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Teaching Tips

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The following tips resulted from asking the 1989 3M Teaching Fellows: “What two tips for teaching would you give a colleague?” The tips are from 10 different professors, representing five provinces, nine universities, seven faculties and 10 different departments.

They were compiled and submitted by Professor Jim Fenwick, Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, OCUFA and 3M Teaching award winner (originally published in INFO).

  • Be ready to deal with ill-prepared students. Be willing to take them from where you found them. If some of them do not have all the course prerequisites, don't just proceed as though they are prepared for your course. Try to see things from the students' perspective.
  • Be early for class and leave late. The time before and after class can become the most intensive period of interaction with the students.
  • Use a variety of devices and changes of pace to create interest and to keep things moving. Various studies seem to indicate that student attention is lowest about 20 minutes into the lecture. This is a good time to change pace or, if you like, even to be a bit irrelevant for a minute or two. You won't lose much and the students will benefit!
  • If you can manage it, don't be afraid to use a bit of humour, especially just before a difficult point or heavy message. Humour may help break a long, intense session and alleviate the students' tension.
  • Don't try to impress the students. They know you are intelligent and more knowledgeable than they. Prove it by getting your message across in a simple and coherent fashion.
  • Try to make things relevant. Relate every day events to academic theories you are demonstrating. Bring personal experiences -yours or the students' -into the lecture.
  • Use analogies whenever possible, especially if they bring things into a more human perspective.
  • Be able to explain why a student should be learning something. Be certain that your students know what the examples you use refer to. All too often, they learn the examples without ever putting them into perspective.
  • Get students to uncover answers and concepts on their own, whenever possible.
  • At the start of each lecture, list the objectives for that lecture. This will provide the students with a framework for that lecture and will force you to focus your presentation.
  • Be enthusiastic!
  • Give your students something permanent. The student's immediate goal is to learn the material necessary to pass the course. Your goal should be to prepare them to apply what they have learned today to solving future and unanticipated problems.
  • Encourage your students to do a bit of role-playing.
  • If you have a tendency to lecture too quickly, bring a small rubber ball to class and squeeze it gently with your hand. As your hand tires, you will automatically slow down.
  • It is not "spoon-feeding" to let your students know what is expected of them. University students are adults; treat them as such.
  • Familiarize yourself with all physical aspects of the lecture hall before you use it.
  • Learn to "read" your class. Each class has its own personality and, just as we alter the way we handle different people, we must change the way we teach different classes. Not recognizing the ever-changing characteristics of the student population will ensure failure in the classroom.

[edit] What do students seek in a good university professor?

Undergraduates at Simon Fraser University, Université Laval and the University of Queensland, Australia have identified some characteristics they would like to see in a professor. The following is a summary of their wish list (See Pedagogical INFO, 1990, Vol.11, (3)).

  • guidelines for the course are detailed in the first lecture
  • the professor is approachable and friendly
  • the professor shares some information on his or her own educational background, experiences, research, and interest
  • the professor is confident and knowledgeable about the material, showing enthusiasm for the subject and able to present it effectively
  • the professor has a sense of humour
  • the professor shows genuine interest in teaching and in students; teaching does not appear to be an unpleasant accompaniment to research; it is a job taken seriously and respectfully
  • the professor presents material in a different way from the textbook
  • the professor gives and accepts suggestions and constructive criticism in a positive manner
  • the professor marks and returns assignments and exams promptly
  • the professor knows how to convey the desire to learn
“Education is not the filling of a pail; it is the lighting of a fire.” William Butler Yeats


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