Creating Effective Classroom Learning Experiences in University
By Dr. Radhika Jaidev, Centre for Communication Skills, Singapore Institute of Technology
I teach at a university in Singapore that brands itself as a university of applied learning and research. The university offers undergraduate degree programmes in engineering, food sciences, allied health services (including nursing), business and design as well as infocomm technology. Like many other universities, we too have an award for excellence in teaching, conferred on a small number of recipients each year, often making others in the university feel like they are falling short of giving their best in the classroom. In my view, the word ‘excellence’ focuses too much on student learning outcomes, often in the form of students’ grades and their evaluation of the teacher as a reflection of the teacher’s effectiveness and much less on the learning process and teacher-student experience in the classroom (Entwistle & Ramsden, 1983). In addition, ‘excellence’ has an absolute or end-point ring to it, making it seem like once achieved, there is nothing more a teacher could learn to further improve her delivery or the learning experience for students in the classroom. King (2022) prefers the term expertise over excellence because “expertise is about a process of experiencing and experimenting rather than the state of being better than others. Hence, expertise is a process potentially accessible to all” (p.3).
Since, as teachers, experiencing and experimenting begin in the classroom, in this blog I would like to talk about how a teacher might enrich her students’ learning process and experience by engaging them deeply ‘in the moment’, in the classroom. By ‘being in the moment’ I mean that students respond to the teacher’s teaching by answering the question or expressing that they don’t understand or could the teacher repeat or explain further. Alternately, they can respond to instructions on how to complete a task by being able to do the task. In this blog my focus is on the teacher and how to create conditions in the university classroom for students to be ‘in the moment’ in the classroom. With these initial thoughts on teacher effectiveness in the learning process at university, I spoke to colleagues at my university who teach engineering, food sciences, health sciences and academic literacies.
Peter, who teaches engineering expressed that working with the industry on some innovation projects helps him to introduce authentic problem situations in his lectures which he uses to get his students to analyze and come up with possible solutions in his classroom. The task requires them to apply their engineering knowledge in the problem-solving process. Fatima who teaches regulatory processes in food technology reads technical journals and industry publications, attends conferences and engages in applied research to stay abreast of new food regulations. She engages her students in class debates to critically evaluate regulations that apply in the Singapore context. Vicky who teaches design thinking and user experience in application development emphasized how staying in contact with peers in the industry enables him to “invite” them into his classroom via zoom to talk to his students about current or advanced practices in the field. Charles who teaches writing in an accountancy programme uses anecdotes from his past work as an accountant to design role play tasks simulating auditing contexts where students practise talking to ‘clients’, gathering information and writing an audit report, something they would have to do when they go out to work. Finally, Edward who teaches in a speech and language therapy programme relates experience from his most recent practice as a speech therapist and previous experience as a radio broadcaster when teaching phonetics and phonology to his students. He also incorporates authentic, anonymized, case studies to engage his students in clinical applications of speech.
As can be seen, these colleagues have gone beyond building their knowledge reserves in their content areas and understanding of the demographics of their students to employ teaching methods that engage students ‘in the moment’ in the classroom. Their awareness of their students’ immediate and future goals (Fink, 2013) has influenced the design and delivery of their lessons so as to give currency to their teaching. It is perhaps useful to note that critical reflection plays a significant role in heightening university teachers’ awareness of students’ content and skills needs for the present and future and how best to enable them to be ‘in the moment’ to optimize learning in the classroom.
(Colleagues’ names have all been changed to protect their identities)
Entwistle, N., & Ramsden, P. (1983). Understanding Student Learning (Routledge Revivals) (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315718637
Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: an integrated approach to designing college courses (Revised and updated edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
King, H. (2022). Developing expertise for teaching in higher education: Practical ideas for professional learning and development. New York: Routledge.