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This issue of CDTL Brief features the teaching practices of some 2006/2007 Annual Teaching Excellence Award (ATEA) winners.

October 2008, Vol. 11 No. 3 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Learning Through Teaching
 
Associate Professor Loh Kai Chee
Assistant Dean, Faculty of Engineering
 

Background
My goal in teaching is to help my students understand and appreciate bio/chemical engineering by stimulating their interests in the subject matter. In addition, I want to impart to students skills for lifelong learning, especially the art (or science) of independent learning. I reflected on my own learning process and found that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. Thus I set out to change the way CN4231 “Downstream Processing of Biological and Pharmaceutical Products” was taught by involving the students in teaching selected topics to their peers.

Learning to Teach to Learn
This teaching method is a modification of the problem-based-learning (PBL) approach. In PBL, students are given a problem from which they learn the concepts and devise the solution. For CN4231, the problem students faced was how to teach their classmates a given topic in the module’s syllabus. Student had to learn the concepts in the topic by themselves and then work out a plan to teach the class.

Students were divided into teams which they formed on their own, and each team selected a topic from the syllabus to teach. I taught the first two topics of the syllabus so that the first team had two weeks to prepare their teaching materials which included lecture notes, presentation materials and tutorial problems (complete with solutions). I also provided my own lecture notes as a reference for each topic. Though students studied the topic on their own using recommended textbook and references, they could consult me to confirm their understanding and clarify their doubts.Each week, the course materials and notes were uploaded to the IVLE for students to download. At the beginning of each session, I introduced the teachers and their topics, and each student taught a topic for 25 minutes while I served as the facilitator. I rounded up each session by clarifying some concepts which students missed and providing the class with an overall summary.

After each session, the ‘teachers’ were peerreviewed by the class. Through the feedback forms I designed, ‘teachers’ received timely feedback on their lecture notes, presentation materials, delivery skills, their level of understanding as well as the ability to transfer their knowledge to the class. These peer/instructor reviews, two quizzes and a final examination accounted for each student’s final grade in the module. An IVLE forum was also set up to facilitate student discussion and feedback on the topics taught. I conducted the tutorial sessions in which students could discuss and clarify difficult concepts.

Advantages of the Approach
1. The class enrolment was kept small to allow students to interact and get to know each other better.

2. Students had a sense of ownership and responsibility for the topics they were assigned to teach. As a result, they put in additional efforts to learn and understand the subject matter. They also became more resourceful in looking for lecture/learning materials.

3. Since students had to work in teams, they learnt from each other and this fostered a sense of camaraderie among students.

4. Students were able to polish their presentation and communication skills.

5. Students were more relaxed in posing questions to their peers, and each session became livelier and more interactive over the course of the semester.

6. Through the process of preparing their teaching materials, students began to appreciate the teaching/learning process and us (lecturers)!

7. The peer/instructor evaluations provided much needed feedback on students’ teaching/ learning.

8. There was full attendance at all sessions because students had to submit their peer review forms at the end of each session. Difficulties Encountered

1. Students lacked confidence; they were more concerned about whether they had learnt sufficiently and if they had taught their peers well.

2. This teaching method instilled a certain degree of uncertainty in students who constantly wondered if they were sufficiently prepared for the final examination.

3. There was a paucity of industrial and research perspectives on the topics due to students’ lack of experience. I tried to supplement this during the tutorial sessions, but it was still limited.

4. Since the final examination paper had to be submitted one and a half months before the end of the semester, it was difficult to set the examination questions without knowingwhat students will be teaching in the later topics. Furthermore, in order to be fair to the students, every topic had to be assessed in the final examination.

5. I was initially unsure how students would take to the new teaching approach. However, I was relieved that students’ comments were generally positive.

Conclusions
I was overjoyed and relieved when students commented that they had enjoyed and learnt much from the module. CN4231 will be offered again in Semester 1 Academic Year 2008/2009, and I will conduct it in the same manner! Some comments from students include:

• “Prof Loh had indeed taught me how to think at a different level, how to study more deeply. I have enjoyed every bit of the module.”

• “With the new style in learning, students were able to learn independently and in the process of teaching to the class, concepts were discussed and understood better. Timely feedback and corrections provided by Prof Loh ensured that we were always on the right track.”

• “Prof Loh made extra effort to help us learn more from the module, by implementing system of students stepping out to conduct the lessons. Indeed, I have benefited much from this innovative style of teaching. There were uncertainties initially, about whether I’m up to it to teach my friends, but encouragement from Prof Loh had totally changed my mindset. The whole learning experience was great!”

• “Very interactive module and very different from other modules as it requires us to teach other students. This is the first time I experienced teaching as a whole to so many students and I get feedback on how I fared. Hopefully this aspect can be incorporated into other modules also.”

• “This module has been really interesting by getting students to take over the teaching role in class.”

• “It’s a pity that my words cannot fully express what I want to say. Thank you again for helping us enjoy the learning process.”

 
 
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Inside this issue
A Teaching Re-evaluation
   
Close Reading as Critical Thinking
   
Small-group Teaching for First-year Law Students—Thoughts from a Tutorial Taskmaster
   
Teaching: A Learning Process for Towards a Student Driven Pedagogy
   
Engaging the Phenomenon
   
  Thai Language Teaching at NUS
   
Learning from Failures
   
Learning Through Teaching