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How to Become an Excellent Tertiary-Level Teacher - page 7 / 16





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styles in different types of situation.  The object should be to produce mature learners with balanced and flexible learning profiles by the time they finish their courses.

If you want to become an excellent teacher, find out about these different approaches to learning - and try to find out how your students prefer to learn.  You will then have a much better chance of meeting their needs.  The 1996 booklet on ‘How Students Learn’ by Ellington and Earl (see ‘References’) provides a  basic introduction to the topic, with the books by Biggs (1987), Gibbs (1994) and Cotton (1995a, b) providing  more detailed treatment (again, see ‘References’).

Golden Rule 2 : Set appropriate learning targets

It is now generally agreed that the key starting point of any successful teaching/learning programme is to set appropriate learning targets for the students.

When formulating student learning targets, it is possible to adopt two significantly different approaches.  The first is to adopt the approach that has traditionally been used to specify the outcomes of student learning, namely, in terms of general aims and more detailed associated objectives - often couched in behavioural terms, when they are sometimes described as learning outcomes.  This is the method that is still used in most degree-level courses in Britain (Percival et.al., 1993).  The second is to adopt the competence-based approach that has come into vogue since the late 1980’s.  This is the approach that is now used in virtually all sub-degree-level and vocational courses in Britain (Ellington, 1995;  Noble, 1999).

In order to be effective, student learning targets should clearly be relevant to the overall aims of the course or programme to which they relate, and should also cover all the essential knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire.  In particular, they should cover all the various process skills that are so important for success in later life - decision-making skills, problem-solving skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills, IT skills and the like (Noble, 1999;  Race, 1999).  If you agree with B.F. Skinner that true education is what remains after the facts are forgotten, the development of such skills becomes doubly important.  Certainly, many employers now regard their development as the most important aspect of the educational system (Ellington, 1995).

The targets that you set your students should also become progressively more demanding as they progress through their course, while, at the same time, remaining realistic and achievable. Useful guidelines on how to do this have recently been developed by the QAA (HEQC, 1996), and some colleges and universities are producing their own systems for helping staff to write their learning outcomes at the appropriate level.  The author recently produced such a system for use in his own university, in connection with its Common Course Architecture/Course Modularisation programme (Ellington, 1999b).  This consists of a suite of generic level learning outcome templates that show staff how to write appropriate learning outcomes at all four stages of the Scottish honours degree and also at postgraduate (masters) level. They cover the four

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