During the course of my PhD programme and over the several years I have been teaching, I have had the good fortune to observe a number of excellent teachers in the classroom. While there were specific aspects of different teaching strategies that I have tried to incorporate into my own teaching, I have come to a conclusion that effective teaching is instructor-specific. In other words each one of us needs to adopt an approach that is not just consistent with our own set of beliefs regarding what constitutes effective teaching and but also inline with our own strengths. Outlined below are some effective teaching strategies that I have used in teaching both undergraduates and graduates.
A key aspect of my teaching is that I try to build variety into almost every aspect of the course design—assessment methods, class activities or learning tools. With respect to assessment methods, I typically use a combination of group-work as well as individual work which both serve distinct purposes. Though I use individual assessment methods to judge the extent to which students have imbibed the concepts, I find that group output is typically more substantial and higher quality than individual output. The quality of group presentations is also often better than individual ones.
While I use a variety of learning tools, I try to make sure that no tool is used more than twice during a term. For instance, I employ breakout sessions where the students discuss an issue or a case for 20 minutes and present their recommendations to the class. While doing this once or twice in a term is useful, I find that doing it more often leads to ‘fatigue’ and a ‘déjà vu’ feeling.
2. Giving students the voice
While most teachers have a lot of knowledge to share with their students, I find that it is often useful to step back and ‘give the floor’ to the students. In my classes, I encourage the students to actively participate in class discussion by attaching some weightage (10% to 15% depending on the level of the course) to class participation. I make conscious efforts to draw out the quiet or shy students into the discussion by posing them questions. I typically grade the participation on a very strict curve (this is communicated to the students during the first class), thus providing incentives to participate actively.
3. Shorter assessment methods
The nature of my subject (e.g. MBA 5104, “Global Strategic Management”) doesn’t lend itself well to two-hour exams since most substantial strategic problems cannot be solved in two hours. I prefer instead to administer short quizzes with interesting strategic situations which can be ‘solved’ in a relatively shorter time. Immediately after a quiz is over, I make it a point to offer my perspective (appropriate response) of the questions and discuss with the students. From my experience, some of the liveliest and most enjoyable discussions are those with my Executive MBA students who are mature students with substantial industry experience.
4. Challenge the mind
Over the course of the last several years, I find that counter-intuitive situations have the greatest appeal for students. I often discuss cases and situations that have seemingly simple answers but actually require a more complex and in-depth explanation when you probe beneath the surface. For instance, many students in the BMA 5013, “Corporate Strategy” class (typically about 40 students) are aware that the crew members onboard any Singapore Airlines flight comprise personnel from countries such as Malaysia, India and China, among others. I then ask the students to think about how Singapore Airlines is able to achieve better levels of service than Malaysian Airline, China-based airlines or Air India despite drawing from essentially the same labour pool. In this way, I can bring in the importance of training and recruitment. To complete the ‘story’, I introduce other issues such as the importance of the top management’s vision, commitment to training (not cutting training budgets during lean times) and having a lucrative incentive and reward system.
5. Debate and discussion rather than information transmission
I believe the way issues are framed or posed to students will determine their responses. Therefore, I find it useful to pose a question to the students (e.g. what is the impact of globalisation on firms from small countries?), get their responses and then inform them of my perspective and position regarding the issues. This often sparks debate and interaction among students. Through such a teaching approach, students are more likely to imbibe the key points rather than a one-way (teacher to students) transmission of information.
6. Discussion forums
For business courses, online discussion forums are invaluable tools. I use the discussion forums on the IVLE for a variety of purposes. Firstly, for exploring issues that are related yet somewhat distinct to the class. In this way, I can also supplement the scarce class time. Secondly, such forums are a wonderful channel for the shy students to express their points of view. I also encourage students to respond to other students’ posts through discussion and debates. I find it interesting that the online debates often generate more responses and counter-responses compared to the verbal discussion in class.
Over time I have observed that it is important to kick-start the online discussions by doing a couple of posts and responding to the first few posts rather than leaving it to chance since a weak beginning can quickly kill a forum. Once a discussion gathers momentum (it usually does), I retreat into the role of an observer. This is because if I were to participate too actively in a forum, students may perceive my posts as the final word on a particular topic and the discussion may close prematurely.
While many of the above teaching strategies have worked well for me, I must emphasise that their effectiveness may be context-specific. Most of the strategies mentioned in this article would probably work well in sectional teaching, especially for disciplines (social sciences) where there is room for the students to offer their perspectives on an issue.