Teaching Tips

Inspiration on keyboardThis collection of tips comes from Michelle Hoyle, Anastasia Christou, Darrell Evans and Richard De Visser.

Online teaching does not just mean putting your slides or recorded lectures online. Learning requires interaction – between the tutor and the student and between the students themselves, with the latter being really desirable. Just throwing content at students doesn’t provide interaction and encourages passivity. Aim to foster community and encourage student-to-student interactions around the course’s themes. For example, focused forum discussions, RSS feeds, quizzes, and ‘choice’ activities can stimulate interaction in Study Direct (SyD).

Making the online learning environment inviting and useful will encourage students to use it and participate. Try regularly (once a week?) posting a short, interesting article from current news related to the topics or useful writing tips/approaches or cool shortcuts. That will get them visiting beyond just picking up lecture notes, if anything will.

Online participation often has a tipping point. That is, once a certain number of people start contributing, others will contribute too.  Encourage that by asking the right questions, by being responsive and active yourself initially, and, if necessary, encouraging people by private mail to post their thoughts.

Providing structure and organization can really help to create a positive learning environment. For example, starting a lecture promptly with a clear plan that you share with students is a great start and staying focused on the learning outcomes will keep the session on track.

Variety. Even in a lecture you can vary instructional techniques, from changing tone of voice to using personal anecdotes from field research and even humour. Being active and using visual material will capture students’ interest.

Make it relevant. Providing concrete, real life, practical examples that relate the topic to everyday/ordinary life or explaining the significance and importance of ideas will help students to see why they need to understand and motivate them to engage with the material.

Make it comfortable. Unless people are physically and emotionally comfortable they aren’t able to engage academically so try to put students at their ease. That might mean thinking about the way that the furniture is arranged in the room, presenting yourself in a casual and approachable way or considering cultural differences and personal beliefs around particular topics.

Don’t go too fast. It is easy, especially if you are nervous, to speak as quickly as you can to transmit lots of information in the time allowed. But it is important to teach at an appropriate pace and to keep stopping to check student understanding and engagement. It is better that students grasp two or three main points of a lecture than get completely confused by too much information.

It’s not just what you say. It is important when lecturing or in seminars to use nonverbal behaviour, such as gestures, walking around, and eye contact to reinforce what you are saying.

Think about level. Really think about that audience. Effective teaching is not about showing off what you know, but about getting across the content that students need to know in a way that is achievable. We talk about levels a lot in HE but don’t often think about how we deliver sessions on a group-by-group basis.

Analogy can be a really effective way of explaining complex new material. If you can get someone to think about something they already know about you can build on that.

Gapped handouts, which have spaces at key points where students can be asked to think about something and fill it in, can be a good way of capturing attention in lectures and fostering note-making skills.

‘Stop sign’ slides at 2 or 3 points in a lecture offer spaces for recapping, dealing with questions, or getting students to discuss a question, before moving on to the next section.

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