Teaching context and philosophy
I believe that a teaching experience is as much about learning as it is about imparting knowledge unto others. One should always desire, and perhaps even pursue, learning from the teaching experience such that he betters himself both as a teacher and as a person. To these ends, I have found that a personal communication with students, where possible, offers more capacity for feedback than the aloofness or detached approach that most academics may have. When I give lectures, I have always allocated time before and after lectures for students to approach me with questions (be they about the teaching material or otherwise), and I try to establish good rapport throughout the teaching duration. Additionally, if there is an opportunity to impart more informal teaching than that in the lecture theatre, I always prefer to include this as part of the course, for example by utilising demonstrating sessions, tutoring, laboratory sessions, or small-group teaching. I realise that this generally comes at the expense of the funding or allocated timing (which may not be optimal for the teaching institute), but I have found that it produces better results in the long run than limiting teaching to lectures, assignments, and a final exam.
Additionally, I base my teaching approach on three main principles: 1) self-directed learning, 2) availability, and 3) motivation:
- Encouraging self-directed learning is not a new concept in tertiary education (one might even argue that it is the basis of tertiary education), but it is easy to forget that, though the students are the patrons or shareholders of their investment in a university education, they are also there to develop skills that will allow them to be competitive when they complete their education. As such, I believe in setting out learning material that is sufficient for the student to pass a module or subject, but also drives the student to learn more independently to score exceptional marks. This can be a narrow line to toe, as I don’t believe there should be examinable content that isn’t provided to the student up front, but on the other hand, one should not be spoon-feeding the student either.
- My personal experience doing my undergraduate was that lecturers were generally too aloof; although I empathise that they have research matters to attend to, which may sometimes take priority over their teaching obligations, I found that, during my Master’s and PhD, having a lecturer or mentor who was easily approachable made an enormous difference in my learning experience. As such, I always strive to make myself available to the students at all times, even if this may include providing a personal e-mail or phone number. Not only does this provide a better learning experience for the student, but I feel it also makes my teaching experience more rewarding, being able to communicate with the student on a more personal level.
- Finally, motivation is a key issue that may make or break the outcome of a student’s learning experience. I have met many students (undergraduates and post-graduates) who have demonstrated excellent academic capacity, who did not perform well overall due to issues out of the classroom. As such, I believe that part of providing a balanced and meaningful education is not only providing the student with exceptional learning material, but also with the means of being continuously motivated to achieve their goals. This ties in with the previous principle of availability, but also extends my responsibility outside of the classroom to making sure that students have a healthy mental status, as well as are motivated to complete their education for both personal and academic reasons.