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This issue of CDTL Brief is the last of a two-part Brief that features the teaching practices of the 2004/2005 Annual Teaching Excellence Award (ATEA) winners.

September 2006, Vol. 9, No. 4 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Holistic Approach to Educating Students for a Win-Win-Win-Win*
 
Associate Professor G.P. Rangaiah
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
 

In NUS, many modules are taught through lectures, tutorials and student a ssessment (including the final examination). As students vary in their motivation, preferences and/or backgrounds, it is therefore essential for lecturers to adopt a comprehensive and holistic approach to teaching students subject-related knowledge and help them develop higher-order skills. In this article, I will outline important steps and issues involved in the preparation of lectures, tutorials and assessment for a module, that will enhance (i) the quality of education at NUS, (ii) faculty members' satisfaction and success, (iii) the appeal of NUS to talented students and (iv) the quality of graduates, resulting in a win-win-win-win scenario.

Preparation

The first and foremost step in preparing to teach a module is to review its syllabus and ponder over what, why and how to teach it. Even if one has been teaching the module for many years, it is still important to review its contents and teaching periodically to meet the demands of the changing world. Student feedback should also be taken into account in the review. In addition, the lecturer should be convinced of what to teach and why a topic is included in the syllabus. The lecturer should then consider how he/she can present the topics in an interesting and thought-provoking way to students. Apart from imparting subject related knowledge, lecturers should also help students develop the ability to think critically, learn independently and communicate better by engaging students through the use of practical examples, case-discussions and additional readings. Lecture notes should be organised systematically with numbered sections and/or clear headings for each topic, progressing from simple to complex concepts illustrated by practical examples. Apart from the time-tested methods of teaching, one should be open to new teaching methods and use suitable technology depending on the class size, syllabus and personal preference.

Lectures and tutorials

In the first session, the lecturer should briefly discuss topics in the module and their significance as well as aims and learning objectives/outcomes. S/he should also convey his/her expectations of students' participation during classes and let students know how s/he intends to help students develop skills in critical thinking, independent learning and communication. The lecturer should let students know his/her contact details including consultation arrangements, and encourage students to consult with him/her. At the beginning of each topic, the lecturer could state the learning objectives/outcomes and present a few applications to show the relevance of the topic to real life situations and/or other modules. In short, motivate students and kindle their interest in the subject.

The lecturer may provide lecture notes to students in advance so that they can focus on listening and comprehending what is taught during lectures. Unless textbooks are unavailable, lecture notes should not contain too many details; further explanation and comments can be provided in the class. The teacher should encourage students to refer to textbooks for more examples and exercises, ask questions and contribute to the discussion in lectures/tutorials. Do compliment students for interesting and pertinent queries and responses, but avoid criticising students even if they ask trivial questions. To encourage students' participation and active learning in the class, the lecturer could conduct surveys and/or collect students' responses to certain scenarios, and discuss these in class and/ or post them on the IVLE for further comments.

Tutorial exercises, when carefully selected, should require students to comprehend and apply the knowledge and methods they have learnt in lectures to solving practical problems/situations. During the tutorials, the lecturer can ask students to present their solutions, which can then be used to highlight the main steps, key points and potential mistakes. Invite questions from students and encourage other students to answer them or get students to discuss related problems and their solutions. In case students have not attempted the tutorial questions for some reason, give them time to work on the questions in class, and, if necessary, provide hints to guide the weaker students. In effect, get students to learn actively during tutorials.

Student interaction and feedback

The lecturer should arrive at the classroom well in time. While waiting for students, s/he can chat with students who are early to establish rapport. For lectures lasting 2-3 hours, incoporating a short break to give students time to 'digest' what has been taught can be helpful. During the break, the lecturer may show students some questions based on the topics/material taught and invite students to discuss these and other questions with him/her during the break or at the end of the class. When the email and/or the IVLE Discussion Forum are used for communication and/or further discussion, the lecturer should respond to students' queries promptly and also encourage students to discuss complex questions in person. In all interactions with students, the lecturer should treat each student as a mature individual with his/her own aspirations.

If students are reluctant to voice their concerns, as is often the case, the lecturer could consider soliciting comments on his/her teaching approach through a questionnaire after a few classes. By deliberating over students' comments, the lecturer could then modify his/her teaching methods and the contents accordingly. Further, the lecturer could consider summarising findings from the questionaire and discussing them with students together with his/her response in a subsequent class. Such feedback provides the lecturer with an excellent opportunity to adapt his/her teaching method to suit students' backgrounds and expectations and also highlight certain observations (e.g. level of student participation in the class, independent study) to students.

Assessment

Assessment is an essential aspect of learning. The lecturer could consider setting a variety of assessment tasks (e.g. homework, test(s), project(s) and/or final examination) to cater to different students' strengths. Give careful consideration on the scope of each assessment task, deadline and weightage, and communicate them to students clearly. Where appropriate, written reports, oral presentations and/or evaluation of students' work through one-to-one discussion could also be included as assessment tasks. The scope of project work should be well-defined, but students should be given room to select problems that require them to look up books in the library, search for information on the Internet and/or discuss with others. Apart from helping students to understand the subject better, projects can develop students' ability to think critically and creatively, learn independently, work in a team and communicate better. To help students achieve all these, however, the lecturer should respond to students' queries promptly, and students' submissions should be graded and returned to them quickly. Good or interesting submissions should be highlighted to motivate students while common mistakes can be discussed in class for their benefit.

The nature of tests/examinations (i.e. open, partly open or closed) requires serious consideration. In any case, questions should be formulated judiciously to test the knowledge and skills students have learnt from the module. Though a few novel questions can be included to distinguish better students from the average ones, testing students in areas that they have not been trained is not desirable. To ensure that the questions can be answered within the allotted time, the lecturer should try answering the questions by himself/herself. Often, lecturers underestimate the time students require to answer questions under stressful examination conditions. The lecturer should grade answer scripts carefully by assigning suitable marks for major steps in each answer and give credit where it is due. Alternate but justifiable answers to the questions should also be rewarded. When grading a module including cut-off marks and grade distribution, the lecturer should take into account students' achievement of outcomes of the module as well as prevailing guidelines, if any. As marking examination scripts and assigning grades are often done with tight deadlines, exercise extreme care to avoid oversights.

Summary

The main goals of a university education are to teach students subject-related knowledge and help them develop higher-order skills (e.g. critical thinking, independent learning). It is hoped that the ideas and issues discussed in this article will encourage lecturers to adopt a variety of strategies depending on their own preferences similar to an accomplished artist creating masterpieces out of ordinary materials, so that it will enhance (i) the quality of education for students, (ii) faculty members' satisfaction and success, (iii) the appeal of NUS to talented students and (iv) the quality of graduates for employers, resulting in a win-win-win- win scenario.


* This article is not from an educationist but based on what I have gleaned from many colleagues, papers, presentations and students. My sincere thanks to all those who have contributed in one way or other to my teaching at NUS and to this article.

 
 
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Applying Principles of Constructivist Pedagogy to Foreign Language Teaching
   
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