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Teaching strategies for different contexts

The value of the lecture. Teaching strategies for different contexts.
I definitely see a value. I think the best way of saying that is people still go to Ted Talks. I think storytelling is becoming a really big thing. It’s becoming an art again. And that’s often what we do. I think we have to look at how we engage with people more in them, rather than just expecting them to come in. As a student said to me recently, we can be made to come to a lecture, but we can’t be made to learn. Yeah. I think lectures are a great way to convey a lot of information. So in my course, I see the purpose of the lectures as where the students are presented with the information, often for the first time.
And they then work with this information in the lab and in the problem solving workshops which are associated with that lecture. So I think lectures are a very efficient way to convey the information. And I think they do work well for student learning, as long as they’re broken up so that students aren’t forced to listen to you presenting to them for more than 15 minutes at a time. The lectures, they’re back. And we always had very interactive lectures with worked examples that we throw over to the students. And so we’re going back into that style. And we’ve got questions that students can respond to. And then when they come to the flipped spaces, they’re a lot more prepared.
So in the two hour flipped workshops, we can see that they’re getting to that deeper level of learning. Now days, I don’t lecture so much. I do the occasional face-to-face lecture. I have done that in the past. And I like the online environment as a way of delivering information. But there is something to be said for standing in front of a group of people and talking and getting them involved in the discussion in real time. I think the value of it is having everyone in the same place and able to have that instantaneous feedback. And one way that I’ve really used that in the past has been to add a Twitter feed to the discussion.
So you have all this discussion on a back channel coming up, and then the lecturer can respond to that within the lecture environment. That, I think, is one of the key benefits. Right. So in our department we’re starting to flip the lecture a little bit and have more interactive learning. So we have modules where students can learn and then use the lecture as a type of feedback space, an interactive space. I still think students like the lecture, personally. And I think they like it because they come in contact with the person who is an expert in the area.
So while there may be talk about the lecture going away, I’m not sure that it should, because in our particular lecture spaces, we are sort of interactive. We’re didactic at times, but we’re quite interactive. We’re moving towards an interactive way of doing things. And I think students enjoy seeing us and learning from us face-to-face, or at least interacting with us. The value of the lecture in student learning at university is an interesting topic, and controversial at times. We’re always questioning whether it’s a good idea to deliver content in such a large delivery mode when you can have up to 1000 students sometimes. In my classes, I lecture in one to two hour blocks up to 300 or 400 students.
I think the lecture is a particularly good medium because there are so many students there and only one of you. It’s economically efficient. And I think that if material is structured effectively and delivered effectively and that the lecturer regularly engages with students to ask questions and check for student understanding and so on, then I think the lecture can be a very good format.
So during the tutorials, we’ve got the students at the end of each tutorial doing a team quiz using Socrative. And they can see the progress as they’re going through. So there’s little rockets going across the screen as they’re on their phones or on their laptop answering the questions. And after that, they do an individual quiz and answer the questions as well in Socrative. And we’ve sort of merged together the traditional written work and these online quizzes because the quizzes are questions about the questions that they’re writing on in class. So they have to have worked through a set of questions in a traditional style, and then they get asked this set of questions.
So the questions will say, see question 3. Now, what if the fair value was 15,000? So it gets them to think about different scenarios and answering that other set of questions. So we’ve used technology in that way. I do have a set of videos that are about five minutes. They’re animated and the students can work along with them. And we encourage the students to do that. In semester 1 we did have some marks. So we had 0.5 of a mark for every video they watched. And once they’d watch the video once, they would come back, watch it 14 times and work along with just a little PDF template.
And they could work along with the video each step of the question. And they’re the most effective videos that I’ve found is the work along type video. So I ran an online course as well called Everyday Physics. And this course was designed to be run online. So I think one of the difficulties with online teaching is that it’s very easy for students to disengage. If they don’t see the relevance, they can stop watching the videos. And they’ll probably complete the activities for marks, but they’ll effectively disengage from the course. So I took that into account from low course design stage. And the course is called Everyday Physics.
And each week they have an everyday context that we’re looking at the physics behind. And I find this works quite well with most of the students, because they can immediately see the relevance of what they’re learning. So for example, in one of the weeks we look at why does your kettle boil. And in this week we look at thermal physics. There’s a bit of calculating powert as well, electrical power. The students actually do a little experiment at home where they boil their kettle a few times and measure how long it takes. And from that, they can calculate the specific heat of water.
So I think that a good approach with the online learning is to make sure that the students see the purpose of it. I also try to respond very quickly to forum posts in that online course, because they can feel like they don’t have much of a relationship with the lecturer. But they comment that if you get back to them very quickly, they do feel like they have a relationship. There’s also lots of videos in that course showing me talking to them with my face full screen. So I think they do feel like we’re building up a relationship that way.
The way that I find I need to adapt to these different environments, part of it is just really exploring the affordances of the technology. Use the rooms that are available. Use external resources. Use blogs. Use Tumblr. Use Mixcloud. Use whatever you’ve got. If you’ve got software, find out what it does and use it. If you’ve got a room that lets six students sit on a table, work out how you can make use of that collaborative space. It wouldn’t have occurred to me until I was thrown into all these different environments how important the actual environment is. And this includes digital environments as well, just knowing how to get the most out of those spaces. Yeah.
So that entire mode of actually working varies quite a lot, both in the face-to-face session and in the online session. So what I really try to do in a big way is to make sure that students are interacting in some ways in a similar kind of way, both online and face-to-face. So if we have small group discussions in class, we want to actually take that to the online situation where they continue those discussions. But in class, I try to make activities geared around opportunities where I can demonstrate how I’m thinking to them, and then they can model that in whatever they are doing.
In large group sessions, the class may really be something about me delivering content and then giving them questions throughout that content so that I can assess their thinking and understanding, but also giving them opportunities to actually demonstrate that they can apply that in a large group of 550 students. So to do that, we may use different kinds of software, like Socrative, or maybe Smart Sparrow, or something that gets me to understand what the students are understanding as I am teaching them. In the small group sessions, because there’s 20 students, it’s very, very different.
So you can have a conversation with students, and you can actually get a feel for what they’re thinking, and then on your feet, devise different problems to get them to see how this actually applies in different contexts. So I think the small group sessions allow you a certain degree of flexibility, where in the session you can actually adapt it for that particular group of students or for that particular area that they may have difficulty in much more easily. Very much one of the principles that I use in all of my teaching is for students to be active.
Some time, a long time ago, I think when I went to FULT or the grad certificate course or something, someone told me that you have to get students talking within the first 10 minutes. And so whatever I do, I try to make sure that the students get to have an opportunity to talk within that first 10 minutes, right. So in the last group session, it may be putting up a problem and getting them to talk to their friend next to them. In the small group session, it may be them talking to me or explaining something to me. That’s one strategy that I use.
The other really, really important strategy that has had really good feedback from the students is getting them to design some kind of a learning resource for their cohort. So in all of the medical science projects, I do this. So the students get to work in a team on a project. And the project is to pick a really difficult concept and work on some kind of way that they would teach that to their group of peers. So it may be making a video, which they love doing. And they’re really, really creative in making videos. So they could do role plays, or they could teach students via the white board.
They’ve made some really fantastic ones, which I’ve then used for other cohorts as well. But getting them to do that, because in doing that they have to first learn the content and understand it, and then distill it down to the important parts that they’re going to teach their peers in 10 minutes. So the whole task shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. And so as part of this assessment, they then peer review other people’s teaching resource. And this has been really, really effective in getting them to look at different content across the course by reviewing other people’s productions, but also then thinking about how they would actually learn a fundamental concept and then teach it to their peers.
So that’s another strategy. Other things that they’ve done is make tutorials. Or sometimes it’s simple things like reading a scientific paper and working out how would I review this paper or how would I tell my friends what are the really important things in this paper that I have to then pay attention to. So, yeah. I place a great emphasis on tailoring my educational strategies to suit the audience. For example, when I work with medical students in scenario groups, I tend to take an approach where I get to know the student group and gradually tailor my approach to suit the preferences of that group. For example, some groups have greater preferences for some types of learning activities.
Some like to do group discussions. Others like to do more smaller group discussions and come back together as a group. Some like debates and role plays. Others have other preferences. So I get to know the learners’ preferences and tailor my approaches to suit the context. In contrast to this, when I work with staff in my staff development activities, often it is a mixed group. It is a more diverse group.
And I find it very helpful to open by asking the group what their expectations are, what their preferences are, so that I spend the first five to 10 minutes understanding what the expectations are, and then I tell them my session to ensure that I meet the requirements of that particular group.
This week we look at teaching strategies for different contexts.
Watch the video below, where UNSW teaching staff were asked these questions:
  1. What do you think is the value of the lecture for learning?
  2. What are some of the different strategies you use for different contexts e.g. tutorials, workshops, labs?

Reflection point

Think about the following question while you watch the video. Which of the strategies mentioned have you used as a teacher or experienced as a learner?

Talking point

How would you improve on one of the strategies you have identified?

Academics in context

Information about the academic staff in this video and their professional contexts may be found in the Academics in context.pdf document.
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