As a teacher, it is your role to 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.
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. In collaboration with the students, it is therefore your role as a teacher to facilitate this development process in connection with your teaching.
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’.
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.
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
Structure and instructions
Balance between flexibility and control
Active participation and variation of activities
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
Make the students’ academic level visible
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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 includestudent 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.
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 and vary the scope and complexity of the tasks so that everyone is able to do something.
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 as early as possible in the course and the class itself so that you establish clear expectations and practices from the outset.
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 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.
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 by systematically following up on their preparation either before or during the teaching session.
Strengthen the students’ collaboration by using both individual and group tasks as part of their preparation.
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 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 to make the students’ work in group discussions more visible, 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 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.
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.
Make time for informal 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.
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.