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This issue of CDTL Brief is the first of a two-part Brief that features the teaching practices of the 2005/2006 Annual Teaching Excellence Award (ATEA) winners.
August 2007, Vol. 10 No. 3 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Teaching: Share Your Passion and Have Fun
Associate Professor Milagros Rivera
Head, Communications and New Media Programme

Most excellent teachers seek to stretch their students' minds, encourage them to be critical thinkers and attempt to develop students' communication skills. The question is how we accomplish these.

In the annual feedback exercise, my students usually compliment my mastery of the subjects I teach, although they complain that I am too strict in the classroom-no texting, no phones ringing, no talking. However, the two most common observations throughout their feedback refer to how passionate I am about the courses I teach and how funny I am. I find the former observation accurate and the latter amusing because I do not consider myself all that funny. In fact, very few people in Singapore get my jokes!

I have been teaching for almost 14 years and have found that my passion for the subject only became obvious to my students, when I learnt to relax and truly have fun when I am teaching. I can get a class of 450 students excited about new media theory or policy at 8 a.m. Despite the unearthly hour, students will be there even when I webcast the lecture.

While subject mastery is important, what I have found is that 'connecting' with students makes all the difference in the world. So in this paper, I would like to share with you some things that have made a huge difference in my teaching. To be sure, these techniques have not only made a difference in my feedback scores, but more importantly, they have allowed me to truly enjoy my teaching experience.

In my view, the first day of the semester is the only time we have our students' absolute and undivided attention. So when I hold my first class, I always tell students a little bit about myself. I show them interesting pictures of my trips and tell them about my teaching experiences. During this brief introduction, I make an effort to present myself as a person and not a professor. I feel that it is intimidating enough for any first year student to sit in a lecture theatre with 450 other young people who are equally scared. So I think this is a good use of class time. When I finish, students know a bit more about me and feel more at ease. I know this because they always comment extensively about the first class in their feedback.

Second, I regularly 'talk' to students through email. These messages are seldom long, but they are conversational, informal and always informative. Such attempts at communicating with students help them feel connected to me, even if we have never spoken in person.

Third, I make eye contact with my students from the first day of class. Yes, even in a large lecture one can make eye contact with some students! I continue to nurture this relationship with my students throughout the semester and they become my feedback mechanism. I even notice it when some students miss class or switch seats. When that happens I make sure I let students know. They are usually a bit spooked, but generally pleased that I recognise them.

Fourth, no matter how large my class is, I make it interactive from the very first day of the semester by using a 'game' that requires students to not only talk to each other but move around the lecture theatre. The exercise lasts about five minutes during which the lecture theatre is in absolute chaos. However, students are so taken aback by this ice-breaker that they are really excited about the class when the exercise is over. After I calm them down, I discuss the exercise's pedagogical objective and officially begin the lecture. Students' demeanour is 100% different from then on-they never expected such an unorthodox start in a class this size-and they are hooked!

The catch of doing something fun and out of the box on the first day of class is that it builds students' expectations. So while I never repeat the chaos of the first day, I do have at least one interactive moment in each class. This interactive moment can be either formal (they write an answer to a question and then discuss it with their neighbours) or informal (they only have a discussion with their neighbours). Either way, this exercise only takes between four to seven minutes and when I go around the room asking students to share their answers, I am never disappointed.

My teaching style is not inconsistent with a disciplined classroom. On the contrary, I have absolute control of my class. By creating activities that encourage interaction and connection between students and lecturer, students cannot sit passively at the back of the room and become disengaged. Instead, students learn to express themselves better and pay full attention to the lectures. This frame of mind allows students to enjoy the learning experience even if the class starts at 8 a.m.

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Inside this issue
Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk: Teaching History at NUS
Teaching: Share Your Passion and Have Fun
Taking Charge of Learning— Ownership, Learning and a Conducive Environment
Can Computer-aided Instruction Effectively Replace Cadaverbased Learning in the Study of Human Anatomy?
A Perspective on Medical Education
Excuse Me, Are You an Excellent Teacher?
The Empirics of Teaching Quality