Teachings should be different considering the various disciplines, levels, and student’s backgrounds to which teachings are given. The Center for Teaching and Learning at North Carolina’s Urban Research University (2016) listed 150 teaching methods in their website. Here in this report, I will discuss some of them that have been used in my teachings. Since my teaching history includes teaching in the multiply disciplines, i.e., English, business and economics, teaching at the different levels, i.e., bachelor, master and doctor levels, and teaching in the different countries, i.e., China, the USA and Norway, I think it will be interesting to know how the different methods and approaches worked or not in the various settings.
Size of classroom
The courses I taught in China between 1996 and 2006 were all at bachelor levels. The class sizes were between 50 to 150 students. The main objective of the courses was to give knowledge and skills that can be used directly by students in their future professions. The lectures given in the USA and Norway after 2006 were at graduate levels, mostly at master level. The sizes of the classes were all under 50, normally around 20 students. The courses given were a combination of both theories and empirical applications. In addition, I have also supervised master students since 2010.
Using of role playing in the early teachings
I taught three courses called English for International Business and Communications, Business English and College English in the English discipline at bachelor levels in China during 1996 and 2003. In these courses, I used the teaching method named role playing. “Role playing is the setting up of more or less unstructured situations in which students’ behaviors are improvised to fit in with their conceptions of roles to which they have been assigned” (McKeachie, 1986, P. 174). Since English is a tool for communication in different settings, I think it is quite important for students to use the language in the settings instead of just remembering the examples of sentences presented in textbooks for communication. However, the problems were that communication settings were usually complex and I had no any experience of them, it was therefore quite demanding for me to design good role playing settings. As a result, this teaching method sometimes did not work.
I continued trying role playing in another course named International Freight Forwarding Agency during 2004 and 2005. Students were often asked to act as travel agencies to provide services. However, this time, I found this teaching method worked. I think the reasons were as follows. First, to solve the similar problem that I had no experience in a logistic sector, I had a short time training in a company and collected all the operation information and relevant documents from that company. Second, I used the methods of lecture-demonstration by another instructor from a special field. Third, compared to that in English communication courses, the role playing settings for this course had their basic formats to follow and therefore were less complex.
Shifting from “teacher-centered” approach to “student-centered” approach in recent teachings
After 2006, I think I had moved my teaching from a practical direction to a more theoretical direction. The three courses called Theory of Markets, of which I taught part in the USA, Market Analysis and Applied Price Analysis, which I have taught in Norway, are similar in their learning objectives. The general objective is to use econometric methods to estimate market demand models developed from advanced economic theories. To teach the course in the USA, I used “teacher-centered” approach. Since there were lots of math in model derivative, I just used chalk and blackboard in teaching. Except for asking questions in the classroom, no other formative evaluation had been implemented. The course included only one big assignment as summative evaluation. I found this approach worked well since the students were very self-motivated.
However, I found this “teacher-centered” approach did not work in the similar course in Norway. The students were more passive compared to those in the American classroom. Facing the problem, I shifted from “teacher-centered” approach to “student-centered” approach to get students motivated and engaged in lectures. I have tried the different active-learning methods and activities. For example, I used research-based assignments with the data and problems provided by industry, asked student to present their own research ideas, used blackboard, Powerpoint (PPT), excel and computer lab. I often discussed with students the empirical findings of econometric modeling by using excel, statistic programming, industrial website and so on. As a result, students became more engaged and later they found what they had learned from the course was useful in their careers.
Since 2016, besides the course I have discussed above, I have started to teach a new course named Entrepreneurial Financial Management. This course was given to the master students in a program called Business Creation and Entrepreneurship. The course is completely different from the courses that I have just discussed above. The theories to be covered are not advanced but fragmented. The course covers the basic theories in accounting, finance, and entrepreneurship. In addition, the course requires good excel skills. At the same time, students taking the course are from quite different backgrounds varying from business administration to biology. Therefore, a big challenge is how to make the fragmented factors coherent and understandable for students from various background. Consequently, I mapped the learning contexts corresponding to the learning objectives, showed them the real business plan designed by a company, and explained how our learning objectives were relevant in that plan, and presented specific objectives for a lecture at the begging of each lecture. To make sure that all the students can flow the course, I made small exercises for each section. To sum up, I have adjusted my teaching greatly according to the students’ needs.
Regarding assessment methods, during my teaching in China, I almost used only the summative assessment. I think this was due to the following two reasons. First, the class sizes were too big. It was rather difficult to implement formative assessment in a class having more than 100 students. The other reason was that in the early days of China, it was believed that students were to be assessed and it was their fault if they failed to pass exams. After 2006 when I began to teach outside of China, I had combined both the summative and formative assessments. Each course normally includes two assignments to be graded, plus several presentations, group discussion and non-grade exercises.
Summative assessment is often implemented at the end of each semester to measure if students have obtained main learning objectives of each course. Therefore, it is more relevant to assessment of learning. While formative assessment, like small exercises, is usually conducted in the teaching process. They are more relevant to assessment for learning. Students get feedback from formative assessment to improve their learning problems and therefore it makes learning more efficient. Some of the formative assessment methods like presentation and group discussion can also make students in the whole class learn from each other and help to fulfill my objective of shifting from “teacher-centered” approach to “student-centered” approach. Therefore, I will use more formative assessment in the future.
Regarding supervision of master students, I usually encourage students to have their own research topics for their thesis. However, when students have no own topics, I will provide several possible topics for their consideration. Sometimes I use my network with industry to discuss the possible research questions that both students and industry would like to work together. I think I always give immediate feedbacks to students’ work, sometimes by email, sometime by inviting them to my office. I encourage students to work as independently as possible but at the same time, adjust my supervision according to different situations.
In the future, I think I will continue student-centered approach. How to maximize the students’ motivation and engagement in the learning process will be the main focus. I will try to implement the different active-learning strategies to get students engaged. Particularly for Entrepreneurial Financial Management course, I should work more closely with persons from industry, for example, inviting them to have guest lectures, having case studies from industry etc. Regarding the assessment methods, I think I will use more formative assessments techniques. For supervision of master and PhD students, I think I should make more efforts to involve students in research projects and our research group. I think It would be more interesting for students to work with other students and researchers in specific research fields. I also think to co-teacher some courses with my colleagues. I think we can learn from each other through co-operation and students might feel more interesting to have more than one teacher in a course as well.
McKeachie, W.J. (1994). Teaching tips: Strategies, research and theory for college and university teachers (9th ed.), Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath & Co.
The Centor for Teaching and Learning (2016). http://teaching.uncc.edu/learning-resources/articles-books/best-practice/instructional-methods/150-teaching-methods, accessed 18.09.2016.