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This issue of CDTL Brief is the last of a two-part instalment featuring the teaching practices of faculty members who have won the Excellent Teacher Award (currently known as Annual Teaching Excellence Award) for three consecutive academic years (2001/2002–2004/2005).

October 2005, Vol. 8, No. 7 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
A Good Teacher and Macroeconomics
 
Dr Ho Kong Weng
Department of Economics
 

Introduction

When I was a student at the National University of Singapore (NUS), I was taught by dedicated teachers who cared for their students. When I attended graduate school at the University of Chicago, I was influenced by teachers who excelled in their research. Though my current philosophy of teaching is partly shaped by my former teachers, it is evolving as I teach and learn with my students at NUS.

Teaching Philosophy

Firstly, I believe that a good teacher is one who is genuinely concerned for his/her students and always prepared to go the extra mile to help them in the learning process. For example, teaching compulsory modules to a large class of undergraduate students may be more challenging than teaching elective modules to a small class of graduate students because the former group of students are less academically prepared and more diverse in their backgrounds. A good teacher would be motivated to put in effort to identify the learning needs of the large group of undergraduates, and use appropriate teaching methods to help them learn better.

Secondly, I believe that a good teacher inculcates good learning attitudes in his/her students. Sometimes when I teach a module that requires students to have prerequisites, I realise that many students have actually forgotten what they had learnt previously in the foundation modules. These students, who have satisfied the requirement to move on to other modules, have returned what they had learnt to their teachers after the exams. Since it is natural for students' retention of content knowledge to diminish over time, it is important for teachers to encourage students to adopt good learning attitudes so that they may benefit in the long run.

Thirdly, I believe that a good teacher is also an active learner. He/she is constantly responding to student feedback and learning how he/she can teach more effectively. In this aspect, the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL) provides abundant resources and courses to help teachers improve their teaching skills. When I attended the courses conducted by CDTL, I also benefited from interacting with other teachers. After acquiring new teaching skills from these seminars, I usually like to test what I have learnt on my students. To check the learning outcome, I solicit, listen and respond to student feedback informally long before the final exams so that I can improve on my teaching and students can benefit for the rest of the semester. Responding to student feedback not only shows the teacher's sincerity, but also invites further feedback.

In summary, a good teacher goes the extra mile to help students from different backgrounds learn better, inculcates good learning attitudes in the students and responds to student feedback to improve his/her teaching.

Some Attempts

In this section, I shall share some of the changes I have introduced in my teaching of macroeconomics.

When I first taught EC4152 "Macroeconomic Analysis III" in Semester 1, AY 2001/2002, I introduced openbook examinations. The change was meant to discourage students from using a '10-year-series' approach (preparing for exams by attempting past years' exam questions) to study for exams. With the switch to open-book exams, students are now encouraged to understand the essence of macroeconomic models and know how to apply the theories taught in class. As an instructor, I have to think beyond what is given in the textbooks, lecture notes and tutorials to set creative questions. Encouraged by the positive feedback from Honours students taking EC4152, I proceeded to introduce open-book exams for EC3152 "Macroeconomic Analysis II", which I first taught in Semester 1, AY 2002/2003.

Another change I implemented was that students no longer had to submit tutorial assignments. In the past, students (in groups of three to five) had to submit the weekly tutorial questions assigned to them. To me, such an arrangement was unfair because the assigned tutorial questions could be easier in one week, but more difficult in another. With the change, tutorial questions and problem sets are now discussed in small groups during tutorial sessions, but students need not submit them. Instead, I introduce an open-book midterm test so that all students get to attempt the same questions. Students also get their answer scripts returned with my comments so that they can learn from their mistakes and know what to expect in the final exam. I make it a point to explain to my students the rationale for the change and share the idea with a colleague who also gives a midterm test instead of tutorial assignments.

A more recent innovation was the introduction of group projects in EC3102 "Macroeconomic Analysis II" which I first taught in Semester 2, AY 2004/2005. After attending a teaching symposium organised by FASS and CDTL in 2004, I adopted the "Oprah Winfrey"1 idea from a colleague. During the lecture, students form their own groups, work in teams to use/extend/criticise a theory taught in class and relate it to a case in Singapore. After consultations with the lecturer, each group will prepare a six-slide PowerPoint presentation. All group presentations together with the lecturer's comments and suggestions are posted on the IVLE and made accessible to all students so that they can learn from one another. Selected group projects are presented in the semester's final lecture. Many students commented that they have learnt much from interacting with one another in teams, and applying the theories to real-world situations, especially cases in Singapore.

Conclusion

Due to space constraints, I shall stop at these three examples. The innovations I have made to the courses are meant to change students' learning attitudes. Weaker students do learn from better students when they work in teams. As a teacher, we need to be patient, caring, and encouraging towards students, especially the weaker ones. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my teaching experience and I look forward to reading your contributions too.


1 Kalyani, K.M. (2005). 'Audience Participation in Lectures'. In Papers Presented at FASS-CDTL Symposium 2004, "Innovative Approaches to University Teaching & Learning", 4-5 November, jointly organised by Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning, NUS.
 
 
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Inside this issue
Learning-A Matter of Life and Death
   
Writing as Dialogue
   
"I Hear You": Using Student Feedback to Improve Your Teaching
   
Exploring the 'Maze' of Teaching
   
A Good Teacher and Macroeconomics