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How to Teach Effectively in Higher Education

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Teaching in higher education institutions can be a challenge. Having the knowledge and ability to work with such a diverse range of students can make a teacher question whether they are doing a good job.

But how can we measure how effective our teaching is and understand how to improve? I’ve recently found reflection to be an important part of my teaching career.

For nearly six years, I have been teaching in a university setting. I began my teaching career supporting second year psychology students during their practical lab classes at Northumbria University, and after several moves later, I have now had the opportunity to directly develop module content for my teaching role at Loughborough university.

When a teacher is provided with details of the classes they are teaching, one of the first things they may consider is the type of teaching method that could be used. For me, this consideration often depends upon the number of students that are in each class (or lecture) as I have found that some teaching methods work more effectively with a smaller group of students than in a large lecture situation.

I then normally look at whether a teacher-centred or student-centred approach would be best. This is normally, for my teaching, a student-centred approach as I like students to be responsible for their own learning where they have support from fellow students and the teacher, instead of being told exactly what to do by that teacher.

I will then progress by considering the individual teaching methods, some of which I will talk about below. I also tend to think about the format of the lecture or class material – should the font be larger, or the explanations be clear for example? I understand that some students have reasonable adjustments and may need extra support, so I must ensure that my teaching materials support the students in the best way possible.

While working at a university up in Scotland, I was asked to develop lectures relating to cognitive psychology. To do this, I wanted to try and engage the students with the lecture content instead of just standing talking for two hours straight. I had heard of software MeToo which could allow student interaction and I decided to look at using this in my lectures after attending some interesting staff development workshops.

MeToo allows the teacher to present questions or visual material to the students so that they can respond on laptops or smartphones. From my experience, using such software has always been effective as it gives students an opportunity to have some feedback on their responses (although they are anonymous) but it also gives the teacher a chance to see where the students are struggling with the lecture content.

While planning further teaching sessions, I was able to present some support material in the areas that the students were finding difficult to understand. I have also used Kahoot, but I find that this software, while a very good option to use, is less interactive and is more suitable for multiple choice questions as a quiz-like situations.

I have now been presented with the opportunity to redevelop a practical psychology module within my current job. As part of this module, I will be developing both lecture content and practical workshop materials, so I am having to plan which methods may be most appropriate to use as I will have to suggest these methods to my colleagues who are supporting the teaching. I have already taught practical classes in one of my previous roles and have developed an understanding of which methods may work best.

One of the newest methods that I aim to implement in the practical workshops is known as a jigsaw classroom method. This method involves students working in small groups, but with individual tasks, to achieve an overall goal.

As this will be the first time I have used the jigsaw method, I’m hoping to get some feedback from the students on how they felt as though the task went. I know that some students do not like group work, however, a jigsaw classroom method involves both group and individual work so I’m hoping it is an effective method.

One of the methods which has worked less effectively for me in some cases is that of the flipped classroom. A flipped classroom provides students with the materials before the class so that the class is then more interactive with activities rather than a lecture. I had attempted to use this in one of my previous teaching roles and it was not effective for me.

I provided students with short videos before each class on the subject material and the classes were structured around the videos. The videos were excellent revision material but from my experience, they were not as effective as providing students with that lecture situation.

So, although I have reflected on a few of my teaching approaches here, this does not mean that they are the only approaches or methods out there. I have come across numerous approaches that I would like to use, but as a teacher you need to find the balance as to how many different teaching methods you use. One of the most important things about teaching is to have that student-centred environment that keeps the students engaged with the topic being studied.

Laura Jenkins, PhD is a teaching associate in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University. 


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