Unsolicited Advice: Five Tips for Teaching

Everyone loves a listicle, right?  No?  Oh well, I was writing up some concluding thoughts for our faculty Online Learning Experience and I found myself jotting down brief notes on key ideas I hoped they’d take away from the experience.  It turned into a combination of things I’ve learned in my time as part of ALT Lab and from my longer career teaching–much of which is applicable to all forms of teaching.

I’m sure there are other items that could be added (feel free to do so) but, at the moment, this strikes me as not a bad start.  Nothing particularly original or profound; just a little reminder of some basics.

  1. Explore the unique possibilities of the web; don’t try to imitate a face-to-face course. Faculty teaching online often want to simply transfer a face-to-face course into an online course without major changes.  Bad idea.  You can’t reproduce some of the dynamics of a face-to-face class online.  Fortunately, you can take advantage of the web’s unique possibilities to facilitate sharing of student work in multimedia formats (via blogging, social media, etc), to draw upon the vast resources freely available online, and to share your results with others. You can focus on what you can’t do online, or you can explore the truly interesting things you can do in either online or hybrid courses.
  2. Customize the learning experience; avoid bland, cookie-cutter courses.  Commercial vendors and MOOCs can offer slickly packaged course content, some of which can be useful. But a high-quality course involves an instructor personalizing and customizing the learning experience.  What are you bringing to your course?  Without that customization, faculty are easily replaceable.
  3. Teach and model active, life-long learning skills; don’t focus exclusively on content delivery. You’ve heard it many times before: information is changing at an astonishing pace. In many fields, the particulars of what is being taught today will be outdated before students even graduate. Besides, students rarely remember the sorts of facts easily tested in a multiple choice exam. What they are more likely to remember is learning how to learn; how to find, think critically about, and apply information.  How to explore, grapple with, and learn to use technologies.  How to construct an argument, marshall evidence to support it, seriously consider alternative views, and communicate the results. Those are the sorts of skills that will be widely valuable in whatever our rapidly changing world brings in the coming years.
  4. Engage your students;  share your passion, your humor, and your humanity. Faculty are bright interesting people, but that can get lost amidst formulaic syllabi, dense academic jargon, and a defensive posture. Learning is a social process. Relate to your students; share with them who you are and what you bring. Show students why they should care–and why you do.  By doing so, you’re more likely to see their passions and humanity as well.
  5. Be patient–with yourself and your students; it’s easy to get frustrated, jaded, and demoralized.  This learning stuff is tough but it’s important.  Teaching loads, service work, publication pressures, family responsibilities…they all take a toll.  It’s easy to have your enthusiasm and energy for teaching drained by the problematic minority of students who frustrate and disappoint, rather than have it magnified by the vast majority who make a decent effort and who sometimes surprise and delight you.

What would your list look like?  Everyone loves a listicle.


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