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The educator as facilitator


Teachers facilitate and manage the students by providing a framework for their work on the course before, during and after each teaching session. Your behaviour as a teacher and the framework you put in place for the students greatly affects the students’ engagement and learning, but it also contributes to their wellbeing in class and on their degree programme as a whole. 


The teacher as a facilitator and a classroom manager 

In collaboration with the students, it is your role as a teacher to facilitate development process in connection with your teaching. Although students are often capable of motivating themselves and working independently, they need your guidance to know how to best work with the course content, and they need your expertise to assess the quality of their own work within the subject area. As part of their academic skills development, students must learn to adapt to each individual course.

Your identity and behaviour as a teacher

As a teacher, it is important that you find your own personal style and balance your role between being relaxed or leading, and between being distanced or accessible in relation to the students. For some, this comes quite naturally, but, for others, it requires more practice and experience.  

How you balance your role greatly affects the learning environment and the way the students experience your teaching. In general, studies have shown that: 

  • Student engagement and learning is best supported when the teacher displays clear leadership and is accessible for students. 
  • Student input and engagement is particularly positively affected when the teacher displays a high level of leadership. 
  • Student motivation is particularly positively affected when the teacher displays friendly and helpful behaviour. As such, a teacher who prefers a more relaxed teaching style can still create a good and conducive learning environment. 

When you assume your role as a teacher, there are various aspects you can consider and balance between. You can read more about these aspects below under ‘facilitating a good learning environment’ and ‘creating a framework for your teaching’. 


Facilitating a good learning environment

A good learning environment is characterised by students being motivated to learn and actually learning. The learning environment is greatly influenced by the framework that you as a teacher put in place to structure teaching sessions, offer academic help and support, and encourage the social side of the classroom. 

When you plan your teaching, it is therefore important to consider which learning activities are most appropriate for the subject material, how you can ensure that the students receive regular academic help, support and feedback, and how you can create opportunities for students to learn from and with each other and you as a teacher. Below, you can read more about how you can incorporate these three aspects of teaching preparation. 

Organising your teaching

When you plan your teaching, it is a good idea to consider what the students need to learn (their learning outcomes) and which learning activities will best support them to work constructively on the material in the time they have available. You can organise your course based on these considerations. For example, you can focus on: 

Clear objectives and alignment

Clarify the learning outcomes Talk regularly to the students about the course’s academic objectives and clarify which learning outcomes they are working towards in each individual session or activity.
Explain the relevance Ensure that the activities the students work on in class reflect the skills and competences they are expected to acquire during the course and they will be assessed on in the exam. Talk regularly with the students about this.

Structure and instructions

Have a plan for your teaching sessions Think about how the sessions will take place and how much time should be spent on each activity. Share your plan with the students and regularly discuss how far you have come.
Give clear instructions 

Give clear instructions when you start the students on an activity: Why, how and for how long should they work on a specific task? What do you expect the students to produce during the task and how will you follow up on the task?

Explain the unfamiliar If the format of your teaching is different from that which the students are used to on other courses, you may wish to make an extra effort to ensure you justify and clarify how the teaching will take place.
Adjust your instructions gradually Once the students have got used to your teaching sessions and know what is expected of them on the course, you can gradually allow tasks to become more open and give fewer instructions. The goal is that the students will gradually be able to complete the tasks without your instructions.

Balance between flexibility and control

Be prepared to adjust your time plan

Be prepared to adjust your time plan if something turns out to be particularly difficult or interesting for the students. If you have clarified the most important points and learning outcomes in advance, it is easier to adjust your plan and still ensure that you reach the most important objectives.

Maintain control and direction As the manager of the classroom, you have the right (and duty) to park questions or discussions that are not relevant for the majority of students at a given time. Ensure you do this in a respectful dialogue with the students and return to the question at a later point if it is relevant to do so.
Allow students to influence the sessions Let the students influence how the teaching sessions will take place but set clear limits for which parts of the course they can influence and adjust the scope of their influence based on how experienced they are. Since you have the necessary academic overview and teaching experience, you must take overall responsibility for managing the course.

Active participation and variation of activities

Get the students on track  It is a core idea in student-centred teaching that students learn best when they work actively with the course material. Therefore, it is important that you prioritise active participation during your teaching sessions. You could, for example, reduce the time you spend lecturing by recording your academic presentation and asking students to watch it as part of their preparation – then you can use your teaching session to discuss and expand on the material. Find inspiration on using video presentations in your teaching sessions here.
Make it easy to participate You can do this by setting up short, frequent activities, such as quizzes, polls and discussion groups.
Engage the students  Engage students from the start of the course and the individual session and allow enough time for everyone to keep up. It is easier to encourage students to actively participate in the rest of the session and course if you get off. 
Change between different types of activities

Change between different types of activities, so that you create several different opportunities for students to participate. We all learn differently, and your students will have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to participating in class. Therefore, it is good to change between plenary, group and individual activities, or between oral and written, short and long activities. Changing the type of activity regularly also helps to keep students motivated and engaged.

Support your students’ learning

Learning is supported most effectively when the teaching is adapted to the students’ academic level and the individual student gets just the necessary amount of academic help to work as independently as possible. An important part of good teaching is therefore to ensure that the student’s learning and academic level is made visible for both the student him- or herself and for you as a teacher. For example, you can focus on: 

Connection between new and familiar material  

Build on what the students already know Find out what the students are expected to have learned prior to your teaching. Regardless of the academic progress the students need to make on your course, it is essential that you build gradually on their existing knowledge and skills.  
Clarify the connection between new and familiar material You can do this, for example, by working further on the same cases, incorporating new perspectives, or working with tasks that combine new and familiar knowledge. You can also encourage the students to reflect on this connection and their own academic development themselves. 

Academic scaffolding 

Gradually introduce new tasks

Gradually introduce new tasks, but don’t expect the students to be able to complete them independently from the start. Simplify some parts of the task but retain the complexity in other parts. You can do this by using templates and providing detailed instructions, hints, grading guides or questions to steer the process in parts of the task. 

Vary and gradually reduce your scaffolding

Vary and gradually reduce your scaffolding so that the students are able to independently complete a task at the level of complexity expected at the end of the course. 

Make tasks achievable and manageable Tasks may be difficult and complex, but it might be necessary to break down large tasks into smaller sections and review these sections along the way. By doing so, students will realise that they are able to complete the tasks, which will increase their motivation. It is of course important that tasks continue to grow in size and complexity so that you can reach your learning outcomes. 

Make the students’ academic level visible

Get to know the students’ academic level

Get to know the students’ academic level by asking them to submit assignments or by doing quizzes or class polls during teaching sessions

Create a dialogue with open questions Make sure you often ask open questions without a simple right or wrong answer. By doing so, you invite the students to express their understanding of the material and make it possible to build on this understanding together as a class. Read more about question-asking techniques here. 
Structure your feedback Try to plan your feedback so that it doesn’t just focus on what is right and wrong but also points forward. Use different feedback formats and include the students if possible. You can learn more about feedback here.  
Offer help and support as required Refer students to relevant additional material if they encounter academic challenges. This could be extra advice on how to complete a task or material that offers a different description of course content. For students who are particularly talented or interested in the subject, you can recommend further reading or refer them to your own research activity in the area, such as academic forums or research articles. 
Create successful experiences

Create successful experiences and acknowledge when the students show signs of mastering something new. Have confidence in the students and do what you can to encourage the students to believe that they can master the tasks and the subject. Scaffolding and organising regular feedback can help to create successful experiences. 

Create a framework for social interaction in the classroom

In university teaching, we focus primarily on the academic, but social interaction between the students and between the teacher and students can also greatly affect the learning environment and the students’ desire and confidence to engage in the course. As a teacher, you have a major influence on this social interaction, and it is therefore important that you demonstrate clear leadership when setting the framework for a comfortable and enjoyable learning environment in your class. For example, you can focus on: 

Your relationship to the students 

Take an interest in who the students are 

Take an interest in who the students are and which interests, challenges and concerns they have. It can be frustrating if students come to class unprepared or do not answer your questions during plenary sessions. But be curious about why and ask what their reasons are. 

Be approachable and flexible

It is not your job to solve the students’ social or psychological problems, but you can show understanding and flexibility in a difficult situation and perhaps refer them to the relevant help.

Read more about where to refer students who are struggling. 

Try to get around to everybody You can do this by organising your teaching so that you have time to talk to the students while they are completing tasks or engaging in group work. Allocate your time as equally as possible and be aware of how much time you spend with each student/group.  
Avoid treating students differently

Be aware that your relationship with the students as individuals affects the whole class.

Seek help and input from colleagues or read more about student well-being if you encounter problems with your relationship to one or more students.  

Make the students feel comfortable contributing to class discussion

Make the students feel comfortable contributing to class discussion and acknowledge their input.

Ask open questions and avoid focusing solely on the right and wrong. Reassure students that they can learn from mistakes and misunderstandings.

You can do this by showing interest in their reasons and arguments, regardless of whether their answer was right or wrong, and you can discuss different possible answers. 

Support students to work together and collaborate 

Create a clear framework for group work

Create a clear framework for group work so that students can learn to work together. Not all students enjoy group work, so it can be helpful if there is a clear framework for how they should collaborate in a group.

Reflect on and explain the objective and scope of the group activity. 

Vary the groups 

If possible, vary the groups and use different criteria when setting them up.

For example, you can rotate the study groups. Every time you create new groups, it is best to start with a short and well scaffolded group task. After this, you can gradually increase the complexity and reduce the scaffolding. 

Alternate between study groups and ad hoc groups

Students are often part of a study group prior to a course and prefer to work in these familiar groups during teaching sessions. Find out whether all the students in your class are part of a study group and consider when it makes sense to keep students in these fixed groups and when it makes sense to create ad hoc groups. 

Read more about using study groups here. 


Creating a framework for your teaching 

It is particularly important that the framework you put in place for your course supports students to work increasingly independently, both on your course and throughout their degree programme. 

Students learn before, during and after an individual teaching session. Often, students spend significantly more time engaging with the course material during their preparation than during the scheduled session itself. The way you include student preparation in your course and enable students to work actively on course material both before and after the teaching session will thus have a big impact on the students’ learning. 

Good advice for creating a framework for student preparation


Communicate clearly

Communicate clearly why and what the students have to prepare and how their preparation will be included in the subsequent teaching session.  

Include different ways of working in their preparation 

Include different ways of working in their preparation and vary the scope and complexity of the tasks so that everyone is able to do something. 

Follow up on their preparation

Follow up on their preparation and include it in the scheduled teaching session so that the students can see the outcome of their preparatory work.  

Include the students’ preparation

Include the students’ preparation as early as possible in the course and the class itself so that you establish clear expectations and practices from the outset. 

Learning support

Adjust the scope and complexity of the tasks

Adjust the scope and complexity of the tasks so that they are manageable. At the start, you can offer advice to the students to help them prioritise the most important tasks in the time they have available for their preparation. Later, the students must be expected to do this themselves. 

Make sure the students can get help and support with their preparation

For example, make supplementary material available or, if necessary, make yourself available to answer academic questions before the teaching session (online, via email, or during your office hours).

You can also make it possible for students to help each other (e.g. via an online Q&A or by setting group work as preparation). 

Create the opportunity for feedback

Create the opportunity for feedback so that students get an indication of whether they have prepared well enough.

You could do this by setting up a quiz or by asking the students to evaluate their own preparatory tasks with the help of a grading guide. Make sure you also get to know how well the students have prepared by setting assignments that the students have to hand in. 

Collaboration and social interaction 

Focus on what the students find safe

Focus on what the students find safe so that you do not expose students who have not prepared. You can do this by asking the students to initially discuss or present their preparation in small groups. 

Show that you are interested in the students’ preparation Show that you are interested in the students’ preparation by systematically following up on their preparation either before or during the teaching session. 
Strengthen the students’ collaboration

Strengthen the students’ collaboration by using both individual and group tasks as part of their preparation. 

Are you teaching online?

Teaching online

Communicate clearly and frequently

Communicate clearly and frequently about how your teaching is organised and how you expect the students to participate. When we can only see each other online, we lack the “invisible” communication that often takes place when we are together in person, so you must be extra clear. 

Give clear instructions

Give clear instructions and consider how you communicate these instructions to the students before you get them started on group work (for example, in breakout rooms).

Once the students are in groups, it can be difficult to get them talking. You can, for example, share the instructions as a file in the chat box or on a Padlet. 

Work for it if you want the students to actively participate! 

It can be difficult to get the students to participate in plenary discussions online, and it is therefore important to plan how you will facilitate these discussions.

Consider supplementing the discussion with items in the chat box, polls on Mentimeter, or information on a Padlet. This can make it easier for the students to take part in plenary discussion.  

Use digital tools For example as an item on a Padlet or as a document in OneDrive or GoogleDocs. It can be difficult to get a sense of the students’ academic level if their discussions take place in breakout rooms or completely outside your shared digital platform. 
Use assessment techniques

Use short and frequent assessment techniques so that you can continuously gauge the students’ individual learning (find examples of activity here). If necessary, contact the students directly and use your own subject knowledge to refer them to relevant help and support.  

Feedback and peer-feedback

Create a clear framework for feedback and peer-feedback and, if possible, use digital tools to support this process so that you can keep track. 

Social interaction online As well as focusing on the students’ social interaction in relation to their academic work, you can also leave the breakout rooms open during breaks so that students can socialise. You may also wish to consider using small ice-breaker activities (find examples of activity here), perhaps with a personal or humorous dimension, or competitions in which the students compete against each other in groups, for example in Kahoot. But remember to focus primarily on the academic side of the course. 

Further reading


Please contact the editors at AU Educate if you have any questions about the content of the platform or if you need consultation on your teaching from one of the many skilled professionals at the Centre for Educational Development