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How to Become an Excellent Tertiary-Level Teacher

- Seven Golden Rules for University and College Lecturers

by Henry Ellington

Introduction

The role of university and college lecturers is changing.  Traditionally, their main role was to teach, ie, to impart knowledge to their students via lectures and similar face-to-face activities.  Now, it is becoming increasingly widely recognised that their main role is to help their students to learn, something that requires a fairly radical change in how they work.  They are also having to cope with all the various technological developments that are currently having such an impact on tertiary education, and may eventually change it beyond recognition.

In addition, tertiary-level teachers are now expected to work to much higher standards than was the case in the past - standards that seem certain to be increasingly strongly ‘policed’ by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and the Institute for Learning and Teaching (ILT) in the case of Higher Education.  Indeed, with the latter now becoming fully operational, it seems likely that holding an ILT-recognised teaching qualification will rapidly become the norm for university and college lecturers - and may eventually become mandatory.

Since 1989, the author and his colleagues have been running a highly-successful Postgraduate Certificate Course in Tertiary-Level Teaching for the academic staff of their own institution - Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University (Ellington 1990, 1996, 1999a).  This covers all the main aspects of tertiary-level teaching in some detail, but the essence of the course can be encapsulated in a comparatively few basic principles - the seven golden rules that are presented in this article.  Let us now see what these involve.

Golden Rule 1 : Find out how your students learn

Despite the vast amount of research that has been carried out by educational psychologists, we still know comparatively little about the nature of the learning process.  We have, however, learned a great deal about how students approach learning, and it has also become clear that different students learn in different ways (Cotton, 1995a, b; Entwistle, 1996;  Fry et.al., 1999a).

Some, for example, prefer to tackle a given learning task by starting at the beginning and working systematically through the material one section at a time;  others prefer to work in a more holistic way, treating the material as a complete, integrated system rather than a collection of separate parts (Pask, 1976).  Clearly, both approaches have their

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