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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds DR.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds CHINTHAKA BALASOORIYA: There are a number of attributes required to be an effective educator. Clearly, a sound understanding of the content area is critically important, as is a good understanding of the learners, what their preferences are, and how to engage them. Finally, it’s really important to also have a good skill base that relates to the skills required to engage the learners in the type of learning that the session is aiming to provide for them. For example, I tend to work with small groups. And in such small groups, the approach is to facilitate learning, rather than to teach content. And there is a subtle difference there. Because in the traditional understanding of teaching, we are delivering content.

Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds But when we facilitate learning, we’re are actually working with the student group to generate a discussion, which helps them to generate the knowledge within their own group. In order to do that, there are some very specific skills that are required. To start with, you need to be able to step back from that role of the content provider, and be the person who guides discussions. So the skill is in asking guiding questions, in asking the correct trigger questions, in encouraging students to have multiple perspectives. Even encouraging debate and difference of perspectives is really important. It’s also important to be able to have that background understanding of the content.

Skip to 1 minute and 51 seconds So that if students were to go off track, the facilitator is able to guide them back through asking the relevant questions, rather than necessarily saying right or wrong. And these are important skills, and skills that need attention. And this is where I would place a high degree of emphasis on professional development of staff. It’s important to start with a sound base. And it’s important to continuously build on these by seeking and responding to feedback, and continuously defining skill base. I continuously ask myself, to what extent do I actually possess these skills? And I think it’s really important for us to ask ourselves, as educators. Because we need to continuously be monitoring our own performance.

Skip to 2 minutes and 48 seconds So in order to do this in a more objective way, I also pay a lot of attention to the feedback that I get, both from my students and from my peers. And I try to respond to this feedback continuously. It also helps to be reflective in everyday practise. In everyday practise, even though the feedback may not be formal, it’s possible to see what’s working for the learners and what’s not. And it’s important to have a few minutes to reflect on each day as practise, so that the next time you go in front of that learner group, you have some strategies, and you have some improvements that you’ve implemented within your teaching.

Skip to 3 minutes and 34 seconds So it’s really important to be able to reflect on your own practise, respond to feedback. And another strategy that I’ve really found useful is to observe peers in their teaching to understand what works, what sorts of strategies they use, and how effective they are, and to try and understand how their strategies might be translated into my own practise. DR.

Skip to 4 minutes and 1 second RACHEL THOMPSON: You actually have to consider the learning context, the subject, the audience, and you actually– for each of the different learning modes, different learning activities, you have to think about the broader learning needs of the student as well. So within the context of the programme– if you have one– rather than just the specific course or the specific topic that you’re studying. In terms of something like lectures, I always say to people– because I teach teachers. So I teach people about this. And it’s the one thing that everybody’s scared of, standing up in front of 500,000 students or whatever– or even 15 can be sometimes harder.

Skip to 4 minutes and 48 seconds But with lecturing, I say, one of the best knowledge skills you can have is that you know your subject, and that you’re confident in putting that communication across. So actually knowing that knowledge itself is the most important thing. But having broken it down into those pieces to explain it. So I teach concepts. So you actually have to, not just understand it at the level of an expert, but you have to be able to unpick it for the level of the student, and be able to show those pieces, and how they might form together to make the overall concept. So that skill of being able to unpick the learning is really important. As experts, we’re beyond that.

Skip to 5 minutes and 35 seconds If we have gone through that transformational threshold concept gateway, sometimes we can’t see how we learned it. But to teach it, you have to see it as a student. You have to go back to your own learning. Or you have to talk to the learners. And you actually have to say, what is it that you understand at this level? And you actually then have to present that in those separate parts, but show how they fit together. And that is really difficult. It takes practise. And it takes some knowledge. You have to understand your own topic. And it takes some theoretical knowledge, so using some theory to help that can help. That can help for lectures, practicals, online material.

Skip to 6 minutes and 21 seconds It can help for tutorials. It can help for any form of teaching– that idea of breaking it down to understandable parts, but being able to show how it fits together. I’m getting there, I think. I’m getting to the point where I actually feel that I can even look at someone else’s topic and start to help them unpick it now. So in terms of unpicking the difficult concepts, and being able to break them down for a learner at different levels is the highest sort of level skill. And I think I’m getting there.

Skip to 6 minutes and 58 seconds It’s a really difficult skill to be able to unlearn. But to teach anything, you actually have to unlearn again, and start back at the basics. So yeah, I’m getting there. But it takes time. In terms of enhancing basic teaching skills, and getting back to the basics for students, I think you need to know your topic inside out. You have to understand those concepts really well.

Skip to 7 minutes and 24 seconds So talking with other people, reading basic textbooks– an example of this is I actually went back to some very old statistics textbooks and looked at the very old statistics textbooks all the way through to the modern textbooks to see how different people had taught this subject in the very dry, quite structured format of a textbook. And it was really helpful. People thought I was crazy, I think. Because old textbooks from 40 years ago, how could they be helpful? But they were really helpful. Because they showed, not only how people had changed in the way they were teaching, but how certain topics had been dropped from modern statistics teaching.

Skip to 8 minutes and 9 seconds And when I looked at it, some of these topics were the most important ones. These were the complex ones. But people had stopped teaching them, because they were too difficult. But without them, some of the higher complex conceptual understanding was missed. So things like the central limit theorem, which students find really hard, and teachers find really hard is quite often glossed over. But in glossing over, you’ve missed the point. By glossing it over for the students, they just think, oh, central limit theorem. What does that mean? If you actually get them down to understanding it, then it can be a gateway, a portal to actually understanding a lot of other statistics. But it takes time. And it takes energy.

Skip to 8 minutes and 52 seconds And you have to do the research to sort of understand the different ways of teaching. It’s not simple. Personal development, I think for me, started with the foundations of university learning and teaching course I did when I was in my first year or so of university teaching. And for me, the one thing that I’ve kept coming back to, the one practise I’ve kept coming back to is reflection. So we were given a diary when we left that course. I don’t know whether you still get that. But for me, I kept that for a whole year. And that was the year I made most of my changes.

Skip to 9 minutes and 27 seconds And it was really helpful, in terms of evaluating my own practise, using different feedback, making sure I was asking a lot of people questions, but also questioning what I’ve done. So I’ve continued that practise. I don’t keep a diary anymore. But at the end of each lecture, I will write comments on the first slide, and save it for my next year whenever I’m going to give it again. And I’m quite critical. I put down some basic stuff, what was good, what worked well, and what didn’t work well, what was surprising about it– essentially using those Brookfield simple questions to unpick what I did. And I sometimes, even now, start changing it now.

Skip to 10 minutes and 8 seconds If I come back to it in a year’s time, I’ve forgotten what was needed. So quite often, I change it immediately, and make those changes, and think about it for a couple of weeks. The same with my other practise. So coming out of a practical class, if it wasn’t working, or there was something which didn’t work with that particular class, I have to think, well, what was it that didn’t work well? So being critical of your own practise is a good thing. It can make you feel better about it. You can think, oh, that did go well. It can make you feel a little bit uncertain. And it can be quite– not depressing. It can be depressing.

Skip to 10 minutes and 44 seconds But it can be quite challenging, let’s say, that you think, that really didn’t work. But in so doing, if you reflect pretty immediately, and then sort of within a week or so of what was happening, you come up with some great ideas about how to improve it. So my tip is reflect, reflect, reflect. And get your students to do the same.

Enhancing quality: at the micro level

Enhancing quality can start at a micro level, with the individual in your course, the lesson or even activity level. At the start of this course, we asked you how you knew that you were doing a good job?

The learning outcome of your mini evaluation task was to equip you with a toolkit of evaluation resources to support your evaluation practices and to enhance your learning and teaching practice.

When you engage at a micro, or individual, level in any activity to enhance the quality of learning and teaching you have the opportunity to identify your personal and professional development needs. There are, potentially, many sources of data or evidence that you can draw on (refer to “want to know more?”) at the micro level and these were outlined in week 2 of this course. Examples include:

  • Description of how teaching activities and associated resources facilitate students’ achievement of the learning outcomes
  • Evaluative feedback from peers and changes that have been made (to learning and teaching activities) as a result (UNSW, 2014).

Here you will hear from two academics about their perspectives on identifying their professional needs.

After you watch this video, think about the following questions that can be used to identify your professional development needs:

  1. In thinking about your own practice in general, what knowledge, skills or abilities are necessary to deliver a specific learning experience?
  2. To what extent do you possess those skills?
  3. What do you need to do to develop or enhance those skills?
  4. What are some of the implications for your own practice?

Academics in context

Information about the academic staff in this video and their professional contexts can be found in the Video Participants Information document below.

Want to know more?

If you would like to more about this topic there are additional resources listed in the Want to know more.pdf in week 2.


UNSW. (2014). Gathering evidence of your teaching. Sydney: Author.

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This video is from the free online course:

Introduction to Enhancing Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

UNSW Sydney