Education vision

Education vision

Education content

Content

Focus on skills

What should we teach? I believe there are three types of teaching or learning units: knowledge, insight, and skill. The focus of education is often on knowledge, but with the rising availability of information through portable internet-accessing devices, it does not make sense to keep the focus there. As a teacher, I believe that in higher education there should be a balance between all three. We should teach state-of-the art knowledge, related to recent research, which may not be readily available to society or to industry. We should challenge students to process and relate information critically, in order to get deep insights. And most neglected by many teachers, we should train students to develop skills (which are often not related to a single topic-oriented course).
(1) How can students learn to be independent, if we keep telling them what to do? (2) How can students learn to be stress-resistant, if we always try to minimise their stress levels? (3) How can students learn to be persevering, if we provide an endless set of backup options when they fail? (4) How can students learn to be critical, if we try not to make or admit mistakes ourselves? (5) How can students learn to be time-aware, if we keep adding intermediate deadlines and shorten course durations?

No matter how large a group, interaction is always possible. I've taught to class groups ranging from 4 up to 650 students. I always achieved to get interaction with them. In smaller groups, this is obviously pretty easy and the options seem to be endless. In larger groups, interaction becomes more challenging. You can for example ask multiple choice questions and ask to raise their hands, but there are more fun ways to interact. Here are some examples.

  • The token. Bring an object to class that can be passed around in class. During question sessions, instruct the students to pass this 'token' in a certain order. When you finish your question, the student that has the token needs to answer the question. In the first lecture, this will take a lot of time and laughter and won't work optimal, but as soon as the students are used to the system, they start enjoying it and it will happen more fluently.
  • Televoting. In bigger groups, we use multiple choice exam questions, which can be graded automatically by a computer. Use real exam questions of previous years to make short quizzes at the end of some chapter or before the break and let students vote through a dedicated website or app. When there is only one correct option, don't show their results until enough students have answered the question. I've set up my own system at janclaes.info/poll, but there are many great systems available for free. I've experimented with poll-maker.com, polleverywhere.com, and smart-polls.net.
  • Live feedback. Give students a chance to ask questions and provide feedback live during class. I use a system where they can send feedback to the system and vote up or down the feedback of their peers. I usually vary with lectures where the screen with feedback is constantly projected for the students to inspect (you'll need a separate beamer for that), with lectures where I occasionally interrupt to look to the feedback screen together with the students, and with lectures where I keep an eye on the feedback screen without notifying students.
    In the first lecture, you will need to introduce the system and ask for their cooperation. Count on some funny, stupid, and perhaps insulting or sex-related messages if students are allowed to submit feedback anonymously. Address this properly and ask for a more adult behaviour, unless they want you to threat them according to their childish behaviour. After the first lecture, this usually proceeds smoothly and you wil have live interaction. You will know when they can't read something on screen, when your micro is too loud, when you make a mistake, when something is not clear, etc. I even sometimes get feedback on their neighbours' behaviour ("Can you ask people in the back to stop throwing things at each other"). I use slido.com for this, which I can highly recommend.

Education approach

Approach

Mature but fun

The game of teaching, the challenge of not cheating. I consider teaching as a game that you play against your students. The goal is to get every student intrinsically motivated and understanding the material. Your weapons are clear explanation, humor, interesting examples, nice visuals, sounds, reflections on career opportunities, interaction, challenges (challenge them or let them challenge you), surprising actions or objects, etc. Off course you can win with cheating, but where is the fun in that? Cheating would be to use extrinsic motivation (e.g., credits), aborting your lecture, sending people home. You may sometimes still win the game, but you cannot be proud of your win!

The adult mirror. According to the principle of the self-fulfilling prophecy, when you address students as non-adults, they may very well behave like non-adults and vice versa. Therefore, don't threat higher education students as high school students. Threat them as adults. Tell them that almost any (legal) behaviour is allowed as long as they will bear the consequences. I don't mind if they don't study, but these student don't get my sympathy if they would fail the course afterwards. I don't mind if students are doing other stuff during my lectures, as long as they don't hinder others students to pay attention. What's the danger in letting them experiment, letting them fail and support them to learn from their failures (without lowering the consequences though)?

The power of why. I discovered that most students don't mind your rules as long as they can understand why you have them. I sometimes tell them how sorry I am to have a cold, because that means that my voice is not optimal for teaching and they will have to be extra quiet and so I will have to be extra strict to guard the mumble noise levels in classroom. It often works like a charm!

The return on investment. Finally, don't underestimate the power of investments. If you want an audience of 650 students to be silent when you ask for it, you have to (1) tell them clearly, and (2) train them properly. The first lecture, the first time I ask for silence, I wait, and I wait a bit more, and I keep waiting until the last single student stops talking. And then I thank them and continue as if nothing happened. Even if it takes half an hour (which is probably the longest time I ever had to wait), you hang in there and just wait. It may take a while, but they will realise that you will win the waiting game in the end. Indeed, even if some students want to play it hard, the group will turn against them and they will have to give up. After a few times, they will know that you won't give in and they will listen. The best thing is that they spread the stories and the second year, half of the (new) people will already be trained before the first lecture.