Reflections on teaching and learning

Posted on Sep 13, 2012 in Everyday Life, Ordinary Madness of Academia

Hi, my name is Anne and I am a researcher an educator.

Of course, I’m both. But the reason I work at a university instead of doing research somewhere else is because I love teaching. Not every moment of it, for sure, but my best moments with students have been amongst the best moments of my life.

And now, just in time for the start of term in the northern hemisphere (and not too late for those of us in the south) my friend and colleague Matt Ward has offered some excellent reflections on what it means to be a facilitator of learning. The whole post is worth reading, but here are some of my favourite bits:

1. Teaching is really difficult
It’s a fine art. I started my career feeling that my job was to create ‘great designers’. I would crit work and deliver lectures to promote a certain way of designing, a certain way of thinking – hopefully engaging students enough to inspire them to do ‘good design’. However, as I progress in my career I realized that this isn’t actually my job. It’s merely a convenient side effect. My main job is [to] promote learning, the fine distinction is that students can produce unsophisticated design work but still have an excellent learning experience.

4. Sparking imagination
The most important reason for us to be here is to spark our students’ imaginations. It’s important to stand back from the content, the detail, to understand the impact and relevance to our subjects to our students’ lives. The good part, is that we live in fascinating world, your job is to show them how wonderful it is. This means that it’s important to remain enthusiastic. The daily, yearly grind of an academic can be tough, but the best way to make your job brilliant is to show your love and excitement for your discipline. Enthusiasm is contagious… be proud to be a cheerleader.

6. Debunking complexity
One of the most important roles we have as educators is to unravel the messy complexities of our subjects. It’s very difficult to remember what starting to study a subject at university is like, our students sometimes miss the ‘most basic’ of skills, language and knowledge. Therefore, breaking down complex language and difficult concepts is essential.

8. Humor / Humility
Don’t be superior, people learn best from people they connect with and admire. Academics have the tendency to act superior – they waft in, deliver their words of wisdom, waft out. Most people in the position to lecture are smart, but being clever isn’t enough, be nice.

On the first day of my doctoral studies, Charles Gordon told me that we were all brilliant so the best way to distinguish myself was to be kind. I don’t always succeed, but as time goes on I can think of no more important academic aspiration. Reading Matt’s post this morning reminded me why I teach, and reminded me to never get complacent about it. I do a lot of the things he suggests, but I also learned a few things that I can’t wait to put into practice. Thanks Matt!