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I am a new lecturer in the field of Computer Science. I got my MSc and I would like to go for a PhD. However, I would like to improve my teaching methods and way of thinking before I pursue this goal. Any recommended books or articles?

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Take a pedagogy course? –  gerrit Nov 11 '12 at 23:34
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@drN I’m not so sure practice (by itself) makes perfect. Pedagogy is a field of research, and rediscovering all by yourself what others have discovered in decades of research might take more time than your career's length :) –  F'x Nov 12 '12 at 9:12
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I recommend reading Dave Clarke's answer to the following question: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/3575/… –  Nicholas Nov 12 '12 at 9:15
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Having recently done pedagogic training, after teaching for 4 years, I found it to be an eye-opening experience. One can optimise one's own teaching method, but by learning about what else is out there, one can potentially find better teaching methods. Most of these methods go beyond the delivery of lectures – lectures are but a small part of the whole picture. –  Dave Clarke Nov 12 '12 at 16:47
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@JoshRagem: Your suggestion is rather empty. What should be done in lieu of lectures? –  Dave Clarke Nov 12 '12 at 19:33
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9 Answers 9

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The way I learned how to lecture was just drawing on things other professors did that were beneficial to me. If you are going to get a PhD however, teaching will be secondary. The focus on the program you go in will be teaching you how to conduct research and write papers for publications.

That being said the best way to improve, in my opinion, is to record yourself giving a lecture. Just audio is fine, make sure you are covering the context... Every lecture I give I make sure I have the following components in it:

  1. I get to class early to talk to students as they come in and make sure I have all of the equipment ready to go.
  2. I bring some anecdotal humor into the lecture. I don't sit there and tell knock knock jokes, but I make it relevant to them.
  3. Use previous material to frame the new material.
  4. Let them go early if I finish early.

In addition to that I use an Audience Response System, or clicker, and that helps keep the students actively engaged (class of 350 freshmen).

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How does that clicker works? –  Leon palafox Nov 12 '12 at 6:33
    
The clickers are great, you have 2 options with it. the first is to create a word document and show each question individually, the second is to incorporate it directly into your powerpoint slides. I use the former as my lectures dont use powerpoint, I teach Excel and Access and find it better to just work through stuff on stage and have the clicker questions reinforce theories or practices. The beauty of it is that it can port directly into blackboard or you can have it output the results as a spreadsheet so you can track student participation. –  John B Nov 12 '12 at 18:43
    
We use TurningPoint technologies for our clickers. They are much better, IMO, than other systems we have tried –  John B Nov 12 '12 at 18:44
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I was hoping for a device that gives the lecturer a mild electrical shock whenever the audience is lost... –  Federico Poloni Nov 13 '12 at 9:39
    
@FedericoPoloni I wish that was the case, keeping the attention of 350 freshmen engaged in an auditorium is tough work. I have asked for them to wire the seats, so I can just push a button and zap whoever is in the chair to wake em up, but administration didn't find the idea as amusing as I did. That being said, the clickers do wonders for student engagement and active learning. Also eliminates the know-it-alls from constantly raising their hand, and gives the less confident student a chance to check themselves. I am actually waiting for IRB approval so I can do research on clickers. –  John B Nov 14 '12 at 7:59
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It may work very differently depending on the group size, their skills and engagement. My only experience (when it comes to lecturing, not - giving a talk) is with teaching gifted high-school students, for other cases (less skilled or less motivated students, or stricter plan) it may not hold.

Never assume that students follow you, just because they are silent, nodding agreeably, saying that they follow you or even (especially?) repeating your phrases. By interaction see if they get the idea, sort of get the idea, or don't get it at all.

(And "make it slower" is not an universal remedy, because either they may be totally lost at this point, or they may not follow because it is already to slow to keep them awake.)

After giving a course ask a few students is person to name 3 strongest and 3 weakest points of it. (It's important to do it, i.e. to force to give 3 weak points, because otherwise they may be not that willing to do so. All courses have >=3 flaws. The questions is if they are minor or serious. And beware that a mean grade of a course (e.g. student gave you on average 7.6/10) is almost meaningless, even if split into categories; only text based comments make sense.)

Be inviting so they ask questions (compare: "exams are a sick thing, when the more knowledgeable person asks question the less knowledgeable one". ) Don't kill the natural curiosity. And remember, if they knew everything, then it would be not point fort them to attend your course.

(BTW: One of my friend was giving a candy for every student asking a valid question, regardless if simple or hard.)

If the material goes slower that you want, never (once again: never):

  • cut breaks (without a break many could leave the other part, learning not less),
  • just run faster (it makes it even more incomprehensible).

Just plan better the next one, given you have some feedback. Writing a lot of stuff on a whiteboard may trick you into believing that you explained them, but in fact you did a chaotic, unpleasant lesson. Compare (excuse me for an entropy joke):

Efficiency of teaching is measured by mutual information between you and your audience.

Not by entropy of your blackboard or entropy your created in their minds.

Both are poor upper bounds.

Other things:

  • watch others giving a lecture,
  • record yourself giving a lecture.
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I still have a hard time believing there were that many good points in that post. Very nice answer. –  Nikana Reklawyks Nov 14 '12 at 9:00
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As JoshRagem said in the comments of the question, don't lecture. Bloom published it scientifically as "The 2 Sigma problem".

Some ways I found to make a class less of a lecture (items marked with a * are covered in Lecture 6 of Teaching College-Level Science and Engineering):

  • wait 5 seconds after a question (this is an eternity in front of 30+ students)*
  • use a feedback sheet every class meeting, to learn about your students*
  • use conceptual multiple-choice questions (individual or small groups)*
  • use conceptual multiple-choice with lots of discussion (entire group)*
  • buzz groups (although not easy to do when you're starting out)
  • keep traditional "lecturing" to maximum 10-minute bursts, followed up with questions, exercises, etc.

Interactivity Engagement takes time during the course, which takes away from presenting "content." The solution is to not teach all the content during class time. You'll have to expect students to do the reading for the most material, and use lecture time to validate, reinforce, personalize, etc.

Although I'm definitely not the best instructor, I know I have improved a lot thanks to some other points:

  • Get an evaluation from the "pedagogical resource" person at your institution (hopefully this person exists!). The evaluation was full of small, useful details about teaching. You might want to check your ego at the door, however, when you get the feedback.
  • Tell your students that standard lecturing is not efficient, and that you want to raise the bar. But to do that you expect them to be prepared (to have done the reading) when they come to course for the interactive part. If I find they've not done the reading, I start to give small quizzes on the reading at the start of every course (I have 3-hour courses, so it's once every 3 courses if you have a 50-minute course period). These quizzes are multiple-choice and the questions can be used as the conceptual questions as above. The value of the quizzes is minimal in their final grade, but it engages the students.
  • Tell your students that making mistakes is essential when learning. Encourage them to vote on multiple-choice questions. Sanjoy Mahajan states that "clickers" allow anonymous voting, which socially doesn't engage the students. It's important to get them to vote, but also to make them feel that being wrong is "more than OK" (because it's how we learn).
  • Keep training yourself about pedagogy; try to stay motivated to teach well. Pedagogical patterns may be of interest. My students have often said they can see I'm motivated and find it refreshing. They are generally more forgiving when they know I'm trying.
  • Relate material being taught to what students have learned before and will learn/use later. Anecdotes based on your real-world experience (if you have it) are useful. My students always ask me for more of that in my evaluations.
  • Apply the "repeat without repeating" pedagogical pattern (Google fails me on finding a reference). Basically, it means that different learner styles (are more likely in large groups) respond to different examples, so it's helpful to repeat the same concept in multiple examples.

EDIT I recently bought this book and found it very useful because it covers many dimensions of teaching that might not seem obvious to first-time teachers. It's in a kind of check-list style, with references to external sources if you want gory details on certain techniques: Davis, Barbara Gross. Tools for Teaching. 2nd ed. Jossey-Bass, 2009.

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There are three books that I found quite useful.

Aside from books, you could consider getting a PGCHE (post graduate certificate in higher education) which is normally a 600 hour / one year course specifically on teaching to adults. You can get one via distance learning, if you're not in the UK.

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As a beginner lecturer, the University (or other institution) that employs you may offer training courses. In fact, depending on the law of your country, they may even be required to do so. In all cases, it is in their best interest to help you become a better teacher, so they should be able to accommodate requests for such training. Ask your teaching supervisor or head of department. (One might argue that, even if they can't help you, they will appreciate the fact that you voluntarily working on improving your teaching performance.)

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In my University they had a feedback system for every professor at the end of the semester, where you could evaluate their performance through the semester.

I always find that copying is also a good thing, think which teacher do you think were really good or with which teacher did you really learn, and try to figure out what did they have in common.

This is a bit out of the box, but I found that teaching to little kids (5-6) is one of the best ways to learn how to engage an audience, since if they are bored they will tell you on spot and if they don't like you they will tell you as well.

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You may want to take some direction from how education schools teach the art of teaching to future teachers. Generally, the curriculum involves:

  1. Coursework covering education theory
  2. Practice designing semester-long (and sometimes years-long) curricula, as well as individual lesson plans
  3. Student teaching, where the teacher teaches in the presence of an experienced educator and receives regular feedback

While you'll probably want all three to some extent, note that (2) and (3) involve other, more experienced educators giving you regular feedback, rather than books and articles. I don't think you'll be able to set this up yourself; this is a very involved process which requires a significant time commitment from the mentor. I would speak with your department and see if you can get backing to run a program like this, even if just for yourself.

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In the field of engineering, Richard Felder is very highly regarded. He has a lot of papers on how to be a good teacher/professor. You can check out of some of his articles on google scholar.

Also, the book The Effective, Efficient Professor by Phil C. Wankat has a variety of good advice for future faculty.

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I taught high school physics for seven years before heading to PhD school, and the most important method for improving my own teaching was to observe as many other teachers as possible. In both my teacher education masters program and at the high school where I taught, it was mandatory for new teachers to observe other teachers multiple times per week. In fact, new teachers were given class observation duties that replaced other duties (e.g., cafeteria or study-hall duty) because it was deemed so important.

I found great value in observing all teachers, from the terrible (I once watched as a teacher ignored all raised hands and simply lectured in monotone for the entire class--the students looked like they wanted to jump out the window because they were so bored) to the outstanding, and everything in between. Obviously, you'll incorporate certain teaching methods into your own teaching based on your own style, but the more you observe, the more you'll see different variations and methods.

By the way, if you do want to figure out who the best teachers are at your school, you just simply have to ask the students. It isn't a secret, and the students see so many teachers every year that they will gladly tell you who is the best (and worst).

Finally, if you do want to visit other teachers' classes, it is probably best to ask ahead of time. While I wouldn't say it is rude to show up and ask to observe, it is courteous to do so ahead of time in person.

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