifying the requirements of the assignments with students, as this also serves as a self-reflective exercise for you, as an instructor.

Laurence: As associates, it is  important for us to be clear.  Once we are clear about what we are looking for, I think the delivery of the clarity will normally help the students to have more peace of mind.

 I remember when I was a student, there were moments in my education; I felt the most insecure when I had a sense that my lecturer was not very clear of what he was looking for in terms of the assignments  on what I am suppose to do .

But when I had a good sense , when my lecturer  was very clear, he knew what he was looking out for and he translated that really clearly to me as a student, – then I felt really secure. 

 I knew that he will never tell me what the model answer is but I knew for the fact that as long as he knows what he is looking out for and as long as I meet that requirement, I should be in safe hands. So I do find that very helpful.

So the questions that we need to ask ourselves as associates are

  • “Are we clear about  the requirements?”,
  • “Are we clear about what are we looking out for, that differentiates between an “A” paper and “B” paper, “C” paper and a “D” paper?
  • Are we clear ourselves?”

If we are not, then we need to challenge us to be clear. If we are not clear, then I think the students will not be clear, and the insecure feeling will continue to snowball. But once we are clear, we translate that clarity to them. I think that will really go a long way in helping them to feel more at ease with the modules and also the requirements.

I think, most important of all, is really to enjoy learning. Once students feel secure about the requirement, I think then that would put them at ease to really enjoy the rest of their modules with us.

Posted in November 2012 | Tagged

A snapshot of the fourth TEAMS on “Preparing Materials to Present Effectively and Engage Students”

Contributed by Dr. Nachamma Sockalingam, TLC

This post is a snapshot of the fourth TEAMS (Teaching Excellence for Associates: Meetings and Sharing session) for associates, that was held on the 17th of October, from 5 to 7 pm. The topic of this discussion was “Preparing Materials to Present Effectively and Engage Students” and it focused on the preparation work needed for effective presentation.  I had the opportunity to facilitate this TEAMS session (as well as the other sessions) and I should say that engaging with instructors has been a fantastic learning experience. Overall, the feedback for the sharing session has been positive and encouraging, which gives us more energy to continue on.  I would like to thank all the TEAMS participants for their contributions. Hope that those who were not able to join us would be able to do so asynchronously through this post.

I am trying out a new presentation style here, one inspired by a book by T. S. Spivet in which he intersperses his ideas with reflective thoughts. Hope it is not too confusing. My thoughts are in blue font.

There 4 subtopics covered in the session as well as this blog are: 

  1. What are the critical factors that determine the effectiveness of a presentation (in the teaching context)?
  2. Challenges in presenting effectively and suggestions 
  3. Three basic principles of effective presentation: “COR”
  4. How to prepare materials to present effectively (more specifically in UniSIM context)?

The discussion started out with an engaging icebreaker on what constitutes effective presentation skills (for the purpose of teaching). Two sample video clips of about 2-3 minutes each from YouTube on “Hypothesis Testing” were shown and participants were invited to share their views on the teaching style and presentation skills . This led us to discuss some of the challenges in presenting effectively. Participants shared their experiences in overcoming such challenges.  Finally, the various points were summed up and the basics of what is expected at UniSIM (in terms of presentation skills) and how to prepare (to present effectively) were shared with the participants.

(I used divergence – convergence method to generate ideas and facilitate the discussion. The act of showing concrete videos – using two different examples and asking participants to compare engaged the participants not just cognitively (i.e., got them thinking and engaged) but also socially (as everyone of the participants contributed and shared their views). 

1) What are the critical factors that determine the effectiveness of a presentation (in the teaching context)?

Participants shared their thoughts on the videos and a mini-discussion ensued. There was a general consensus that there are different teaching styles and that the choice of teaching style depends on several factors such as (1) purpose, (2) discipline, (3) time factor, and (4) students’ prior knowledge.  It was generally agreed that the purpose is one of the most important factors.

Purpose can be defined to be the (learning) outcomes. If the purpose is simply to list out concepts- then probably didactic teaching would be efficient and suitable, since didactic teaching is transfer of information, from lecturer to students, say in the traditional sense of lecture. However, if the purpose is to engage students and ensure that they understand, and make them think about what they have learnt beyond the class space and time, then there is a need to include activities to allow students to participate and contribute their ideas. This need not be physical activities where students are required to do something. It can simply be mental activities whereby students are given a cognitive puzzle to think about or solve/work out an answer. The idea is to engage the students cognitively.

While it is sometimes acceptable to use didactic teaching, it should be noted that an entirely didactic lesson would not be suitable in UniSIM’s context of student-centric teaching. If the idea is to pass/transfer information, UniSIM provides various channels through which information can be shard, such as provision of online resources and recorded lectures. UniSIM also encourages that the class-time is used for more engaging seminars so that learning is active and meaningful to students.

(Take the example of this very discussion session. One of the learning outcomes was understanding the three principles guiding effective presentation: Clarity, Organization, and Reasoning. And I used the mnemonic “COR” to drive the message.

Now, instead of showing videos and asking participants’ thoughts on them, it would have been easier to just tell them the points directly. It would have taken less than 2 minutes. This would be didactic teaching. Yes! Participants may remember the points for a short while, especially because of the mnemonic. But would that be deep-rooted?

Alternatively, I could simply ask participants to think of various videos that they have watched or various lectures they have attended. But these visualizations do not provide concrete examples. And different participants could imagine different things. Hence, the choice was to show the carefully selected videos (I had initially prepared 3 but due to time constraints, I had to be flexible and choose 2. This is also an essential presentation skill) so that participants have concrete examples to work on.)

Challenges in presenting effectively and suggestions

Participants also discussed about using case – studies or newspaper clippings as a trigger for discussion in a lesson. While most agreed on the use of such heuristics, there were also concerns raised (1) if some disciplines are more suited for such methods, (2) if there would be sufficient time and (3) whether our students are ready (since students may come from diverse backgrounds).

These are valid points and genuine questions that we have as instructors. Participants shared their experience on these various issues. Here is a tabulation of their suggestions.

Challenges Participants’ suggestion
  • While it was felt that certain content might seem more suitable for didactic teaching (the assumption here is that some disciplines/content is more suited for didactic teaching), it was felt that it is possible to use concrete, real-life examples. This certainly requires instructors to be creative and on the lookout for such examples. 
  • Upload resources ahead of class to give students sufficient time to be prepared and use seminar time to interact with and involve students
  • Prepare more examples, but be flexible and tailor to students’ needs
  • Teaching and learning need not be restricted to class time. We can use social media such as blogs or upload materials in Blackboard(LMS)
Diversity in students
  • Upload resources ahead of class to give students sufficient time to read and be prepared.
  • Set expectations that students need to read ahead of class
  • Use multiple modes of content delivery (visuals, audio, textual) to cater to different student learning styles.

(Throughout the discussion, there were many references to learning outcomes, clarity and reasoning/organization, which is what I wanted to achieve (my learning outcomes). So that gave me an indication that I was on the right track. I did not have to tell my participants. But they were bringing out these concepts.

Sometimes, students expect the instructor to tell them everything and think that if they figured out “on their own”, the teacher is not doing his/her part. But contrary to this, good facilitation guides/drives students to the learning outcomes and makes the student a contributor/creator of content.

In the last section of the presentation, I brought together the threads of discussions on   1) what constitutes an effective presentation- what factors to consider, (2) what are the challenges and strategies, to the final part on (3) how to prepare to present effectively.

(How to present effectively was skewed towards power-point slide presentations since it is the one of the most common forms but the principles discussed are generic and applicable to a wider context.)

Three basic principles of effective presentation: “COR”

As you know, there is no “one size – fits all” for an effective presentation. As mentioned earlier, one has to consider various factors such as (1) purpose, (2) discipline, (3) time factor, and (4) students’ prior knowledge in preparing the materials for the presentation.

Here are the three basic principles for an effective presentation. It can be remembered as “COR” principles. “COR” stands for Clarity, Organization, and Rationale/reasoning. Let us take a look at the definitions and explore how to incorporate the “COR” principles in material preparation  to engage the students.

(I have coined this mnemonic “COR” – so you may not find it in the literature)

Broadly, Clarity refers to clarity in content and clarity in the various modes of presentation, be it as speech (volume, tone, pronunciation), as visuals (brightness, contrast, color, font size, fuzziness) or as explanations (use of examples, analogies etc.).

Organization refers to the coherence material and ideas. In other words, it is about how the slides/ideas are sequenced, if the points in the slides have a certain pattern, say from most important to least important, chronological order, etc., and whether the ideas flow together.

Rationale or reasoning refers to whether the various ideas flow together logically, whether the assumptions are explained clearly, if sufficient evidence is given to support logically. 

How to prepare materials to present effectively (in UniSIM context)?

Step 1: Review

In order to present effectively, whether the material is self-prepared or prepared by another colleague, the idea is that as the instructor, we need to go through the material to ensure that the “COR” principles are in-built, and if not, to build it in. For instance, we may find that sufficient example is not used or the font color is unclear. To present effectively, we need to address such issues.

(Personally, I find it useful to print out the slide material as handouts and see whether the slides are organized clearly and the ideas are logically and structurally flowing. To see if this works for the participants, I printed 2 examples of power-point handouts and ask my participants to compare the slide set.  They found the simple exercise to be “insightful” on the “COR” principles).

(One of the questions asked was whether it would be alright for different instructors to prepare differently. I think the answer is that there is going to be innate differences in teaching style in any case. What must be consistent is that all the different instructors teaching the same module should be working towards the same learning outcomes. Having said that, it would be beneficial if the whole team of HoP, AF and instructors to work together for more consistency even in materials).

Step 2: Improve

You can add in additional and relevant but concrete examples where needed (for instance, a scanned copy of a newspaper article). While instructors may choose to mention such examples or case-studies, they may not actually show an artifact. But this simple act tends to make a lasting mark.

(Another questions asked was “How many examples are enough? How do we know?”

I think that the answer to this is “it depends”. The guiding principle is to ask ourselves “why”- “what is the purpose of example”. We want to use examples to enhance understanding. In doing so, we want to choose something relevant to the student so that it is easier to understand. Given the limited time, we want to choose the most appropriate example and where it is needed most, such as explaining a difficult concept. It is also not necessary that the instructor provides all the examples. Students can be encouraged to cite examples too. ).

You may find that adding in an overview mind-map helps to orientate the students. The same mind-map could be referred to throughout the lesson or module.

Instead of using the content as it is, you may want to reorganize the material and “re-present”. One important thing to avoid is to follow the text book style of order for the sake of it. As you know, different text books are organized differently for their own purposes. Hence, the instructor should try to reorganize the material as needed. For instance, instead of lifting/using exact table from textbook, you can “re-present” it as necessary to drive your point. This will also help students to learn how to represent materials.

Step 3: Plan

You can also reorganize the slides/chunk the material and divide the class time to smaller chunks. So instead of giving a 1.5 hr. straight lecture you can plan for a schedule as below. This is just a suggestion but the message is that instructors would have to plan

Activity Discussion Summary Q an A Case study Discussion Summary
10 min 15 min 15 min 10 min 10 min 15 min 15 min

Not only do we have to plan the presentation of the content and activities, but we would also have to  also plan the questions to ask the students. While instructors often wait for students to ask questions, it may very well be that students wait for instructors to ask.

Reviewing, Improving and Planning (“RIP”) will allow us to ensure that the content is clear, organized and with sound rationale, which would in turn to lead to a more clear presentation in class. Hope that these practical tips are useful. For more teaching and learning notes on presentation skills in class, you want to refer to an earlier post: Effective presentation skills.

(Come to think of it, these principles are not earth shattering or groundbreaking. It might look like there were no “new” concepts about presentation skills. Just as countless musical melodies can be constructed from just the basic 7 notes and variety of DNA and protein could be encoded using 4 nucleotides, the basic elements tend to be simple. So the important thing to know is not just the “what factors” but also “how these factors are put together”. )

If you have any comments on this post or suggestions, feel free to drop in your views in the comment box.

Till next time…

Posted in October 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Preparing to teach

Contributed by Dr. Nachamma Sockalingam, TLC

Being prepared is essential for being in class, be it as a student or an instructor. Just as we expect students to be prepared, we need to be prepared to teach as well. Being ready to teach does not just mean having the right qualifications and experience but also the day-to-day readiness in motivating our students and inspiring them to learn beyond the time and space of the class. Being prepared to teach is essential for various reasons because

  • It sets the right expectations (and students can follow the good model)
  • Teaching and learning process would be more efficient. For instance, lesser time could be spent on classroom management, such as trying to connect to a resource or waiting for students to form groups.
  • Teachers could use more relevant examples/heuristics that would help students to learn.
  • This in turn would enhance students’ overall learning experience.

Despite the obvious importance of being prepared, we do see student feedback that instructors could be better prepared from time-to-time. Of course we do also see several more comments that lecturers were well-prepared. So what does being well-prepared mean?

What does being prepared to teach mean?

If we probe further as to what students expect, it can be gathered that being prepared  means (and not limited to these): knowing the materials in-depth, not reading-off the slides, being able to answer queries with regards to the learning outcomes/module or assignments (TMA, GBA), being on time (for class, in providing feedback etc.), citing relevant, up-to-date, meaningful examples, being technology-competent, being ready to guide and able to interact with and engage the students.

Tips from UniSIM colleagues on preparing to teach

Here are some ideas shared by our colleagues (associates and TLC colleagues) on “Preparing to teach”. These ideas were shared during the 3rd TEAMS (Teaching Excellence: Associates’ Meeting and Sharing) held on 31 Aug 2012.

1)      Connect with students

  • To connect with the students, perhaps the first step is to contact the students. This should be well-ahead of the class and you may want to use multiple channels such as emails or Blackboard announcements and introduce yourself to the students.
  • However this may not always be possible as in the case of individual project supervision when the student details may not be available in advance. In that case, getting to know the student profile may be helpful. For instance, you may find that a certain student is retaking the module and that would indicate that the student may have some challenges in the subject. Or you may find that the student has scored very well in a module that is a prerequisite for the project and so you know that the student is likely to be prepared.
  • Give a buffer time, of say, 10 minutes before/after or during break time for students to interact with you (instructor) in case they have queries on lesson or assignments. Students appreciate this time.
  • Respond to students emails/queries promptly and make it clear to the students on your availability.

2)      Set clear expectations

  • It is important to note that students need help in learning to learn. As adult learners who have multiple roles to play, multiple responsibilities to be accountable for, it can be very physically tiring for them. However, taking on the part-time course is their decision and they have to be aware of the challenges. To ensure that their learning is meaningful and useful to them, they would have to take ownership of the learning and too much-spoon-feeding even with the good intent may not be the right thing to do. It is in the students’ benefits that clear expectations of study requirements are set to ensure high standards. [In fact, students’ feedback indicates that they value clear goals and expectations (consistent with what we understand about teaching adult students in general)]. And in order to set the expectations, it is important that associates are first of all very familiar with the policies and procedures, guidelines , requirements etc pertaining to teaching at UniSIM.

3)      Prepare materials

  • While instructors may be given prepared materials, it would be useful to incorporate additional materials or relevant examples where appropriate. Examples used need to be not just limited to the course material and should extent to real-life examples. They should be up-to-date and relevant. Examples that are taken from Singapore context is likely to be relevant and meaningful to our students.
  • In order to motivate students, assignments have to be practical, application-based such that they reinforce learning. Some subjects like mathematics may be perceived by students to be too abstract. Hence it is useful to show examples or illustrate how to apply concepts learnt so that students are able to appreciate why they are learning.  This would need the instructor to take time to identify and use relevant examples.

4)  Organize materials

  • In preparing the materials, it will be useful if the instructor attempts to picture from the point of view of the students in terms and differentiates between “need to know”, “good to know” and the peripheral “interesting” aspect of the learning matter. It will be beneficial to the students if instructors can also help the students differentiate between need to know, good to know, and peripheral concepts so that they can be independent learners.
  •  The instructor could summarize and present an overview in the class instead of going through the slides step-by step. This has additional advantages. It is sometimes difficult to package all the content that needs to be learnt in 3 hours. So instead of going through the chapter in a monolithic step-by-step manner, it will be more effective to summarize and share the overview as well as critical aspects of the chapters (especially where students are likely to have difficulty) and represent the content to drive towards key understanding. This also helps the student to learn how to interpret and represent texts/content, which in turn leads to deeper learning.
  • If needed, instructors may want to utilize scaffolds/ organizers that guide the students on the usage of materials. For instance, which sections in text material or study guide to refer to.

5) Plan for class activities

  • Get students to read instead of telling students to read.  As students (everywhere) typically do not like to read, the alternative could be to utilize activities in class that require students to know the content and therefore read ahead of the class. So instead of asking students to read, it is about getting students to read. However, this requires careful planning.
  • The point of teaching is not (just) to deliver the content via lecture but it is to help students make sense of what they are learning. So, it is necessary to check their understanding from time to time, for instance, by having mini-quizzes that allow for multiple responses which give an opportunity to discuss ideas. Simply asking “Do you understand?” or asking close-ended questions that have only one right answer need not be very beneficial to students. And to be able to ask the right questions, instructors would have to think of possible questions well ahead of class. You may want to refer to an earlier e-post: on questioning skills.
  •  Instructors need to map out the learning journey and help orientate their students to this journey, for instance on what they are going to be learning, what will be the milestones, what will be the potential hazards and interesting aspects. So let us take the case of a lecture. Although the lecture can be for 3 hours, instructors could break down into meaningful chunks and give the students an agenda for the lecture, checking off the agenda as they finish off and pointing out the next steps. It is also useful to draw the students’ attention how the different sub-topics are connected. So the learning journey needs to be mapped out as a lesson-plan well-ahead of the class.

Overall, preparing for class starts well ahead of the class and requires time management given that many of us have other commitments and responsibilities (just like our students) that demand our time. Therefore, there is a need to make a conscious lesson-plan for the class. I am sure that all of us want to do so. Let us continue in that spirit.

The following checklist may come in handy so that you can estimate your level of preparedness.  The more ticks you have, the more prepared you are.


  • I am certain of the module learning outcomes.
  • I am clear on the assessment requirements pertaining to this module.
  • I am thorough with the content material and I have gone reviewed my materials (e.g., power-point slides) in detail.
  • I am familiar with the classroom setting (e.g., computer, lighting etc.).
  • I am familiar with my students’ profile.
  • I am familiar with UniSIM policy and practices pertaining to my teaching (e.g., handling plagiarism, TMA submissions, TMA marking).
  • I have contacted students and set clear expectations.
  • I have prepared the lesson such that it is not just about going through the slides (and that it is about meaningful learning).
  • I have attempted to anticipate what students might find to be challenging in my lesson and prioritized the teaching material accordingly.
  • Where needed, I have utilized thinking organizers that guide the students on the usage of materials. For instance, which sections in text material or study guide to refer to.
  • I have worked out a lesson-plan that includes learning activities, the sequence of activities, duration of activities and objectives.
  • I have thought about how to handle group-work or class activities (if needed) and prepared the necessary.
  • I have prepared a list of open-ended, interesting set of questions to ask students.
  • I have used additional resources such as newspaper, multimedia materials or learning objects- properties  (e.g., demonstration, models) where relevant and useful
  • I have prepared several relevant and up-to-date examples.
  • I have used examples from the local contexts that students are likely to be familiar with.
  • Examples are taken from the course materials, but not limited to the course materials.
Posted in September 2012 | Tagged , , , , , ,

Becoming an Expert in Teaching: Does Experience Count?


Teach/Learn (Photo credit: duane.schoon)

By Nachamma Sockalingam

Have you ever wondered what makes an expert teacher? Is expertise in teaching a result of nature or nurture? Are teachers born or can teachers be trained? Does experience necessarily mean expertise?

Researchers have found that expertise can be developed and that experience is necessary for expertise but not sufficient. That is, experience alone will not count for expertise. This means that long service in teaching need not automatically mean expertise in teaching.

The implications are two-fold. One is that educators who have been teaching for a long period cannot be satisfied or complacent. The other is that educators who are new to teaching need not worry that they can only become experts when they are old / have chalked up experience.

So the question is “How do we become experts in teaching?”

Before answering that, let us see what the current notion on expertise in teaching is. Studies of expertise in teaching represent varied but related views. One view is that expertise means exhibition of certain dispositions. For instance, Hattie et al (1998) attribute four characteristics to experts in teaching. Expert teachers have (1) Content knowledge, (2) Pedagogical knowledge, (3) Affective attributes and Comparative teaching.

However, there is a counter argument (Sternberg and Howarth, 1995) that the measure of expertise should not be against set standard characteristics but that it should be a measure of deviation/overlap from the central tendency of behavior of teachers deemed to be experts. This stems from the belief that different members may exhibit different features. Furthermore, the weightage attributed to each of these features might differ with individuals and these attributes may be inter-related. Yet, there are others who view that expertise in teaching is a complex phenomenon and cannot be reduced to simple models.

According to Ericsson et al. (2007), real experts must pass three litmus tests.

1)   Real expertise performance is consistently superior to that of the expert peers

2)   Real expertise produces concrete results

3)   Real expertise can be replicated and measured in the lab.

In reference to becoming an expert and the common saying “Practice makes perfect”, Ericsson adds that practice does not make perfect but it is perfect practice which makes perfect and he explains that perfect practice is deliberate practice.

What is “Deliberate practice?”

Deliberate practice is not repeating what one is good at again and again but it is investing considerable, specific and sustained effort at what one is not good at and pushing self-limitations (Ericsson et al, 2007).

To understand what deliberate practice will look like in teaching, Dunn and Shriner (1999) investigated teacher activities that lead to competences in teaching. Their study indicated that deliberate activities associated constituted of planning and evaluation activities.

Planning activities refer to completing written lesson plans, mental planning and preparing as well as organizing materials for class. Evaluation activities refer to assessment of student learning and can be classified as formal or informal evaluations. Formal evaluations refer to marking/ grading of assignments and informal evaluations to classroom observations.

Their study added even more significant insights. They noted that teaching activities alone did not naturally count as deliberate practices; it is why the teachers did what they did which mattered as deliberate practices.

Regardless of the teaching experience, all teachers were engaged in activities such as planning and evaluation; less experienced teachers  planned and evaluated, just as the more experienced teachers. But what mattered is how often these teachers used these practices for self-improvement in teaching.

Often teachers plan and evaluate but this is mostly for the purpose of engaging students and enhancing learning outcomes for students. The goal  of these activities focus on the outcome of student learning rather than the process of teaching.

In sum, the key to deliberate practice seems to be not just about exploring new boundaries, experimenting repeatedly and improving continuously, but it is also about being reflective and purposeful about self-improvement.

To me, the picture used in this blog (The mirror image of teach being learn) seems to represent this idea:  self- analysis and reflection on our process of teaching and continual improvement is likely to be reflected in enhanced student learning outcome.

As a number of well-founded researches indicate, this deliberate practice in achieving expertise is not limited to just the field of teaching but is generally applicable across various disciplines, practices /professions.

Enjoy teaching 🙂

And send in your comments or thoughts about becoming an expert in teaching.


1) Dunn, T.G., & Shriner, C. (1999). Deliberate practice in teaching: what teachers do for self-improvement.

2) Ericsson K. A. et al. (2007). The making of an expert.

Posted in Aug 2012 | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Student’s perspective on what student engagement means to them – Reflections on student engagement at UniSIM

The third session of the FLD was a student panel discussion in which UniSIM students shared their experiences at UniSIM and how their instructors engaged them. This discussion gave a different dimension, providing insights on what matters to students.

Prof Gopinathan Saravanan, Academic Adviser to TLC (UniSIM) hosted this discussion and started out by defining student engagement likened it to holding fast. The students took their turns to share their experiences which then triggered off a meaningful discussion. So here is the quick summary.

To engage students…

1)   Be empathetic and relate to students

It was evident that students appreciated and felt appreciated when instructors are empathetic and understanding. This does not mean that the students wanted instructors to be lenient /giving away answers notes etc. They just wanted the instructors to be approachable and they appreciated instructors who went out of their way to guide the students in the learning journey.

Aminah, currently a third year student from HDSS, recounted how her first-year instructor inspired her to continue her studies despite the challenges of managing a full-time job, family and part-time studies.  Her instructor  had guided her to explore the available alternatives/ choices instead of advising or telling what to do. And this “practical lesson” helped Aminah understand the true meaning of counseling, beyond what she books can inform.

2)   Help students relate what they are learning to real-world

There was a general consensus amongst the students and audience that the use of case-studies/ examples and the instructor’s narratives/ sharing of personal experiences (related to the content) made a lasting impression. Such sharing gave the students an opportunity to understand the practical realities of what it is in the real-world, rather than the idealistic/ theoretical situations in the text-books. In fact, the students felt that this was more engaging and useful than the wordy explanations in the presentation slides.

Teck Sing (SST) pointed out that content is often not the limiting factor as there are plenty of online resources to read from. However, applying the content to relevant situations is the missing link.

3)  Why not try using social media tools in teaching

The discussion also reiterated the fact UniSIM students are diverse in age, experience, e-readiness and self-directedness. While Ashlyn (SBIZ) uses social media tools for other aspects of life such as shopping and browsing, she acknowledges that she has not thought about/used the very tools for academic work and this idea of using social tools for academic work may involve some getting used to.

This suggests the e-readiness is not just about being able to use the tools but it takes getting used to as well. Perhaps starting to use the tools is the way to be ready after all.

4)   Know what social media tools to use for what purpose

When students were asked what social media tools they would recommend for academic purposes, their response was suggestive that the use of the tools need to be purposeful. There are existing tools such as Discussion Board in our Learning Management System (Blackboard) which allows class interactions. Joey (SASS) suggested that tools like Twitter can be used for making announcements. Students can choose to check their smart phones without a need to respond (but still know where to get the information if they need to). This indicated that selecting the tools for purpose is important.

The points raised in the student panel discussion were generally aligned with what Prof John Boyer defined as student engagement and what Mr. Peh Wee Leng shared as teaching practices for engaging students (see earlier posts). And by the end of the session, my own conception of student engagement was getting refined.

The take home message to me is that student engagement is fundamentally similar in face-to-face, blended or online. And it is about getting students to think about their learning anytime, and anywhere; beyond the lecture/lesson period and physical location.

Posted in July 2012 | Tagged , , ,

Sharing by our Teaching Excellent Award Winner 2012 in FLD 2012

In the second session of the FLD, UniSIM’s Teaching Excellent Award Winner Mr. Peh Wee Leng shared with us his reflections on his teaching practices for engaging students . I have classified the pointers he mentioned under three groups. The first is at a personal level. In other words, it is connecting with the inner self. The second is connecting with the students. The third is connecting the students with the content/materials/resources.


  • Enjoy teaching
  • Work on being interested in students rather than being interesting
  • Invest in students’ lives
  • Have the right motivation/intention


  • Empathize with students/adult learners and appreciate students’ efforts
  • Get review/feedback from students on your teaching – you do not have to wait till the end of the semester
  • Speak the same language as the students


  • Prepare well: Preparation is absolutely essential
  • Present well: Presentation skills are also crucial for teaching

Good teaching is onefourth preparation and three-fourths theater ~ Gail Godwin

  • Simplify and make the lessons relevant. For instance, use articles/cases from newspapers, videos from movies ( If it is under Fair use)
  • Utilize relevant controversial topics  to hook the students’ interest
  • Use humor to break the ice / liven up the class
Posted in July 2012 | Tagged , , , ,

From Faculty Learning Day 2012: Building Community in Online, Blended, and Face-to-Face

We just had our second Faculty Learning Day on the 28th of July, Saturday. This series of post is a quick round up of what I have learnt from the three sessions. If you missed the event or if you want to review the sessions, we will be uploading the videos. We will keep you posted on the video upload. You can also check out  at

The key-note speaker for the event was Professor John Boyer and Ms Katie Pritchard from Virginia Tech. And the topic was:  Building Community in Online, Blended, and Face-to-Face

Prof John Boyer started out with what is student engagement and led us on to how we can engage students and build communities using the social media tools.Here are my key-take-aways…

1) Engaging students is not about getting students to react. Asking questions and demanding an answer, is essentially getting students to react. Engaging students is about inspiring students to be willingly engaged such that they want to participate.

2) Student engagement is about engaging the students beyond the lecture time.It is not just about delivering a good lecture/lesson but it is about making the students think about the subject  before, during and long after the class. 

3) Student engagement is about building community. It is about getting students to interact with each other such that they work with each other,  help and look out for each other.

4) Student engagement is about collaborative work.

Here is his strategy for building a community of learners:  the key is to create a suitable learning environment for such interaction and collaboration, to use the same language to communicate and to facilitate the communication. In other words, the strategy is to encourage than force. And one way to communicate with the students and speak the same language is to harness the potential of  the web 2.0/social media  tools to promote student engagement.

So, what are some of the tools that we can use to speak the same language as the students? The reality is there are countless . Prof. John had pointed out some of those he uses and their purposes.

 Facebook- To connect and inform students

Ustream- For Delivering content/consultation through video and online chats

SpreeCast- For Delivering content/consultation through video and online chats

Twitter- For class participation and polling

Poll Everywhere- For polling

While there are a diverse range of tools, what seems important  is the clarity in deciding what tools to use, why and how to use (and also when).

In the subsequent posts I hope to introduce some of these tools. I am also aware that some of you may already be using these tools in your classroom and therefore you are likely to be the experts in this. So hope that you can share with us on what tools you are using and for what purpose.  We will compile and share the information to benefit all of us. So do give your inputs in this below link:

Posted in July 2012 | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Welcome to the new face of TLC’s e-Post.

Dear Colleagues from UniSIM

Welcome to the new face of TLC’s e-Post. This blog site is the evolutionary progression of TLC’s e-posts and is the virtual community space for associates and faculty members to discuss teaching and learning anytime, anywhere.

TLC has been sending out monthly e-posts by emails since January 2011 and we have had 18 issues so far. These posts are also made available at the TLC’s website:

TLC’s e-Posts are typically summaries/syntheses of relevant articles on teaching and learning practices. The key objectives of the e-Posts have been:

1. To build a communal relationship with associates and support associates in teaching at UniSIM.

2. To inform Associate Faculty on current practices/trends in teaching and learning so as to engage them pedagogically

According to the Associate Satisfaction Survey held in March 2012, 77% of the respondents (N = 245) felt that the e-posts are relevant and useful. Thank you for all the suggestions and encouraging positive comments.

While it is heartening to hear the e-posts are well-received, we decided to broaden our sharing to make it a two-way communication. Hence we are now going to put up our posts as Blog Posts.

The objectives of the blog posts are:

(1) To  support associates in teaching and learning at UniSIM, and

(2) To engage associates and build a community of practitioners so that we can learn together as well as  from each other on teaching and learning practices.

There are several advantages to the blog site: The blog site will provide opportunities for a lot more mutual exchanges which will allow us to learn from each other. We can include  multi-media materials. We can have comments from readers and posts from guest-bloggers.  We can add on a blog roll of your blogs and there can be more interconnections. So I am very excited and hopeful that this will bring us closer together.

I am fairly new to blogging and I am learning on the go. Will appreciate tips and tricks from you on how to enhance and improve the blog, be it on the content or the design.

So look forward to your engagement. Let us get the blog going :-).

With warm regards

Nachamma Sockalingam

(Editor, TLC’s blog post)

Posted in July 2012 | Tagged