Teaching methods

Choose from a Variety of Teaching Methods

Teaching effectiveness does not necessarily come from what the lecturer says, but from teachers who can identify which teaching techniques or approaches best enable their students to achieve the desired learning goals.

Since your subject matter will generally be complex and your student population quite diverse, it might be appropriate to have a number of different teaching methods for your course.

If you want to get to know more about the pedagogy of teaching and learning in higher education, you can consult the Teaching Support Centre’s specialized book collection.

If you would like some personalized advice do not hesitate to contact a teaching advisor from the Teaching Support Centre.

Focus on “Learning” (rather than on “Teaching”)

Traditionally, teaching and learning in higher education has been defined by custom and practice.  Lecturers may teach a given material in a particular way because that was the way their lecturers taught them the same material. Sometimes this has meant good practices being passed on from generation to generation. Sometimes it means that practices developed in one context or time period continue when they are no longer appropriate.

A useful way of re-thinking a course is, instead of asking “what will I teach and how will I teach it?”, to ask “what will students learn, and how will they learn it?”.  For example, if you want students to be able to apply a particular concept in real-world settings, then they should have a chance to practice doing that. Starting with what students will be able to do at the end of the course enables you to define what students should do during the course. This in turn allows you to see what you will need to do during the course (that is, how you will teach), if you are to make sure that students are actually engaged in these learning activities. Exams can also be aligned with the learning goals and can be used to validate that students have achieved the goals which you set.

The first step in this process is to clearly define the learning goals (or learning outcomes) that you wish students to have achieved at the end of  your course. This requires something of a change of mind-set: while it is relatively easy to list the content you wish to cover in a course (that is, a ‘table of contents’), specifying learning outcomes means clarifying what you want students to be able to do with that content.

The course’s learning objectives (as well as the course content) are defined in the Course Description. Drawing up an appropriate list of learning objectives can inform the choices you make about the way teaching is organized. Learning outcomes shift the focus from what the teacher does to what the students do.

The Teaching Support Centre has gathered and answered some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the Learning Outcomes.

Giving students feedback

One way in which we can change emphasis from “what I teach” to “what students learn” is through giving students feedback on how well they are learning during the course.  There is a lot of evidence that students, in general, learn better when they are able to manage their own learning.  Letting students know how well they are learning during the term provides them with both the motivation and the information they need to better manage their own learning.  Many students may not be terribly good at judging whether they have learned something until they are actually faced with a task to complete or a question to answer.  Building in tasks during classes and during the term will help most students to learn better.

Knowing how well students are learning on an on-going basis is also valuable for the teacher.  It can help the teacher to identify where a different explanation may be necessary or where a course section should be re-thought for the next year.

Students (and teachers) can get on-going feedback on how much is being learned in a number of ways:

  • concept questions or mini-exercises in class can provide students with immediate feedback as to whether they have understood and can apply an idea.  If students have to tell you their answers (for example, by completing worksheets, by raising hands, or by using clickers) then that also gives you feedback on how well you have explained an idea to them.
  • asking students for questions (such as using a “think, pair, share” approach) or asking for anonymous class summaries from them (called a “one minute paper”) can get them to reflect on what they have and have not understood and can also give you valuable feedback (see the section on improving student engagement for more ideas).
  • regular quizzes (for example, on a course moodle site) can give them quick feedback on how well they recall or understand that week’s material.  With moodle, you can use the quizzes to also give them automated feedback on what errors they are making.  Short, weekly quizzes can also motivate them to revise on an on-going basis – something which will help students to remember the course material on a more long-term basis.
  • well-developed exercises and exercise corrections can give them feedback on their ability to use tools and techniques developed. If your assistants can take notes of where students are having difficulty, this can provide you with valuable information.
  • mid-term quizzes can clarify for students what the final assessment will look like and can let them gauge their progress.  They can also provide students with a motivation to revise material periodically during a course rather than leaving it all to the end (again, aiding their long-term learning).