Reflection on being observer and being observed during teaching at the university.
In autumn 2014 I observed the lecturing and lab exercise of a colleague, different faculty though. During this opportunity I could see the different ways of teaching and presenting difficult material to undergraduates. The Associate Professor I was observing was teaching and supervising a small group of undergraduates during a lab exercise in fish biology. It was nearly at the end of the course, so they knew her from many previous lectures. One could feel that the teacher and students were getting along very well. Despite this good atmosphere she was not engaging the students by default. I do not think that this is due to the material or topic, it was just a missed opportunity.
In return, I was observed by her in spring. In my case, I have two courses which I am coordinator and lecture most. But I am not the sole teacher nor do I have regular lab exercises with them. Further, one course has over 80 students from different study fields, and 30 to 40 students show up to the lectures. I was observed in the 10th of 12 lectures, i.e. some of the students knew me from previous lectures and the lab exercise. The other course is also open to exchange students and has 53 registered students. This course started very late in the semester, so I was observed in the 2nd of 12 lectures. And as I will reflect below, this was a good contrast to the other course in many respects.
Common to both observations was that I included multimedia and small interactive exercises. These breaks from monologues help me as they do the students. Intuitively, I use Biggs (1999) teaching and learning activities, but clearly I can expand and improve on them.
Is my teaching style beneficial for the student?
My goal in teaching is to provide an environment of openness so that students feel comfortable to ask questions. The goal of teaching is that the knowledge after the session is greater than it was before. But a university lecture should do more. It should introduce the student to scientific thinking. This can result in discovering known unknowns, i.e. far more questions than answers after a lecture. If a student realizes this path to science, he or she has gotten a lot out of the lecture. This requires a teaching style encouraging questions and leaving time for own thinking during the lecture. By asking the students during the lecture, and the response I received, I feel the students in the Psy-1003 lecture (where I was observed), learned a lot, and some of them also got inspired. This impression got further strengthened when a colleague came into my office after she had given the 11th lecture in the series. She was positively astonished how active and engaged the students in the course were. So she was asking me what I did with them. This was a very great feedback that my method of encouraging questions and interactivity was finally paying off.
In the other course I still had to go this way. Some of the students knew me from the Psy-1003 course whereas others have been in a lecture of mine for the first time.
How did the counselling help?
The reciprocal observation and counselling was very beneficial. First and foremost it got me to think about the different teaching styles depending on class size, one-shot vs repeated lecturing and the type and material to be taught. But counselling does more. It lets you see what kind of teacher you are. I am not an actor, but I try to spice my lectures with humor. These short breaks make it easier to get the focus back on the hard stuff.
The feedback I received was also very informative. My idea of providing students with goals in the beginning of the lecture is appreciated but not fully understood by the students, yet. So I have to work more on communicating this message. I also have not explicitly included a summary slide or “what you have learned so far” part in my lectures. That is clearly a lost opportunity for enhancing learning. After all repeating the most important messages ensure that they are remembered (Hattie 2011).
What did I take with me?
Yes, I will improve my lectures – at least I hope the changes I will make will lead to improvement. To achieve that, I plan to keep the responsibility for the two courses so that I have some continuity myself. For the Psy-1003 I will replace the pensum-book, structure the exercises and accompanied seminar better, and I will provide summary slides for each topic. For the Psy-2027 course I will re-order the chapters (see also flipped classroom), as teaching Bayes theorem in the second lecture was too early; mainly because the students have to be active and not expect a monologue. In this course I started to provide summary slides.