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Good teaching

In Week 1 we looked at student approaches to learning. This week we focus on teaching. Good teaching practice has a major influence on student learning. Teachers strive to achieve good practice in an effort to provide the best learning experience for their students.

Reflection point

What does good teaching mean to you? (in one sentence). Do you remember a time when you had a good teacher? If so, what made that teacher good?

Key strategies and characteristics

Although there is no one right way to teach, there are strategies and characteristics of good teaching established over decades of research (for example: Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Graham, et.al. 2001; Harfield, 1995; Prosser & Trigwell, 2002; Ramsden, 2003). As you read through the list below think back to your answers in Step 1.8 Your experiences of learning and compare the relationship between your ideas of good teaching (as a learner) and your practice as a teacher.

A good teacher will:

Characteristic Details
Share their love of the subject (Ramsden, 2003) Words such as ‘passion’ and ‘enthusiasm’ are often used to describe this characteristic. The teacher demonstrates a vibrant interest in the subject and inspires students by stimulating their curiosity.
Encourage communication between learners and teachers and learn from each other (Prosser & Trigwell, 2002; Ramsden, 2003) Building a rapport with learners is important. Frequent learner / teacher interaction is an important factor in student motivation and involvement. This may be achieved through online communication (eg email, discussion forums, webinars) and peer support. It is especially important during the important first year of study. Learning underpins teaching and great teachers will learn how to improve their teaching from their students.
Encourage interaction and collaboration among learners (Prosser & Trigwell, 2002) Learning is enhanced when it is more of a team than a solo effort. Good learning, like good work practices, is collaborative and social. Cooperative learning often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one’s own ideas and responding to others’ reactions sharpens thinking and deepens understanding.
Provide opportunities for active learning (Prosser & Trigwell, 2002) Learning is an active process. Sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorising pre-packaged assignments, and completing online quizzes does not provide engaging opportunities for student learning. Students need opportunities to discuss their learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and apply it to real situations. They should make sense of what they learn for themselves.
Allow for student independence (Ramsden, 2003) One of the key differences between ‘compulsory education’ and ‘higher education’ is that of independence and control. Sometimes this is described as autonomy and is closely related to concepts such as self-efficacy, self-directed-learning, and student engagement in education. An increase in autonomy often correlates with an increase in student motivation for learning.
Provide timely and appropriate feedback (Prosser & Trigwell, 2002; Ramsden, 2003) Knowing what you know and what you don’t know focuses learning (metacognition). Learners need timely and appropriate feedback on their performance to facilitate their learning. This starts with good assessment design. Quality feedback is a powerful tool to aid in the learning process.
Emphasise time on task (Prosser & Trigwell, 2002) Efficient time-management skills are critical for learners. By allowing realistic amounts of time, effective learning for learners and effective teaching for faculty staff are able to occur. The way the institution defines time expectations for learners, teachers, administrators, and other staff, can create the basis for high performance from everyone.
Motivate learning by communicating expectations and setting clear goals (Prosser & Trigwell, 2002; Ramsden, 2003) Expect more and you will get more (expectancy effect). High expectations can be motivating for learners. Set clear goals and provide clear explanations. Instruction is important. Knowing how to ‘pitch’ instruction and scaffold the process of learning is an important aspect of teaching. Challenging a student requires an understanding of each student’s intellectual ability, and skillset.
Respect and accommodate student diversity, talents and ways of learning (Prosser & Trigwell, 2002; Ramsden, 2003) Empathise with students. Show respect as equal partners in the learning (and teaching) journey. There are many paths to learning. Students bring different talents, and styles of learning. Students need the opportunity to develop their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Once they gain confidence it is possible to encourage them to take risks and learn in new ways that are more challenging.

Adapted from the University of Sydney’s Principles and Practice of University Teaching and Learning 2012 program.

Talking point

Think about your own context. How would you prioritise the list of qualities above? Explain your top 3 choices.


Chickering, A. W. and Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven Principles for Good Teaching in Undergraduate Education. AAHE Bulletin 39, 3-7.

Graham, C., Cagiltay, K., Lim, B., Craner, J., & Duffy, T.M. (2001). Seven principles of effective teaching: A practical lens for evaluating online courses. Assessment March/April. Retrieved January, 2010, from http://technologysource.org/article/seven_principles_of_effective_teaching

Hatfield, S. R., Ed. (1995). The seven principles in action. Bolton, MA, Anker Publishing Company, Inc.

Laurillard, D., (2002). Rethinking university teaching: A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies. 2nd edition. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Prosser, M. & Trigwell, K. (2002). Understanding Learning & Teaching: The Experience in Higher Education. Buckingham, UK: Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

UNSW Sydney