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Why does pedagogy matter?

Why does pedagogy matter?
Hello, everybody. My name is Klaas van Veen, and I’m the Director of the Teacher Education Programme at the University of Groningen. I will give you my perspective on the question, why does pedagogy matter? As I mentioned in the introduction video this week, we believe that pedagogy matters for you as a student assistant with teaching duties. It is important as you are aware of why you are teaching something in a certain way. As the Vice Chancellor Elmer Sterken mentioned in week 1, you as a student assistant are closer in age with the students you teach. So you probably know more about what goes on in the student’s community than the regular university teacher does.
If you have a general idea of pedagogical content knowledge, you might be able to suggest improvements to the course based on your experience as a member of the student community and as a student assistant. You could, for example, engage in a conversation with the course coordinator to discuss how the course is taught. And this will benefit the quality of education. So let’s begin with explaining what we mean by pedagogy. First of all, teaching can be captured by two features. The first one is interaction between you and the learner. This requires a lot of communication and social skills from you as a teacher. The second one is pedagogy.
Pedagogy can be described as using methods of teaching to explain a topic at the level of the specific learner, not to be mistaken with the Dutch word pedagogiek which refers to the knowledge about raising kids. Pedagogy can refer to three types of knowledge. One, how to structure and represent academic content for direct teaching to students. Two, the common conceptions, misconceptions, and difficulties that students might encounter when learning particular content. And three, the teaching strategies that can be used to address students’ learning needs in particular classroom circumstances. I will explain these three aspects in more detail. Let’s start with the knowledge of how to structure and represent content. It refers to transforming the subject matter for teaching.
Basically, it means that it’s the teacher’s task to interpret the subject matter, find different ways to represent it, and make it accessible to learners. While interpreting the subject matter, you as a teacher or student assistant with teaching duties have to think of different ways to represent subject matter to make it assessable for the target learners. For example, you might want to think of using analogies, metaphors, examples, problems, demonstrations, and classroom activities like presentations or group work. You also have to adapt the material to your students’ abilities, gender, prior knowledge, and preconceptions. In other words, just telling about the topic to people is not teaching per se. You need to tailor the content of the topic to your target audience.
You need to think about the way students think, what they already know, the language that they use, their learning needs and goals, et cetera. Also, you need to adapt yourself to their level. For example, explaining gravity theory to a group of five-year-olds requires a whole other way of teaching than when you would explain the same theory to a 20-year-old student who studies physics. The second element of pedagogy is the knowledge of the common conceptions, misconceptions, and difficulties that students encounter when learning particular content. The more you understand why students find certain parts difficult to understand or to learn, the better you can help them. Very relevant here is that you know what kind of misconceptions students might have.
Often, people already have heard about a topic and somehow think they already understand it, though their knowledge could be quite superficial or plainly wrong. One way of finding this out is to ask students about what they already know, how they would describe the topic, et cetera. To refer back to my example of explaining the concept of gravity to a 5-year-old or to a 20-year-old student, the student most probably has a general idea of the concept without necessarily fully grasping Newton’s law of universal gravitation. Whereas, the five-year-old probably never heard of the concept at all. The final element refers to knowledge of the teaching strategies that can be used to address students’ learning needs in particular classroom circumstances.
This is often what people think when we talk about pedagogy or didactics, the different ways you can teach, such as giving a lecture, let them work in groups, explaining something to individual students, having a group discussion, and so on. However, the question arising here is, which teaching strategies do you choose? The answer to this question depends on the goals you have for your teaching, the kind of students you have, and the content you like to teach. In general, you can say that the way you teach depends on the context situation. If your goal is to train students in certain skills, it seems logical to let them practise.
You first might explain the rationale behind the skills and the relevance, and then it’s important to practise. Or if your goal is to give students a critical understanding of the topic, it might be good to let them discuss that topic from different perspectives. We often call this backward design. Based on the goals you have with students, you decide which teaching strategies and learning activities you choose. But more about this in our next activity, the building blocks of a course. To sum up, teaching requires a deep understanding of the practical content knowledge. Or simply stated, the art of explaining a topic at the level of a learner.
It is very important to know how to transform a topic into language terms, examples, et cetera, that the learner will understand. Second, it is relevant to know how the learner understands your topic. And especially, the misconceptions or the difficulties one can have understanding the topic. Finally, it is relevant to know a broad range of teaching strategies that you can use to explain or to let students understand and learn. Therefore, pedagogy matters.

At the end of Week 1, Klaas asked you why you think it is important to know about educational principles when teaching a course.

In this video, Klaas will give his perspective on why pedagogy matters.

View Klaas’ profile on FutureLearn.


  • Ball, D. L. (2000). Bridging practices: Intertwining content and pedagogy in teaching and learning to teach. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(3), 241–247.

  • Loughran, J.J., Berry, A., & Mulhall, P. (2012). Understanding and developing science teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

  • Munby, H., Russell, T., & Martin, A. K. (2001). Teachers’ knowledge and how it develops. In V. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching (4th ed., pp. 877–904). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

  • Rowan, B., Schilling, S.G., Ball, D.L., Miller, R., Atkins-Burnett, M., Camburn, E, … Phelps, G. (2001). Measuring teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge in surveys: An exploratory study. Consortium for Policy Research in Education. Retrieved from

  • Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1-22.

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