New To Undergraduate Teaching?
Teaching in universities is under the spotlight as never before. With the Browne Review (1) recommending that all new teachers should have a teaching qualification, universities are reviewing their teaching development programmes. Furthermore, with the impending rise in tuition fees, students are understandably even keener to get the best teaching possible.
Who should read this article?
Anyone new to teaching in universities. You might be a postgraduate delivering seminars, academic tutorials or the occasional lecture. You might be starting your first lecturing post or an experienced academic new to the UK. Or you could be delivering careers workshops, study skills training, IT coaching or a range of training to support the learning and development of students.
What kind of teaching goes on at a university?
Lectures: the traditional 50 minute lecture still exists, hopefully spiced up with some interaction with students, lively delivery and creative use of IT and e-learning.
Seminars: often with groups of up to 20, the emphasis is on group-work, interaction, the opportunity for questions, students reporting on their work, following up key lectures in more detail and encouraging students to delve more deeply into their subject.
Tutorials: these can be one-to-one or with just a few students. The focus can be more on reviewing marked work, general academic progress or detailed discussion of a particular topic. Personal tutoring has a wider remit to include the personal welfare of a student as well as their academic progress.
How can I prepare before I stand up in front of my students?
- Research the context: what’s expected of you? Check out department expectations and codes of practice as they vary between universities and indeed departments.
- Check the profile of your students: where do they come from? What are the entrance requirements for the course? Ask your colleagues.
- Line up your advisers: colleagues, heads of department, new starters like yourself and especially final year students: they know what good teaching is.
- Research student support: learning support is available in student services with names like: Learning Support, Wellbeing, Counselling, Senior Tutor, and Welfare. Look at what students are given as part of their induction.
- Get trained: Staff and Academic Development departments will run courses and provide resources and networks. Consider various Certificates in Teaching – indeed participation might be a condition of your probation. Search for key words such as Postgraduate Certificate in HE, Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice.
What will my students be like?
Some will be like you when you were an undergraduate; most not. Their prior knowledge of your subject will vary as will the type of teaching they have been used to. The key is to be alert, flexible and ensure what you teach and how you teach is accessible to all and therefore inclusive.
Understand your students: transition to HE is a huge step and most students are not prepared. Lucky ones might have had taster days, been on summer schools or participated in structured programmes including pre-first year tutorials. And every university year brings its own challenge for the student as they encounter harder concepts, different ways of learning and assessment and think about the world of work or further study after graduation.
What is effective teaching? A good start is to answer the following:
- Where do I want students to get to?
- What can I do to help them?
(1) Browne Review: ‘Securing A Sustainable Future For Higher Education’ (2010).