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How to Become an Excellent Tertiary-Level Teacher - page 6 / 16





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applications, and students should be encouraged to cultivate both styles, choosing the approach that is most suitable for any given situation.  When examining a specific area in great depth, for example, a serialist approach is probably best; when studying a topic in its overall context, on the other hand, a holistic approach would probably be more effective (Cotton, 1995a).

Another important distinction is that between surface learners (who simply ‘scrape the surface’ of the material being studied without carrying out any deep processing) and deep learners (who make a serious attempt to turn other people’s ideas into their own personalised structure of knowledge) (Biggs, 1987).  Clearly, all good teachers should try to give their students the opportunity to become deep rather than surface learners, one of the most effective strategies for achieving this being to get them actively involved in the learning process.  Some of the methods by which this can be done will be discussed later in this article.

In recent years, it has become recognised that some students deliberately adopt a third, radically different approach to study in order to achieve the highest possible marks or grades with the minimum of effort (Biggs, 1987;  Entwistle, 1996).  Such students vary their approach according to the circumstances, adopting a surface approach if they feel that this is all that is needed to meet their goals, and only employing a deep approach if they feel that the resultant extra work will be worth the effort.  Those responsible for the design and operation of tertiary-level courses should be aware that more and more students are now ‘playing the system’ in this way.  If taken to extremes, this can result in such strategic learners finishing up with awards that they do not really merit on the basis of their intrinsic ability or effort.  One way round the problem is to ensure that assessment methods are properly matched to learning outcomes, and that all key learning outcomes are properly assessed in some way.  Provided that this is done, the strategic approach can be turned into a very real aid to effective learning.

It is also now generally recognised that adults tend to learn in totally different ways from children, being much more independent and autonomous in their approach to study, preferring to learn from their own experience rather than being taught, preferring task- or problem-centred approaches to learning, and being strongly influenced by internal rather than external motivators (Knowles, 1990).  As students progress through a tertiary-level course, they should be treated more and more like adults in terms of the learning opportunities provided.  Problems tend to arise when there is a clear mismatch between the prevailing learning model and the model that learners expect - as, for example, when mature learners feel that they are being treated like children.  Good teachers should try to ensure that such mismatches do not happen.

Other important distinctions are those between activists and theorists, and between pragmatists and reflectors.  Honey and Mumford (1992) have devised a highly sophisticated self-perception inventory to help people to find out their preferred learning style (or styles) under this classification, and this has proved extremely useful both to students and to their teachers.  A good teacher should again recognise the existence of the four Honey and Mumford learning styles, try to cater for all styles when planning their teaching/learning programmes, and try to help their students to adopt different learning

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